When the season ended for the triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers four weeks ago, Tim Locastro returned to his home in Auburn, N.Y., and started a project for the winter: painting his parents' basement.
Locastro, a 25-year-old utility player, had hit .388 for Oklahoma City and stolen 34 bases in 41 tries between triple-A and double-A Tulsa, but he figured his year was over. He received "no indication" from Dodgers management that he might receive a call-up, he said. Even so, he traveled to his alma mater, Ithaca College, to hit and lift once or twice a week, when he wasn't busy painting.
On Thursday afternoon, Locastro received a call from Gabe Kapler, the Dodgers' director of player development. Kapler quizzed him on his offseason routine and his nutrition. A few hours later, Kapler called back and asked if Locastro had plans for this weekend. Locastro went to break the news to his parents.
"I've got good news and bad news," Locastro told them. "The bad news is the basement won't be finished for a little while. The good news is I'm going to the big leagues."
And that is how the Dodgers, a team who has spent the past month puzzling over their best 25-man unit for October, staged a last-minute audition for Locastro to make the postseason roster. The team does not intend to use him as a hitter. He is here for his speed, manager Dave Roberts said, and he has a viable chance to aid the Dodgers in the playoffs.
Few men understand the value of a pinch-runner in October better than Roberts, who raced into Boston Red Sox lore by stealing a season-saving base off New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in the 2004 playoffs. Roberts described Locastro as a "burner." He has three days to prove he belongs.
"I'm playing with the house's money right now," Locastro said. "I'm going to go out there and try to steal some bases."
Locastro made his big-league debut Friday in a 9-1 loss to the Rockies, entering the game in the eighth inning as a pinch-runner for Corey Seager. The Dodgers trailed by eight runs at the time, and the prospect of stealing a base may have looked gauche. Locastro did not run on his own. Roberts merely wanted to give him a chance to touch his feet on a major-league diamond.
The timing of Locastro's promotion was curious. The team invited a raft of call-ups once the rosters expanded in September. The congestion in the clubhouse coincided with the team's 1-17 skid. Yet at the start of the month, general manager Farhan Zaidi explained, Locastro was not considered an option for October.
A series of dominos fell these past few weeks. The most expensive domino was Adrian Gonzalez, who was shut down for the season on Wednesday after he reinjured his back. By that point, Gonzalez had not produced enough to merit a spot on the bench in the postseason. He will not travel with the team for the rest of the year.
"At one point, Adrian was a lock, and now he's out," Zaidi said.
With Gonzalez fading from relevance, no other position player stepped into the void. Joc Pederson has hit .111 in September. Trayce Thompson was hitless in September before a single in Friday's third inning. Rob Segedin has a .526 on-base plus slugging percentage this season. Alex Verdugo looked overmatched at the plate and ruffled feathers by showing up late to a game in Washington. O'Koyea Dickson injured his left shoulder, and was placed on the 60-day disabled list to make room for Locastro.
"On Sept. 1, I didn't think we viewed it as plausible that we would have a running specialist on our playoff roster, based on all the other candidates that we had," Zaidi said. "Now, it's at least a possibility."
Five spots on the bench appear to be filled, with outfielder Andre Ethier, super-utility man Enrique Hernandez, catcher Austin Barnes, second baseman Chase Utley and third catcher Kyle Farmer expected to make the team. The presence of Farmer allows Roberts to use Barnes as his primary right-handed pinch hitter.
The Dodgers would appear to be deciding whether to carry Locastro or an eighth pitcher. The team has turned quiet about who will be their fourth starter, with Alex Wood and Hyun-Jin Ryu as the two candidates. Ryu got blitzed for five runs on three homers on Friday.
While Wood has outperformed Ryu this season, scouts believe Wood's arsenal has regressed in the second half, and he could provide a dynamic weapon out of the bullpen. For these next three days, they will see if Locastro can offer a similar weapon on the bases.