Dodgers' batting order likely to take many turns
Mattingly planning to adjust as they go with Hanley's potential early return
NEW YORK -- By swapping Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez in the batting order on Sunday, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly apparently gave a strong clue as to how he will try to awaken his struggling offense.
It should only work as well as it did on Sunday, when the Dodgers overcame the late scratch of starting pitcher Chad Billingsley and a three-run deficit in the first inning to beat the Orioles and snap a six-game losing streak.
The Dodgers open a three-game series against the Mets on Tuesday night at Citi Field, and based on comments from Gonzalez, it might be tricky predicting the Dodgers' daily batting order.
The first baseman said Mattingly met with him, Kemp, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez on Sunday to explain his plan for when Ramirez returns to the lineup from right thumb surgery. Ramirez could be back in as little as a week after originally expecting to be sidelined until mid-May.
Since Mattingly has been manager, he has strived to keep Kemp in the No. 3 spot in the order, which is typically reserved for the best overall hitter on the club. Now, according to Gonzalez, Mattingly will shuffle hitters in and out of spots depending on pitching matchups and individual track records.
"He talked to us about shifting the No. 3-4-5-6 hitters to put us in the best position to succeed," Gonzalez said. "I think it's great. It's about winning, it's not about where I need to be or where I want to be."
Gonzalez has easily been the most consistent of an inconsistent group. He leads the Dodgers with a .385 average, 14 RBIs and a 1.009 OPS, while playing all 18 games.
Gonzalez said Carl Crawford's early-season success batting leadoff is a good example of what Mattingly is hoping for. Coming into Spring Training, Crawford insisted he was happy to beat leadoff, even though his greatest success with Tampa Bay came as a No. 2 hitter. Crawford is batting .338 with a .427 on-base percentage and has scored 15 runs, more than double the next closest man on the club.
"What he's doing is incredible," Gonzalez said. "It's a team-first approach."
Hypothetically, Gonzalez said he wouldn't be surprised in some games if Mattingly bunched Kemp and Ramirez ahead of him and Ethier against a left-handed pitcher, and vice versa against a right-handed pitcher, even though Mattingly has preferred to split them to make late-inning pitching changes tougher for the opposing manager.
"You want the hitters who have had the most success against a pitcher batting the most times, right?" Crawford said.
Mattingly has been able to make up lineups with all four of his impact bats only in his dreams. Crawford, recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, didn't play in his first game as a Dodger until March 18. The next day, while playing in the World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic, Ramirez sustained the torn thumb ligament that required surgery to repair.
Kemp, coming off shoulder surgery, has insisted he's healthy and hasn't needed time off for injury, but he hasn't hit a home run, and wasn't even making much contact until the weekend series in Baltimore, where he posted a couple of three-hit games. He's batting .235 with a .294 slugging percentage.
Ethier slugged a three-run homer on Saturday for his first multiple RBI game of the season. But he's in a 2-for-21 tailspin that has dipped his average from .300 to .230.
Gonzalez and Crawford have shared the bulk of the offensive load this season, with steady Mark Ellis quietly serving as an ideal No. 2 hitter to set the table for Kemp. Ellis, who drove in three runs on Sunday, is batting .320 with a .443 on-base percentage, and is hitting .293 against right-handers after sinking to .228 against them last year.
Among the downsides to having Kemp bat behind Gonzalez is the base-clogging factor, as Kemp's speed is compromised if he's running on the heels of Gonzalez, whose greatest tool is not his running speed.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.