ANAHEIM -- A versatile bench filled with veteran role players is more essential in the National League game, with its late-game maneuvering, than in the American League with its designated hitter. The Dodgers have loaded manager Don Mattingly's bench with a group of coolly competitive athletes fully aware of their roles.
"There is a thought to it," Mattingly said before Sunday's Interleague finale against the Angels. "The guys we brought in, we feel like they are kind of role players now. We wanted to make sure they've accepted that first, that you're not going be an everyday player."
Jerry Hairston, Adam Kennedy and Matt Treanor were free-agent acquisitions, while Bobby Abreu arrived after the Angels released him. Elian Herrera has shaken off the stereotype of career Minor Leaguer to emerge as an invaluable all-purpose player. Brilliant defensively with enough offense to hold his own, Tony Gwynn is as good as any fourth outfielder in the game.
"We can mix and match off the bench," Mattingly said. "With Jerry Hairston and Adam Kennedy, they're not coming in trying to knock somebody off his perch. They're good with playing four times out of seven [games]. In the National League game, you're in every game. You want guys who want to be in winning environments, playing for something -- not guys who are just playing out a year."
Hairston feels Abreu's role sliding into the No. 3 spot in the order in Matt Kemp's absence has been especially important. The Dodgers are 9-6 with Abreu hitting third, the role he's spent most of his career in while racking up borderline Hall of Fame numbers.
"Bobby's been huge," Hairston said. "People don't realize how when you lose a hitter like Matt Kemp, you don't just plug in guys in the third and fourth holes. Bobby's done it his whole career. He's allowed guys to hit in positions where they're more comfortable. He's also helped a lot of guys -- myself included -- with the way he goes about his at-bats."
Since joining the Dodgers on May 4, Abreu is 13th in the NL in on-base percentage (.397) and is hitting .375 in late-and-close situations. He was in the cleanup slot on Sunday between Andre Ethier and Juan Rivera.