In the days after Carlos Quentin charged the mound, broke Zack Greinke's collarbone and went face-to-face with Matt Kemp, a Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher summed a truth about how baseball works and what Quentin can expect.
"We will get him," he said. "It may not be next time we see him. It may not be the time after that. It may not be two times after that. But we will get him. I promise."
Baseball has a very long memory. One former player loves to tell the story about holding a grudge for a decade, letting it fester, exacting his vengeance with a strategic elbow to the groin on a takeout slide and walking away from the doubled-over second baseman saying, "That was for 10 years ago."
Quentin, remember, had saved up his anger for years of apparent targeting by Greinke. Again and again he would tell his Chicago White Sox teammates he was going to charge the mound and kick the crap out of Greinke if he hit him one more time. Then Quentin changed leagues and the chance of that faded.
When Greinke signed with the Dodgers this offseason and proceeded to plunk Quentin in their third at-bat, it set into motion something that will bring an unlikely amount of energy to a series between the fourth- and fifth-place teams in the National League West starting Monday. The Dodgers went 10-19 in Greinke's absence. They are a mess now even with him back. Which leaves one to wonder if the we'll-get-him-sometime posture of six weeks ago has given way to …
1. Carlos Quentin taking a fastball in his earhole in his first time seeing the Dodgers since he bull-rushed Greinke on April 12. The eight-game suspension Quentin served wasn't nearly enough for the Dodgers, who preferred the eye-for-an-eye sort of punishment. Which means Chris Capuano or Stephen Fife: The spotlight's on you.
Capuano is scheduled to start Monday's game for the Dodgers, though an MLB.com report says he could be scratched, in which case Fife would get the ball. Certainly umpires will talk with managers Don Mattingly and Bud Black before the game outlining the expectations: no shenanigans and certainly no plunking. Realizing that at 23-32 the Dodgers are just four games better than the Houston Astros, and that they don't need to overtax a bullpen that ranks among baseball's bottom five in ERA, perhaps Mattingly will call off the revenge for this series at least. He hinted as much earlier this week.
"Those things in baseball, we like to build them up," Mattingly said. "But they don't hang around."
Of course, he admitted, it will take but the tiniest spark to set aflame the sides. At least …
2. Matt Kemp won't be around to instigate. He joined Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, A.J. Ellis and Scott Elbert on the Dodgers' disabled list, and with Carl Crawford's hamstring keeping him out Sunday, they were missing $87.1 million worth of players. Batting cleanup in the 7-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies: Scott Van Slyke, who has spent three-quarters of his season in Triple-A.
Perhaps Kemp's hamstring issue will allow him to rediscover the swing that went missing following a shoulder injury that hindered him during the season's final month and required offseason surgery. Kemp's power hasn't return, resigning him to a .335 slugging percentage, 154th of 170 qualified hitters and lower than Alexei Ramirez, Brian Dozier and even the .173-hitting Aaron Hicks. Kemp's season line: .251/.305/.335 with two home runs and below zero Wins Above Replacement, which is to say any shlub at Triple-A would be an improvement.
Desperate to supercharge a stagnant offense, the Dodgers bit their tongue Sunday and promoted …
3. Yasiel Puig before they wanted to. The plan with Puig was simple: Leave him in Double-A Chattanooga long enough that he understood the $42 million the Dodgers handed him after coming from Cuba didn't entitle him to act the fool in a car or on the field.
Injuries make mincemeat of plans, and following his ungodly spring, a similar destruction of the Southern League (.313/.383/.599 with eight HR, 13 stolen bases and a surprising 15 walks), the 22-year-old Puig will arrive to spell Kemp temporarily – and, if he plays well enough, give the Dodgers the sort of conundrum they need: too much of something good.
Lest anyone expect too much, first remember the case of …
4. Domonic Brown and how superlative talent does not always translate into instantaneous major league success. The Philadelphia Phillies took the 6-foot-5, 185-pound Brown in the 20th round of the 2006 draft in hopes he would transition from athlete to ballplayer. By 2010, he had added 30 pounds and was destroying Double-A and Triple-A pitching. He was a top 5 prospect, and rare is the top-5 hitting prospect who bombs.
Brown did, through poor hitting, bad outfield defense and the combination of the two leading to manager Charlie Manuel burying him on the bench. Brown looked like the perfect change-of-scenery guy, someone who could reach his potential away from where two years of problems built up.
The Phillies entered spring training pegging Brown for a platoon in a corner-outfield spot. Then he started hitting. Enough to earn a full-time gig. And over the last eight games, when Brown has hit eight home runs to give him a National League-leading 16 this season, the 25-year-old has positioned himself not just as a full-time player but the Phillies' All-Star.
The Phillies are three games under .500. They may have to trade Cliff Lee. At least they can take solace in having held on to Brown. It's no fun to have a former player haunting your dreams, as …
5. Chris Davis does with the Texas Rangers seemingly every swing. Considering how many great deals Jon Daniels has consummated during his tenure as Rangers general manager, this is an appropriate mother of a bookend with his dumping Adrian Gonzalez on San Diego for Akinori Otsuka. Davis, who is going tit for tat with Miguel Cabrera, was the centerpiece of a trade for Koji Uehara.
The lesson: Daniels needs to stop trading for Japanese pitchers. As Yu Darvish proves, just sign them instead.
The Rangers are so good because of Daniels' other maneuvers, though imagine what they would look like with Davis playing every day. No longer is he the hackariffic, free-swinging strikeout machine who K'd six times for every walk he took in 2009, couldn't break the Mendoza line in 2010 and had AAAA masher written all over him.
While Davis, 27, is far from the most disciplined player – he still strikes out about a quarter of the time – he's drawing walks twice as frequently as he did in '09. And even better his contact rate is higher than ever and he's not swinging at as many bad pitches. Davis hit his 20th home run on Sunday and paired it with his 19th double. The former leads the big leagues. The latter ranks third. His .357/.440/.754 line is Ruthian.
Davis is on a hot streak, no question. He is not in Cabrera's echelon as a hitter. He is unquestionably proof that one can improve with time, patience, instruction and faith in his abilities, that raw power can find its complement with time. If Davis can do that …
6. Bryce Harper may someday win a batting title. Like Davis, he is a massive man with a left-handed swing that causes balls to cower upon their approach to the plate. The scary part is Harper does this at 20 years old. Davis was still in junior college at 20.
Sometimes it's more obvious than others that Harper is his age. A pair of collisions with outfield fences this season left him banged up to the point where he shouldn't have played. Only he did, and now with the Washington Nationals below .500 more than a third of the way into the season, he's on the disabled list until at least June 11.
Harper said the left knee that has given him so much trouble still feels "swollen and crappy" – good band name – and that "you've got to be smart about what you do." And for the most part, he is. If Harper's body proves brittle over time, sure, dialing back the energy and willingness to take on stationary objects is an understandable idea. For now, Harper should play like he does. There is no history, not like …
7. Stephen Strasburg and the shutdown. Fear pervaded Washington when Strasburg left his last start with good reason: He and Harper are the Nationals' present and future, and the former without them leads to a grim latter. The good news: It was Strasburg's lat, not his arm. The bad news: It was anything.
The lat plays a vital role in throwing a baseball, and while it is a fairly easy healing process – the Nationals aren't counting Strasburg out of his next start – any babying or gingerness could cause the rest of the arm to compensate, throw off his mechanics and leave him susceptible to a catastrophic injury.
He is a pitcher, so the ever-present threat of something, anything going wrong inside the difficult-to-wrangle throwing arm makes that risk palpable for the next week, month, year and decade. It's why the decision of …
8. Jonathan Gray or Colin Moran is so intriguing to the Houston Astros. Do they choose the potential front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher from Oklahoma or the polished hitter with the 57-to-21 walk-to-strikeout ratio at North Carolina this season with the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday's amateur draft?
While the Astros could pop a surprise with Stanford starter Mark Appel or University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant, smart money is on Gray or Moran. The consensus best player in baseball doesn't always go No. 1 overall, especially with the new draft structure incentivizing a team like the Astros to save money on the first pick and redistribute it later to players who fall because of signability concerns.
Industry perception last season had Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton as the best player in the draft. Houston went with shortstop Carlos Correa, allowing them to sign pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. and third baseman Rio Ruiz for over-slot money. Buxton is hitting .333/.435/.545 in the Class A Midwest League and is due a promotion to High-A anytime. Correa – almost a full year younger, mind you – is hitting .282/.391/.411 at the same level.
The excitement of the draft will go beyond watching commissioner Bud Selig pronounce the words Los Angeles as "Los Angeleeze" because nobody is quite sure what the Astros will do. Gray has hit 100 mph in a number of starts this year and won't command quite the price tag of Appel. Even cheaper would be Moran, a third baseman with questions about his long-term ability to stick at the position.
Either would look nice with the core ascending through the Astros' farm system. And whoever it is will come with the same expectations that attach themselves to every high draft pick, including …
9. B.J. Upton more than a decade after Tampa Bay took him second overall, behind Bryan Bullington, a historic bust. The 2002 draft class, not considered a particularly strong one, spit out quite a few winners: Prince Fielder, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, Greinke, Nick Swisher, Denard Span, Jeremy Guthrie and Scott Kazmir – all of whom, by the way, have more career Baseball-Reference WAR than Upton.
When the Braves handed Upton a five-year, $75.25 million deal this offseason to patrol center field, they were ostensibly giving it to No. 2-overall pick Upton, not the Upton who for years in Tampa Bay disappointed. Whether the contract proves to be the colossal mistake it seems now will depend on whether Upton's attempted rescue of his swing goes at least marginally well.
He needed to do something. At .156/.237/.269 through 184 plate appearances, Upton was finding himself benched more and more for Evan Gattis, a move that put Jason Heyward in center field and marginalized the Braves' outfield defense. That's how bad it had gotten.
After driving in the game-winning run Saturday, Upton bopped his fifth home run of the season on Sunday. At the very least, the weekend staved off the indignity of the Braves asking whether he would accept a demotion to Triple-A. It is not easy to have known what greatness tasted like and stare instead at failure and humility. It's something at times …
10. Carlos Quentin has dealt with. In the aftermath of his suspension, his batting average sunk as low as .169. Four multi-hit games over his last nine have brought his season line to .222/.338/.444, no great shakes, certainly, but enough for Black to pencil him in the cleanup spot on a nightly basis.
When he steps in at Dodger Stadium on Monday, the boos will cascade, the fans will expect blood and Capuano or Fife will make a choice: Is it him? If it's not him, will it be a reliever? And if it's not a reliever, will it be Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday or Ted Lilly on Wednesday? Or will the Dodgers, reeling already, in need of talent and wins more than retribution, with a manager fighting for his job, get him some other day?
"Waiting doesn't send a message that you're not going to [expletive] with us," said one former Dodger.
He expects something this series. He doesn't know when. He doesn't know by whom. He does know baseball, though, and know that no matter how long the memory of players, some things just can't happen soon enough.
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