Mar 24

Starting pitching: Working down the list


AP/Getty Images
Jose Lima fared well as a surprise starting pitcher in 2004; Scott Erickson was a Spring Training hit in 2005 (2.10 ERA) but fell out of the starting rotation before the end of May.

The chart below shows how quickly the Dodgers went beyond their first five starting pitchers, in each of the past six seasons. In parentheses next to each name is the game number of their first start that year.

No season was created equally. For example, Hiroki Kuroda was injured before his second start of 2009, meaning that the Dodgers had six starters in their first six games. Chad Billingsley was delayed in 2008 only because Joe Torre didn’t want to send him out on a rainy April night. The year before, of course, was the beginning of the Jason Schmidt saga. In 2005, Elmer Dessens and Scott Erickson each got starts before Brad Penny did. Dessens, memorably, got the start in Game No. 161 of 2004.

In the past six years, the latest the Dodgers have gone to a sixth starting pitcher was their 32nd game of the season. In the past five years, the Dodgers have used eight starting pitchers before the season was half over.

It’s interesting that the Dodgers used fewer starting pitchers in the woebegone 2005 campaign than they did in the next four seasons. But my favorite tidbit of this chart is that in 2006, the Dodgers didn’t use a starting pitcher with more than five letters in his last name until the 66th game of the season.

Who’s your favorite name from this group? Jason Johnson? Derek Thompson? Any members of the Jae Seo Marching and Chowder Society, speak up now!

2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004
1 Kuroda (1) Penny (1) Lowe (1) Lowe (1) Lowe (1) Nomo (1)
2 Wolf (2) Lowe (2) Wolf (2) Penny (2) Perez (2) Perez (2)
3 Billingsley (3) Kuo (3) Schmidt (3) Perez (3) Weaver (3) Weaver (3)
4 Kershaw (4) Kuroda (4) Penny (4) Tomko (4) Dessens (4) Ishii (4)
5 McDonald (5) Loaiza (7) Tomko (8) Seo (8) Erickson (5) Lima (11)
6 Stults (6) Billingsley (8) Hendrickson (16) Sele (32) Penny (18) Alvarez (28)
7 Weaver (28) Park (42) Kuo (55) Billingsley (66) Alvarez (45) Jackson (51)
8 Milton (38) Kershaw (49) Billingsley (73) Hendrickson (80) Thompson (48) Penny (105)
9 Schmidt (103) Stults (72) Stults (99) Maddux (108) Houlton (55) Dessens (161)
10 Haeger (119) Johnson (106) Wells (130) Kuo (141) Jackson (124)
11 Padilla (128) Maddux (128) Loaiza (137) Stults (143)
12 Garland (135)
Mar 23

Another day on the Hong-Chih Kuoller coaster

Hong-Chih Kuo hasn’t thrown since Friday and received treatment today, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. Hopefully, it’s just precautionary …

Chad Billingsley became more and more pleased with his mechanics in an 84-pitch, six-inning outing in a minor league game. Gurnick and The Associated Press have details. And Gurnick has a vow from James McDonald to come back strong from his demotion to the minors.

Your top story tonight, however, is this feature on Dodger photographer Jon SooHoo by Chris and Alex Volk at DodgerFan.net.

Mar 23

Bad news: Dodgers cut their best blogger

For months now, Dodger minor leaguer Brian Akin has been delighting us with his Dear (Tommy) John Letters blog. Sadly, Akin now passes along word that the Dodgers have released him.

… Considering all of the factors, I can’t say that I am all that surprised by the decision. Unfortunately it doesn’t make it any easier. The most difficult part of the situation is the fact that my arm feels great. I only threw twice this spring, but I pitched well in both outings. For the first time since 2007, I felt like I was in control of the game. You know when you’re playing Monopoly and everyone decides to quit right when you get that hotel on Boardwalk? That’s kind of what this feels like.

There is one very big positive that comes with my new found unemployment. I get to be home with my wife. If my playing days are indeed over, I’ll really miss baseball – but I’m excited about missing baseball from home rather than missing my wife from the road.

Though I know it’s disappointing, I can add one other positive. Based on his writing, I’d say that Akin has a bright future in whatever he does. Brian, somehow I’m thinking your cup is half-full.

Mar 23

Our cups runneth under


This metaphor comes with the Dodger logo and will cost you only $11.95, plus shipping.

Most cups and glasses (at least of the non-mug variety) are wider at the top than down low. You can take a big first gulp, and when you look down, it still feels like you’ve got plenty left. It might feel practically bottomless.

Then, when you’re not quite ready or prepared for it, there’s a figurative tipping point. The relative slimness of the cup becomes problematic. Not only do you have less left to drink, but each sip lowers down the level of what you have at an accelerated pace. The less you have left, the faster it seems to go.

So many of us forget to savor, or maybe we don’t know how. That’s why cups should be wider at the bottom. And if cups aren’t, then at the very least, life should be.

Mar 22

Russ Ortiz continues to vex with his good spring

Goodness, could it really be Russ Ortiz?

The name that is anathema to a rational choice for the Dodgers’ pitching staff, Ortiz produced the coveted four-inning save today in the Dodgers’ 8-4 split-squad victory over Milwaukee, allowing one run on four baserunners while striking out three.

He did so on a day that Carlos Monasterios faltered, giving up three runs in the first two of his four innings today in the other split-squad game, a 4-2 loss to the Angels.

Paul Connors/AP
Clayton being Clayton: Kershaw had the same number of hits allowed and wild pitches Monday.

Monasterios still doesn’t look like a pitcher the Dodgers want to let go of, but Ortiz again asserted himself in a battle for a roster spot. And since Monasterios is much more likely to be a reliever than a starter, it remains possible that Ortiz could be in the rotation despite his poor performance in recent years.

The contenders for the final three or four spots on the Dodger pitching staff: Monasterios, Ramon Ortiz, Russ Ortiz, Eric Stults, Charlie Haeger, Jeff Weaver and Josh Towers. Monasterios, Stults and Haeger are the three who cannot be sent to the minors, meaning that the others are probably battling for a single slot.

Meanwhile, poor fielding helped sabotage Clayton Kershaw’s first inning against Milwaukee, but the young lefty ended up going a solid five innings, striking out six while allowing one earned run.

For the first time since July 18, there was a W next to Kershaw’s name in a boxscore. And an S (not to be confused with Superman’s) emblazoned on Ortiz.

Jamey Carroll went 3 for 4 with a walk, raising his Spring Training on-base percentage to .474.

* * *

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Mar 22

The ever-prodigal Jamie Hoffmann returns to the Dodgers


Cliff Welch/Icon SMI
Jamie Hoffmann was 3 for 23 with three walks for the Yankees this spring.

The Dodgers are like the island on “Lost” for Jamie Hoffmann, who can’t seem to stay away no matter how often he leaves or how far he goes.

Designated for assignment last summer only to return, then taken by the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft in the winter, Hoffmann once again is a Dodger, according to multiple news reports, after failing to make the Yankee Opening Day roster and clearing waivers. Hoffmann figures now to start the season in the Dodger minor leagues, competing with Jason Repko for a midseason callup if neither is traded.

In other Dodger news, Russell Martin was hit by a Tim Corcoran pitch at practice this morning. Dodger manager Joe Torre said Martin’s back and wrist were casualties, but there was “no damage.”

Torre continued to show support for Charlie Haeger, among others — to the point where it almost seems a roster spot is being preserved for him.  “I have high regard for him,” Torre said. “We probably wouldn’t pitch him in Colorado, but I don’t think anybody wants to pitch there. Arizona is different since it’s indoors.”

I’m a little surprised by Torre’s affection for Haeger only because of how quickly he was buried last summer after that one bad inning in Cincinnati. Haeger allowed runs in only three of the 20 innings he commenced for the Dodgers last season.

Update: Ken Gurnick of MLB.com clarifies that Martin was hit not by one pitch but by three.  “It got a little too simulated,” Torre said. “There was no damage. He was lucky on the one on the wrist. It was a little too uncomfortable to continue.”

Gurnick also notes that the Dodgers released shortstop Angel Berroa.

Mar 22

Vin Scully and the Fordham drawl

There is so much about Vin Scully that is artistry: his approach to calling a game, the stories he tells, his tireless preparation, his ability to appreciate and articulate the true emotional sensation of a moment, big or small. So much about him that is the work of a master, a genius.

But integral to the way Scully connects with us is something that is simply a physical part of who he is, and that’s his voice.

It’s at once authoritative and soothing. It is friendly without being overly folksy or saccharine. Ever have that teacher in school who you grew up to become good friends with – mentor and peer, all in one?  That is all in Scully’s voice.

And it stands in such contrast with the voices of most broadcasters today that seem to have come from an assembly line. Those poor factory products – they simply don’t have it. You can hear them, but often it feels like we can hear them all too well.

In my mind, the way I describe Scully’s voice is to call it a “Fordham drawl.” It’s an entirely invented term, one that’s meant to be taken anything but literally. It’s just meant to capture the trace hint of his New York upbringing and the relaxed, elongated speech pattern he has evolved into. The Fordham drawl is the voice of a Northerner who took up residence cowboying in the West, who embraced the relaxed way-of-life but found the happiest of mediums in his accent.

Scully is hardly Jack Palance, the Pennsylvania-born actor who won an Academy Award playing Curly Washburn in “City Slickers.” Hardly that rough and tough. But you can certainly imagine Scully holding up one finger and convincing you that he knows the secret to life. Because it’s all in that voice.

Scully was not even 10 when he began dreaming of becoming a broadcaster. Not only wasn’t he old enough to be aware of his gift, he hadn’t even acquired the gift yet from the puberty gods (although what we wouldn’t give to have a recording of an 8-year-old Scully doing play-by-play of some stickball game in his neighborhood.) But somehow, the perfect voice found the perfect man for it.

It’s really sort of a miracle – a blessing for Dodger fans.

Mar 21

Eric Stults gives doubters an opening, Eric Gagne gives them closure

Eric Stults has pitched in nine innings this month (including Taiwan), if I’m not mistaken. Eight of those innings have been good; one of them has been bad. For his first three innings today, Stults was near-perfect.

Perhaps Stults isn’t meant to be the Dodgers’ No. 5 starter in April, and perhaps that’s justified. But if that’s the decision, I hope it’s not because of a single bad fourth inning on March 21. I hope the Dodgers have better reasons than that. Because it ain’t as if the next guy is gonna be perfect …

  • Game Over is truly over: Eric Gagne’s request for his unconditional release by the Dodgers has been granted. Adios, monsieur.
  • Joe Torre called off contract extension talks between himself and the Dodgers, citing a few reasons, including the idea that they were a “distraction,” according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. I can certainly understand his hesitancy to commit to work beyond the expiration of his contract at the end of this year, but I don’t see how the uncertainty concerning the Dodgers’ post-2010 managerial situation will be any less distracting, Don Mattingly or not.
  • The amazing UCLA baseball team is now 16-0. Eric Sondheimer of the Times notes that the Bruins outscored Oral Roberts 41-7 in a three-game sweep.
  • Sorry, folks, but Dodger Stadium simply won’t be ready for the 1961 season. “You gather that Florida is sufficiently far enough away from the scene of delayed action to keep (Walter) O’Malley from blowing his top,” wrote Times sports editor Paul Zimmerman, “but just barely.”
  • My advice regarding Russell Martin: When Martin and the Dodgers agree that he is absolutely, positively recovered enough from his injury to play in a game … tack on an extra week off right then.
Mar 21

Straight out of ‘Seinfeld’

Sorry, Kramer, but no dice.

In the sixth inning of today’s game, there was a moment strikingly similar to “The Wink” episode of “Seinfeld.”

Aaron Miller, the Dodgers’ 2009 first-round draft pick, was facing his first batter. He gave up a long fly ball over the head of Xavier Paul in center field. The batter flew around the bases for what appeared to be an inside-the-park home run.

But then the official scoring came in – it would only be ruled a triple, plus an error on Paul.

The batter? Jose Constanza.

BOBBY: Hey, …

KRAMER: Huh?

BOBBY: … that’s not a home run. (grabs frame)

KRAMER: Yeah, maybe not technically, but …

BOBBY: You said he’d hit two home runs.

KRAMER: Oh, come on. Bobby, Bobby! That’s just as good!

BOBBY: Well, you’re not taking that card.

KRAMER: Now, Bobby, Bobby, we had a deal . . . gimme that …

Mar 21

Vin, we accept your apology …

“Hi everybody, and a very pleasant Sunday to you, wherever you may be. Hope you don’t mind if I take a moment out: First of all, I am sorry to have caused the accident that caused so much stress. I’m very sorry for that. I’d also like to salute the gentle heroes of 911 in Calabasas, and the doctors and nurses at West Hills Hospital, for taken care of me so very, very well. However, now that I’ve done that, let’s get to the more important thing, and that is the game. The Dodgers and the Indians. Jake Westbrook will be on the mound for Cleveland. Left-hander Eric Stults will be on the mound for the Dodgers. And Lord, I am happy to be here. We’ll be with the ballgame, right after this.”

Yep, Vin Scully is back. Before today’s broadcast, he talked to reporters briefly about his eventful week, and Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.

“All of a sudden, I felt one of those big, bronchial coughs coming up, and I thought I could get to the bathroom,” Scully said. “So I jumped out of bed — bad idea — I got dizzy, and then, trying to keep the cough in until I got to the bathroom, I did something to myself. I’ll explain: I went from the bedroom toward the bathroom, and there was a marble floor, and all of a sudden, I blacked out.“I woke up sitting in the floor, my wife calling 911 and blood on the floor.”

Scully had hit his head on the floor, as well as bruising his arm and slightly injuring his back. When he arrived at the hospital, he received staples in the back of his head.

“Instead of stitches, they put in five staples with a thing like a staple gun,” he said. “I will never go by that office supply store without thinking of what happened. … I won’t mess around with a marble floor ever again. But I never thought I was in any [life-threatening] trouble at all.”

Scully was in the broadcast booth for Sunday’s Cactus League game with Cleveland, the first game he has called this spring. He said he was under no restrictions following the accident.

“I’m supposed to cut back on dangling participles, and I’m not allowed to split any infinitives for at least another week,” he said.

Talk about your health scares, though: former Dodger player and current minor-league instructor Lenny Harris had emergency quadruple bypass surgery. “Harris was stricken with chest and arm pains Friday, but did not suffer a heart attack as there was no heart damage,” reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. “In a Saturday operation, doctors found blockages in four arteries, with one 95 percent blocked.”

* * *

  • Ronald Belsiario’s visa paperwork is completed, according to an anonymous source of Jackson’s, meaning that the Dodgers could see him as soon as Monday or Tuesday.
  • Though Russell Martin is improving, taking live batting practice Sunday, he is still not expected to be in the lineup Opening Day because of the probable need of a rehab assignment. In contrast, Brad Ausmus had a flareup of chronic back pain, but is expected to be on the Opening Day roster.  No. 4 catcher Lucas May was optioned to Albuquerque, at least for the time being.
Mar 20

Happy birthday, littlest one

Not Clayton Kershaw – he was yesterday. Nope, today’s wishes go to my big little boy, who already knows to say “Dodgers” when you “Root, root root for the …”  He doubled his age overnight – how many people can say that?

Happy birthday, my boy.  Hope it’s a day worth remembering, even though you won’t remember …

Mar 19

Traffic concerns at the Dodgers’ other home


Morry Gash/AP
Camelback Ranch

There are some parking issues with Camelback Ranch — particularly when it comes to leaving after a game — as these blog posts by Rob McMillin of 6-4-2 and Al Yellon of Bleed Cubbie Blue indicate. The commenters on Bleed Cubbie Blue offer lots of reactions and possible solutions.

Since I still haven’t been to Camelback, I leave it to you readers to offer your own reactions.

* * *

Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. has a brief report from this afternoon’s Dodger minor-league games. Cole St. Clair might sound like a romance novel leading man, but apparently he’s got a way about him on the pitcher’s mound.

Mar 19

Matt Kemp: Nickname in a twist

Killing time before the Dodgers begin four games in 48 hours (tonight, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon) …

As I’m compelled to pass along anything relating to Matt Kemp’s “Bison” nickname, here’s the video (posted Thursday by my ESPNLosAngeles.com cohorts at Land o’ Lakers) of an ESPY promo spot features some new in-depth talk about the moniker, about a minute in.

And … just for old times’ sake, here’s a link to Kemp’s March 2008 appearance on “Hardball Made Easy with Ron Stilanovich.”

Mar 19

Vin Scully in good condition after fall

Those of you who went to bed at a proper hour avoided a scare late Thursday: Vin Scully was hospitalized after a fall at his home. Word came relatively quickly, however, that it was not serious, though he was hospitalized as a precaution.

Chris Williams/Icon SMI
Vin Scully

The news is still unnerving for obvious reasons, and recalls the passing of legendary Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn – unbelievably, more than seven years ago –  being precipitated by a couple of falls. Scully said in a statement that he is still planning to broadcast his first game of the year Sunday from Camelback Ranch.

“I just spoke with him,” Dodger vice president of communications Josh Rawitch added at 11:30 p.m. last night, “and he told me that he was in bed this evening and simply got up too quickly and fell and bumped his head. For precautionary reasons, he went to the hospital and will stay overnight for observation but he fully expects to be at Camelback Ranch this weekend for the the telecast on Sunday.”

Vin: Just don’t rush it if you need the rest.

P.S. Assuming all is okay, Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News is hosting a Q&A with Scully, for which you can e-mail your questions now.

Mar 18

Joe Torre pleased with Chad Billingsley’s latest outing

It was just another Spring Training game — well, one that featured a record Cactus League crowd of 13,391 and a busy four innings for Manny Ramirez — but no harm in noting that everyone was feeling positive about the progress of Dodger pitcher Chad Billingsley.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Chad Billingsley retired his first 13 batters September 2 vs. Arizona, then allowed four runs.

“I thought he was very good,” Dodger manager Joe Torre said after the game. “Close to 15 pitches an inning — that’ s not too bad, you know, considering he walked the first guy. I was very, very pleased with his performance today.”

Staked with a 75-pitch limit today, Billingsley stretched it to cover 4 2/3 innings, in which he struck out four and allowed one run on six baserunners.

“I worked on everything I needed to work on,” Billingsley said. “Rhythm, tempo — everything felt a lot better out there today. Great sign. Curveball was a little off today, but as far as everything else, everything else was pretty good.”

Ramirez more than made up for the lack of drama surrounding Billingsley’s performance. At the plate, Ramirez hit a two-run homer and grounded into a double play. In his first game in left field of the season, Ramirez was reportedly slow on a ball that went for a second-inning ground-rule double by Chad Tracy, who scored the game’s only run of Billingsley, but then Ramirez made a leaping catch at the wall in the fourth inning on a drive by Tyler Colvin.

Overall, Torre was also pleased with what he saw from Ramirez.

“Timing-wise, he’s hitting line drives,” Torre said, “and he’s much more balanced than he was last year.”

Jon Link got the final out in the fifth inning for Billingsley and the Dodgers. Charlie Haeger gave up a run in two innings, while Jeff Weaver pitched a shutout eighth. Backup outfielder Reed Johnson had a three-run homer late in the game, while Blake DeWitt and Garret Anderson each had two hits.

Update: Here’s Ramirez’s catch.


Courtesy Los Angeles Dodgers (via Twitpic)