04/06/11 7:30 PM ET
Left field remains a three-man tag team
By Owen Perkins / MLB.com
Each outfielder offers something different to the mix, with Paul and Thames offering the best bat from the left and right side, respectively, and Gwynn earning time with his defensive edge.
"I want someone to kind of take control," manager Don Mattingly said of the three-way platoon. "But when you look at that spot, it's a spot where we can mix and match out there a little bit. Yesterday, [Clayton Kershaw] was pitching, we're in a big ballpark, it's a good day for Tony. ... Today, obviously a big ballpark again, but the way the lineup is set up with Casey [Blake] in there, you're looking for a little thump in the back end."
With center fielder Matt Kemp and right fielder Andre Ethier anchoring the outfield on a day-to-day basis, Mattingly seems content to let game circumstances determine his third starter. Thames has drawn the start against the two southpaws the Dodgers have faced so far this season, and having Gwynn, a natural center fielder, available in left gives Mattingly an opportunity to field three exceptional gloves -- or to tinker further if Kemp or Ethier needs a break. Gwynn also offers a dimension of speed to the game.
"'X' obviously gives us speed also," Mattingly said of Paul, Wednesday's starter in left. "He doesn't have the reputation of being the same type of outfielder as Tony, but he's got a little more thump in his bat. He's the kind of guy who can hit a ball out of the ballpark, or at least drive the ball in gaps. 'X' gives you that chance of a little more pop in your lineup, a little bit more protection back there. I've got him behind Juan [Uribe] today, [batting seventh]. You try to set guys up to have protection, and kind of balance out your lineup."
De Jesus optioned to Albuquerque
DENVER -- In anticipation of Casey Blake's return from the disabled list on Wednesday, the Dodgers optioned rookie infielder Ivan De Jesus to Triple-A Albuquerque on Tuesday night after the first of a two-game set with the Rockies. De Jesus made a strong impression during Spring Training, but the Dodgers want to keep him in an environment where he can play every day.
"He had a great spring. But the way we're set up, his at-bats are not enough to dwarf his development," manager Don Mattingly said of the decision to send De Jesus down. "I'm sure he's disappointed -- and I know he wants to be in the big leagues -- but his best interest is for him to still be playing every day."
De Jesus made his Major League debut on Friday against the Giants, starting at second base. He was 0-for-7 in two games in the opening series, and hit .317 in Spring Training -- ranking second on the club with 18 Cactus League hits, while playing a team-high 99 innings at second base.
"We know he's going to handle the bat," manager Don Mattingly said of De Jesus after announcing he'd been optioned. "Defensively, he just needs to keep working and keep putting polish on his game at second base. I look at Ivan as a kid that can play every day, and the way we're set up, he's not going to get the at-bats that's really fair to him or to his development, or what we're trying to do. To sit here and get two at-bats a week is not going to do him any good, and it's not going to do us any good. He's young, he can play. To me he's an everyday guy."
With the return of Blake at third, De Jesus was the odd man out in the Dodgers' infield. Juan Uribe will move back to second base, leaving Jamey Carroll and Aaron Miles as the backup infielders.
Despite the fact that he hadn't recorded a hit during his cup of coffee in the big leagues, De Jesus has impressed Mattingly -- primarily because of his bat. He is a .295 career Minor League hitter, and played for Mattingly in last season's Arizona Fall League.
"I'm not worried about the at-bats here," Mattingly said of the rookie's 0-for-7. "I've seen enough over time. He's got a good approach at the plate. He's got a good eye. He uses the whole field. He's a kid who can hit. You can just see it. The at-bats we've seen [in the big leagues], he may have been a little nervous and trying too hard, but that's just something you expect from a guy wanting to make an impact. The at-bats here don't bother me at all. I know he can hit."
Blake activated from disabled list
DENVER -- The Dodgers got a step closer to their elusive "full-strength" roster when they activated third baseman Casey Blake on Wednesday. Blake started the season on the disabled list with a back injury, but is back in the two-hole in the lineup for Wednesday's finale against the Rockies.
"He's out there [for nine innings]," manager Don Mattingly said before the game. "If he wasn't able to do that, then I wouldn't have activated him. Over the last 10 days, he's probably got more at-bats than anybody we've got. He's been getting nine, eight, seven [at-bats in Minor League Spring Training games], so he's been getting more at-bats than anybody."
Mattingly intends to keep an eye on the 37-year-old veteran, but he sees no need to ease him back into his full-time role, and he is optimistic about Blake being able to help the club with added flexibility in the field.
"With Casey back, it gives us different variations in our lineup," Mattingly said. "It gives us the chance to rest James [Loney] against a tough lefty. We can go all right-handed in the infield. I kind of envision, as the season goes on, days that [Andre Ethier] needs a day off, or we're against a tough lefty, I can put [Blake] in right field. He gives me a good guy that I can move around a little bit. I don't want to do it a lot. I want him pretty much at third base. But he does give me some flexibility, as far as loading the lineup a little bit right-handed and giving certain guys days off against that guy that's a really tough lefty for Andre and James."
In 12 big league seasons, Blake has played 1,202 games, including 240 games in the outfield, 108 at first, and a game each at second and short. He has played at least 139 games in each of the past four seasons and in seven of the last eight seasons, and his only previous time on the DL came in two stints in 2006. Mattingly is optimistic about his return to productivity after a dip in his average to .248 last season, and will be careful about monitoring Blake's need for rest.
"With him, you can kind of see [when he needs rest]," Mattingly said, indicating he had no set formula for planning rest days. "The body language is kind of easy to see. You can see he doesn't have the same amount of energy. With him, it's just a matter of paying attention and watching him. No real set formula."
Mattingly, Pentland not worried about offense
DENVER -- The Dodgers have worked hard to build a foundation of pitching and defense under Don Mattingly's leadership, but don't get the impression that they are standing pat with an offense currently ranked 11th in the National League, with a .233 team average and one home run through their first five games.
"We haven't found our identity yet as an offensive ballclub," hitting coach Jeff Pentland said after the club was blanked in Tuesday night's series opener with the Rockies. "Any time you have some new people involved in your lineup and they have to establish the roles, it's kind of like the big guys need the little guys, and vice versa to get an offense clicking. There's still some newness to our lineup, and we're missing some guys in there. I am not disappointed whatsoever in what they've done so far. But where I want them to be eventually, we've still got a ways to go."
The team is averaging just under three runs per game, while allowing just over four, but has nevertheless built a 3-2 record. They doubled their home run production from the first five games when James Loney drove a solo shot over the right-field scoreboard in the second inning on Wednesday and Rod Barajas followed with a solo shot to left in the third. Their manager remains optimistic about his club's offensive potential.
"I feel like we're going to score," Mattingly said after being blanked by the Rockies. "I don't think we're up there just hacking wildly. We've got to be able to scrap some runs up, but I really feel like we're going to be able to score throughout the course of the season."
Mattingly hopes Casey Blake's return from the disabled list on Wednesday can help spark his lineup. But five games into the season, the club is far from panicking. Their only extra base hit on Tuesday came from Tony Gwynn Jr., whose role is not to bring the "thump" to the order. But Gwynn agrees with Pentland that the offense is still finding itself.
"Guys are going to groove and we'll start scoring some runs," Gwynn said. "You keep knocking on the door, eventually you're going to knock it down. We'll keep living with the opportunities we're getting. The more opportunities we get, the more opportunities we're going to have to cash them in, and that's typically how every team feels. We want to create those opportunities, and eventually we'll start getting the knocks to bring them in."
The club has faced more than its share of good pitching, facing Giants starters Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain, and Barry Zito, and the Rockies' young right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, who threw seven shutout innings against L.A. on Tuesday.
"My particular ceiling is higher than where we're at," Pentland said. "But as far as our attitude and our approach to the game offensively, we're in the right spot. Their heads [are] in the right place and their hearts [are] in the right place. We just have to keep getting better. That's been my M.O. since I've been doing this. Never stop trying to improve."
Manager Don Mattingly confirmed the Dodgers will call up a pitcher from Triple-A Albuquerque to start Sunday's game with the Padres and serve as the rotation's fifth starter. Mattingly indicated the announcement would be made as late as possible, although the decision has been made. Mattingly also confirmed that roster status figured heavily into the decision, suggesting John Ely should get the call. The 24-year-old right-hander made his big league debut last season, going 4-10 with a 5.49 ERA in 18 starts for the Dodgers.
Owen Perkins is a contributor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.