Quality at-bats + good relief = comeback potential for Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he had a pretty good idea he has an effective mix of hitters on his team while watching three of them get mowed down during a four-run loss.

Somehow, while watching Craig Kimbrel strike out Joc Pederson, Andre Ethier and Justin Turner in the second game of the season, Mattingly detected an element of fight in his group that -- depending on your perspective -- may have been wanting at times last season.

"That showed me a lot. It's kind of what we talked about wanting," Mattingly said. "Just make the guy fight for his outs. Just keep putting quality at-bats out and good things can happen for us."

Quality at-bats may not have produced quality results against San Diego's Kimbrel, one of the game's most imposing pitchers, but they have begun to get the Dodgers some traction lately. For the second night in a row, the Dodgers won a game on a walk-off hit Tuesday night. This time, it was Howie Kendrick lining a single to right off Fernando Rodney, a former teammate, to score Jimmy Rollins and Carl Crawford to give the Dodgers a 6-5 win over the Seattle Mariners.

Twice in the Dodgers' first eight games, including Opening Day, they have won a game they trailed after six innings. They pulled that off only twice in 56 tries in 2014 when they had more firepower in their lineup and, perhaps, less fire in their bellies.

Kendrick played on some stubborn teams in Anaheim, clubs that lacked power, but survived on, well, a knack for survival. Opponents tend to find those kinds of teams most tiresome to play, because they never seem to know when they're beaten.

"It just depends on the character of the players. You get guys believing they can do it," Kendrick said. "All that stuff keeps building and building. Any time you're behind, guys start thinking, ‘Hey, we can come back.' You play nine innings and you're never really out of the game. You just keep putting one run up at a time and before you know it, you're back in the mix."

The Dodgers trailed twice Monday night before tying and winning it in 10 innings. They trailed 3-0 Tuesday before they even batted because Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz launched home runs off spot starter David Huff. But there was a relentlessness to the Dodgers' at-bats Tuesday that bodes well for this offense, one which lost a lot of slugging and bravura when Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez had their bats shipped to other cities.

Kendrick struck out in a key situation in the seventh inning -- two on and nobody out -- and the Dodgers didn't score. Somebody asked him whether he thought his -- and the team's -- opportunity had gotten away from them.

Kendrick smiled and said, "You know me better than that."

Teams that rally tend to be confident teams. They also tend to be teams with good bullpens. It's too early to tell what kind of relief group the Dodgers have this season, but there are signs here and there that it's better than many of their fans might think. Andrew Friedman, who runs the front office, has a reputation for figuring these things out and he's got a small army of potential replacement arms standing by at Triple-A Oklahoma City in case he needs to patch a hole or two or three.

Yimi Garcia (2-0) has personified the depth of this bullpen, coming out of nowhere to win a spot in spring training and striking out 10 of the 21 batters he has faced. But the Dodgers also got quality relief work from Juan Nicasio, J.P. Howell and Chris Hatcher Tuesday, holding Seattle to one run after the fourth inning.

If you can hold a team in place for a while and you keep coming at them in waves, you can pull off surprising feats even if the only people surprised are in the seats.