The recurrent hamstring strain that forced Juan Uribe to the disabled list took a bite out of the Dodgers' infield. Unfortunately, it wasn't the only one the team experienced on Tuesday.
In one of the season's strangest and goriest tales, Dodgers Triple-A farmhand Miguel Olivo got into a fight with teammate Alex Guerrero during Tuesday's Albuquerque Isotopes game, first lunging at him on the field during a mound conference, and then coming to blows with him in the dugout. After teammates grabbed his arms to restrain him, Olivo bit off part of Guerrero's left ear, Mike Tyson style.
Instead of recalling the hot-hitting Guerrero, as the Dodgers had been considering, according to ESPN Los Angeles, he could be out as long as five weeks while he recovers from plastic surgery to re-attach part of his ear.
Here's the Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez describing the surreal scene on Tuesday in Salt Lake City, with commentary from über-agent Scott Boras, who over the winter secured Guerrero a four-year, $28 million deal from the Dodgers:
Olivo blamed Guerrero for failing to tag the baserunner in time, the agent said. A video posted on the Albuquerque Isotopes’ website showed Olivo attempting to charge Guerrero during a pitching change later in the inning. The players exchanged words as they walked off the field at the end of the inning.
“Guerrero was in the far end of the dugout,” Boras said. “He went to the front to get his bat and helmet to hit. As he walked across, Olivo decked him.”
Guerrero and Olivo had to be separated by teammates, according to Boras. When players pulled off Olivo, he had a piece of Guerrero’s ear in his mouth, Boras said.
While you try to digest that appalling chain of events, consider that in spring training, Olivo told a Telemundo reporter (translated), "I would like to be a boxer like #MikeTyson but without biting an ear."
Guerrero remains hospitalized but declined to file a report with Salt Lake City police, meaning that charges won't be filed against the catcher, who went 5-for-23 in an eight-game stint with the Dodgers that ended once A.J. Ellis returned from the disabled list.
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti told reporters the team was investigating the incident, adding, "We don't condone it, and we don't think it's constructive," as if anyone might get the wrong impression. Boras was more colorful in his reaction, telling reporters, "[S]hooting, stabbing or cannibalizing a player is not a part of baseball or being a proper teammate. That's extreme and deserves grand discipline."
While Olivo has been suspended by the team pending completion of the investigation, the incident carries bigger ramifications beyond catching depth. Guerrero was punishing the ball at Albuquerque, hitting .376/.417/.735 with 10 homers in 127 plate appearances. And despite shaky defense, the Dodgers, who entered Wednesday third in the NL West at 24-22, have been searching for a way to shoehorn him into their lineup. Though they took the 27-year-old Cuban defector to Australia for their season-opening series (he struck out in his only plate appearance), they soon sent Guerrero to Triple-A to knock out the rust, since he had played sparingly since defecting in January, 2013.
Sending Guerrero down has allowed the Dodgers to give Dee Gordon an extended look at second base, and the 26-year-old former top prospect has seized the opportunity. Coming into Wednesday, he had hit .301/.344/.398 with a major league-leading 25 steals, with more or less average defense at the keystone — a refreshing change given his -20 Defensve Runs Saved in 160 games at shortstop from 2011-2013.
With Gordon holding down the fort at second, the Dodgers briefly tried Guerrero at shortstop — the position he played in Cuba — at Albuquerque, and they had planned to try him at third base, but his surgery has put that on hold. Instead, they've called up another pricey Cuban defector, Erisbel Arruebarrena, to replace Uribe on the roster. Signed to a five-year, $25 million deal in February, Arruebarrena is a 24-year-old glove whiz who was a teammate of Yasiel Puig in Cuba in 2010-2011, and who played shortstop for the Cuban national team in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Guerrero was left off the roster, which accelerated his desire to defect.
Arruebarrena was hitting just .208/.252/.302 with a 31:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 105 plate appearances at Double-A Chattanooga. Manager Don Mattingly has no plans to use him at third base, where Uribe has flashed the leather while hitting a robust .303/.331/.454. Instead, Justin Turner and Chone Figgins will share third in Uribe's absence, which is likely to be longer than the minimum 15 days. Arruebarrena will spot at shortstop to give Hanley Ramirez a break from his defensive struggles (-10 DRS thus far). As with their crowded outfield, the Dodgers have more expensive infielders than they have spots in their lineup, and they'll eventually have to figure out how to fit them all together. Ramirez can be a free agent at the end of the season, but he has stated his desire to remain with the Dodgers, and the two sides are said to have been working on an extension. Uribe signed a two-year, $15 million deal this past winter. Guerrero is signed through 2017, Arruebarrena and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez through 2018.