Dodgers prepare to play by American League rules
Having struggled vs. AL in past, club hopes new format aids in success
LOS ANGELES --The Dodgers traditionally have not fared well against the American League, but the club will have a chance to buck that trend earlier than usual this season.
The Dodgers begin a three-game Interleague series on Friday in Baltimore. Now that the National League and AL each have 15 clubs, Interleague Play is virtually an everyday occurrence across the big leagues. In 16 previous years of Interleague Play dating back to 1997, clubs typically played their Interleague slate within the span of a few weeks.
In 2012, the Dodgers went 6-9 against the AL and played all 15 games from June 8-24, with no games against the NL mixed in. That's not the case this season. Following this weekend's series at Camden Yards, the Dodgers begin a three-game set against the Mets.
The AL has combined for more Interleague wins in each of the last nine seasons. The Dodgers are 115-139 against the AL since 1997, and their .453 win percentage during Interleague Play is tied for the fourth lowest among NL teams.
So why have AL clubs historically done better during Interleague Play?
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly believes it's because of the way teams in each league are assembled, with designated hitters in the AL and more versatility in the NL because of the lack of a DH.
"I think they're a little better at the DH games," Mattingly said of AL clubs. "We're built with guys that play multiple positions. In the American League you don't really need that. It's nice to have one, but you usually have a big hairy guy that hits homers sitting there. That's what they do. I think in the American League parks we're at a little bit of a disadvantage."
The Dodgers don't have a slugger on their bench. Instead, they play Nick Punto, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Skip Schumaker across the diamond late in games when Mattingly utilizes the double-switch to keep relievers from hitting.
But Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez doesn't agree that NL teams are at a disadvantage during Interleague Play.
"I think more than anything, it's set up to our advantage when they come play us," Gonzalez said. "But when we go play them, we can plug in that extra hitter. We have some good hitters on our bench, and we'll be able to have a stronger lineup."
The Dodgers will be playing under AL rules against the Orioles this weekend. That's why when the club placed left-hander Chris Capuano on the disabled list Wednesday, the Dodgers recalled catcher Tim Federowicz from Triple-A Albuquerque instead of a reliever. Los Angeles wanted an extra hitter for its trip to Baltimore.
The Dodgers have three catchers once again, but Mattingly said Ramon Hernandez is likely to DH on Friday. Hernandez is 9-for-19 (.474) in his career against Orioles Friday starter Jason Hammel, with five doubles, one triple and four RBIs.
Hernandez was a DH at times during eight seasons with the Athletics and Orioles. He said it's a challenge to stay ready to hit as a DH, because he doesn't play the field. Instead, Hernandez will take extra swings in the batting cage during innings to prepare.
"You have to be moving, especially when it's cold weather," Hernandez said. "You have to be loose before every at-bat because you might be sitting for two innings."
As for the rest of the upcoming Interleague series, Mattingly said he has several options for DH. Outfielders Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are all candidates.
Crawford is a strong possibility to DH, because management is still cautious about his surgically repaired left elbow.
"Carl will be another guy that we could DH if we want to get another guy in the lineup to give him a breather," the manager said. "You could do it with Matt, you can do it with Dre. In the past, we did it with Matt to give him a day. At different times when we've played Interleague games, you use it to kind of give a guy a day off."
After this weekend, the Dodgers won't play an Interleague series until a four-game slate against the Angels in May, with two games at Dodger Stadium and two more at Angel Stadium.
In June, the Dodgers will play two games against the Yankees in New York. In July, the Dodgers will travel to Toronto for a three-game series and host the Yankees for two games. In August, Tampa Bay and Boston will visit Dodger Stadium for a pair of three-game sets.
Gonzalez, who has played in both leagues, prefers the new Interleague format.
"I do like the fact that Interleague is so spread out, because before it's almost like the next three weeks is Interleague, and the teams make roster moves to set up for that," Gonzalez said. "Now it's almost like you can't really do that. Teams can't make those moves to set themselves up for Interleague. It's so scattered. Before, it was like you've got the next 12 or 15 days of Interleague. Now it's only three days and you're back to National League play. So I do like that."
Perhaps that will offer the Dodgers a better outcome this season.
Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.