5/31/2014 7:17 P.M. ET
Bats struggling to produce in clutch situations
By Lyle Spencer and Michael Lananna / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers had a hard time producing with runners in scoring position during Friday night's 2-1 loss to the Pirates, coming up with only two hits in 15 opportunities.
Though their season numbers aren't impressive -- they're seventh in the National League with a .247 average and .374 slugging mark with men in scoring position -- the Dodgers surprisingly are producing at a level almost identical to last year's National League West champions. The 2013 troupe batted .252 and slugged .367 with men on second and/or third.
Asked if he felt this is one of the aspects of the game that is contagious, manager Don Mattingly deferred judgment.
"It may happen one day like that," he said. "One guy gets hot and takes the pressure off everybody. Hitting in scoring position is a matter of putting pressure on yourself all the time. That one at-bat with runners in scoring position shouldn't change your approach.
"It really gets back to getting a pitch to hit and hitting it hard -- simple as that. It doesn't matter if it's the first inning or the ninth inning -- get a pitch and hit it hard."
Mattingly said he had no explanation why the Cardinals could set a record last season batting .330 with runners in scoring position and, with basically the same cast, be struggling at .240 this season, ninth in the league.
"Last year I remember people talking about it with the Cardinals, how amazing it was," Mattingly said. "Right now they might be hearing about it in the opposite direction -- it's a negative instead of a positive. You hear a lot more about that now as a player [than in previous eras]."
Greinke's approach impresses staffmate Haren
LOS ANGELES -- Dan Haren and Zack Greinke got to know each other as teammates with the Angels in 2012, and they're reunited up Interstate 5 with the Dodgers in a rotation that stacks up favorably with any in the Major Leagues.
Greinke, who gets the call in Sunday's series finale against the Pirates at Dodger Stadium, has been as brilliant as any pitcher in the game this season. He's 8-1 in 11 starts with a 2.18 ERA, striking out 76 while walking only 14 in 66 innings.
At age 30, one-third of the way through his 11th season, Greinke is on pace to eclipse his numbers during his 2009 Cy Young Award-winning season with the Royals when he was 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA and 242 strikeouts in 229 1/3 innings. Greinke had an MLB-record 22 consecutive starts yielding two or fewer earned runs snapped Tuesday, when he was charged with three earned runs in 7 2/3 innings of a 6-3 win against the Reds.
"Zack's just so smart," Haren said. "He knows what he can do with what he's got. His stuff is really good. He's using his slider a lot, and it's one of the best in baseball. Zack knows how to pitch. He studies hitters and has the ability to execute his game plan with four really good pitches.
"He doesn't give in [to hitters], but he challenges guys. His walks are low, and his strikeouts are high. He keeps hitters off-balance with the ability to throw any pitch in any count."
Haren and fellow veteran Josh Beckett have come through in a big way to give manager Don Mattingly top-to-bottom excellence behind Clayton Kershaw, Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Haren, whose next start will be Tuesday night against the White Sox, is 5-3 with a 3.28 ERA in 11 outings, delivering 68 2/3 innings in characteristic style as a staff workhorse.
"It's a lot of fun pitching with these guys," Haren said. "These are really good guys who know what they're doing out there."
Shift on pitching rubber paying off for Perez
LOS ANGELES -- Chris Perez's season is moving in the right direction -- to be exact, a couple of steps to the right side of the pitching rubber.
The Dodgers right-hander shifted from the first-base side to the third-base side three outings ago at the suggestion of his coaching staff. After allowing two earned runs in 1 1/3 innings May 22 against the Mets, Perez has thrown perfect innings in his last two appearances, including a scoreless seventh in the Dodgers' 2-1 loss to the Pirates on Friday.
While he's still tinkering with it, Perez said the shift on the mound has helped.
"It changes the angles and looks the hitters get, especially the righties," Perez said. "I'm kind of throwing behind them now instead of coming into them. It just makes my pitches play different."
Perez, who has a 5.14 ERA in 21 innings this season, joined fellow relievers Paul Maholm, Brian Wilson and J.P. Howell for four innings of scoreless relief Friday night, holding the Pirates to one hit.
Perez said he expects more of the same going forward.
"Early on, we were used a lot, and guys were trying to figure out their roles," he said. "But now, we're starting to get into a little groove. Starting pitching is helping by going deep into games, which helps a lot. We're starting to throw like we're supposed to."
Kemp adjusting with transition to left field
LOS ANGELES -- Outfielder Matt Kemp has not been the MVP-caliber player he was in 2011. But Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said that version of Kemp still exists.
It's just a matter of finding him.
"He's been an MVP, so he knows how to do it," Mattingly said. "It's there."
If Kemp does regain his form, it will have to be in left field, where he's started the past three games in lieu of the injured Carl Crawford. Andre Ethier has taken hold of the starting center-field job after Kemp's well-documented struggles at the position this season.
Mattingly said Kemp has worked with coaches on being more upright in the field -- so that his first move isn't up. Meanwhile, with the bat, Kemp enters Saturday hitless in his last 17 at-bats and 0-for-12 during the current 10-game homestand. Could his move to left field be affecting him at the plate?
"Since he's been in left, it hasn't went well yet," Mattingly said. "But it will come in time."
Mattingly said he was encouraged by Kemp's at-bats Friday.
"He hit some balls good," Mattingly said. "He hits a ball right up the middle, he hits it into the shift. Thought he made some swings where he was right on balls -- nothing different than I've seen in the past."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. Michael Lananna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.