The Dodgers didn't make any errors behind Zack Greinke in their 5-2 victory Wednesday over the Philadelphia Phillies at Dodger Stadium.
This was significant, considering how the Dodgers have played defense in the first three-plus weeks of the regular season. They have been one of the worst defensive teams in baseball.
They entered the day with 22 errors, the second-most among the 30 teams in the majors. Their fielding percentage of .974 was third-worst. “We have to get better,” Hanley Ramirez said.
The lapses of concentration were enough of a concern for Manager Don Mattingly that he raised the issue in a pregame meeting earlier in the week. Mattingly said he wants to address the problems now, pointing out that such mistakes become exponentially more costly in October.
“If we're to get to where we want to go, the games we're going to play are not 10-8 games and 7-6 games,” he said. “They're going to be 4-2s and 3-1s, those types of games where mistakes cost you runs and runs don't come easy.”
In other words, he expects them to be involved in games like their victory Wednesday.
Three-time All-Star Cole Hamels, who was sidelined by a sore shoulder, made his season debut for the Phillies. The Dodgers scored two runs against him in six innings.
The Dodgers extended their lead to 3-1 in the seventh inning, when Yasiel Puig tripled in Greinke. The Phillies scored in the eighth inning, but the Dodgers responded immediately with a solo home run by Ramirez and run-scoring single by Justin Turner.
For Ramirez, his play at shortstop might have been as important as his home run. He has five errors, which ties him for second-most in the majors among players at his position.
Ramirez is 31 and clearly doesn't have the range he once had. Mattingly accepts that.
Others on the team have also looked unsteady on defense.
Dee Gordon, who is relatively new to his position at second base, has already made a couple of errors. Matt Kemp, who missed more than half of last season, appears to still be finding his way in center field. Left fielder Carl Crawford isn't the same defensive player he was when he won a Gold Glove in 2010.
“There's going to be certain physical limitations with guys,” Mattingly said. “What they can and can't do, it is what that is. We just can't afford the mental mistakes. We should all be in the right position, use charts and pay attention to them, make sure we're communicating — all the little stuff.”
That type of error cost the Dodgers the game Tuesday. With the score tied in the 10th inning, the Phillies' Carlos Ruiz popped up to shallow left field. Ramirez and Crawford converged on the ball, but neither of them called off the other. The ball dropped and Ruiz reached second base. Ruiz later scored the winning run.
“That's just a ball we've got to catch,” Mattingly said. “It doesn't matter what happened at this point, it's a ball we've got to catch. It's as simple as that.”
Mattingly doesn't think the Dodgers can count on their offense to bail them out if they make the playoffs. “We've got an offense capable of scoring, but when you get good pitching, it stops it,” Mattingly said. “All good pitching seems to continually stop offense.”
As it is, the Dodgers' offense has slowed down. In six of the last eight games leading up to Wednesday, the Dodgers scored two or fewer runs. “It's tough because we're not hitting the way we want to,” Crawford said. “Defense is one of the things you have to do every day to help the pitchers out. We're not doing it. It's something we have to adjust.”
Mattingly warned that errors could contribute to another of the Dodgers' concerns: overworking the bullpen. “If it's costing you more pitches, it's costing you extra guys out of the bullpen,” he said. “It's always costing you something.”