Just as the outfield has been in recent seasons when all players are healthy, third base was a juggling act of sorts for Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. When players reported for Spring Training Juan Uribe was the incumbent starter and there was no reason to believe that would change.
However, after a slow spring coupled with strong showings from Alex Guerrero and Justin Turner, Uribe fell down the depth chart in what’s a contract year. After frequently splitting time with Turner at the corner, Guerrero now appears to have suffered a similar fate as Uribe.
Additionally, Guerrero’s playing time in left field has also decreased. The Cuban native last played a game at third base on May 24; his last time in left was June 9. Guerrero has otherwise been relegated to pinch-hitting duty, which is something he’s excelled at this season.
In 19 games as a pinch-hitter, Guerrero is batting .333/.368/.889 with three home runs and an MLB-best eight RBIs. “He really has been good off the bench, and not quite as good when he starts. It’s part of the equation,” Mattingly said. As a starter Guerrero is batting .268/.298/.536 with six home runs and 16 RBIs over 28 games.
The Dodgers’ manager also confirmed Sunday what has become obvious. “It’s pretty much Justin, and then who it is when Justin gets rest,” he answered when asked what’s taken into account when writing in a starter at third base and setting the lineup.
While the fifth-year manager backed Turner as the primary starter, it doesn’t equate to him viewing Guerrero solely as a left fielder. “I look at him as a guy that can play third and can play left,” he said. Mattingly added he believes Guerrero is more comfortable at third base by virtue of being a natural infielder.
Mattingly credited Turner for being “the whole package,” though will continue to provide plenty of rest for the 30 year old by sticking to a plan of not playing Turner more than three consecutive games. Ideally, he said, Turner starts three games, gets a day of rest, starts the next two and receives another game off — essentially playing five of seven games.
The Dodgers appear value Guerrero’s bat over his defense, which figured to make their two-game Interleague series that begins Monday an opportunity for him to be in the lineup as the designated hitter. “That would be a good position [DH] for him,” Mattingly said.
However, Guerrero isn’t in Monday’s lineup against the Texas Rangers. Adrian Gonzalez is instead the DH with Turner moving over to first base and Alberto Callaspo filling in at third. That decision can be traced to Mattingly saying his preference is to utilize the DH spot to get players rest, as opposed to dedicating it to a bat off the bench.
With Carl Crawford and Scott Van Slyke expected to return, albeit the two are on vastly different timetables, and Hector Olivera’s presumed arrival in the Majors, games in which Guerrero starts may further become few and far between.