Gloves for L.A.

Its bad enough the Dodgers have only a single arm among the three outfield positions, the fielding virus has now attacked the infield as well. If the Dodgers want to remain in or near first in the National League West, they are going to have to improve with the glove and tighten up the defense where it can.

Nothing short of a miracle or a transplant can improve the throwing arms of Luis Gonzalez or Juan Pierre. Gonzalez' 39 year old legs, already two steps short of his prime, surely will get slower rather than faster as the season progresses.

The Dodgers clearly are hoping Gonzalez's and Pierre's offensive contributions will outnumber their defensive limitations. Some days this works, other days it does not.

This is clearly a risk for the Dodgers, praying they can reach the first round of post season play in for the second tim a row, and hoping to get past that rung for the first time in over a decade.

Unfortunately the Dodgers fielding woes have not stopped there.

While the focus on Wilson Betemit has been on the handful of pinch hitting extra base hits, his fielding at third has been, well, not quite up to major league standards.

His play has led to runs for the other team. A ball hit to third does not conjur up the image of automatic out. It is frankly more reminiscent of 'ole Pedro, the slugger of a generation ago, who asked what he thought of when fielding at third: "I pray they don't hit it to me or to Sax either."

With Betemit slumping with the glove as well as the bat, the focus next shifts to dandy shortstop Rafy Furcal, he of wonderful range and a powerful arm. Problem is Rafy tries to rely on his gun of an arm when other shortstops eat the ball rather than trying a miracle play.

Fifteen or 20 times a year, the result is a wild throwing error, the one weakness in Furcal's fielding and the one thing that keeps Rafy from getting a golden glove. Normally, a team could tolerate this weakness, but when the team is already tolerating Luis Gonzalez 39 year old legs, his Tommy John arm, Juan Pierre's non-throwing arm and the iffy Betemit fielding, the limit for toleration is not only reached but surpassed.

Now we come to the right side of the infield. One opponent's announcer said on a ball hit near second sacker Jeff Kent, "Kent has fielding range of a rose bush."  This was terribly unkind but also too terribly true.

Like catcher Mike Piazza, Jeff Kent will get into the Hall of Fame one day.

Piazza might be the worst fielding catcher in the Hall and Kent will be the most limited fielding second baseball in the Hall. (Maybe there ought to be one Hall for hitters and another for fielders.)

Like Gonzalez, Kent is 39 and was never known for his speed of foot when he was 29 or even 19. It was his bat speed.

So now we have Gonzalez, Pierre, Betemit, Furcal and Kent. That's  five of the eight fielding positions. And there is a sixth.

It's first sacker Nomar Garciaparra. While he has not embarrassed himself afield, he still is clearly playing out of position. When you look in the dictionary under slick fielding first baseman, Nomar Garciaparra will never be found on the first page, or the second or the third. 

We will stop there and remind our readers that third is the place that might be preferable for Nomar in the first place. Nomar at third, Betemit as the principal left handed bat off the bench, and James Loney at first.

With the fielding limitations of six of the eight fielding positions, really only catcher Russ Martin and right fielder Andre Ethier are truly above or at major league "average" fielders. Two is not enought for winning baseball.

Nomar is frankly closer to average major league quality fielding at third than he is at first. He is better there than Wilson Betemit and clears the way for Loney at first. Loney is more than above average a fielder at first. He adds to the defense at first and in addition, he makes up for some of the range that Kent lacks at second.

This one move makes the number of average big league fielders jump from 2 of 8 to 4 of 8 and maybe 4 1/2 of 8 (Loney covering some of Kent's faults as well).

James Loney may not be the .380 hitter he was last year but he is clearly better than the .250 he is hitting at Vegas (the difference surely being the assult to his psyche his unmerited demotion triggered).

Even if Loney is not a great hitter (which we still think he is and will be), his glove will add a run or more to the overall Dodgers game. He will save runs with his game.

He will get balls hit "in the hole between first and second". His glove will get balls not deemed throwing errors.

A move to install Loney at first becomes more pregnant each day the season extends. The glaring fielding problems of the Dodgers are no secret to anybody.

Could you imagine the pitching stats our really good staff would be with even average fielders behind them? Derek Lowe, the ground ball pitcher, would not be 4-5 with James Loney at first. He would be 7-3.

Unless the defense improves, the Dodgers can not afford to go with 12 pitchers. They will have to drop a pitcher and add another outfielder and begin pinch hitting for Gonzo and Pierre as early as the 5th inning, like manager Grady Little did so well one night last week.