Betemit keeps making most of every swing
Perhaps the best way for the Dodgers to view it is that they haven’t so much lost an everyday third baseman as they’ve gained the hottest pinch-hitter in baseball.
Wilson Betemit’s success off the bench — he was four for five as a pinch-hitter with three homers, a double and six runs batted in before the opener of the Freeway Series on Friday night at Angel Stadium — has surprised even him.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Betemit, whose three-run, pinch-hit homer in the fifth inning Wednesday lifted the Dodgers to a 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. “I don’t go up there and think ‘home run.’ I just try to put the ball in play.”
Betemit said his swing had improved since he was benched earlier this month after his average plummeted to .125. When he’s not in the starting lineup he hits in the batting cage during the game to prepare for potential late-inning opportunities.
“Every time they give me one I have to be ready,” said Betemit, who had only one homer in 68 career at-bats as a pinch-hitter before this season but is now nearly halfway to the major league record of seven pinch-hit homers in a season.
While acknowledging that Betemit has been more productive as a reserve, Manager Grady Little said he would most likely insert him into the starting lineup for the final two games of the Freeway Series, once as the designated hitter and once as the third baseman.
“He understands that because he’s used as a pinch-hitter for us at this point in time doesn’t mean that’s going to be his permanent role,” Little said. “He’s trying to work himself back in there to play every day.”
Does Betemit, who has voiced a strong preference for starting, believe that his homerun tear has put him back on the brink of becoming the regular third baseman?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t make that decision. If they put me in at the start of the game, I’ll be ready. If not, I have to do like right now and be ready every time they need me.”
Little used the off day Thursday to switch Brett Tomko and Derek Lowe in the rotation, allowing Lowe to pitch Sunday on regular rest and Tomko to pitch Monday on an extra day’s rest. Tomko was available out of the bullpen Friday. . . . Reliever Tim Hamulack, who was 0-1 with a 4.00 earned-run average and one save in seven appearances for triple-A Las Vegas, underwent elbow ligament-replacement surgery Friday.
Andy LaRoche has been walked with much greater frequency since his promotion to the major leagues, and it figures. After hitting mostly cleanup in the minors, LaRoche has been dropped to the No. 8 hole with the Dodgers, where he rarely sees many hittable pitches while batting in front of the pitcher.
“I’m kind of an aggressive hitter, so this has been different,” said LaRoche, who had a teamleading four intentional walks in only 10 games before Friday. Of his eight other walks, LaRoche estimated that he had been pitched around five times.