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Is there really a black hole in the Dodgers' lineup only Casey Blake can fill?

February 24, 2011 |  1:15 pm

Each time Don Mattingly gets on the topic of who will bat second, the more he sounds like he’s talked himself into believing Casey Blake is really the guy.

That’s a curious skill to have. Coming next: Mattingly convinced Jay Gibbons/Marcus Thames could be two-headed All-Star in left!

Blake, of course, is a few light years away from being an ideal No. 2 hitter.

He’s coming off a down year and his age (37) doesn’t exactly scream rebound. Last season he hit .248  with a .320 on-base percentage, and struck out 138 times in 509 at-bats.

He is no speedster, though probably faster than most realize. And although Mattingly said Blake "can bunt," he must have been watching during BP.

In his eight-year career, Blake has laid down 22 sacrifice bunts in 4,852 plate appearances; he’s had three in the past four years.

Of course, it’s not like he’s been asked to bunt much. He’s batted in the fifth spot and deeper throughout most of his career.

But it’s also not like he’s never been in the two-hole. He saw a decent amount of time in the second spot for Cleveland (826 plate appearances), though with rather predictable results (.253, .317).

Still, somebody has to bat second, and sadly for the Dodgers, Blake is probably as good a candidate as anyone when Jamey Carroll is not in the lineup.

You could make a case for James Loney, although he grounded into 14 double plays last season. Plus, it messes up the rest of the batting order, putting a left-handed bat in front of the left-handed Andre Ethier, likely followed by a succession of right-handed hitters.

Matt Kemp would offer speed, and Joe Torre seemed to like him at No. 2 last season. Kemp had 196 plate appearances batting second last year, more than any spot in the lineup but fourth (206).

"I actually like hitting two," Kemp said. "It doesn’t matter where I hit, just as long as every day it’s not a different spot.

"I loved hitting behind Raffy [Furcal]. He’s a good leadoff hitter and does a lot of things on the bases. You get a lot of fastballs when you’re hitting behind someone stealing 30 bases."

Kemp said mostly he just wants to be able to focus on hitting from a single place in the order.

"I would love to stay in one spot," Kemp said. "I know the past couple of years, I’ve been one-through-nine, so it really doesn’t matter where I hit. I think if I hit in one spot, I’ll be good."

Mattingly, however, has correctly determined that Kemp’s greater value is hitting fourth, where his power can best be utilized.

Which leaves him back with ... Blake.

"I think he’s a good fit in the second spot in the order," Mattingly said.

I’m pretty sure he’s believing it more every time he says it, but they’re the cards dealt.

-- Steve Dilbeck

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