Juan Uribe, off to a slow start, says he's not pressing
Juan Uribe knows the refrain. He’s heard all the stories, is familiar with the rationale.
Player signs big contract with a new team, tries too hard to impress, gets all out of whack and struggles.
Uribe signed a three-year, $21-million deal with the Dodgers in the offseason and entered Saturday batting .156 without a home run and only three RBIs.
He does not look like the Uribe who hit 24 home runs and drove in 85 runs for the Giants last season.
"I can’t say for sure what’s going on, but I hope he’s not pressing," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. "That’s one thing we don’t want. We just want him to be himself.
"We’ve seen it a lot when guys comes over to a new club. They want to show them what they can do, show them that they’re worth the deal. I mean, you’re impressing new eyes, and that’s always tough. You’re trying to show people what you can do instead of just letting it happen."
Yet Uribe said he’s a long way from pressing, from trying to justify anything.
"It’s only one month," Uribe said. "Not even a month. How many more months? It’s 5½ months more. It’s not finished right now.
Last season the 32-year-old Dominican had a career year for the Giants. The Dodgers needed to add power, and he was their only significant off-season addition.
With the Dodgers off to an unimpressive offensive start, naturally some eyes fall to Uribe’s lack of production. Uribe shrugs.
"I come into the ballpark every day to work," he said. "I work hard. That’s the way to do it. You control what you can control. I work hard every day to get better. One day, and I can do better. One day."
Uribe has struck out a team-high 12 times in 45 at-bats. He has a reputation as a hard, free swinger, though some of his misses have been at pitches clearly out of the strike zone.
Mattingly understands who he is dealing with but thinks Uribe could have had some more disciplined at-bats.
"Sometimes, again that kind of shows you he wants to do something for us and show people," Mattingly said. "But you kinda are what you eat. You swing at stuff out of the strike zone all the time, you’re not going to hit very well.
"He doesn’t get cheated very often, but we still have to get him maybe a little more in the area."
Mattingly said there is no telltale sign to observe from the dugout to determine whether a player is pressing. You offer encouragement, cross fingers and send them out the next day. Otherwise, it’s hard to tell.
"Not really," he said. "They’re the ones who know it the best. You talk to them about it. We’ve talked to him a couple of different times about just being himself. We know what he can do.
"They come back. They’re career hitters for a reasons. [Ex-Dodgers and Yankees coach] Frank Howard always used to tell me, 'You’re a .300 hitter. You hit .200 in April, that means you hit .400 in May.' It always evens up to where they normally are."
Uribe’s versatility has been an early benefit to the Dodgers. Signed to play second base, he started seven games at third, most while Casey Blake was out with an injured back. Saturday he started at shortstop, where he mostly played for the Giants last season.
"For me it’s no problem," Uribe said. "I’m here to help the team. Wherever Donny puts me in the lineup, I can do it. The manager’s the boss.
"That would be an excuse. 'Oh, I no can hit because I play third. I no can hit because I play second.' Nah, that’s an excuse. Wherever they put you, you hit."
Uribe received his World Series ring from the Giants on Monday in an on-field ceremony in San Francisco. The Giants surrounded home plate and mugged him afterwards, giving him warm embraces.
Uribe was moved by their response, but doesn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.
"It was emotional, happy," he said. "The ring, the teammates, what they do to me. But I feel happy here and comfortable here. I like it here."
-- Steve Dilbeck
Photo: Dodgers infielder Juan Uribe takes a cut against the Giants on opening day at Dodger Stadium. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images