Reporting from Atlanta -- Asking Don Mattingly about the Dodgers’ sudden surge will usually lead to the manager talking about Juan Rivera.
Let go for almost nothing by the Toronto Blue Jays in mid-July, Rivera has hit .292 with three home runs and 27 runs batted in in 40 games for the Dodgers. He has become the team’s cleanup hitter assigned to protect the previously unprotected Matt Kemp.
Rivera drove in the Dodgers’ first three runs in their come-from-behind 8-6 victory over the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on Friday, the team’s 10th win in 11 games.
“Maybe it’s the climate of Southern California,” said Rivera, who spent six seasons with the Angels. “I feel comfortable here.”
Enough so, he said, that he would like to play for the Dodgers again next season. Rivera is in the final season of a three-year, $12.75-million contract and will be a free agent in the winter.
“I would like to be back with this team,” he said. “I hope after the season, or even before, that we can agree on an extension or something.”
Rivera said he started working with a trainer when the Blue Jays designated him for assignment in early July. He was hitting .243 with six home runs and 28 RBIs at the time.
“When you’re over 30, you have to change your routine,” he said.
These days, the 33-year-old Rivera is often the first Dodger on the field, performing a series of flexibility and agility drills.
The Dodgers have scored 30 runs over their five-game winning streak. They have scored 73 runs over their last 11 games.
What got into them?
“I don’t know how to explain it, honestly,” Mattingly said.
Mattingly paused, and then offered an explanation: “Confidence is so big in this game.”
The Dodgers trailed 5-0 after three innings, but gradually chipped away at the Braves’ lead. They went ahead, 6-5, on a bases-clearing double by James Loney in the seventh.
“The entire team is hitting with men on base,” Rivera said. “We don’t get down. We were down by five runs today, but we still had life.”
Billingsley seeks improvement
Of the five runs charged to starter Chad Billingsley in four innings, only three were earned. But he didn’t blame his early exit on the error by Dee Gordon that led to two Braves runs.
“I wasn’t happy with the way I threw the ball,” he said. “I’ve been trying to find a rhythm and the mechanics of my delivery the past few starts. I’m kind of searching.”
Billingsley has given up 14 runs (10 earned) over his last three starts.