LOS ANGELES -- For days that feel like weeks, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been talking about needing a spark. Manager Don Mattingly said it again just a few hours before his team went out and got blown out by its archrival, the San Francisco Giants, 9-5 Friday night, losing for the fourth time in their last five games.
OK, so a lineup tweak didn't work. What's next?
President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has pretty easy access to a lighter, it turns out. In fact, it's right at his fingertips. All he has to do is run his thumb along those grooves, crank it and he can ignite this lifeless team at any moment he chooses. It certainly feels as if that moment is here or, at the very least, it's coming fast.
Two of the most talented players in the Dodgers' organization are doing their damage thousands of miles from where it can do this team any good, on the plains of Oklahoma. One of those players -- and, soon, maybe both -- is ready to make his impact in the major leagues. Hector Olivera is just what this Dodgers team needs. Corey Seager soon will be part of the solution. Each wasted opportunity that passes for the Dodgers seems to bring them closer, tantalizingly close.
The Dodgers weren't quite as offensively inept Friday as they had been for most of the previous week, but they weren't exactly an unstoppable machine. They scored two of their runs after the game was well in hand for the Giants, who have beaten the Dodgers eight times in 10 meetings this season. The Dodgers are 5-16 against teams with a winning record.
Meanwhile, at a place called Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, Olivera, the 30-year-old middle-of-the-order hitter the Dodgers signed for $62.5 million three months ago out of Cuba, was announcing his intentions rather loudly with his bat. Olivera went 4-for-5, finishing a double shy of the cycle, in Triple-A Oklahoma City's 6-3 win over the Memphis Redbirds. The Dodgers can't beat the St. Louis Cardinals, but at least their Triple-A team doesn't seem intimidated by those little red birds sitting on a bat.
Two numbers with regard to Olivera bear repeating: He is 30 and the Dodgers agreed to pay him $62.5 million. Those numbers don't suggest Olivera was viewed by Friedman and his guys as a project, someone who needs to continue refining his game most of the season in the bush leagues. He's viewed as the solution right now and the Dodgers have a need, right now. They could use a little dynamism.
Will Olivera show up in a week or two? Will it be Monday in Chicago? Will it be this weekend? The more the Dodgers drift and the more they continue to talk about needing a spark, the more you have to wonder, why wait?
Olivera is dominating the Pacific Coast League, batting .444, just as he did at Double-A, where he hit .318. He now has 49 minor league at-bats over 12 games. The Dodgers have compared Olivera's time spent in the minor leagues to a major league hitter's spring training. Most hitters will tell you they don't need a month's worth of games to get their swings tuned up. A couple of weeks, three at the most, usually is sufficient.
Not that promoting Olivera doesn't have some complications. For one thing, he's playing mostly third base, which on the Dodgers has primarily been the domain of Justin Turner, otherwise known as the only Dodger producing meaningful hits many nights. Turner mashed three extra-base hits Friday. He is batting .329, a year after his breakout season.
"Justin is one of our better hitters. He hits lefties, he hits righties," Mattingly said after the game.
When Olivera arrives, it's Mattingly's job to find ways to get both players in the lineup. The Dodgers worry that playing too frequently will endanger Turner's health since he has a history of leg injuries. Turner can play all four infield positions, Olivera can play two, so the Dodgers will have to take advantage of their defensive flexibility to generate their best lineups.
Turner could spell Adrian Gonzalez at first base every once in a while against a tough left-hander, give Howie Kendrick a day off here and there, maybe even dabble at shortstop. Granted, it would be a drop-off from Jimmy Rollins to Turner defensively, but the upgrade offensively makes it look like a wash. It's getting close to late June and Rollins' batting average is stuck at .197. It's barely budging. By defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating, Rollins, 36, is a below-average shortstop this season as well.
For a while, he has looked like Seager's place holder, but he's not exactly holding it confidently at the moment. Turner doesn't have the dexterity, quickness or range to be an everyday shortstop. Seager, 21, is starting to make progress against the more advanced pitching at Triple-A. He is batting .296 and beginning to find his power stroke.
Eventually, the Dodgers will have an infield that includes both Olivera and Seager, but they aren't necessarily a package deal. Seager could probably benefit from a couple of extra weeks -- or even a month or more -- in the minor leagues. Friedman said the team has a road map for Seager's development and it won't be rushed because of Rollins' struggles. That makes sense. But Olivera played 10 years of Cuban professional baseball, many of them as one of the best players in a league that looks better and better as the trickle of talent from the island to the major leagues turns to a steady stream.
With the All-Star break rapidly approaching, the Dodgers would be wise to become the team they'll eventually be sooner rather than later, giving Friedman enough time to evaluate the club's needs going into the trade deadline. For both Olivera and Seager, it's only a matter of time. In Olivera's case, it should be only a matter of days.