The Dodgers utilized their not-so-secret weapon, riding the Scott Van Slyke wave to a 6-2 victory over the Reds in the opener of a four-game series on Monday night at Great American Ball Park.
Van Slyke hit two home runs in what was a career night, and drove in four of the Dodgers' six runs. Van Slyke was 3-for-3 with two walks and set game career highs for hits, home runs, RBI, runs scored (three), times on base (five) and total bases (nine).
Earlier this season, manager Don Mattingly summed up Van Slyke's role on the team perfectly.
"He's here to punish lefties," Mattingly said in May, and that's exactly what the 27-year-old has done.
Just ask Reds starter Tony Cingrani, who faced Van Slyke's wrath on Monday night. Van Slyke homered to center field in the second against the southpaw for a 1-0 Dodgers lead, then walked and scored in the fourth as Los Angeles built a 3-1 lead.
After Cincinnati cut the lead to 3-2, Cingrani walked both Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp with two outs, then Van Slyke made him pay the ultimate price, launching his second home run, this one to left field for a three-run home run and a 6-2 Dodgers advantage.
On a team with outfielders Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford combining to make $57.75 million in 2014, and with Puig making $2 million as part of an overall $42 million contract, it's Van Slyke and his $507,500 salary managing to carve out an important and much-needed niche for himself.
Monday was the 17th game this season that the Dodgers have faced a left-handed starting pitcher, and Van Slyke has started every one of those games, with good reason.
Van Slyke is hitting .302/.474/.837 against left-handed pitchers this season, leading the team against southpaws in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS (1.311), home runs (six), doubles (five, tied), RBI (nine) and walks (12).
A mere 19 months ago, Van Slyke was designated for assignment by the Dodgers, off the 40-man roster, and he cleared waivers with ease. None of the other 29 teams wanted to use a 40-man roster spot on him.
His career at a crossroads, Van Slyke trimmed down, worked hard and by last May found himself back in the big leagues. He has hit .254/.377/.522 with 13 home runs and 13 doubles in 93 games in the majors since the start of 2013, providing a very valuable cog in the Dodger wheel.
Already a shining beacon of perseverance, Van Slyke on Monday even started his fourth career game in center field. It's enough to make a man feel like he can do anything, even something crazy like beating Puig in a race.
Kemp doubled in the fourth inning, after hitting triples on both Saturday and Sunday in Colorado. It is his first three-game streak of games with an extra-base hit since July 18-21, 2012.
Dan Haren nearly had more problems with the long ball on Monday. He allowed one home run to Ryan Ludwick, but also allowed near home runs to Donald Lutz (flyball to the wall in center field in the GIF above), Zack Cozart (foul ball to left field) and Jay Bruce (foul ball to right field).
But Haren was able to escape allowing only two runs, though his 5⅓ innings was his shortest outing of the season. Haren snapped a streak of nine starts lasting six or more innings, and snapped a streak of 10 straight starts allowing three or more runs.
J.P. Howell helped Haren allow just those two runs, leaving a pair of inherited runners on base thanks to a double play by Brayan Pena. Howell has stranded 16 of 18 inherited runners this season.
Howell got another double play to exit the seventh inning, this one off the bat of the speedy Billy Hamilton, his first career double play grounder, in 237 plate appearances.
The Reds hit into a double play for a third straight inning in the eighth, this one a 1-2-3 job off the bat of Ryan Ludwick to help Brandon League escape his own bases-loaded, no-out jam.
Dee Gordon, held out of the starting lineup for a second straight game with left hip discomfort incurred on Saturday, appeared as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning and reached on an infield single, showing no signs of malady in beating out the ground ball to shortstop. Gordon was also thrown out trying to steal, for just the fifth time all season, thanks in part to a tremendously quick tag by second baseman Brandon Phillips.
Kenley Jansen pitched with a four-run lead in the ninth inning, his first appearance since last Monday. He retired the side in order on 11 pitches, with two strikeouts.
The Dodgers go for a third straight victory on Tuesday night, sending Josh Beckett to the mound. Mike Leake starts for Cincinnati.
Home runs: Scott Van Slyke 2 (6), Ryan Ludwick (5)
WP - Dan Haren (6-4): 5⅓ IP, 5 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts
LP - Tony Cingrani (2-7): 4⅔ IP, 7 hits, 6 runs, 3 walks, 5 strikeouts