LOS ANGELES -- The Wally Pipp jokes aren't as funny after a while.
A few of the Los Angeles Dodgers dropped that old baseball gag on Juan Uribe -- you know, the one about the guy who lost his job to Lou Gehrig and forever after became a punch line -- when the popular veteran missed Sunday's game in Arizona with a tight left hamstring and saw his replacement, Alex Guerrero, drive in four runs.
Well, Monday it got a little more serious. Guerrero -- perhaps the most mysterious player on the Dodgers' 25-man roster -- showed the Dodgers he can do something else they didn't know he could do: get a bucket of sugary red liquid dumped on his head. Guerrero came up with a clutch, two-out single to drive in Andre Ethier with the winning run in the Dodgers' comeback 6-5 win over the Seattle Mariners in 10 innings and Yasiel Puig gave him the requisite dowsing as he did his postgame interview.
The Dodgers love Uribe's leadership. They rely on his stabilizing defense for the left side of their infield. They felt like his bat down low in the lineup was a key to their offensive continuity last season.
But there's no hiding the fact that he's getting up there -- he recently celebrated his 36th birthday -- and a rough spring was followed by a sluggish start to the season, both offensively and defensively. His hamstrings were a constant nuisance in 2014 and already they're starting to give him problems this season.
So, while Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said Uribe will be back in the starting lineup on Tuesday, he sounded far from staunch in his description of Uribe's grasp on the everyday third-base job. Justin Turner batted .340 last year and was second to Yasiel Puig in wins above replacement among Dodgers position players and now Guerrero is starting to put some heat on Uribe, too.
"We've got some good stuff going on," Mattingly said. "We talk about it with [Turner]. I call him Ginobili because he could start a lot of places, but he's almost better for us off the bench. I look at it the same with Alex. We're going to need our full roster and, hopefully, our guys are buying in. We feel like that's the way to go for now."
Hard to miss that, "for now," at the end.
The Dodgers gave Alex Guerrero $28 million over four years fresh out of Cuba two winters ago without knowing much about him and, after a season in their organization, they really didn't gather all that much information. He was disappointing from the start at second base. He hit well in Triple-A, batting .329, but because of a vicious dugout fight with teammate Miguel Olivo that cost him part of his ear, he was limited to fewer than 250 at-bats.
All the Dodgers really knew this spring was that there was nowhere to put him. If he didn't make their 25-man roster, a contract clause would have allowed him to become a free agent and the Dodgers would have been out $14 million with nothing to show for it. That wasn't going to happen, not before they knew what kind of player they had on their hands.
Now, it's looking like, at a minimum, he could be a useful bench piece and, his upside could be as an everyday player. As usual, it's a question of when.
"I never had a doubt I could play in the big leagues," Guerrero said in Spanish. "But it's a process and I was playing in a new country and getting moved between positions, so it took a little while, but I always felt I could do this."
Guerrero isn't the only young player propping up what has otherwise been a mediocre week for the Dodgers. Relievers Pedro Baez and Yimi Garcia combined for 1 2/3 strong innings of relief after Brandon McCarthy's wild ride of an outing -- 10 strikeouts and four home runs -- and those two seem to be sliding into crucial roles in a highly-fluid bullpen arrangement.
The Dodgers made a lot of changes this winter, but so far it's some of the overlooked players who were here all along who are providing some of the bright spots.