06/03/12 3:53 PM ET
Herrera's play a pleasant surprise for Dodgers
By Owen Perkins / Special to MLB.com
The 27-year-old switch-hitter waited nine years to make his debut in the Majors, and the Dodgers have quickly reaped the rewards for their patience.
"It's like you're getting as close as you can to a grizzled veteran coming up from the Minors," manager Don Mattingly said. "Nine years of polish and learning to play the game. He's been through a lot."
Herrera credits his recent seasons playing winter ball in the Dominican as the key element that helped him make a smooth transition to the Majors after being in pro ball since the age of 18.
"It was a hard time for me, but it was a good time at the same time, because I learned a lot of things and played with a lot of big leaguers," Herrera said. "All the time I was talking and asking questions, and they taught me a lot of things. Now that I'm here, it's the same baseball. I just don't try to do too much. I try to do my little things and try to help my team win."
Herrera was called up on May 9 to replace the injured Juan Uribe. The same day he came up, Matt Kemp made his first trip to the disabled list, and Herrera's steady production at the plate and versatility in the field has helped the team weather Kemp's absence.
"Elian's been solid," Mattingly said. "Obviously, he's not overwhelmed. There's a lot of guys that have come up and had good starts, but this doesn't feel like that. It's from both sides of the plate, he's shown power, he's had good at bats, he's shown awareness, he can steal a base, he can try to get a bunt down. He's got a lot of different things to his game. It's not like he's a one-dimensional guy that came up and got hot. He looks like he belongs here."
Mattingly started Herrera at third for the last two games of the series in Colorado, and seems inclined to use him as his primary third baseman for the time being. He's made three starts at third, nine at second, and two in center. Though he came up as an outfielder, his 2009 Class A manager, Carlos Subero started using him in the infield as a way of fitting his hot bat into the lineup.
"I was playing outfield in High A, and I was hitting good, but all the outfielders were hitting good too," Herrera said. "[Subero] wanted me in the lineup, and he started giving me ground balls and working with me a little bit, and he said, 'OK, you will play infield now.' That was when I started playing infield."
Gordon returns to leadoff spot for finale
DENVER -- In an effort to reclaim a sense of normalcy, manager Don Mattingly put Dee Gordon back in the leadoff spot for Sunday's rubber match with the Rockies.
Gordon led off the bulk of the team's games early in the season, and the Dodgers posted a 22-11 record. Over the past three weeks, Mattingly has experimented with three different leadoff hitters, but he believes the club is best suited with Gordon first in the box.
"I always want to get him back there," Mattingly said of Gordon. "To my eye, it seemed like the last couple weeks he's looked pretty good. But I didn't want to just go by that, so I looked at his numbers, and he's really been better. He's been over .300 the last 10 days. His on-base has been up. I think it gives him so much more freedom. If he can be that guy up at the top, it gives us a better balance, better offense."
Gordon is hitting .308 (12-for-39) since moving to the eight hole over his last 11 games, including a .444 stretch during a five-game hitting streak that ended Monday. But the club is 4-7 with him hitting eighth.
Mattingly just wants to see Gordon on base, where his speed can come into play to disrupt the game plan of opposing pitchers. Otherwise, Mattingly has refrained from giving the second-year shortstop too much advice.
"When I talked to him to tell him I was thinking of putting him back up there, I know he was excited," Mattingly said. "I'm trying to get my lineup regulated a little bit and get a little closer to some type of normalcy on a daily basis. I hope it gives him a jolt. We'll see what happens."
For a young player like Gordon, 24, the abundance of well-meaning advice can end up being overwhelming. Even Mattingly has been getting texts with all kind of advice for Gordon, including some he believes were examples of drunk texting.
"[Dee] is a real respectful kid," Mattingly said. "When you get that, you get a guy that will listen. And then you start getting a lot of voices. Everybody wants to help you."
Ethier picking up slack in Kemp's absence
DENVER -- Andre Ethier has been a model of consistency this season, and his productive bat in the middle of the Dodgers lineup has helped the club stay afloat with Matt Kemp out of action.
Ethier boasts a league-best 46 RBIs, and added a pair in Saturday's 6-2 win over the Rockies. He is hitting .327, and his nine home runs trail only Kemp on the Dodgers.
"Lately, it's kind of been one [RBI] at a time, and it's been with hits," manager Don Mattingly said. "A lot of times you'll see guys are having big days, having a four- or five-ribby day, but he's kind of been that guy there for us every day, getting the hit when we need it, getting the run, the RBI in those spots. He's kind of done it one at a time, one game at a time. It hasn't been a big explosion of a week where he drives in 15 or something."
Ethier credits his success to a consistent approach, saying he hasn't changed his day-to-day game plan, but that he has heeded Mattingly's advice to avoid trying too hard to fill the void Kemp and his .355 average left in the lineup.
"He doesn't want me to swing for the fence or just do one thing," Ethier said of Mattingly's advice. "He wants me to go up there and drive in the runs. If there's a guy on second base, you can drive in the run just as well hitting a single in the hole as you can trying to drive a ball off the wall."
That approach also helps Ethier keep his focus on using the whole field, making it harder for pitchers to succeed with a narrow attack against him.
"They're still going to go after him, but [he's going to be pitched to] a little differently," Mattingly said. "He can hit anything they throw, pretty much. When he uses the whole field he's such a good hitter."
With all the lineup permutations manager Don Mattingly has had to juggle as the Dodgers manage their injury-riddled roster, Friday's lineup featured a big league first. The Dodges started five players who are the sons of Major League alumni, including Tony Gwynn Jr. in center and the entire infield of Ivan De Jesus at third, Jerry Hairston Jr. at second, Scott Van Slyke at first and Dee Gordon at short.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, it's the first time five "legacy" players have started a game, and the first time an entire infield has been made up of sons of former players.
"We're getting ready to get Juan [Rivera] back," Mattingly said Sunday, referring to the outfielder and first baseman who has been on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain since May 9. "Probably get Juan back [Monday] in Philly, so it kind of gives me my groupings back of where I want to play guys."
Juan Uribe continues to take batting practice with the team, making five days of that level of activity. Mattingly hoped to send him on a rehab assignment in the coming week, but head athletic trainer Sue Falsone hasn't given him the green light yet.
"He had some soreness," Mattingly said of Uribe's left wrist injury. "He said he was fine, but it doesn't sound like [Falsone] is ready to turn him lose yet.
Matt Kemp will join the club in Philadelphia to begin the rehab process from his left hamstring strain.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.