Why have the Dodgers shortened their bench in the playoffs?

Through their first seven postseason games, the Dodgers have given at-bats to three position players off their bench: Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker and Michael Young — no Tim Federowicz, Scott Van Slyke or Dee Gordon.

Why the short bench?

“It depends on how the game goes,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “These games have been telling us what to do. When your starting pitching is going deep every day, you don’t use pinch-hitters. Zack went 8, right? Kersh was 7 full. Ryu — when guys are going deep you don’t use pinch-hitters.”

The script changed on Tuesday. Dodgers starter Ricky Nolasco was removed after four innings. Schumaker pinch-hit for the pitcher’s spot, then was removed from the game, so we could see more of the Dodgers’ bench tonight.

Daily Distractions: Andre Ethier in center field? ‘If we get it, it’s a nice surprise.’

Andre Ethier

Andre Ethier grounded out in a pinch-hit appearance in Game 1 on Thursday. (Getty Images)

Andre Ethier ran out a ground ball to first base on Thursday night, and his left foot didn’t fall off.

Better yet, there seems to be some improvement in the health of the Dodgers’ center fielder, who’s been limited to pinch-hitting duties in the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said that Ethier “could possibly stay in the game if it’s the right situation” if he reaches base in Game 2 tonight.

That’s an important step forward for a player who limped onto the field for warmups Wednesday and still doesn’t look completely right compared to his healthy teammates. Ethier injured his left ankle in early September and has two at-bats in the past three weeks.

Still, Mattingly doesn’t expect to get Ethier back in the outfield before the series ends.

“I haven’t really counted on it,” the manager said Friday. “As the days go on, it just gets better and better. But I’ve really kind of resigned myself to the fact that this guy’s coming off the bench. If I’m able to get that, fine. But I’m trying to get Scott (Van Slyke) some time out there, as far as work. Dee (Gordon) is getting some time in, just in case of emergency. Hopefully this thing just keeps getting better, but we’ll see.

“If we get it, it’s a nice surprise.”

The plan, then, is to keep Skip Schumaker in center field, with Van Slyke the backup. Schumaker is in the Dodgers’ starting lineup for Game 2.

Some bullet points for a National Taco Day:
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Dodgers announce their National League Division Series roster.

Paco Rodriguez

Left-handed pitcher Paco Rodriguez and right-hander Ronald Belisario (right) are both on the Dodgers’ roster for the National League Division Series (Sarah Reingewirtz/Staff photographer)

Andre Ethier will be on the Dodgers’ active roster for the National League Division Series, the team announced today. So will speedster Dee Gordon and rookie outfielder Scott Van Slyke.

However, utility player Jerry Hairston Jr., pitchers Carlos Marmol, Brandon League and Edinson Volquez won’t be available when the Dodgers begin play tonight in the best-of-five series against the Atlanta Braves.

The availability of Ethier, who injured his lower left leg (including the Achilles heel, ankle and shin) in early September, has been in jeopardy for weeks. Even Wednesday, he was seen limping onto the field for a team workout. He will likely be limited to pinch-hitting duties while Skip Schumaker assumes the starting center fielder’s job.

Conversely, Gordon will likely be limited to pinch-running duties. He’s been taking reps in center field, as has Van Slyke, who gives the Dodgers some power (.803 OPS in 53 regular-season games) off the bench.

The absence of Hairston isn’t a big surprise. He batted .143, with one home run in 42 games, after the All-Star break. A back injury had also been bothering him recently.

A bigger surprise was the inclusion of Chris Capuano, who started 20 games in the regular season, as a left-handed relief pitcher. Ricky Nolasco was chosen over Capuano and Volquez to start Game 4, and Volquez had pitched consistently in a fifth starter’s role while Capuano missed three weeks in September with a strained left groin. The Dodgers already have two left-handers in the bullpen, J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez, though Rodriguez has struggled with his control in September.

Still, Capuano didn’t allow a run in three September relief appearances. His final start of August was stellar (7 IP, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K’s against the San Diego Padres), and his experience at age 35 might have played to his advantage.

Right-handers Marmol and League have experience too, and had to be among the toughest decisions for manager Don Mattingly. Marmol went 0-0 with a 2.53 ERA in 21 relief appearances after being acquired in a midseason trade with the Chicago Cubs.

League, signed to a four-year, $27.5 million deal last fall that made him the Dodgers’ highest-paid reliever, struggled mightily in August and September. He allowed 25 hits in 19 appearances the last two months, including three that left the park. League also has no postseason experience.

The Dodgers’ complete roster (the Atlanta Braves’ roster can be found here):
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San Francisco Giants 6, Dodgers 4

Ricky Nolasco

Ricky Nolasco has allowed 17 earned runs in his last 12 innings, spanning three starts. (Associated Press photo)

If you looked beyond the final score, beyond Ricky Nolasco‘s struggles, you might have noticed the difference between the playoff team and the non-playoff team Wednesday night at AT&T Park.

San Francisco starter Barry Zito was removed from the game, likely his last as a Giant, after pitching five solid innings with the Dodgers trailing 5-2. Zito did not allow a hit until the fourth inning and he did not react well to being removed in the fifth.

A KCAL camera followed the left-hander as he stomped from one end of the dugout to another. Zito appeared to swipe at a water cooler and hastily discard a paper cup, nothing too crazy and nothing that was too difficult to comprehend. After signing a 7-year contract worth $126 million back in 2007, Zito mostly underperformed (ERA-plus of 86) while his teammates won the World Series twice. Wednesday night might have been his last chance to do something right in a Giants uniform; after 77 pitches, he was done.

Nolasco was Zito’s opposite. He labored through a 24-pitch second inning in which the Giants scored three runs, all on a bases-loaded triple by former Dodger Tony Abreu that might have been a grand slam elsewhere.

A two-run home run by Pablo Sandoval in the fourth inning, and an RBI double by Abreu in the sixth, stuck Nolasco with six runs (all earned) in 5 ⅔ innings. He was allowed to throw 95 pitches and pitch into the sixth inning, and it didn’t raise an eyebrow.

For Zito, there was nothing to be gained by his excellence beyond the moment, while giving Nolasco a chance to pitch out of his struggles meant something to the Dodgers, even if they ultimately lost.
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Daily Distractions: What Tuesday’s walk-off win means for the Dodgers’ October plans.

Scott Van Slyke

Scott Van Slyke (left) gets a Gatorade bath courtesy of teammates Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez during his postgame interview Tuesday. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer)

With 18 games left in the season, the Dodgers’ magic number to clinch the National League West is six. Their competition: A .500 team that just lost back-to-back games in Dodger Stadium and doesn’t appear capable of stringing together more than three wins in a row (the Diamondbacks’ last winning streak of more than three games was a five-game heater back on July 3-7).

That four-game losing streak the Dodgers brought home from Cincinnati suddenly seems less dire.

October seems more real.

With that comes the interesting manner in which Don Mattingly handled his bench in Tuesday night’s 5-3, 11-inning win, and whether it’s a useful template for how the Dodgers shape their postseason roster.

Dee Gordon pinch-ran for Adrian Gonzalez in the 10th inning. Mattingly admitted after the game that he would have pinch-ran Gordon earlier. Before the game, Gordon took ground balls at second base and shagged fly balls in the outfield — an excellent sign that the Dodgers would like Gordon, a natural shortstop, to become more versatile come playoff time.

Scott Van Slyke hadn’t homered in more than three months before Tuesday, and was only Mattingly’s fourth choice off the bench (after Jerry Hairston, Skip Schumaker and Michael Young, who played first base in the 11th inning). One might argue that he was the fifth choice. Nick Punto was set to pinch hit instead of Schumaker had Mark Ellis reached base to lead off the ninth inning.

So did Van Slyke swing himself into an October roster spot with his two-run walk-off shot against Arizona? Maybe. He might need a few more big hits like Tuesday’s.

The factor working against Gordon and Van Slyke is experience. Juan Uribe and Carl Crawford are the Dodgers’ only starting position players who have played in a World Series. Starters Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Ricky Nolasco have eight combined starts in October. Kenley Jansen, Paco Rodriguez, Ronald Belisario or Brandon League have never pitched in the playoffs.

That’s a huge boost for Hairston, Schumaker and Punto — who have all won World Series crowns.

A few more bullet points for a Wednesday morning:
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Dodgers reinstate Brian Wilson, option Scott Van Slyke to Albuquerque.

The Dodgers finally added Brian Wilson to their active roster Monday, 20 days after the former San Francisco Giants closer signed with the team through the remainder of the season.

Wilson threw a simulated game Friday in Philadelphia and recovered well enough to join the Dodgers’ expanded bullpen for the first of three games against the Miami Marlins. The Dodgers chose to option Scott Van Slyke to Triple-A Albuquerque rather than a relief pitcher, giving the Dodgers eight relievers and a four-man bench tonight.
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Scott Van Slyke recalled from Albuquerque; Dodgers option Dee Gordon.

Scott Van Slyke

Scott Van Slyke was recalled to the Dodgers from Triple-A Albuquerque for the fourth time this season. (Getty Images)

The Dodgers optioned shortstop Dee Gordon to Triple-A Albuquerque on Friday — but not to make room for Brian Wilson.

Even though Wilson is with the Dodgers in Philadelphia, outfielder Scott Van Slyke was recalled from Albuquerque and is taking Gordon’s spot on the active roster, the team announced Friday.
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Scott Van Slyke lands on the disabled list as the Dodgers shuffle the deck.

Scott Van SlykeIt’s only June, but the Dodgers have already used the disabled list 20 times on 15 different players.

Scott Van Slyke became the latest to join the ranks of the wounded Tuesday, when an MRI exam revealed bursitis in his left (non-throwing) shoulder. Van Slyke received a cortisone injection and said he should be ready to return to the lineup once the 15 days are up.

Outfielder Alex Castellanos was recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque prior to Tuesday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Skip Schumaker got the start in left field with Andre Ethier in center and Yasiel Puig in right.

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Daily Distractions: A game that broke the mold.

Nick Punto

Nick Punto went flying in this collision with Angels runner Erick Aybar last night. It was a wacky game. (Associated Press photo)

The Dodgers’ 7-6 win last night broke the mold in many ways. Lost amid the doubles, the Matt Kemp boos and the blown call at first base, here are some factoids that I couldn’t fit in my game story:

- The Dodgers’ comeback matched their largest of the season; they beat the Diamondbacks on May 22 after trailing by five.

- Previously, the Dodgers were 0-15 when allowing six runs or more.

- The ninth inning remains a virtual all-or-nothing proposition. Say what you want about Brandon League as closer, but the Dodgers are 20-1 when leading at the start of the ninth inning. They are 0-23 when trailing to start the ninth.

- Adrian Gonzalez‘s six errors lead all major-league first baseman. Next is the New York Mets’ Ike Davis, with four. Gonzalez, who has won three Gold Glove awards, had a busy day. He also failed to pick a ball out of the dirt and pulled his foot off the bag on a throw from catcher Ramon Hernandez in the first inning. Yet he kept his foot on the bag despite a poor throw from Luis Cruz in the ninth inning, completing a double play.

- The Dodgers’ six doubles were a season high.

More bullet points for a Tuesday morning:

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Dodgers outfielder Scott Van Slyke has a stiff neck, but unlikely to go on disabled list.

The Dodgers will have to make room for Jerry Hairston Jr. on the active roster tomorrow somehow.

Hairston played back to back games for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga on Friday and Saturday, and Don Mattingly wanted to give Hairston the day off Sunday, but he’s expected to come off the disabled list in time for Monday’s game against the Angels. Hairston was placed on the DL on May 6 with a strained left groin.

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