Herrera's play a pleasant surprise for Dodgers

Herrera's play a pleasant surprise for Dodgers

DENVER -- One of the pleasant surprises over the past three weeks has been the emergence of Elian Herrera, who was hitting .328 (19-for-58) in his first 17 big league games entering Sunday.

The 27-year-old switch-hitter waited nine years to make his debut in the Majors, and the Dodgers have quickly reaped the rewards for their patience.

"It's like you're getting as close as you can to a grizzled veteran coming up from the Minors," manager Don Mattingly said. "Nine years of polish and learning to play the game. He's been through a lot."

Herrera credits his recent seasons playing winter ball in the Dominican as the key element that helped him make a smooth transition to the Majors after being in pro ball since the age of 18.

"It was a hard time for me, but it was a good time at the same time, because I learned a lot of things and played with a lot of big leaguers," Herrera said. "All the time I was talking and asking questions, and they taught me a lot of things. Now that I'm here, it's the same baseball. I just don't try to do too much. I try to do my little things and try to help my team win."

Herrera was called up on May 9 to replace the injured Juan Uribe. The same day he came up, Matt Kemp made his first trip to the disabled list, and Herrera's steady production at the plate and versatility in the field has helped the team weather Kemp's absence.

"Elian's been solid," Mattingly said. "Obviously, he's not overwhelmed. There's a lot of guys that have come up and had good starts, but this doesn't feel like that. It's from both sides of the plate, he's shown power, he's had good at bats, he's shown awareness, he can steal a base, he can try to get a bunt down. He's got a lot of different things to his game. It's not like he's a one-dimensional guy that came up and got hot. He looks like he belongs here."

Mattingly started Herrera at third for the last two games of the series in Colorado, and seems inclined to use him as his primary third baseman for the time being. He's made three starts at third, nine at second, and two in center. Though he came up as an outfielder, his 2009 Class A manager, Carlos Subero started using him in the infield as a way of fitting his hot bat into the lineup.

"I was playing outfield in High A, and I was hitting good, but all the outfielders were hitting good too," Herrera said. "[Subero] wanted me in the lineup, and he started giving me ground balls and working with me a little bit, and he said, 'OK, you will play infield now.' That was when I started playing infield."