Right when everyone appeared to be back and the Los Angeles Dodgers were finally going to have a roster at full strength, both Matt Kemp and 2013 surprise Stephen Fife headed to the disabled list Monday night before a three-game set with the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks.
The moves allowed Scott Van Slyke to return to the club three days after being sent down for the return of Carl Crawford. Newly acquired Ricky Nolasco was activated to replace Fife on the roster and the rotation.
Kemp’s return to the DL comes just as he had showed signs of returning to be useful offensively. In the last two games at Colorado, Kemp went 4-for-10 with two home runs and four RBIs before leaving after taking a walk in the first game in San Francisco.
While getting healthy is obviously a need, Los Angeles needs their returning players to actually hit in order to continue their pursuit of Arizona. Carl Crawford has done about as poor of a job as possible in that sense, going 0-for-16 with seven strikeouts and one walk since his return Friday night, including an 0-for-5 in Monday night’s 17-hit, 6-0 victory over the Diamondbacks.
Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez continue to hit over .400, but can not be expected to have that continue. Obviously someone else needs to step up, as they have needed to all year, to replace at least some of the production expected by Kemp.
Van Slyke figures to get some at bats, primarily against lefties, and deservedly so given his surprising 2013 season with a .569 slugging that includes six doubles and six home runs in 72 at bats.
However, more than likely this responsibility falls on Crawford, who will play nearly everyday in the suddenly not so crowded outfield. After entering the year as something of an unknown, the 31-year-old left fielder had his batting average at .301 and on-base percentage at .358 in 51 games before going down for more than a month.
If he can, the Dodgers present a formidable top five batters thanks to Andre Ethier showing signs of life. Currently Ethier is on a small 7-game hitting streak, in which he has hit 12-for-28 with four walks and six runs scored.
Ethier’s improved hitting may not, and probably won’t, continue. Even if it does, Crawford, Juan Uribe, A.J. Ellis or someone not currently on the roster needs to make up for Kemp’s more than likely extended absence.
As for Fife, his loss hurts quite a bit less with the arrival of Nolasco which helps avoid a return to the rotation for Ted Lilly or Matt Magill. Given the timing, Fife more than likely will only miss a single start and the Dodgers can return to their original plan of sending the struggling Chris Capuano to the bullpen in the role of long reliever, something the Dodgers have lacked all season despite starting the year with seven starters.
However, the numbers crunch for the Los Angeles pitching staff is nearing. Carlos Marmol spent Monday throwing for Don Mattingly and Rick Honeycutt and is headed to Rancho Cucamonga Wednesday to throw an inning. Lilly has been in Rancho on a rehab assignment and Fife will be back shortly after the All-Star break.
The Dodgers recently began to cut some of their dead weight, letting go of Luis Cruz, designating Matt Guerrier for assignment and sending Peter Moylan back to Albuquerque as such examples. But more tough decisions, optioning Van Slyke rather than cutting one of their many utility players an example, are on the way.
Only so many pitchers, especially aging starters, can be carried on the major league roster. There is not room for both Capuano and Lilly to waste away in the bullpen and the team already made the decision to keep Fife in the rotation before his injury.
Logically, Lilly should never pitch for the Dodgers again and Marmol will have a short leash, as the Dodgers have little invested in him.
The tough decisions have been put back on hold for at least a few weeks, but they will pop up again soon. Possibly even sooner if the Dodgers continue their pursuit of upgrading their roster as more teams begin to sell with the July 31 deadline approaching.