SAN DIEGO -- Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly must feel an obligation to one of his most-respected veteran players not to jettison him from the team's plans after a few mediocre weeks.
But soon he might be feeling an obligation to the rest of his team -- not to mention his front office and fan base -- to play the man who is making Juan Uribe suddenly uncomfortable. And it doesn't have to come at Uribe's expense, at least not entirely.
Alex Guerrero was the only real sign of life in the Dodgers' 3-1 loss to the San Diego Padres Sunday afternoon -- not the first time that has happened this week. Afterward, Mattingly indicated Guerrero will start to get some time in left field as well, particularly now that Yasiel Puig is on the disabled list and Andre Ethier is essentially an everyday player again.
"When a guy's swinging the bat, you're going to find playing time for him," Mattingly said. "That's just the way this game is."
The sample size is tiny -- just 22 at-bats, a sliver of the baseball season -- but in a way, that's what has made it so urgent. Guerrero mashed his fifth home run, the Dodgers' only score, off Brandon Morrow in the fifth inning Sunday. In a game mostly filled with silence, the ball coming off his bat sounded like a cannon shot.
The Dodgers were being shut out by Madison Bumgarner four days earlier when Guerrero hit a two-run home run that gave the team life. A day earlier, he had pinch hit and ripped an RBI double down the line. Regardless of what the Dodgers think about his fielding, he's simply too hot -- batting .500 with a 1.273 slugging percentage -- not to play a lot, probably every day.
Mattingly indicated Guerrero likely will get a start soon in left field at Carl Crawford's expense. Crawford hasn't yet settled in. He's batting .229 and has a .245 on-base percentage.
That left-field start for Guerrero figures to come Tuesday, with Bumgarner pitching again, this time at Dodger Stadium. But it's probably worth thinking about starting him somewhere Monday against Tim Lincecum, too, and probably on Wednesday, while we're at it. And, if he keeps hitting like this, what about Friday? At this point, who cares who's pitching?
Aside from Adrian Gonzalez and Howie Kendrick, few Dodgers hitters have been able to carry any momentum from game to game and series to series so far this season. Guerrero is the only one who has done so while spending most of his time on the bench.
Dodgers' third basemen are fourth in the National League in OPS (.836), production Mattingly made in defending his current usage, but Guerrero is driving that train. Uribe has two extra-base hits. Turner has three. Guerrero has seven, in less than half of Uribe's at-bats.
Besides, his fielding hasn't been nearly as bad as everyone had feared. He made a diving stop on one of Jedd Gyorko's sharp grounders and a nice spinning play on another.
"It's just been eye-opening for us how good he's looked on that side of the diamond," Mattingly said.
It seems like the eye-opening phase is becoming something else. Maybe it's the time for Guerrero to be given a chance at the daily grind phase, where baseball players truly differentiate themselves.