It seems fitting that in a year when the Dodgers have suffered so many injuries, two innings after they optioned Dee Gordon to Triple-A Albuquerque their depth at shortstop became immediately tested. Nick Punto collided with a sliding Erick Aybar for the final out of the second inning in the Dodgers' 8-7 win over the Angels on Monday, and landed squarely on his back.
Punto suffered a bone bruise in his back, though it's not something he considers serious.
"As the game was going on it felt alright. As long I kept moving, it felt okay. We'll just see how it feels," Punto said. "I'm sure it's just a bruise, but we'll see."
Punto remained in the game until after the fifth inning, when he was double-switched out of the game.
"It was just getting stiffer and stiffer as the game went on," manager Don Mattingly said of Punto's back.
The move not only moved Luis Cruz to shortstop, but also brought A.J. Ellis into the game for Ramon Hernandez at catcher and Juan Uribe at third base. Managers hate using their backup catchers, always in fear that the second one will get hurt. Had that been the case on Monday, Mattingly would have had to make even more moves.
"I had to keep Jerry (Hairston) in the game and I was kind of down to my list third baseman there. Then when I used A.J. to double in, it puts me in danger, because Cruzie is my backup catcher and Papi goes to short," Mattingly said. "None of those things happened, so that's good."
Papi, in case you were wondering, is Uribe.
Punto if healthy will likely start roughly two of every three games at shortstop until Hanley Ramirez returns, with Cruz starting the rest. Cruz returned the lineup for the first time in 10 days on Monday and contributed with a hit and a walk.
"I felt really good at the plate today. I've been working every day during the games. It was a good day for me to play today," Cruz said. "I was waiting for the chance again. I knew they would give me another chance. I just had to keep fighting and fighting, and hopefully I can keep doing what I did today."
The walk for Cruz was his first unintentional walk since Aug. 29, 2012. But he said he didn't change his approach against Michael Kohn, who has walked eight in 13⅓ innings this season and had walked four of his previous 11 batters faced.
"I was seeing the ball better. When your timing is right you start seeing the ball better and recognize pitches, and movement," Cruz said. "It was one of those days today I think will help me tomorrow and have that confidence to go to the plate."
Mattingly was happy to see some positive results for Cruz, who is hitting just .105 (8-for-76) this season.
"I'm happy for him to be able to get a hit and a walk, and make a couple of plays. Hopefully it kind of gets him going in the right direction," Mattingly said. "We'll see what happens with Nick tomorrow, and see where we're at. With the move we made today, it's more playing time (for Cruz)."
As for Punto, he was 0-for-3 but still scored a run. He said he plans to play on Tuesday, and was excited for the win on Monday.
"It was great. That was a great game for us. We were down 6-1, and we were just fighting the whole time. It's kind of what the manager wants to see and what we expect to do the rest of the year. We had no quit, and kept fighting. It was a great game, the bullpen was excellent," Punto said. "Hopefully we'll catch some momentum from that and start playing some good baseball."