It’s a word usually designated for the NFL and the revolving door of quarterbacks that enliven the league each year. Rarely do we see the word used in baseball, but in this instance it seems appropriate. The Los Angeles Dodgers have a good old-fashioned third base controversy on their hands.
Last Saturday, while the Dodgers were in Phoenix squaring off against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team saw third basemen Justin Turner and Juan Uribe leave the game with injuries on back-to-back plays. Turner injured his left index finger when A.J. Pollock slid into his hand and Juan Uribe (who was given the day off) injured his hamstring on the very next play, a groundball to third by Paul Goldschmidt.
The injuries paved the way for utility infielder Alex Guerrero (who might have not made the Dodgers roster if it wasn’t for a clause in his contract) to take over the hot corner. On Sunday, in his first major league start at third base, Guerrero went 3 for 4 with 4 RBIs and a two-run home run (the first of his career) in a 7-4 victory.
The following day, Guerrero started again at third and capped off an emotional come back for Los Angeles with a game-winning RBI single with two outs in the 10th inning. For an encore, Guerrero hit a pinch-hit two-run homer on Tuesday in a game that marked Uribe’s return to the starting lineup.
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Guerrero was acquired by the Dodgers in the 2014 offseason on a four-year $28 million contract. The Cuban infielder was originally expected to be the heir at second base to Mark Ellis. However, Guerrero struggled defensively in the minors and the emergence of Dee Gordon meant Guerrero was not needed in 2014.
A three-team trade this winter that saw Gordon get shipped to Miami and the Dodgers acquire Howie Kendrick from the Angels means that once again Guerrero finds himself on the outside looking in of the starting lineup. The only problem now is that in the waxing crescent phase of the 2015 season, Guerrero has inserted himself as a rising star both with the bat and with the glove.
“He’s been hitting since all last spring, all last year – he can hit,” said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly of Guerrero. “Our biggest fear was defensively, how he looked last year, but he’s been good all through spring.”
Guerrero made five starts at third base this spring and played 52 innings in total at the hot corner. Guerrero is naturally a shortstop, a position he played in Cuba throughout his youth. 15-year veteran Jimmy Rollins currently occupies that position creating a logjam in the middle of the Dodgers infield.
Mattingly believes that Guerrero is more comfortable on the left side of the infield and now has the daunting task of finding playing time for him on the field. When asked if he thought he had a third base controversy on his hands, Mattingly ironically “dodged” the subject.
"There's no reason to get into that," he said.
Mattingly finds himself in the middle of an AM/PM commercial with the tagline “too much good stuff” ringing in his ears. Both Uribe and Turner hit over .300 last season with Uribe’s performance garnering him a Wilson Ball Glove for Defensive player of the year.
Uribe is one of the team’s veterans and leaders, as well as a defensive stalwart at the hot corner. In addition to flashing the leather throughout the season, Uribe who is often found with a cigar in his mouth, is nicknamed “Papi” (Daddy) by his teammates.
“This is a guy who had a good year for us last year,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of Uribe. “You don’t just toss him aside, and a couple games are not going to change what we’re trying to do.
“We all know a lot of what we do is based on playing defense,” continued Mattingly. “Before the game (Monday), they were handing out not Gold Gloves but blue gloves (for Wilson Defensive Player of the Year awards) and Juan was out there getting one.”
Mattingly stated that Guerrero’s true in-house competition is actually with Justin Turner rather than with Uribe. Also, he doesn’t plan on adding playing time for Guerrero despite his hot streak.
"Not at this point,” Mattingly said. “We'll use him a lot like [Justin Turner]. We know they can hit and we're going to need everybody."
Right now, Guerrero is tied for the Dodgers lead with eight RBIs and is hitting .417 despite only having 12 at-bats. Turner is hitting .250 in eight at-bats and Uribe is battin .190 in 21 at-bats. Tell that to Mattingly and he’ll respond with the most subjective term in all of baseball, if not sports, “it’s still early”.