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How will Dodgers handle struggling Joc Pederson in the final five weeks?

How will Dodgers handle struggling Joc Pederson in the final five weeks?
Joc Pederson acknowledges Carl Crawford after scoring on Crawford's double against the Washington Nationals on Aug. 12. (Paul Buck / EPA)

What to do, what to do?

Dodgers phenom Joc Pederson was a starter in the National League All-Star game, a near winner of the home-run-hitting contest and an early leader for N.L. rookie of the year.

And now he's mired in a horrific slump, no longer starting against left-handers, and at least in the Dodgers' last game, not starting against a right-hander either.

Patience was the call of the day when Pederson’s slump began, but now September is drawing near, and the Dodgers find themselves in their first five-game losing streak and struggling to stay atop of the NL West.

Flat out benching Pederson for the stretch run is a tough gamble. He is a true rookie, only 23 years of age and his psyche -- not only in the short term but in the long run -- has to be considered. His confidence, always unflinching during his professional climb, now has to be rocked.

During the first three months of the season, Pederson's slash line went .244/.384/.527. In the 42 games since July 1, his line has gone .154/.302/.269.

That's a dramatic drop in all areas, and 42 games is not just some hiccup to the season. Maybe he's worn down, but the prevailing view is pitchers have made adjustments to his swing and he has not responded in kind.

He has struggled as a leadoff hitter, and perhaps of more concern, as a situational hitter. And right now he looks more lost than a kindergartener on his first day of school.

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When Manager Don Mattingly sat Pederson on Sunday against right-hander Lance McCullers and started Enrique Hernandez in center, he simply said it was because Hernandez gave the Dodgers a better chance to win. Pederson is out of the lineup again Tuesday night against Reds left-hander John Lamb.

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A year ago, Yasiel Puig was in a similar slump, and Mattingly kept starting him, or at least until the final playoff game. So, clearly, Mattingly has learned from past efforts, but what do you do with Pederson now?

"He's not a guy that's been a prospect who's come up and just doesn't care," Mattingly said. "Actually, the other direction. Probably cares too much. Probably lets it bother him too much. I have no doubt Joc's going to end up being a great player.'

The focus has to be on winning now, but without completely ignoring Pederson's development. No doubt he continues to work behind the scenes to made adjustments to his swing. Mattingly has to figure out those right-handed starters Pederson would have the best opportunity of success against and continue to give him some spot starts, at least for the next couple of weeks.

At the end of that, if he's shown no offensive improvement and Hernandez continues to hit -- he currently owns a .295/.343/.494 slash line -- then the move becomes more permanent in the season's final weeks.

Pederson will be the Dodgers' starting center fielder next season. He's still the guy who hit 20 home runs in those first three months of the season. He still has played some of the best center field the Dodgers have ever seen. He still is the future.

It's a difficult balancing act for Mattingly, trying to win now while still trying to nudge Pederson out of his current offensive abyss. There is still time this season, but the window is closing.

Twitter: @stevedilbeck

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