Diaz finds himself back in platoon
Outfielder began as starter, but Blanco manned left all weekend
ATLANTA -- Whenever he's used platoons in the past, Braves manager Bobby Cox has never announced his plan to do so. Instead, he's simply started utilizing them in the manner he has with his left-field position this weekend.
With the Dodgers starting their third consecutive right-hander in Sunday's series finale at Turner Field, the left-handed-hitting Gregor Blanco got this third straight start in left field. Before this weekend, Matt Diaz had started every game for the Braves in left field.
"What are you going to do?" Cox asked Sunday morning. "[Blanco] got two hits again [on Saturday]. ... I just want to get him in there. Diaz was struggling a little bit. [Blanco] deserves a crack."
Taking full advantage of his first two starts of the season, Blanco enjoyed two-hit performances on both Friday and Saturday. When Cox kept the 24-year-old Venezuelan outfielder in Saturday's game to face left-handed reliever Joe Beimel, Blanco responded with an infield single that gave a glimpse of his speed.
"He's phenomenal," Diaz said of Blanco. "He's been hot and I can completely understand having him in there. That's how I got my playing time two years ago. I got hot."
After combining to hit .333 while playing in a platoon role the past two seasons, Diaz earned the opportunity to handle left field on an everyday basis. But in 15 games, he produced a less-than-impressive .267 batting average that included just two extra-base hits.
In the process, Diaz hit .182 (6-for-33) against right-handed pitchers and .370 (10-for-27) with a homer against left-handed pitchers. The most alarming trend might have been that 12 of his 15 strikeouts came against right-handed pitchers.
"It's not like I stunk only against right-handers," Diaz said. "I stunk against lefties, too."
Diaz's slow start doesn't come as a big surprise. He hit just .259 (14-for-54) in the opening month last year. And before he began his tear during the 2006 season, he entered May with just a .200 (6-for-30) batting average.
Over the past few days, Diaz believes he's fixed a few flaws in his swing and has been able to generate some comfort.
"He's fine," Cox said. "He led our team in hitting for two years."
During the past two seasons, Diaz has shared the left-field position with Ryan Langerhans and Willie Harris. Blanco undoubtedly is much more talented from both an offensive and defensive perspective than both of those players.
With the Nationals scheduled to start left-handers during their games at Turner Field on Monday and Tuesday, Diaz will likely be back in the lineup.
"You just have to come to the park every day ready to play and know Bobby is going to find a role for you," Diaz said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.