DETROIT — After 13 months of debate and discussion about how to fit four starting outfielders into three spots, the Dodgers finally have an answer.
Yasiel Puig plays right field, Andre Ethier center, Matt Kemp left.
Carl Crawford? Left out.
The Dodgers flew home Wednesday after a dispiriting two-game sweep in Detroit, capped by a 4-1 loss to defending American League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and the Tigers.
The Tigers won Wednesday despite a lineup that did not include Miguel Cabrera or Victor Martinez, their top two bats. They spotted the Dodgers five runs in the first inning Tuesday, then outscored them 18-1 over the final 17 innings of the series.
"We got humbled these two days," catcher A.J. Ellis said.
Crawford could be activated as soon as Thursday, which could leave Manager Don Mattingly with an unhappy bench player. Mattingly said he would speak with Crawford about his role, but said he is "not really planning any big changes" and noted the Dodgers have ascended to first place in the National League West with a set outfield.
"Everybody is happier," Mattingly said. "They don't have to come to the ballpark looking for the lineup card."
The Dodgers were 29-24 (.547) when Crawford went on the disabled list. They are 22-18 (.550) since then, including 19-11 (.633) in the last 30 games.
Mattingly said Crawford bears no blame for the situation.
"Carl happened to be the one who got hurt," Mattingly said.
However, Kemp is batting .289 since becoming the everyday left fielder May 28, when the Dodgers put Crawford on the disabled list.
Is there any thought of moving Kemp back to center field?
"Not right now," Mattingly said.
Could Crawford play another position?
"Carl pretty much plays left," Mattingly said.
Crawford, 32, a four-time All-Star, considers himself an everyday player, and the Dodgers would not be opposed to accommodating him with a trade. Scott Van Slyke has proven himself as a capable fourth outfielder, and top prospect Joc Pederson is close to returning from a separated shoulder at triple-A Albuquerque.
However, if Crawford were traded at the July 31 deadline, he would have $69 million left on his contract - $6.75 million for the last two months of this season, and $62.25 million through 2017.
So, to trade Crawford and his big contract, the Dodgers might have to take on another big contract. The Dodgers are looking for a starting pitcher. If the Philadelphia Phillies decide to move Cole Hamels, the Dodgers could see whether Crawford could be part of a trade package.
If Hamels was traded at the July 31 deadline, he would have $103.5 million left on his contract, through 2018, when he would be 34. The difference between the money left on the contracts - $34.5 million - could allow the Dodgers room to pay some of Crawford's contract and acquire a top pitcher without spending the money to sign the likes of Scherzer or David Price in free agency. That money could be diverted toward retaining Zack Greinke, who can opt out of his contract after next season.
The Dodgers would have to include top prospects, of course. And Crawford's unsettling experience in the rugged Boston market might well make Philadelphia apprehensive. But the last-place Phillies insist they are not embarking on a long rebuilding process, and their left fielders rank last in the National League in batting average (.207), on-base percentage (.273) and slugging percentage (.299).
No contract is untradeable. Vernon Wells was traded twice on a supposedly untradeable contract.
But the vast majority of trade scenarios never come to pass. In the near future, that could leave Crawford as a pinch-hitter.
In 35 career at-bats as a pinch-hitter, he is batting .114.
Detroit Tigers 4, Dodgers 1
KEY MOMENT: With one out in the first inning, Yasiel Puig tripled. Hanley Ramirez then grounded to shortstop, and Puig was trapped off third base. He did not run home; the contact play was not on. He did not get into a rundown so Ramirez could get to second. He did not slide back into third base. He stood up as he went back to the bag - out of reaction, as he was one big step off the base - and he was tagged out. The Tigers scored two runs in the bottom of the first inning, and they led the rest of the day.
AT THE PLATE: Miguel Rojas hit his first major league home run, off Detroit starter and defending American League Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. Rojas did it with two of his "idols" watching - fellow Venezuelans Miguel Cabrera and Omar Vizquel, the latter a Tigers coach. "To do it on the same field with Miguel Cabrera and Omar Vizquel is really exciting for me, and emotional." Matt Kemp went hitless in three at-bats, with two strikeouts, against Scherzer. Kemp's career record against Scherzer: 0-for-21.
ON THE MOUND: Zack Greinke (11-5), trying to become the first 12-game winner in the National League, gave up two runs in the first inning. He gave up three runs in seven innings in all, striking out eight and walking none. In his past four starts, Greinke has struck out 30 and walked two.
ON THE LEADER BOARD: If Clayton Kershaw pitches 6 2/3 innings Thursday, he will qualify among league leaders. Kershaw, the defending National League Cy Young winner, is trying to become the first pitcher to lead the major leagues in earned-run average for four consecutive seasons. He has a 1.85 ERA, trailing only Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals (1.79). Pitchers need one inning per team game to qualify among league leaders; Kershaw missed 32 games while on the disabled list.
UP NEXT: The Dodgers' Kershaw (10-2, 1.85) faces the San Diego Padres' Odrisamer Despaigne (2-0, 0.92) on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Dodger Stadium.