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Reputations Don't Drive in Runs
2004-06-30 00:01
by Jon Weisman

After Dave Ross slid like a runaway boulder into second base and Cesar Izturis gazelled it to first to avoid an inning-ending double play in the bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday, Paul Lo Duca came up in a 1-1 game, runners at the corners, two out, Shawn Green on deck.

Lo Duca is a contact hitter batting well over .300. Green is a slumping hitter hoping to stay at .260. Does draw a walk occasionally, though that's about it in his post-surgery world.

Giants manager Felipe Alou decided he would rather have Felix Rodriguez face Lo Duca. Most of the group I was with at the game felt the opposite, me very much included. We came to the conclusion that the only reason the Giants pitched to Lo Duca was because of the past-its-expiration-date reputation Green has as a dangerous hitter.

The last thing you like to do is load the bases with an intentional walk and leave your pitcher with no margin for error. But when the guy on deck is hitting like Shaq at the free-throw line, isn't he the one you want to take your chances with? When you need just one out, don't you want to go with the guy most likely to produce that out.

Definitely seemed that way at the time, and Lo Duca's game-winning hit did nothing to change that.

Back at home, we can look at the stats and see that thanks to his walks, Green's on-base percentage is the same as Lo Duca's - and higher than Lo Duca's against right-handed pitchers. Given that a walk would have been as damaging as a hit with the bases loaded, it was more than fair that Alou went after Lo Duca.

Let's close with a hypothetical, however. Dave Roberts was apparently nursing an injury and unable to play Tuesday. Say the bases do get loaded for Green. Does Dodger manager Jim Tracy let Green bat, or does he pinch-hit Roberts, who has a higher on-base percentage, who can draw a walk as well as beat out an infield hit?

You can be fairly certain that Tracy would leave Green in to bat - even if he believed Roberts would have the better shot to win the game. Tracy would be hoping for the hit that would turn Green's season around, and beyond that, Tracy doesn't want to have to face the grand jury investigation that would arise from pinch-hitting for a $16 million-a-year player.

No. You don't go seismic in the middle of the game.

Nevertheless, the day is coming. Tracy sees the lemon in Green and is just waiting to squeeze the lemonade. You don't get the sense Tracy really thinks Green (who, incidentally, loafed it like Roman Meal on a foul fly ball to right field early in Tuesday's game) is coming around, but rather that Tracy is keeping Green at No. 3 to humor him, to placate him, however temporarily. And though Tracy may believe - perhaps rightfully - that without a productive Green, the Dodgers don't stand a chance, you sort of feel like Tracy is eager to try to see just how far the Jayson Werths and Jason Grabowskis can take him.

Just a couple more 0 for 4s like tonight, and those Dodger fans impatient for Green to drop in the order may finally get see it happen. It won't be a happy day - far from it. And it's not like anyone else besides Adrian Beltre is any kind of pyromaniac in the batter's box. But for too long now, as noted baseball critic Gertrude Stein would be happy to tell you, with Shawn Green, there's been no there there. And Jim Tracy can see the emptiness as well as you and me.

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