The Los Angeles Dodgers have star power. With an estimated player payroll of $230 million in 2014, that's not hard to believe.
But even that payroll, which is by far the highest in baseball, can't fill out a roster with 25 superstars. In Tuesday night's 3-2 extra-innings victory over the Detroit Tigers, several of the team's non-superstars contributed.
Dee Gordon, a converted shortstop is only playing second base because Alex Guerrero, another converted shortstop who was signed to a four-year, $28 million contract out of Cuba this past offseason, proved that he wasn't ready for the majors. Gordon was only leading off on Tuesday because Yasiel Puig was out of action with a thumb injury.
Not only did the 25-year-old lead off the game with a homer off 2013 AL Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer, he finished the night 2-for-5 to raise his average to .357 (10-for-28) on the season.
The only reason Tim Federowicz wasn't with the Triple-A Albuquerque team playing in Reno on Tuesday is because starting catcher A.J. Ellis (arthroscopic knee surgery; out 4-6 weeks) was placed on the disabled list prior to the game.
And yet, there he was in the Dodgers' starting lineup, catching Dan Haren's gem on the mound (6 IP, ER, 3 H, B, 4 K), collecting a fifth-inning double against Scherzer and throwing out Victor Martinez as he tried to steal second base to end the top of the 9th inning tied at two.
With every relief pitcher the Dodgers either re-signed or signed this offseason, Chris Withrow fell a notch down the depth chart until it appeared he would not even make the team. His seemingly impressive late-season stint with the Dodgers in 2013 (2.60 ERA, 3.4 BB/9, 11.2 K/9 in 26 appearances) must have not been all that impressive.
The only reason the hard-throwing 25-year-old is still likely with the team now is because the Dodgers were able to carry nine relievers for the Australia series and have carried eight since they returned to action for their second series last weekend. Brian Wilson's injury has also given him an opportunity to pitch in more high-leverage situations.
The result, including a 1-2-3 seventh inning against the Tigers on Tuesday, has been six scoreless innings with only one hit allowed to go along with one walk and nine strikeouts. He's now retired 14 consecutive hitters. It's unlikely he'll be headed back to the minors anytime soon.
One of the aforementioned relievers signed by the Dodgers this offseason was former Cleveland Indians closer and two-time All-Star Chris Perez. Instead of being lumped in with the many stars in Los Angeles, the 28-year-old Perez is sort of a reclamation project.
After he was released by the Indians, partly because they didn't feel he was worthy of a raise in arbitration on his $7.3 million salary in 2013, he signed a one-year, $2.3 million deal with the Dodgers to be, at best, the 7th inning setup man.
But with Wilson on the shelf, Perez has been the primary setup man for Kenley Jansen. And he's done the job, including a scoreless 8th inning on Tuesday to hold a 2-1 lead.
At age 36, five seasons removed from when he was still a great player with the Seattle Mariners—Figgins wasn't ready to call it quits quite yet.
He signed a minor league contract with the Dodgers in late January and came to camp as a long-shot to make the team. But Guerrero's struggles, which led to Gordon getting a starting job, opened up the opportunity for Figgins.
While he's yet to take the field on defense and has only five pinch-hitting appearances without a hit, the switch-hitter has now reached base three times on walks, including one to lead off the 10th inning before coming around to score the game-winning run on a double by Carl Crawford.
Guys like Figgins might be afterthoughts by the time we reach October. In fact, Figgins might not even be with the team a few months from now.
But games like these where the stars aren't coming up big and role players are making a positive impact do add up. The few games where the Federowicz's and the Figgins' and the Gordon's come up big could mean the difference between a playoff spot and just falling short of one.
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