5/26/2013 12:57 A.M. ET
Dodgers wary of wearing down Punto
By Austin Laymance / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- Nick Punto's production has kept him in the lineup, despite concerns from Dodgers manager Don Mattingly that the veteran utility man could wear down too early in the season.
Punto has played more than 88 games in a season only once since 2009, when he appeared in 125 games with the Twins. He made his 26th start in 47 games on Saturday against the Cardinals, one of his former clubs.
The Dodgers did not anticipate using Punto this frequently coming out of Spring Training. But injuries to infielders Hanley Ramirez, Mark Ellis and Jerry Hairston have forced Mattingly to use Punto more than he'd like.
"Injuries have kind of given him more opportunities than we thought he would be able to get," Mattingly said Saturday afternoon. "He's playing more than he might need to, and I am worried about wearing him down."
Punto hasn't shown signs of wearing down yet, though. He entered Saturday's game hitting .323 with 10 RBIs and 12 runs scored.
Ideally, Mattingly said he wants Punto to share time at shortstop with Dee Gordon and at third base with Juan Uribe.
"I want to keep Nick healthy," Mattingly said. "He's playing so good. He's given us so much energy. He's really been hard to keep out of the lineup."
Hairston could be activated from the disabled list as early as Sunday, which would allow Mattingly to find more rest for Punto, if needed.
Doubles down, and that concerns Mattingly
LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers manager Don Mattingly is more concerned about his club's lack of doubles than its low number of home runs.
The Dodgers were last in the Major Leagues in doubles before collecting four in Saturday's 5-3 win over the Cardinals, and their 32 homers are among the fewest in baseball.
"That is a problem," Mattingly said before Saturday's game. "For me, RBI guys get a lot of doubles. A true RBI guy, in my opinion, is a guy who drives in runs when a guy is at first. That's with a homer or a double. Hitting the ball to the deep part of the park is how you score those guys. That's been a little surprise."
While Mattingly said he's not surprised by the low home run totals, because of the four pitcher-friendly ballparks in the National League West, the manager still expects his club to leave the yard more than it has.
Leadoff hitter Carl Crawford leads the Dodgers with five homers, all solo shots.
But the heart of the order has combined for only 10 homers. Matt Kemp, recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, has gone deep just twice. Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier each have four homers.
"We've got some guys who you would expect hit a few more," Mattingly said. "But I don't have anybody I feel like should be at 15 right now."
So what's the key for the Dodgers to begin driving the ball with greater frequency?
"It really goes back to get a good pitch, hit a ball hard," Mattingly said.
Scott Van Slyke has done exactly that since he was recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque two weeks ago. Van Slyke homered in his first start on Mother's Day, and then added a pair of solo shots on May 17 in Atlanta. He also doubled twice on Wednesday in Milwaukee.
"He's looked good," Mattingly said. "I think he's got a pretty good approach at the plate. He's got a pretty good eye. He has a good feel for what he does and he's quick picking up the pitcher and what they're trying to do to him."
Hairston could return to lineup on Sunday
LOS ANGELES -- Jerry Hairston could return to the Dodgers as early as Sunday, after playing five innings on Saturday for Class A Rancho Cucamonga.
Hairston, who played the outfield and went 0-for-2, played six innings at third base on Friday night with the Quakes, going 0-for-3. The Dodgers could activate him from the disabled list before Sunday's game against the Cardinals.
"We'll get Jerry back fairly soon here," manager Don Mattingly said on Saturday afternoon. "He'll play another day and then we'll make a decision. He says he's ready and medical is basically saying one more day."
Hairston has been on the disabled list since May 7, due to a left groin strain and left knee tendinitis.
Mattingly said the veteran utility man would see more time in the infield than the outfield when he returns to the Majors.
• Dodgers reliever Scott Elbert pitched a scoreless eighth inning for Double-A Chattanooga on Saturday to earn the victory. The left-hander is also scheduled to face at least one batter on Sunday, so the Dodgers can see how his surgically repaired elbow responds to pitching on consecutive days.
• Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis has thrown out 11 of 24 runners attempting to steal against him this season and leads the National League in caught-stealing percentage at 45.8 percent.
Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.