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Defending Tracy
2004-06-22 10:03
by Jon Weisman

It looks bad that Guillermo Mota was left in to allow the winning hit in the bottom of the ninth Monday night.

But there isn't a bottom of the ninth at all if Dodger manager Jim Tracy backs away from his confidence in Jayson Werth, who delivered his third hit of the game, an RBI single off a right-handed pitcher.

During Monday's telecast, Werth's hits were always followed by closeup shots of him, looking wary. Very wary. If he married Mary Worth, they'd be Mary and Wary Werth.

The guy doesn't celebrate his hits. He is focused. He is big and athletic. He has power. He deserves to play. Tracy would get less grief from the media if he played Dave Roberts full time, but he is bucking conventional wisdom by giving Werth a chance to prove himself, recognizing that the singles-happy Dodgers could greatly use more power, and I'm glad to see it.

There is a moment when a new acquisition stops being "Who the hell is this?" to the average fan and becomes "I like this guy." Mota certainly went through it - last year, after his outstanding performance overwrote his controversial run-ins with Mike Piazza. Now, Werth is crossing that threshold - thanks to Tracy.

Now, if Juan Encarnacion sat instead of Roberts, I wouldn't mind, though it's still unproven who is more effective against left-handed pitchers.

And, when he does start on the bench, if Roberts pinch-hit against right-handed pitchers before Robin Ventura, especially leading off an inning, I certainly wouldn't mind.

That being said, Tracy was a pretty successful puppetmaster in the top of the ninth. He gambled that one of his first two pinch-hitters, Ventura or Jason Grabowski, would get on, so that Roberts could then pinch-run. Arguably, Roberts' presence on the bases helped unnerve Giants reliever Matt Herges, who wild-pitched him to second and allowed him to score the game-tying run.

As for the bottom of the ninth, I don't think one could have predicted the Mota meltdown, especially after he retired the first two batters. By the time it became apparent, Wilson Alvarez was rushed to warmup. Alvarez is a long reliever/starting pitcher. It's fair for Tracy to think that perhaps Alvarez might not be more effective, rushing into a bases-loaded, do-or-die situation with maybe 180 seconds of bullpen work, than Mota, who did in fact induce a ground ball from Cody Ransom. Unfortunately, that grounder went up the middle.

You can make the case that Eric Gagne should have come in, though.

The Dodgers did not produce with men on base, leaving 11 stranded. Shawn Green went 0 for 5 with three strikeouts. Should Tracy brave Green's passive-aggressive wrath and again try moving him from the cleanup spot? Perhaps. Should Tracy have pulled Mota from the game? It seems apparent now.

But put Monday's loss on the players who did not perform, not the manager. Or, at least spread both the credit for what went right as well as the blame for what went wrong.

A tough loss it was, with Barry Bonds out of the game if it had headed into extra innings.

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