Luis Cruz has fallen a long way from the stabilizing force at third base he was late last season. He may soon be falling further.
After more than 1,200 games and 10 years in the minor leagues prior to last season’s success with the Dodgers, Cruz doesn’t want to consider a move back to the minor leagues. His .090 batting average, his fifth straight game not in the starting lineup and the fact that infielders Mark Ellis and Jerry Hairston Jr. are soon to come off the disabled list could equal a demotion for the player that began the season with expectations to be the everyday third baseman.
“I don’t even think about the minors, cause that’s negative thinking,” Cruz said. “If there’s one thing I know, I can hit. I’ve been fighting for my spot my whole career, so I just got to be ready the next time they give me a shot.”
Paco Rodriguez fumbled for the words far too long before the Dodgers’ 22-year-old rookie reliever just gave up and laughed.
“If you would have asked me at this time last year if I would be in the major leagues today, I would have laughed at you,” Rodriguez said. “From one year to another, you know, your life changes completely.”
Exactly one year ago Saturday, the left-hander pitched two scoreless innings to close out a win for the University of Florida. The Dodgers’ second-round draft pick last year is not only the first player from the 2012 draft class to reach the major leagues, he sports the second-best earned-run average in the Dodgers’ bullpen. That’s not saying much considering Dodgers relievers have the fourth-highest collective ERA in the major leagues.
Ted Lilly’s most glaring fault Monday night wasn’t getting shelled for three innings before having to exit a 12-2 loss to the Rockies with back pain. It was the silence the Dodgers starter maintained about tightness in his back since making his first start of the season five days earlier.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was none too pleased to discover after the series opener against the Rockies that Lilly, who began the season one the disabled list due to left shoulder labrum surgery, hadn’t informed the Dodgers training staff of his ailment following a five-inning outing against the Mets a week ago in which he only allowed one run.
“He can’t just keep that to himself,” Mattingly said. “Then at least we know going in to the game that we possibly should have a guy that can go four or five innings, instead of having to use the whole group.”
When Skip Schumaker was tipped off after Monday’s seventh inning he might be called on to pitch, he was already tired – from playing second base.
The fifth Dodgers reliever in the 12-2 loss to the Rockies was a part-time closer at UC-Santa Barbara and a starting pitcher at Aliso Niguel High School.
“I wasn’t very good but I could throw hard. Everybody said I was a one-tool player – I could throw,” Schumaker said. “I grew up a Dodgers fan watching Orel (Hershiser), so to be on the same mound he was, was pretty neat.”
Mark Ellis isn’t on the disabled list yet.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly considered it good news that second baseman responded well enough to a strained right quadriceps Friday that the team won’t make a decision about a potential extended absence until Sunday.
“I feel like it’s good news because it’s not like one of those, he walks in and we’ve got to put him on the (disabled) list,” Mattingly said. “It’s one of those things, he was really good today. Let’s see what it looks like tomorrow and we’ll get closer, be able to make a better decision (Sunday). We’re going to bite the bullet for a day or two here, see where we’re at.”
Ellis was batting .458 in his last six games with eight RBIs and seven runs during that stretch. Without Ellis available, the Dodgers played with four position players on the bench Saturday night.
It’s much easier nearly three years later for for Andre Ethier to put a positive spin on the flexible splint he wore on his injured hand, the identical apparatus Hanley Ramirez began using Saturday in his return from thumb surgery.
This much wasn’t positive: Ethier missed 16 games with a broken pinkie finger on his right hand in 2010, returning to hit .248 with one home run in his next 29 games. Ramirez, who had surgery after tearing a tendon in his thumb March 19, is returning three weeks ahead of schedule with the aid of a splint on his right hand.
“It inhibits some of your movement, but sometimes that can be a good thing,” Ethier said. “It makes you shorten up your swing. You become a little bit more selective because you know you can’t reach or have the strength in certain positions to hit a ball.”
Hiroki Kuroda swivels to face Rick Honeycutt as the Dodgers pitching coach slides a seat in front of his opening day starter’s locker. Catcher Russell Martin pulls up a chair and they’re set to launch into a pre-game assessment of the scouting report.
But while fashioning Kuroda’s plan of attack, neither Honeycutt nor Martin even glance in the pitcher’s direction. Kuroda, in turn, directs his focus elsewhere.
Doing most of the talking – and all the communicating – every fifth day for 162 games is Kenji Nimura, a 37-year-old who hasn’t played baseball since he was a teenager living in West L.A.
“You just have to trust him,” Martin said, “that he’s saying everything right.”
Behind a complete-game shutout from Eric Stults, the Dodgers ended their post-Manny two-game skid with a runaway win over San Francisco on Saturday.
Stults, who has faced the Giants in half of his six starts this year, moved to 4-1 and lowered his ERA to 3.58 with a four-hit, five-strikeout performance.
The second career shutout for the 29-year-old who has spent most of his seven-year career in the minor leagues, ironically came the day before mother’s day. Stults’ mother died of breast cancer in the weeks before spring training this year.
The Dodgers’ Manny-less offense did just fine, giving Stults a 4-0 lead after two innings and adding three more runs in the eighth inning. Juan Pierre, playing left field in place of Manny, went 3 for 5 with a pair of doubles.