Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw scores a run against the San Francisco Giants… (Jason O. Watson / Getty Images )
Don Mattingly is hardly the first manager to ever use a starting pitcher as a pinch-runner, but that doesn't make it a good idea.
And it’s a really bad idea when the pitcher is Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw may only be the best pitcher in the National League. He’s 25 years old and pure gold. A former Cy Young winner who’s led the majors in ERA the last two seasons.
You just don’t put him anywhere near harm’s way if at all preventable. And certainly don’t do it intentionally.
But in the eighth inning Saturday night, that’s what Manager Don Mattingly did. Not intentionally put him harm’s way so much as did roll the dice by using Kershaw to pinch run for Hanley Ramirez.
Ramirez just came off the disabled list with a strained hamstring. He returned Tuesday, played a pair of games, and after the hamstring tightened, only came off the bench for the last three games.
So when Hanley pinch-hit a run home with two outs in the eighth to pull the Dodgers within 2-1 of Atlanta, Mattingly called on Kershaw to run for him.
His pinch-running options were all lousy. He needed to pinch-hit Jerry Hairston Jr. at that moment. He needed to save Juan Uribe in case the Dodgers tied it and be able to have him play the field. His only other bench player is catcher Ramon Hernandez, who maybe the slowest guy on the team.
His other starting pitchers options: Zack Greinke (coming off a broken collar bone), Ted Lilly (bad neck and headed to the disabled list) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (only a little faster than Tommy Lasorda).
So he called on Kershaw.
“I don’t like using him,” Mattingly said.
But he did anyway. He’s done it before, too, and it just always strikes me as a truly horrible idea.
“We know the situation we’re in,” Mattingly said. “Clayton is athletic. It is one of those things Wally (third base coach Tim Wallach) and I talk about. We’re not going to run him into a collision at homeplate.
“We just have a guy who can run free. If it’s going to be a banger, we’re not going to take chances with him. If the ball’s hit in the gap and he’s at second base and it’s a fairly easy score, then we can use him.”
Sorry, what if he has to slide into second or third and tears up an ankle? That can happen any time he’s in a game, but why take chances with the most valuable player on your team? It’s just unwise.
Kershaw is athletic and fast and smart, but he’s also highly competitive. One victory is not worth the risk, but when Mattingly added all his options up, his conclusion was:
“So win games. The Tommy Lasorda school of managing. Use pitchers in the National League.”
Not the best pitcher in the National League. Hairston popped up for the third out so it was never a big issue Saturday, but it should never be an issue at all.