What do the Dodgers do if Tony Gwynn Jr. actually hits?
Guess the Dodgers would like to file this under "nice problem to have." Maybe, but that would disregard the real problem behind the problem.
The penciled-in plan for left field going into the season is to platoon the left-handed Jay Gibbons with the right-handed Marcus Thames. In theory, it could add some much-needed pop to the lineup.
As of now, of course, it’s all very much theory.
There are plenty of uncertainties in all of this, the main one being Gibbons, who would get most of the playing time against right-handers. In 75 late-season at-bats last year, Gibbons hit .280 with a .507 slugging percentage. Not much of a measuring stick, particularly for a guy who had been out of the majors for two years and hadn’t been healthy for a full season since 2005.
It’s very hard to feel comfortable projecting what Gibbons would do over the course of a season. He hasn’t helped to soothe the unease -- with vision problems in the offseason and fighting the flu in camp -- getting off to his 1-for-20 start this spring.
And then there is Tony Gwynn Jr., who with his three hits Saturday is now batting .360 this spring and has stolen six bases in as many attempts. Add that to his playing the best outfield defense on the team, and one of the best in baseball, and the answer to the original question seems simple enough.
If he hits, he plays.
Only if it’s dangerous to project a player based on his spring-training numbers, it’s a particular challenge with Gwynn.
Last spring training, Gwynn hit .309 for the Padres … and then .204 during the season. In the spring of 2009, he hit .179 in the spring and .270 in the regular season.
Really, you can’t count on him anymore than you can Gibbons.
For now, the Gwynn plan is to use him as a late-inning defensive replacement behind the Gibbons-Thames platoon in left and to give him the occasional spot start. Late-inning maneuverings are difficult to deal with under normal circumstances with a platoon, but add one more challenge for a newbie manager like Don Mattingly.
If Gibbons falters and the left-handed-batting Gwynn really does hit, then Gwynn figures to move into the platoon with Thames.
All this has the uncomfortable feeling of a moving target for a team that just doesn’t have a starting left fielder.
-- Steve Dilbeck
Photo: Dodgers outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. during a spring training game last month. Credit: Rob Tringali/Getty Images