Patient Pierre receives high praise
Outfielder key to club's success during Ramirez's absence
SAN FRANCISCO -- Scan the Dodgers' clubhouse for a 2009 team MVP, and there are a few strong candidates, starting with Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, two star outfielders coming of age.But there's another name that many in that clubhouse believe deserves at least to be mentioned in the conversation: Juan Pierre. "In a lot of ways, he has been our most valuable player," said veteran infielder Mark Loretta. "What he did when Manny [Ramirez] was out and what he continues to do as a pinch-hitter and in spot starts, it's been pretty amazing."
No, it's not often that a player being relegated to mopup duty in September gets those three special little words mentioned about him. Odd as it is that a player could be listed among team MVP candidates but hardly ever listed in the starting lineup these days, it also could be said Pierre has made enough of a contribution to the 2009 club already to warrant accolade.What he did when he took over left field for Ramirez for nearly two months and how he's handling what he is -- and isn't -- doing in September certainly has earned him support from his peers. "It's a testament to his work ethic and his love of the game," Loretta said. "He hasn't skipped a beat." That, despite pretty drastic changes in his role. After filling in admirably for Ramirez during his 50-game suspension, he's now more in the background down the stretch. Still, he's likely to see some key action at the end of the season and into the postseason, if the Dodgers make it. When Ramirez was serving his suspension, Pierre started all 50 games in left field, batting .318 with 14 doubles, 21 RBIs, 31 runs and 21 steals. In the more than two months since Ramirez returned July 3, Pierre has only 13 starts but 55 appearances, batting .308 overall while going 11-for-16 with three walks in his last 19 pinch-hitting appearances. With Ramirez, Ethier and Kemp, there isn't a lot of room for Pierre to play, or at least to start. So, as he did Friday night, he gets playing time when he can -- replacing Ramirez as a pinch-runner in the eighth inning -- and generally does something to help the club when he does -- scoring from first on a Kemp double for the final run of a 10-3 win. Pierre, 32 and in his 10th year in the Majors, made a diving catch in one recent start, and went 2-for-3 with a pair of steals after replacing an ejected Ramirez in a game in Arizona earlier in the week. He continues to contribute, regardless of playing time. What Pierre did when Ramirez was out was simple: He saved the Dodgers' bacon. "Big time," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. What he has done since has impressed Torre just as much. "I just respect the hell out of the way he's gone about his business," Torre said. As far as Pierre is concerned, there's only one way to do that. "Every coach I ever had said to work hard," Pierre said earlier this season. "People have always said I can't do this and I can't do that. I had to work the way I do to survive. "The mental stuff, you can only control what you can control. You put all your work in and give it your all and let all the other stuff just be." And there has been "other stuff" seemingly non-stop since Pierre arrived, signing a five-year, $44 million deal before the 2007 season. After playing all 162 games in '07, he was supplanted from center field by Andruw Jones and then from left field by Ethier to start the '08 season. After gaining more playing time, the Dodgers traded for Ramirez. "We had quite a journey together last year," Torre says. It's been quite another journey for Pierre, Torre and the Dodgers in 2009, and it's not yet complete.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.