CHICAGO (AP) — The Los Angeles Dodgers are off to their best start in years, and manager Don Mattingly thinks Bobby Abreu makes the NL West leaders even better.
Abreu signed with the Dodgers on Friday, insisting he was OK with a reserve role after years as a regular with the Angels, Philadelphia and the New York Yankees. The move gives Los Angeles another seasoned lefty bat on the bench to use late in games.
“I’m just happy to be here,” Abreu said before the Dodgers’ 5-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs. “It’s all about the guys we have here. I heard about it, but now that I’m here, you can see all the young guys — we have such a good talent. It’s good to be here and good to be back in the National League.”
The 38-year-old Abreu didn’t have to wait very long for his Dodgers debut, making his first plate appearance with runners on the corners in the seventh inning. He struck out on four pitches but stayed in the game in left field.
He came up again with a runner on first in the ninth and hit a liner into the gap in right-center that David DeJesus chased down to end the game.
“It’s tough for a guy to just show up in a locker room and then all of a sudden be in there, and then the game’s on the line,” Mattingly said. “When he first hit it I thought it was in the gap. Obviously they’re playing no doubles and guarding the seams. I thought it was good, though.”
Jerry Hairston hit a solo homer and a run-scoring triple for Los Angeles, which has dropped three of four. Chad Billingsley (2-2) gave up four runs and eight hits in six innings.
“I felt good, I just made some mistakes over the plate,” Billingsley said. “As far as everything else, I still felt pretty good out there.”
Paul Maholm (3-2) pitched six crisp innings for his third consecutive win as the Cubs bounced back from a difficult loss in Cincinnati that led manager Dale Sveum to remove Carlos Marmol from the closer’s role. Rafael Dolis worked the ninth for his second save.
The 38-year-old Abreu had been relegated to part-time duty with the Angels and hit .208 in 24 at-bats before he was let go last Friday. He didn’t have to go very far to find another job, joining the surging Dodgers after they won 17 of their first 25 games for their best start since 2009.
“Bobby’s a guy, obviously, who’s been a great hitter his whole career, and kinda makes us, we feel like, incrementally a little bit better,” said Mattingly, who was on the Yankees’ coaching staff for part of Abreu’s stint in New York. “He gives us a chance to be a little bit better.”
The Dodgers will pay $401,311 of Abreu’s $9 million salary for this year, leaving the Angels with the remaining part of the final season of a $27 million, three-year contract. Infielder Justin Sellers was optioned to the Triple-A Albuquerque to make room on the roster.
Abreu is a career .293 hitter with 284 homers, 1,330 RBIs and 393 stolen bases. He made his major league debut with Houston in 1996 and is returning to the National League for the first time since he was traded by the Phillies to the Yankees in 2006.
Mattingly was New York’s hitting coach when Abreu joined the Yankees and served as Joe Torre’s bench coach for the 2007 season. So when Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti asked him about adding Abreu, Mattingly felt he had a good idea of how the veteran would fit in with the team.
“You hear the rumors Bobby’s bad in the clubhouse. I’ve never seen any of that,” Mattingly said. “To me, he was the opposite. With Melky (Cabrera) and Robby (Cano) over in New York, he’s the guy that helped both of those guys with the strike zone, helped those guys out. I never saw him be a bad teammate, so that was one of the things I wasn’t worried about.”
NOTES: Dodgers president Stan Kasten spent some time in Los Angeles’ dugout before the game, and said owner Mark Walter would be at the ballpark this weekend, too. Kasten was still fired up after the new ownership group officially took over the team earlier this week. “We expect to build a winning organization from top to bottom,” he said. … Dodgers RHP Ronald Belisario was in the bullpen for the first time since he was reinstated from the restricted list on Thursday after he served a 25-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy. Los Angeles designed reliever Mike MacDougal for assignment to make room on the roster. … Cubs 1B Bryan LaHair singled in the seventh inning to extend his streak of reaching safely to 22 consecutive games. … Sveum was ejected in the ninth inning for arguing balls and strikes with plate umpire Marty Foster.