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05/11/09 4:30 PM ET
Hard work paying off for Pierre
A starter again, outfielder benefiting from preparation
By Rhett Bollinger / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- As Juan Pierre talked to reporters following his three-hit performance on Sunday, his black T-shirt read "A minor setback for a major comeback." The statement emblazoned across his shirt couldn't ring truer for Pierre, who has been a force offensively since the Dodgers lost Manny Ramirez for 50 games because of the use of performance-enhancing drugs. In the four games since Ramirez's suspension, Pierre is hitting .563 (9-for-16) with four runs, four RBIs, two doubles, two walks and two stolen bases. But the hard-working and humble Pierre, who also loves to sport a "Beast Mode" T-shirt, gave a simple response for why he's done so well since Ramirez has been out of the lineup. "I'm just hitting the ball hard and finding some holes," Pierre said with a shrug. Truthfully, though, Pierre was able to slide right into the Dodgers lineup because he worked as is he were playing every day even when he started just five out of 29 games before Thursday. "When I wasn't playing, I was just trying to stay as prepared as possible for when I do get a chance to play," Pierre said. "Now that I'm playing a little bit, I just try to keep the same mind-frame. At least it's not foreign territory. I'm used to being out there every day, so it helps a lot." Pierre has plenty of experience playing every day, as he played in 162 games for the Dodgers in 2007 before playing in just 119 games last season because of the acquisitions of Andruw Jones and later Ramirez. It was a difficult change for Pierre, who had played in every game the previous five seasons before sharing time in a crowded outfield. But Pierre still batted .283 and stole 40 bases to make the most out of the situation. And he entered Spring Training this season not knowing if Ramirez would be back because of the drawn-out contract negotiations that went on until March 4. It was during Spring Training that Pierre came to terms with his not making the decisions on playing time, so the only thing he could do was prepare like he was starting. "I realized that there's things I can't control," Pierre said. "The only thing I can control is the way I perform and if I hustle and all that. So that's what I focus on." That mind-set has earned the respect of Dodgers manager Joe Torre, and that's why Torre is confident that Pierre will thrive in his role as Ramirez's temporary replacement in left field. "Pierre's been great," Torre said. "Playing every day is nothing foreign for him, but he's been able to keep things together and he's been swinging the bat well." The way Pierre plays the game has also rubbed off on some of the younger players, including fellow outfielders Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Kemp, whose locker is next to Pierre's, has grown close to the 10-year veteran and tries learn from him. Kemp had nothing but positive things to say about his 31-year-old teammate. "Juan does so much for us," Kemp said. "He's a speed guy. He gets on base. He plays good defense. He's just an all-around good baseball player." And that all-around game should continue to help the Dodgers even in Ramirez's absence. Pierre is better defensively in left field than Ramirez, and his speed puts pressure on opposing pitchers and defenses. Ramirez's production could only be duplicated by a handful of Major Leaguers, and the Dodgers aren't asking Pierre to try to replicate the numbers Ramirez would put up. But Pierre has been out of this world as a starter this season, hitting .500 (17-for-34) with eight runs and six RBIs. He has struck out just once on the season. Torre knows that it's impossible for Pierre to hit .500 the rest of the way, but he also knows Pierre can be a capable fill-in until Ramirez's scheduled return on July 3. "He gives us a different look, but the only thing you're going to lose is the power threat Manny brings," Torre said. "If anybody is going to play the game hard, it's [Pierre]."
Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.