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08/19/12 6:46 PM ET

From Mexico to Minors to LA, Cruz on unlikely rise

ATLANTA -- Luis Cruz gave the Dodgers another home run Sunday then a scare when he pulled up grounding out in the ninth inning.

"Just the beginning of a cramp," Cruz said, pointing to his left hamstring after the Dodgers' 5-0 win over the Braves. "It's fine. I'll be fine for Monday."

That allowed the Dodgers to breathe easier, their concern underscoring just how far Cruz's career has come since he was an emergency promotion in July.

He had the home run and single on Sunday, having been on the back end of the back-to-back-to-back home run barrage Saturday night, after reaching base five times Friday night. He went 6-for-11 in the series and hit .448 on the trip.

He began the 2012 season where he started 11 of his 12 professional seasons -- in the Minor Leagues -- but now he's an overnight sensation, pretty much the starting third baseman for the Dodgers down the stretch with Juan Uribe at the far end of the bench and Jerry Hairston out with a hip injury.

The 28-year-old son of a Mexican League legend said this year's success won't change his offseason routine -- he still plans on playing in the Mexican Winter League, as he has for more than a decade.

The Dodgers are his sixth professional franchise -- he began his career with the Boston Red Sox and was a rookie-ball teammate of Hanley Ramirez. He's had Major League cameos with Pittsburgh and Milwaukee and last year split time between Texas' Triple-A franchise and the Diablos Rojos in Mexico before signing a Minor League deal with the Dodgers in November.

Management didn't exactly know what they had in Cruz, because he wasn't called up this year until July 3, only after earlier promotions of Alex Castellanos, Ivan De Jesus Jr. and Elian Herrera. But he's hitting .279 with three homers and 24 RBIs in 37 games. His ratio of RBIs to at-bats is third on the club to Ramirez and Matt Kemp, ahead of Andre Ethier.

He credits his Major League bat to an exaggerated open stance and leg kick that made his father, Luis Cruz Sr., famous in Mexico, where he played 16 seasons.

"San Diego made me get rid of it, Pittsburgh the same thing. They spread me out and made me use my hands like a slap guy," Cruz said. "But I had a bad year in '09 and decided I had to change something. I went home and my dad said, 'You're a big boy. You can hit balls to the gap. You should go with the leg kick.'"

Cruz's unconventional hitting style begins with an open stance. As the pitch approaches, he swings his front leg toward the plate and lifts it as a timing mechanism to begin the bat swing.

"My first time in the Major Leagues, when I was 24 and 25, I would just panic sometimes," he said. "Now I feel more experienced and just play the same game."

Dodgers activate Elbert, send Herrera to Triple-A

ATLANTA -- The Dodgers activated left-handed reliever Scott Elbert before Sunday's game with Atlanta and made room by optioning infielder Elian Herrera to Triple-A Albuquerque.

Elbert has been out since July 26 with left elbow inflammation that he believes might require a minor arthroscopic cleanup procedure in the offseason.

He struck out one in a perfect ninth inning to close the Dodgers' 5-0 win over the Braves on Sunday.

The move leaves the Dodgers with eight relievers and only four bench players. But with relievers Brandon League and Javy Guerra struggling, management apparently felt it needed an extra piece in the bullpen more than an extra fielder, especially with Luis Cruz essentially taking over the third-base job.

That leaves first base as the only real platoon spot between James Loney and Juan Rivera. Adam Kennedy and Juan Uribe are the utility infielders, Rivera the fourth outfielder and Matt Treanor the backup catcher.

Herrera was called up Aug. 13 when Jerry Hairston was sent to the DL.

Suspension gives Mattingly new perspective

ATLANTA -- Suspended Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said there was some benefit to watching Saturday night's game from general manager Ned Colletti's press-box suite.

"With the delayed replay, you can catch mechanics and movements, see swings and pitches," Mattingly said. "You can see a lot from the standpoint that you can see it twice."

On Sunday, Mattingly served the final game of his two-game suspension for arguing with umpires on Thursday in Pittsburgh, with bench coach Trey Hillman serving as interim manager.

Among the bright spots for Mattingly on Saturday night was offensive production from the first-base position, which has been a glaring weakness most of the season. James Loney homered Saturday for the second time in three games.

On the trip, Loney is hitting .308 with four RBIs and five runs scored, while Juan Rivera is batting only .154 on the trip, but has a homer and five RBIs.

"The first-base position has been pretty good off this trip," Mattingly said. "We're getting production out of first base, right on time."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.