Getting Back Into Form

There are few chores in baseball more demanding than that of a pinch-hitter. He sits aroiund for something like eight innings, takes a few practice swings then is expected to hit a 95 MPH fast ball. And often it may be days inbetween at-bats. It calls, most feel, for someone who's been around. Somebody like Lennie Harris still is or Manny Mota was, whose name probably appeared in Henry Chadwick's box scores.

Which is why it was rather surprising that the Dodgers handed the job of chief left-handed bat off the bench to Jason Grabowski in 2004. After all, his major league experience previously had consisted of 16 trips to the plate, split evenly between the 2002 and 2003 seasons with Oakland. Nevertheless, after picking him up at the end of spring training last year in a cash deal with the A's, he was the annointed.

Was he ever. He wound up with 69 such appearances which led all the big leagues and set a Dodger record in that department. Although he started well, he didn't carry it on, with only 12 hits in all for a .174 batting average. Obviously help was needed in that department which the Dodgers addressed over the winter by signing free agent Ricky Ledee.

Still, they have hopes for Grabowski for he has other skills as well. He plays both corner outfields if you need him there, or third or first. He was even drafted originally by the Rangers as a catcher in the second roiund of the 1997 draft out of the University of Connecticut and dusted off those skills in spring training this season with the thought that he'd be used behind the plate in an emergency.

The Dodgers, though, haven't been able to use him much at all up to now. Bothered by shoulder pain that has lingered on since the spring, he was hitting only .152 (8-for-33) when it was determined to place him on the disabled list, then send him down on a rehab assignment to hopefully sharpen up once again.

Grabowski saw the need of it. "I have to get some at-bats to get my timing and I can't do it up here so I'll go† down and get the work that will get me back to where I can be," he said.

Often, in such cases, the player is sent to the extended camp in Vero Beach where the minor league training facilities are so his rehab can be monitored and he can also get as many swings in as he (and the team) desire. Jayson Werth did that, leading off every inning when the campers played against either each other or other teams. Often such squads play simultaneous games on adjoining fields, allowing upwards of 18-20 at-bats a day for the rehabber.

Grabowski, though, was assigned to Las Vegas to allow him to hit against a more experienced caliber of pitcher. He's doing just that and doing it well , having participated in five games to date with six hits in 13 tries for a lofty .462 average that includes four doubles and good for five runs batted in.

He's playing in the outfield, batting second so he can get up often and, in doing this, he's helped the 51's to the current hot streak that has enabled them to take over first place in the Pacific Coast League's Southern Division.

It also appears that he's getting his swing back to where it should be. Even though his major league experience had been brief before 2004, he had labored for seven years in the minors, had his 29th birthday on May 24 so well knows that the needs of a big league club are such that he could be passed over in a heartbeat if he doesn't.