Jul 08

The end of the line for Juan Uribe … or not?

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 1:10 p.m.
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Bobby Abreu, LF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
Elian Herrera, RF
Luis Cruz, SS
Matt Treanor, C
Chris Capuano, P

I didn’t come up with the thought, but quickly I realized it made sense. Presuming that Matt Kemp comes off the disabled list before Friday’s post-All-Star opener against the Padres, Scott Van Slyke will return to Albuquerque. But when Andre Ethier comes off the disabled list, it might mean the end of Juan Uribe’s Dodger career.

Since a second-inning double June 20 at Oakland, Uribe is in the midst of an 0-for-27 slump, with three walks and nine strikeouts. That happens. The problem is that when he hasn’t been slumping … well, Uribe can hardly say he’s ever not been slumping as a Dodger.

If Uribe gets an at-bat today and makes an out, that will leave him with exactly 80 hits in 400 at-bats as a Dodger – a pristine .200 batting average. He has 25 walks and has been hit by more pitches (eight) than he has hit home runs (five). His OPS as a Dodger is .546.

That Uribe, who is still owed $8 million on his contract after this season ends, is still the Dodgers’ best defender at third base has been the lone remaining argument in his favor. However, that saving grace has been weakened by two emerging factors.  One is that Jerry Hairston Jr. has played capable defense at third while swinging a more reliable bat, and the other is that the injury to Dee Gordon has meant that Luis Cruz needs a spot on the Dodger roster.

Unless the Dodgers are willing to start giving Uribe time at shortstop – he played 21 2/3 innings there in 2011 after 103 games for the Giants at short in 2010 – Cruz is staying. That leaves a battle for the final roster spot between Uribe, Elian Herrera and Adam Kennedy.

The choice might seem obvious, but you can’t rule out the possibility of Herrera, who has minor-league options, going back to the Isotopes. He’s been 100 times more fun to watch than Uribe and his versatility is an asset, but once Kemp and Ethier are back in their starting roles, Mark Ellis is re-entrenched at second base and Bobby Abreu, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Juan Rivera are holding down left field, there’s going to be less call for Herrera to roam around the diamond. That’s not to say that he’s without a purpose, but with his own slump to a .326 on-base percentage and .335 slugging, the difference between him, Uribe and Kennedy (.315 OBP, .309 slugging) isn’t overwhelming.

Who will bat leadoff for the Dodgers when Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier return?

Dee Gordon is injured, and Tony Gwynn Jr. won’t start often. That leaves Luis Cruz, Bobby Abreu, Jerry Hairston Jr., Mark Ellis and A.J. Ellis.

Assuming Dodger manager Don Mattingly still can’t stomach the idea of his catcher leading off a game, I would say Abreu, Hairston and Mark Ellis all have a case. Something tells me, though, that we might see Cruz there as much as anyone.

By optioning Herrera, the Dodgers can put off making a final decision on Uribe or Kennedy, neither of whom can be sent down. The question is whether those decisions need any more putting off. Do the Dodgers see any hope left in Uribe? Before you answer, note that Andruw Jones has an .820 OPS in more than 1,000 plate appearances since the Dodgers got rid of him.

My instinct is to cut Uribe, but I wouldn’t call it an automatic decision. The defense is there, and once Ethier and Kemp are back, you don’t lose much by sending Herrera down and keeping Uribe as a defensive specialist who bats eighth, nor by just getting rid of Kennedy, who doesn’t give you defense or a bat (.617 OPS against right-handed pitching).

The best news is that the Dodgers might finally be healthy enough that they can even make the decision.

* * *

Jun 12

Dodgers escape their Waterloo, 5-2

‘Twas a defeated night indeed for questionable starter Adam Kennedy, who made an error that allowed an unearned run to score for the Angels in the third inning and a decision that contributed to a second unearned run in the sixth.  Add in a 0-for-3 night that included hitting into an inning-ending double play with runners at the corners in the fourth inning, and you have what will probably be the lasting memory of Kennedy as a Dodger.

Not that Andre Ethier didn’t do his darndest to make everyone forget. Hours after his contract-extension press conference, Ethier helped the Dodgers get over the Kennedy hump and come away with a 5-2 victory.

Ethier had the middle single in the Dodgers’ three-hit fourth inning, sent Mike Trout to the center-field wall in the sixth inning to haul in a deep fly, and made a diving catch to end the seventh inning with two runners on and the Dodgers trailing, 2-1. Most importantly, with Dee Gordon and A.J. Ellis on first base and two out in the eighth inning, Ethier lined a single to right field to drive in the tying run.

Juan Rivera, coming to the plate with a .589 OPS, then blasted a no-doubt three-run homer to left for the go-ahead blow, victimizing Jerome Williams, who had allowed one run on five baserunners in the first seven innings, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who left Williams in past the point of no return. A crestfallen Williams sat in the dugout with his head in his hands after finally coming out of the game.

Aaron Harang allowed six hits and four walks in seven innings, striking out five and lowering his ERA to 3.59. But Harang was all but destined to take a loss when, with the bases loaded and two out in the sixth, Kennedy surprised Gordon by throwing to second base instead of going for an easier out at first base on a grounder hit by Williams. The throw, however ill-chosen, went right to Gordon’s glove as he put his foot on the base, but it clanked off for an error that put the Angels ahead.

But the Dodgers rallied in the eighth, and Kenley Jansen bounced back from his own loss Monday to save the game.

Nov 29

Adam Kennedy reportedly Dodgers’ next backup infielder


Ted S. Warren/APDespite how it may appear, this photo shows Adam Kennedy hitting an RBI single off Cole Hamels, not a pop out. Granted, it was a bloop single …

In 2002, he was a postseason hero for the Angels, but if he is to do the same in 2012, Adam Kennedy will do so as the guy who steps in for the Dodgers if and when Juan Uribe or Mark Ellis get hurt.

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports that the Dodgers are close to signing Kennedy, who will be 36 in January, to a contract that presumably would bind both parties to each other for some period of time. Kennedy would take the place of Aaron Miles from the 2011 team and probably pushes Russ Mitchell down the 2012 depth chart back into the minors, at least for now.

Kennedy struggled to a .277 on-base percentage and .355 slugging percentage in 409 plate appearances last season, though that was with his home games in the poor hitting environment of Seattle. His last solid season was in 2009 with Oakland, when he produced a .348 OBP and .410 slugging in 586 plate appearances.

Assuming he makes the team, the left-handed hitting Kennedy would be the primary backup at second base and third base, with Justin Sellers competing with Mitchell and any other incoming detritus for the other backup infield spot. If Sellers didn’t make the team, then Uribe would probably become the Dodgers’ backup shortstop behind Dee Gordon.

If Kennedy’s contract is the equivalent of the minor-league deal that led to Miles’ run as a Dodger, then that’s a no-risk deal that anyone can live with. But if it starts to move toward or beyond Dioner Navarro territory, one might start to wonder what the point is.