A common theme through the Los Angeles Dodgers’ first four games this season has been them falling behind their opponent. The San Diego Padres took the lead in all three of their games at Dodger Stadium, but twice failed to come away with a win.
Paul Goldschmidt’s three-run home run in the third inning on Friday put the Dodgers in the familiar setting of trailing in a game, however they again managed to battle back. Yasmani Grandal’s first hit of the season came by way of a solo home run and Jimmy Rollins tied the game in the fifth inning with a two-run double.
The game headed into extra innings, which spelled trouble as the wheels began to fall off in the 10th. J.P. Howell issued a one-out walk to pinch-hitter Cliff Pennington and a wild pitch allowed him to move into scoring position.
Pennington then stole third base without a throw on what was called ball four to A.J. Pollock and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly emerged from the dugout. It wasn’t to remove Howell from the game, but instead to pluck Yasiel Puig from the outfield and place him at third base as part of a five-man infield.
Though the change may have seemed unconventional, Mattingly said the team practiced it during Spring Training and elaborated on how he decided where to place Puig, via Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:
I didn’t want them to hit it to him,” Mattingly said. “When we worked on it (in Spring Training), he was the best guy of the three in the outfield. Actually, his hands are pretty good. Put him on that side because it’s the last place the ball will be hit.”
The move didn’t pay off as Ender Inciarte got the ball past a diving Adrian Gonzalez for the game-winning hit. Puig’s time at third base was brief, which is OK with him considering it’s not the infield position of choice:
I like shortstop,” he said. “I can catch the ball.”
The infield shift was reminiscent of one the Dodgers deployed against the Padres last season, though that time Andre Ethier was the outfielder to form the five-man infield with the bases loaded and one out.
The Dodgers lined four players between first and second base and the strategy worked as Seth Smith hit into a force out. However, the Dodgers returned to a more traditional alignment and Grandal, then with the Padres, delivered a walk-off RBI single.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly discusses catching situation