LOS ANGELES -- No, Dave Roberts does not spin a wheel, pull names out of a hat or throw darts at a wall to pick his varied daily lineups. It only seems that way.
The Los Angeles Dodgers' manager posted his 32nd different lineup on the clubhouse wall Monday, one that failed to include third baseman Justin Turner or right fielder Yasiel Puig. Howie Kendrick was starting at third base against his former team, the Los Angeles Angels, and batting third. The right-handed hitting Trayce Thompson was in right field against right-handed pitcher Matt Shoemaker.
This is nothing like the Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey Dodgers' lineups of old, in which each man knew not only where he would play but where he would bat as well. Roberts admitted that “a lot” of his day is consumed by determining who will play and setting the batting order.
“Before the game, there is a lot of conversation with players and also looking at the schedule, potential pitching matchups and trying to have things make sense,” Roberts said. “For me, every decision I make, I’d like to think it makes sense. As a player, you want the manager [and] coaches to do things that make sense, whether it be lineup construction or when guys play or don’t play. But a lot of it starts with the conversation with players to let them know what my thought is going into these decisions.”
Roberts is sensitive to the concept of reactionary benching. Even if Puig’s day off might be related to the frustration he displayed Sunday at the bat rack, Roberts will present the new look to the lineup as his player rotation getting another spin.
“Yasiel, he’s doing well,” Roberts said. “I just wanted to give him a blow today. We’re in the midst of 20 games in a row without a day off. After today, I plan on getting him in there for a week straight. Against Shoemaker, just get Trayce in there and get Carl [Crawford] in left field to mix and match, but he’ll be in there tomorrow.”
The reasons for Puig’s frustration are obvious. He went 0-for-3 on Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals and was 3-for-11 in the three-game series. In the first seven games of the current homestand, Puig is 5-for-26 with four strikeouts. Since April 15, Puig is batting .170 (17-for-100) and has a paltry .290 slugging percentage. He has seven more strikeouts than hits in that 27-game stretch, so it was hard for Roberts to deny that the day of rest was bat-related.
“There is a little reaction after certain at-bats, where he gets a little more emotional than he has been,” Roberts said. “That is a sign that a player is starting to get frustrated. Take him out of that situation to let him catch his breath and get back in there because, yeah, from the beginning part of the season, he hasn’t shown too much frustration like that.”
As a guy who started at all three outfield spots at some point, Roberts appreciates a player’s versatility. He also believes in keeping players active, instead of sticking with regulars, though a mix-and-match approach has become necessary, with the way the Dodgers are built.
“Every player on our roster can state a case why they can play more or log more innings,” Roberts said. “Every roster in the major leagues isn’t constructed this way. But our guys, the way we are constructed, we have depth, and we have talked about it since the winter. For me, I like this in the sense that everyone feels they are doing their part and contributing to wins.”
Although there is an outcry for Thompson to play more because he is producing, there is a case to be made that Thompson’s production is based on the fact that Roberts has found the best matchups for his young player. Shoemaker is a better fit for Thompson than, say, some of the New York Mets’ starters because Shoemaker does not rely on an overpowering fastball. Roberts is not keeping Thompson down. Rather, he is trying to build him up for harder challenges down the road.
“Part of the [young player] thing is to make sure he feels involved and has some type of continuity, as I do with all the players,” Roberts said. “But I think that Trayce has never been, for me, that he can only hit left-handers. It’s just the way we’re set up to give the left-handed hitters the opportunity against right-handed pitching, and it just works out more for him and [Enrique Hernandez] to hit against left-handed pitching.
“But tonight, I just liked the matchup with Trayce in there. I think he can defend out there. For me, it was an easy decision. But I also want to keep these guys involved.”