The Dodgers found futility again Saturday night, managing seven hits in a 3-1 loss to the Montreal Expos before 42,881 in Dodger Stadium, but unlike so many arid offensive evenings of the past, this one could not be pinned on Shawn Green.
The struggling right fielder and No. 3 batter was benched for the first time in his three-year Dodger career, a surprising move Manager Jim Tracy hopes will help Green end a season-long slump that worsened last week, when Green went hitless in 15 at-bats and failed to drive a ball out of the infield in five games.
Tracy said Friday he had given no thought to benching Green or dropping him in the order, but those sentiments changed during a meeting with Green late Friday night. Green had missed only two previous games as a Dodger, one because of injury and one to observe a Jewish holiday.
"We had a little bit of a chat [Friday] night about some things, and I told him I think it's a good idea to give him a day off," Tracy said. "He was in agreement. I want to get him away from the action for a day."
But could one day turn into two or three? Asked if Green would play today, Tracy said, "I don't know the answer to that question yet. We're going day to day."
Green said he was not disturbed by Tracy's insinuation he might sit for more than one game. "Why should I be?" Green said. "There's nothing to be stirred up here."
Green hit .297 with a franchise-record 49 home runs and 125 runs batted in last season, but he has struggled to fulfill the expectations his career year produced, batting .230 with three homers and 21 RBIs in 41 games, amassing more strikeouts (39) than hits (35) and grounding into a major league-high 12 double plays.
Some scouts believe opponents have pitched Green more carefully now that he is no longer protected in the lineup by slugger Gary Sheffield, and Green's team-high 23 walks, including nine in his last six games, provide some support for that claim.
But both Green and Tracy believe the slump has nothing to do with Sheffield's absence, or a sore left hand or a lack of confidence. They believe Green simply hasn't corrected some mechanical flaws in his swing.
"You go through a list of different swing thoughts, and after a while you realize that it's just a matter of it working itself out," Green said. "I never beat myself up mentally. I'm doing the best I can."
Green has spent countless hours in the cage working with coach Jack Clark, and is still searching for a solution. Though he leads the team in RBIs, Green is on pace to hit only 11 home runs, and he has only eight multiple-hit games.
He hates the thought of not playing, but Green couldn't put up much of an argument with Tracy. Despite a .500 career average (5 for 10), two homers and five RBIs against Expo starter Carl Pavano, Green did not play Saturday night.
"Sometimes it helps to take a step back," Green said. "You can let your mind rest when you sit on the bench. When you stay a little detached, maybe you see things from a different perspective. I don't like doing it, but at the same time, it's the right thing to do."
What Green witnessed Saturday night was pitcher Odalis Perez's first loss since his Dodger debut against San Francisco on April 4. The left-hander gave up solo home runs to Fernando Tatis in the second inning and Orlando Cabrera in the fourth and a sacrifice fly to Jose Vidro in the fifth. Perez (4-2) gave up six hits in six innings.
Pavano, the right-hander who gave up 14 runs and 20 hits in 13 inning of his last three starts, was sharp Saturday night, giving up one run and six hits in 71/3 innings. The right-hander got an assist from first-base umpire Tim McClelland, who missed a call in the second inning.
Paul Lo Duca led off with a double, and Mark Grudzielanek sent a sinking liner to shallow right field. Vladimir Guerrero made a diving catch, but Lo Duca, thinking the ball was trapped, went to third.
McClelland ruled Grudzielanek out, even though replays clearly showed the ball hit the ground before Guerrero's glove, and the Expos received the benefit of the out--Lo Duca was easily doubled off second to end the inning.