LOS ANGELES -- Don Mattingly seemed to get a little tense the other day when asked to explain the difference between Matt Kemp's struggles in center field and Hanley Ramirez's struggles at shortstop, and why one led to a position switch and the other has not.
Kemp was asked to veer from center and keep walking until he found a position where he could do less damage -- left field as it turns out. Why shouldn't Ramirez be asked as well?
If anything, Ramirez is the bigger liability than Kemp. Now that he's healthy and playing in the field every day, the issues that were so obvious in Miami are becoming worrisome in Los Angeles. He has, frankly, been exposed. He's not a shortstop any longer. The advanced defensive metrics paint an absolutely frightening picture for the Dodgers: Ramirez is -10 in Defensive Runs Saved; -6.9 in UZR. He is the worst shortstop in the major leagues, by a wide margin, according to defensive WAR.
Granted, if we take last season as the barometer, Ramirez clearly swings a more impactful bat than Kemp, and the drop-off to the other everyday options at shortstop -- say Erisbel Arruebarrena or Alex Guerrero -- might be steeper than that from Kemp to Andre Ethier.
But still, wouldn't you think the Dodgers have to be considering moving Ramirez to third base, and maybe soon? Their latest medical information on Juan Uribe isn't good. His strained hamstring, Mattingly himself admitted, won't be healthy enough to get him back on the field within the next two weeks and, for all they know, it could be months.
So, why not slide Ramirez to the far left side of the infield and, when Uribe is healthy, use him as in a super-utility role, spelling whomever plays shortstop, playing second base against left-handed pitchers, giving Ramirez a blow at third base once a week or so. He could easily play four or five days a week and the other players would have fresher legs for it.
If the Dodgers really are serious about going all in on their starting pitching -- and that seems like a smart bet if you've been watching these guys throw lately -- they'd be crazy not to at least consider going to their best defensive alignment. The way Dee Gordon has improved at second base, imagine how impermeable this team could be up the middle with Gordon and Arruebarrena turning double plays.
It's simple and doesn't involve shifting Ramirez back and forth, the one thing he has asked the team not to do. Move Ramirez to third and leave him there. It might even take some of the pressure off and allow him to start swinging the bat better.
It's not that anyone thinks Ramirez will suddenly turn into Brooks Robinson after the move. He might even play worse third base than shortstop, but the average third baseman sees about half the total chances of the average shortstop. It's about limiting his exposure.
Is this really a championship-caliber team with a defensive liability at its most important position? Ramirez had a tough play in the seventh inning. Starling Marte hit a ball that spun him around and, when he got his bearings, he threw low and off-line to Adrian Gonzalez for an error. Tim Federowicz threw out the runner trying to steal, so it didn't impact the game significantly, but it wasn't a good look to start a late inning of a tie game. You just wonder what this team's record would be if it had had a capable shortstop all season long.
With Ramirez at shortstop, the Dodgers are 29-25, solid but not where they thought they'd be. With the San Francisco Giants forging onward, the Dodgers are now 6 1/2 games back.
We've seen that this is the time of year Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti start pulling some levers internally. Last season, Mattingly benched Ethier for a game to try to squeeze more effort and fight out of the team. This year, he chose Kemp and his unreliable glove as the sacrificial lamb. If they're looking for a second button to push, it's right in front of them, with a flashing red light that says, "Eject."