Thursday, July 2, 2009

Heeeeeeere's Manny

The dreadlocked creature from Planet Mannywood comes back to the Dodgers tomorrow in the 619. 50 games later, he and the team are at an interesting point in the season. I'd be lying if I didn't think the team would do well without him and yet here they are.

First team to 50 wins. 29-21 since Manny's suspension. 2 games above Boston for the best record in baseball. 7 games above the Giants in the West. Juan Pierre in the Top 10 for batting in the NL. Not bad I say.

But some of the media folks look to bury Manny because of his rehab? (Looking at you, Bill Plaschke!) Methinks the scribes doth protest too much - or are a bit late with their cries. Nobody said anything when JC Romero of the Phillies did the same type of rehab, but because we have a future HOF caliber guy doing it - the knights of the keyboard are up in arms.

I'll keep this simple. Getting up after 50 games of rest to hit a baseball is not like getting up after that long to play basketball or football. Injured players head to the minors to make sure they're sound. You can't just pick up a bat and expect to spray good hits all over the field after just batting practice and on-field workouts. Besides the owners and players union agreed to it. Got beef? Take it up at the next collective bargaining agreement.

And for anyone thinking that Manny's a steroid creation who will come back to earth and be a mortal, let me put you on game for a minute. Manny's game has always been hitting first. Yes he has power (533 HR's say so) but his main forte has been getting on base (.315 career average) and driving in runs (19th all time). I've always believed steroids can't mask a great stroke or batting eye but they enhance your power.

So with that said, I expect him to hit for average and produce runs. And nobody's happier than Andre Ethier, who has caught fire with his power since June 1 (.600 slugging with 9 HR and 22 RBI's). Never thought I'd see somebody hit three home runs in a game live and it felt surreal watching that last Friday. With that last home run, I remember thinking did he really just crush another one out? Then that 13th inning walk-off bomb too on Monday? Between him and James Loney, we got some clutch hitters on this squad.

Unfortunately, Manny's return means that Juan Pierre heads back to bench. On the negative side, it's sad because Pierre has been the consummate professional as far as showing up, getting his hits and scoring runs. He's also filled in extraordinarly well beyond what most expected of him.

On the positive side, he's one more weapon that Joe Torre can use on the bench. It's like having James McDonald in the bullpen - an okay starter but a much better threat in long relief and it makes the pen a lot stronger.

He and Mark Loretta both can excel in a pinch-hit capacity. The luxury of bringing up a great hitter/fielder off the bench as your 4th outfielder may hurt your pride but with Torre's confidence in what Pierre can do, he knows he's still valuable.

So starting tomorrow in San Diego, the Dodgers lineup we envisioned from Day One is back. Let's hope the offense peps up because after making the Rockies pitching like Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz in their prime, we could use a spark.

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