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How they win? Don Mattingly wants up to 90 RBIs from Juan Rivera

March 27, 2012|By Steve Dilbeck
  • Juan Rivera scores past Texas Rangers catcher Chris Robinson in the sixth inning of a spring training game on March 16.
Juan Rivera scores past Texas Rangers catcher Chris Robinson in the sixth… (Mark Duncan / Associated…)

He was talking about James Loney, and how much the Dodgers need for him to be the hitter he was in the second half. You know, the usual.

But then Don Mattingly strayed ever so slightly, broadening his expectations, and that’s when his comment to Orange County columnist Mark Whicker got interesting.

"The guy we had at the end is the guy we are going to need,” Mattingly said. "But then we needAndre [Ethier] to be healthy, we need Juan to be a run producer, more of a 80-90 RBI guy. We're going to need all that for us to be in it.”

At first I thought: "He’s actually expecting Juan Uribe to hit up to 90 runs batted in?" It’s never happened in his 11-year career.

But recognizing that Mattingly might be manager-like optimistic but is also rational, I then realized he was talking about Juan Rivera.

Now, Rivera has never had 90 RBIs in a single season, either. His best two marks were  85 in 2006 and 88 in 2009, both for the Angels.

In the 2006 season he had 494 at-bats, and in 2009 he had 572 at-bats.

Which to me means: “What was Jerry Sands ever doing in the mix in the first place?”

If Rivera is going to get at least 500 at-bats this season, that would leave precious few for   Tony Gwynn Jr.    and Sands (not to mention the occasional outfield start by   Jerry Hairston Jr.).

Not unless those two other guys Mattingly mentioned -- Ethier and Loney -- really are going to sit a ton against left-handers. And I don’t see that happening, not unless they bomb against lefties the first two months.

Sands needs to play, still needs to grow. He also needs to find some center, get focused and get his too-messed-with swing under control. The main allure of Sands is his power potential, which thus far hasn’t translated to the majors. Maybe it never will, but it certainly won’t if he's riding the bench should Rivera get  500-plus at-bats.

So sending  Sands down Tuesday was wise for several reasons, though it leaves the Dodgers’ anemic bench in trouble.

“Really, what we’d like to be able to do is thump a left-hander from that spot,” Mattingly told reporters Monday.

And I’d like to star opposite Elisabeth Shue. Actually, at the moment, I like my chances better.

Mattingly’s leading contenders for that final roster spot are now Justin Sellers and Josh Fields. Last season in 123 at-bats with the Dodgers, Sellers hit .203 with a .301 slugging percentage. Fields spent last season in the minors and Japan.

Watch that hyperventilating.

Sellers offers solid defense, and although he has been hitting this spring (.357), at this point I’d have to go with Fields. In 2007, Fields hit 23 homers for the White Sox. So it’s in there somewhere.

If Mattingly wanted to stick with another outfielder, the choices are down to Cory Sullivan and Trent Oeltjen. And Sullivan hits left-handed. So if he wants possible thump, it’s back to Fields.

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