ST. LOUIS -- Plagued by injuries to key players, the Dodgers struggled early this season. And though they are once again playing without some of their stars -- Matt Kemp is on the disabled list and Hanley Ramirez is working back from a jammed right shoulder -- they don't appear to have missed a beat.
Amid Los Angeles' 33-8 stretch, role players have emerged as every bit as important to the team's success as its stars. Manager Don Mattingly said that the Dodgers have had just one day this season when the team has been entirely healthy, causing him to lean heavily on a bench composed of players comfortable within their roles.
"It's a happier team when guys aren't sitting on the bench and wanting to play every day," Mattingly said. "It makes it a lot easier for me, because you use them to give guys breaks, and when they play, they know what they're doing, and they bring energy. That's really what you want from your guys on the bench."
The strength of the bench was apparent during Wednesday's 13-4 victory over the Cardinals. Dee Gordon, starting for Ramirez at shortstop, went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run; veteran third baseman Jerry Hairston drove home his fifth RBI in any many games; and former Cardinal Skip Schumaker had a 3-for-6, four-RBI night.
"I'm 37. Gone are the days I'm going to play every single day," Hairston said. "We know our roles and we know what we're capable of doing. But we have fun with it. We have guys that love to be a part of winning teams and know how to win."
With McGwire's help, Puig evolving as a batter
ST. LOUIS -- Yasiel Puig's game is evolving.
Through his first 17 games with the Dodgers, Puig was walked just once. He often chased pitches outside the strike zone, and teams caught on, but the rookie outfielder adjusted. With some help from hitting coach Mark McGwire, Puig has drawn 12 free passes in his last 14 games.
"He's forcing them back to the plate," manager Don Mattingly said. "He's never had any problems with balls on the plate. It's the balls that are out of the zone that he's not hitting."
Since July 23, Puig is tied for second in the National League in walks, with 12, and leads the league with a .531 on-base percentage. He has not only shown improved patience in the box, he has curtailed his emotions at the plate.
"Early on it seemed like he was so emotional," Mattingly said. "He would swing at a high fastball and he'd try to hit the next one and he'd just swing harder."
Although Mattingly declined to elaborate on how teams are effectively pitching against Puig, he did say the series in San Francisco in early July is where and when it started. The Giants struck out Puig seven times in the three-game set.
"One team did something to him, and it wasn't long before the next team tried it, and it worked again, and everybody was doing it, just like that," Mattingly said. "They watch tape, they'd see what happened. It shows on the computer stuff, it shows what he's swinging and missing at. Then you see everybody trying it, until he leaves it alone, then they have to go somewhere different."
In the Dodgers' 13-4 win on Wednesday, the Cardinals issued Puig three free passes, raising his on-base percentage to .433, the best in the NL since Puig debuted on June 3.
"He's making adjustments," Mattingly said. "It's a cat-and-mouse game all the time with the guys like him. You're going to see pitchers try things. If it works, they're going to keep trying it. If it doesn't work, they'll try something else."
Gordon repays Mattingly's confidence
ST. LOUIS -- Prior to Wednesday's game, manager Don Mattingly voiced his confidence in Dee Gordon's abilities at the plate.
Gordon had batted just .175 through 19 games from May 4-26, his previous big league stint this season, but he backed Mattingly's conviction with a 2-for-4 night on Wednesday, driving home a run and scoring one himself.
"I feel I can hit," Gordon said. "I just kind of struggled. That's part of the game. This team needs to win, so I'm just going to help any way I can. I'm glad [Mattingly] has confidence in my hitting abilities."
With Hanley Ramirez nursing a jammed right shoulder, Gordon has assumed an increased role, and he was in the lineup at shortstop on Thursday for a second straight game.
"He's changed a little bit. He's gotten a little lower, and his hands are a little lower," Mattingly said. "He's made some adjustments. We'll see where it goes. It feels good to see him get on and really help us win last night."
• Manager Don Mattingly stopped short of saying that injured shortstop Hanley Ramirez would be available to pinch-hit on Thursday or Friday, but the reports remain positive. Ramirez, recovering from a jammed right shoulder, hit off a tee on Wednesday afternoon and lightly swung the bat during that night's game. The plan is to have him do the same during Thursday night's game.
"He's getting better," Mattingly said. "We haven't stalled anywhere where we're getting to the point where it's not getting any better. So he's still continuing to move forward."
• Matt Kemp, who has a sprained left ankle, played catch on the field on Wednesday afternoon, and he ran in place on flat ground and with elevation on Wednesday and Thursday.
"Throwing and hitting is not going to be the problem," Mattingly said. "It's going to be the running and cutting and stopping, when you start getting on uneven ground, you know, hit a base, things like that."
• Brian Wilson, who tossed a perfect inning with Class A Rancho Cucamonga on Wednesday, is scheduled to make his second rehab appearance on Friday, with Triple-A Albuquerque.
Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.