Elian Herrera has taken advantage of his golden opportunity so far.
With eight players currently on the disabled list, the Dodgers have had to adjust on the fly with their roster, especially this month. In May alone, four players who started the month in Triple A Albuquerque have totaled 82 plate appearances with the Dodgers. Chief among them is Elian Herrera, who has stepped right in and has become a fixture in the Dodger lineup.
"The guy who has been the most consistent has been Elian. He's been able to play second, he's been able to play third, and he played center that one day in Arizona," said manager Don Mattingly. "He has swung the bat decently from both sides of the plate. He's got some speed, and he's shown some awareness. He's been solid."
Herrera tonight is starting at second base, the seventh straight game he has started. He has taken over the second spot in the lineup from the injured Mark Ellis, starting six of seven games batting second. In the other game, Herrera batted lead off and played center field.
It is a far cry from the catcher who was signed by the Dodgers out of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic in 2003.
"I was really slow and skinny, but I had a good arm. My dad was a big guy, and they assumed I would grow into the position," Herrera said. "I had to work hard on my legs, because I want to be behind the plate for nine innings, then I gained speed."
Herrera said he would run on the beach every day, and after running in all that sand eventually he felt like he was flying on a baseball field. In the Dominican Summer League in 2004, the Dodgers moved Herrera to second base, which began a journey of nine seasons in the minor leagues before getting the call on May 14 when Juan Uribe was placed on the disabled list.
Mattingly likened Herrera's journey to that of Casey Blake, who debuted at age 25 but didn't have more than a cup of coffee in the majors until age 29.
"Elian's been nine years in the minor leagues. I think Casey was eight. Those guys get a ton of baseball," Mattingly said. "When you've been through that many minor league seasons, that means you've been to a lot of spring training. You've heard a lot of talks about defense, baserunning, outfield drills, infield drills. They're going to drill you.
"You get a guy like that, this is almost a veteran that has played a ton of baseball. He's an older guy, more mature, who probably appreciates where he's at. He's had to fight his way to get here."
That's exactly how Herrera, now 27, feels.
"It's great. It was something that was always on my mind when I was young," Herrera said. "This year I knew I was not in spring training, but I was happy every time I was sent to the big league side, to be around all the players, it was amazing."
Herrera played in four games with the Dodgers in spring training, and was 3-for-6. With Triple A Albuquerque he was hitting .358 with a .381 on-base percentage when he got the call to the big leagues. Herrera has seen a big difference in quality between major and minor league pitchers.
"They command every pitch. When they want to throw in, it's in. When they want to throw out, it's out. They throw a lot of strikes. I just have to know my strike zone, because I know no matter what pitch they will be around the plate, and I just try to make contact," Herrera said. "I try to use my legs, and my god-given speed. I try to do the little things and not try to do too much."
Herrera has done well so far, hitting .355/.394/.452 in 11 games, including at least one hit in each of his seven starts. He has picked up where Ellis left off, as Dodgers second basemen lead MLB with a .385 on-base percentage and 35 runs scored.
If Herrera needs a role model, for a 27-year old rookie who played second base and the outfield in the minors, he can look no further than his first base coach, Davey Lopes, who debuted with the Dodgers in 1972.
"You're just happy to be there. The age factor doesn't come up until people talk about it. You already know that you're older than most rookies at the time, so you kind of downplay it," Lopes said. "My attitude is, what does age have to do with it if you are doing the job?"
Lopes likes what he sees in Herrera.
"He appears to be a good talent, he's got really good speed. However we've used him, he's done well at second, third, and center field," Lopes said. "Just watch his body style and how he runs. He plays younger than he is chronologically. His body is strong and he's quick. He's not going to lose that right away."
Herrera, meanwhile, is enjoying his time in the big leagues, no matter how long it lasts.
"I don't worry about what will happen when the other guys come back. I just go out and have fun, relax, and play the game," Herrera said. "You can't have a lot of things on your mind and play this game. This is a game with a lot of pressure no matter what, and all you can do is go out and do the best you can."
Game Time: 7:10 p.m.
TV: Prime Ticket