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Who's Got Your Back?
2004-04-16 08:38
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

I figured it out. If you were batting in front of Alex Cora and the pitcher's spot, would you be inclined to take a walk?

Such is the dilemma facing Adrian Beltre right now.

In Thursday night's second inning, with one out, Juan Encarnacion and Paul Lo Duca on second and third base and Cora and Hideo Nomo on deck, Beltre swung at a pitch near the outside corner. He made a good swing, lining the ball to right field. It was a borderline pitch, but I'm sure Beltre was thinking like Kelly Leak against the Yankees - a walk, and the inning would be dead.

Third-base coach Glenn Hoffman and Lo Duca were apparently thinking the same thing. If the Dodgers didn't score at this moment, how would they score with Cora and Nomo coming up? Lo Duca, whom Vin Scully noted had run gingerly to third base on Encarnacion's double, tagged up and took off, even with Brian Giles catching the ball on the run in medium right field.

Giles could have thrown the ball from Petco to Jack Murphy and still had a shot to beat the tumbleweed gait of Lo Duca. Instead, Giles fired it on the fly right to catcher Ramon Hernandez, nailing Lo Duca with at least 10 feet to spare.

As it happens, Cora had a triple and a double to key the Dodgers' rally to a 7-5 victory - and good for him. However, I'm disinclined to think he has turned a major corner.

In fact, the signs of life from Cora seemed to discombobulate Beltre. His final two at-bats featured six pitches - all for strikes and four looking (one swinging).

I still like how Beltre looks at the plate. In his second at-bat, he showed good plate discipline in working the count to 3-2, then turned on a pitch on the inside half and drilled it to left - again, into the glove of an outfielder.

But Beltre ended up 1 for 11 in the series, making this weekend in San Francisco a major test of his ability to try to hack his way out of the apparent slump with bad swings, and instead maintain patience and perhaps work a walk or two to restart the momentum.

Even if Cora is an inning-killer, Beltre needs to stay in his zone.

Dodger manager Jim Tracy could attempt to solve the dilemma with a lineup change. He won't alter much with the Dodgers winning two out of every three games, but as many before me have observed, the idea that Cesar Izturis bats second in the lineup and Beltre bats seventh is barely tenable.

* * *

Hideo Nomo looked like a man in his ninth hour of slogging with bags of cement. Five innings, six hits, two walks, two home runs, no strikeouts, no velocity. If this were Spring Training, it would be easier to believe he is building strength through a dead-arm phase. But this looks more like a pitcher in need of more offseason.

* * *

Unlike Rob McMillin, I thought Eric Gagne's outing was a positive one.

First of all, seeing that Tracy didn't wait to use a rested Gagne in the middle of the eighth inning with the lead disappearing was like watching your kid learn to clean up her toys on her own. (Last night, that's exactly what mine did in the bath - she put all her toys away at the end. Of course, once she was finished, she started to take them out again, but I snatched her out of the tub before she undid her fine work.)

Secondly, Gagne got the key out in the eighth inning despite literally almost no warmup.

True, Gagne got no strikeouts and allowed some hard-hit outs in his 1 1/3 innings. But he had good velocity and good location and threw strikes - a total of four balls to a total of four batters.

As disconcerting as the eighth-inning reduction of the lead was - and think how much worse it could have been if Phil Nevin hadn't inexplicably gotten himself thrown out at second with none out and a runner on third base - it was good to see Gagne get some work before the San Francisco series.

* * *

Tonight, in the series opener against the Giants, the Dodgers face Jason Schmidt, who had a 1.44 ERA against them in 31 1/3 innings in 2003, allowing a .183 batting average and no home runs. It will be the first start of the season, however, for Schmidt, who has been recovering from elbow surgery and shoulder soreness.

* * *

Jason Romano is 1 for 7 with a walk for Tampa Bay.

Jolbert Cabrera is 0 for 5 with Seattle.

Steve Colyer has an ERA of 12.46 in 4 1/3 innings with Detroit.

Toronto recalled Jason Frasor, but he has yet to pitch.

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