Dodger manager Joe Torre says he is contemplating going without a left-handed hitter on the bench, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe any manager would do it. It puts your team at such a disadvantage, by allowing opponents to throw their best right-handed relievers against you at will.
But it’s true that the Dodgers have basically put themselves behind the right-handed 8-ball by signing non-southpaws Jamey Carroll, Nick Green, Ronnie Belliard and Reed Johnson this offseason. And with the latest news that Anderson won’t be ready to face live pitching for at least a week, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com – along with ongoing health concerns about Brian Giles and Doug Mientkiewicz, and the team’s reluctance to make the inexperienced Xavier Paul their lefty off the bench – the Dodgers have to at least plan for the possibility that come Opening Day, they will have no lefty options better than their righty ones.
Torre faces a problem because, as was noted when the team was signing Johnson, the Dodgers don’t have room for 12 pitchers and a lefty bench player unless a) Blake DeWitt starts the season in Albuquerque or b) the team does something it went out of its way to avoid in 2009, by making a non-shortstop the backup to Rafael Furcal. (Remember, the Dodgers kept Juan Castro as a backup basically all of last season, and that was with Mark Loretta having more shortstop experience than Jamey Carroll has.)
Even though DeWitt is off to a nice start after two Spring Training games, he’s still got a ways to go before the starting second base job is his. But if he wins it, the Dodgers would face such a roster crunch that the next most logical choice might be to cut Belliard, rather than go without a lefty pinch-hitter. After all, Belliard (whose contract isn’t officially guaranteed yet) is really only with the team in case DeWitt needs more seasoning.
If Giles or Mientkiewicz were healthy, I’d recommend keeping them over Belliard. However, Belliard projects to be better against righties than the over-the-hill Anderson, so choosing Anderson over Belliard is a bit unsavory.
A different solution would be to go with 11 pitchers, but as I said all last year, the Dodgers really do have a pitching staff that benefits from a 12th man. Maybe someone should run the numbers, but I think the cushion the seventh reliever provides helps the team more than a sixth bench player would.
The Dodgers are going to have to bite one of these bullets, and after shooting through all the different options, the best one might be to go without a true backup shortstop. With Furcal looking much healthier this year, backup shortstop will be one of the team’s lower priorities come Opening Day. If Furcal gets hurt, I’d much rather see Carroll at shortstop at the end of a close game than see a righty batter against a tough righty reliever. Neither Green nor Chin-Lung Hu would be likely to help the team more than even Anderson would.
The question is whether Green or Hu’s defense makes either a better choice for the roster than Belliard. I do think, if DeWitt starts at second base, that’s where the choice would be.
If the Dodgers do the heretofore unthinkable and keep an all-righty bench, I’d bet the house it doesn’t last more than two weeks. A team should have more than one left-handed hitter on the bench. Having none, strategically, is just a nightmare.