The loss of Hanley Ramirez has thrown the Dodgers' infield plans in disarray, but it's a problem for which the Dodgers plan to solve in house. But losing their shortstop for eight weeks doesn't mean manager Don Mattingly has to like it.
"I'm not comfortable with anything going on at shortstop right now," Mattingly said on Thursday before the Dodgers beat the Cubs 5-4 in Tucson.
Not that it gets any clearer once Ramirez returns, given that Ramirez has played a scant few innings at shortstop since the end of last season.
"Am I going to be comfortable in eight weeks with a guy who hasn't played if it's a mess there? It depends what his work looks like I guess," Mattingly said. "Is he going to be able to get tons of work and make us say he looks great still? Then you play in rehab games and that looks great. But again we're in hypotheticals."
To make sure shortstop is not a mess, the Dodgers have two options at the position. They will either move Luis Cruz from third base to shortstop, which opens the hot corner up to a number of candidates, or they insert Dee Gordon at shortstop and hope he is much better than the .228/.280/.281 line he put up in 2012.
Not that offense is the only consideration, or the most important one.
"I lose a shortstop. We've been talking about for a few years about building out team around pitching and being able to catch the ball for them. We picked our catcher last year from the standpoint of calling the game, to be there for the pitching staff, and we'll take what we get offensively," Mattingly said. "Shortstop is one of those positions. We talked about it with Hanley. If he wasn't going to be able to play short good enough to be able to defend there, we were going to have to make a decision there anyway. In my mind it's a defensive position."
The Dodgers made a run at third baseman Scott Rolen during the offseason, but with Ramirez out until mid May general manager Ned Colletti said the team will use its depth to fill the hole rather than turn to Rolen or someone else outside the organization.
"That was really up to Scott at that point and time. I haven't talked to him since whenever that was. If it was going to be all year long we'd think about it differently, but it's not all year long," Colletti said. "At least we have some depth. We have guys that can play there, and we'll try to make the best of it."
Having Cruz at shortstop with a mix of Jerry Hairston Jr., Juan Uribe, and Nick Punto is the preferred choice, but Gordon shouldn't be counted out. The Dodgers wanted Gordon to start the year in Triple-A Albuquerque to continue to develop, but he could find his way back into the lineup for the first month and a half of the season.
"We didn’t say (Gordon) wasn’t Plan A. We just said we haven’t made a decision yet. Again, this has all happened very quickly," Mattingly said. "Having an original plan where we’re trying to develop a guy and get him back to where we think he can be. Then all of a sudden, you try to totally change gears on the spur of the moment. You should at least take a couple seconds, try to think about it and what’s the best thing for everybody."
Mattingly did say that if Gordon is the primary shortstop, he would likely fit more at the bottom of the batting order than the top, where he batted most of last season.
Though the injury to Ramirez happened in the World Baseball Classic, that certainly wasn't the reason for the injury - "A lot of guys dive every day," Mattingly said - but that doesn't make it any less a bitter pill to swallow.
"You kind of go back to what WBC is intended for and that’s to promote baseball everywhere. Just because one of our guys is the guy who gets hurt – if it was somebody from another team who got hurt, it would still be a great tournament doesn’t seem to be the way to go," Mattingly said. "I thought the tournament was great. I watched that game and I thought the beginning of that game the other night in San Francisco was so cool with all the flags and everything, the whole setup seemed really cool to me.
"Then obviously one of our guys goes down, that’s the risk of the WBC. It sours you a little bit when one of your guys goes down, getting hurt, but I guess, again, there’s nothing you can do. You know guys want to play for their country."
- Chad Billingsley and Hyun-jin Ryu will each pitch on Saturday, with one throwing during the afternoon in a minor league game, while the other starts the night game against the White Sox. Billingsley earlier Thursday told J.P. Hoornstra of the Daily News that he was starting a minor league game, but Mattingly said a decision hasn't yet been made.
"We haven't decided which way yet. Billingsley has thrown a back field game already. Ryu hasn't," Mattingly said.
- Asked if Juan Uribe was a consideration at shortstop, Mattingly said, "I'm looking at him more at the corners."
- Matt Guerrer (17 pitches), Kevin Gregg (16 pitches), Ronald Belisario (18 pitches), and Kenley Jansen (20 pitches) each threw a simulated inning on the back fields at Camelback Ranch on Thursday, to batters Carl Crawford, Tim Federowicz, and Luis Cruz. It marked back-to-back outings for all four relievers.
- Alex Castellanos hit a three-run home run against the Cubs on Thursday in Tucson, his team-leading fourth long ball of the spring.
- Yasiel Puig didn't make the trip to Tucson, a change from the original plans, but that didn't mean his name didn't come up. Asked if the loss of a projected big bat in Ramirez made it easier to try to find a way for Puig on the big league roster, Mattingly was evasive but still provided a great line.
"If Puig was a shortstop or third baseman, it would be really great right now," Mattingly said. "But we're going to end up with three healthy outfielders. We haven't made any decisions, but there is talk and discussions all over the board just because of the excitement he's created. But Puig doesn't help our shortstop situation."
- The Dodgers on Wednesday signed 17-year-old right-handed pitcher Bernardo Reyes out of Sonora, Mexico.
Clayton Kershaw gets the start on Friday against the Reds at Camelback Ranch, the last home day game for the Dodgers this spring. Mike Leake starts for Cincinnati.