Apr 14

Goodness gracious, forsaken alive: Billingsley, Dodgers drag fans into 7-7 marathon

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Chad Billingsley retired nine of his first 10 batters, but only got eight more outs from his next 18.

Chad Billingsley, who was looking ever-so-close like that guy who could always be counted on to get the job done, is now the guy getting the Job done.

Close to scintillating in the first three innings Wednesday against Arizona – he threw 45 pitches and faced one over the minimum while striking out four, lowering his season ERA at that point to 1.08 – the be-plagued Billingsley staggered through 61 pitches over the next 2 2/3 innings, allowing six runs on eight hits in all while walking three. And what looked like a breeze for Los Angeles became an even longer endurance test than Tuesday’s 3:42 game, with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks headed into extra innings, 7-7, exactly four hours after the game’s 7:10 p.m. start time.

It took some doing for Billingsley to not outpitch Arizona’s Rodrigo Lopez, who allowed five runs and 11 hits to the first 22 Dodgers he faced, but Billingsley did it, and he is now facing his latest calamity.

In the fourth, trailing 3-0, Arizona surrounded a Justin Upton infield hit with four big fly balls off Billingsley – a homer by Stephen Drew, a double by Adam LaRoche and sacrifice flies by Mark Reynolds and Chris Young. Billingsley then issued a walk before he got out of the inning, after which Matt Kemp put the Dodgers back in front with a two-run homer.

In the fifth, Billingsley came very close to making his previous inning look like an aberration, retiring the first two hitters before making a great 1-1 pitch to Drew that was called a ball. Drew eventually drew a 3-2 walk, and then Upton doubled and LaRoche singled to tie the game again.

And in the sixth, Billingsley again came within one strike of making it through, but Conor Jackson doubled right down the third-base line on an 0-2 pitch to give Arizona a 6-5 lead and cast Billingsley adrift. He finished the night with 116 pitches to get 17 outs, and his ERA leaped to 5.73.

Mark J. Terrill/AP
Rodrigo Lopez looked like a sure-fire losing pitcher in the early going, but it didn’t turn out that way.

Starting in the top of the fourth, of the nine baserunners Billingsley allowed (leaving out an intentional walk), six did their damage with two strikes. Last year, opponents had a .245 on-base percentage against Billingsley with two strikes, though it’s safe to assume that figure was higher in the second half of the season. Tonight, Billingsley couldn’t shut the door, on the Diamondbacks or his doubters.

The Dodgers tied the game in the bottom of the sixth inning on a Kemp sacrifice fly but didn’t get any more runs despite loading the bases with one out. Then, Carlos Monasterios was called upon for the first time in his career in a close situation and gave up a dead-center leadoff homer to Upton in the seventh. Ramon Ortiz bailed Monasterios out of a two-walk, one-out jam that pushed the game past the 3:00 mark with nearly three innings to go by inducing a double play. George Sherrill, trying to recover from his bad start to 2010, also got a double play and then a strikeout to handle the eighth, while Charlie Haeger made himself useful in relief with a shutout ninth. (For the record, yes, that’s a Jonathan Broxton situation too if he’s available.)

Manny Ramirez doubled to lead off the bottom of the ninth with the Dodgers’ 18th baserunner, but after James Loney struck out, Casey Blake doubled home pinch-runner Jamey Carroll to tie the game at 11:06 p.m. A Blake DeWitt grounder moved Blake to third. Russell Martin was intentionally walked, but pinch-hitter Reed Johnson grounded out to send the game into the 10th.

Despite my stating the obvious, the offense and the pitching stayed at their weird extremes. Kemp, Ramirez, Martin and Andre Ethier each reached base at least three times. But regardless of what was to come in extra innings, Los Angeles will be practically desperate for Hiroki Kuroda to deliver another sharp performance Thursday against Dan Haren.

* * *

Hong-Chih Kuo is scheduled to make a 20-pitch rehab appearance in the first inning Thursday for Inland Empire. Elsewhere in the minors for the Dodgers:

  • Scott Elbert struggled in the unfriendly confines of Albuquerque, allowing five runs on five hits and three walks while striking out four in four innings. Jay Gibbons (4 for 5) won the game for the Isotopes with an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth after reliever Jon Link (8.10 ERA) blew his second save in as many nights.
  • Great Lakes righty Brett Wallach, who pitched five no-hit innings with eight strikeouts in his first start of the season, came back with another five innings tonight and allowed one unearned run while striking out six. Opponents are 5 for 34 (.147) against him this season. Brian Cavalos-Galvez went 3 for 4 with two doubles and has a .394 on-base percentage on the season.
  • Chris Withrow of Chattanooga got hammered tonight: six runs (five earned) in 2 2/3 innings with one strikeout. The Lookouts made five errors and lost, 15-2.
  • Aaron Miller went six innings for Inland Empire tonight and allowed six baserunners and one run (on a sixth-inning squeeze). That was a 1-0 game until Pedro Baez singled in the tying run with two out in the bottom of the ninth, and then the 66ers won in the 10th.
Apr 14

Stating the obvious, but …


Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Casey Blake (shown homering Tuesday) has a .476 on-base percentage and .667 slugging percentage so far this season.

… everyone knows that the pitching will improve and the offense will cool down, right?

No matter what happens, “Follow the Dodgers!” (Thanks, Blue Heaven.)

Apr 14

Brad Ausmus to have back surgery

Brad Ausmus’ 41st birthday today comes with some bad news. The Dodgers have announced that Ausmus will have surgery Thursday to address a herniated disc, keeping him on the disabled list until at least “late this summer,” the team said. Ausmus is expected to retire after this season.

* * *

Regrettably, a couple of corrections to my Tuesday work: Blake DeWitt only has eight walks this season, not 11, and the outfield trio of Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier have homered in the same game as starters thrice, not twice.

Apr 13

One take, baby – one take

So after today’s game, Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com and I got together at the Dodger Stadium Downtown Overlook to talk shop.  Welcome to Low Expectations Video Theater, where it’s all unscripted, there are no reshoots and anything can happen. Is there an explosion? Well, there isn’t not not an explosion.

Job 1: Work on my squinting.

  • A statue of Chick Hearn is headed for the front of Staples Center, writes Steve Springer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. This is sure to get people talking about a Vin Scully statue at Dodger Stadium.
  • Quote of the Day comes from Dodger starter Clayton Kershaw, via Jackson: “I would rather we win because of me than in spite of me.” Arash Markazi of the site has more.
  • Jackson reports that George Sherrill’s next appearance might be moved earlier in the game as he works through his troubles.
  • Andre Ethier talks about his ankle to Dylan Hernandez of the Times the way Jack Walsh talked about his popularity with the Chicago police department.
  • Brad Ausmus is very worried that his latest back problems might end his career six months early, writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • The Dodgers’ four home runs today were a Los Angeles home opener record.
  • The starting outfield of Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Ethier homered in the same game for the second time since they’ve been a unit.
  • One other scoreboard oddity I forgot to mention today: A new feature (as new as a ripoff of ’80s David Letterman can be) in which Tommy Lasorda throws things off a Dodger Stadium ledge and the audience votes on whether those things will break. Believe it or not, if you throw a TV from a great height, it won’t bounce.
  • Carlos Monasterios should have pitched today, argue Chad Moriyama of Memories of Kevin Malone and Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness, which has added an “Ortiz DFA-O-Meter” to its upper-right corner.
  • James McDonald tonight: six innings, 11 baserunners, three runs, eight strikeouts.
  • John Lindsey Watch: 2 for 2 off the bench to raise his on-base percentage to .654 and slugging to .864.
  • Nick Staskin of Phillies Nation isn’t happy that fans there have begun to boo Cole Hamels. I can relate.
Apr 13

Winning 9 to 5 – what a way to make a living



Manny Ramirez hit his first homer of 2010.

I didn’t have the league bylaws with me to see when the pitchers’ mercy rule would kick in and they would bring out the tees, but I know the Dodger and Diamondback parents must have felt it was close.

There was an offensive display at Dodger Stadium Opening Day — particularly offensive if you were a fan of good pitching. Arizona and Los Angeles combined to walk 14 and needed 362 pitches to get through nine innings, but ultimately it was the Dodgers who enjoyed their postgame snacks and juiceboxes most with a 9-5 victory.

Manny Ramirez added to the pregame fireworks with his first homer of 2010 to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning, and Casey Blake, Andre Ethier (back from his injury) and Matt Kemp followed with more round-trippers in a game that the Dodgers seemed to own basically the entire way — only their pitchers seemed practically determined to lease it back to the Diamondbacks.

Clayton Kershaw threw only four pitches out of the strike zone in the first inning, but once again increasingly battled his control as the game progressed and couldn’t make it through the sixth inning despite a comfortable lead. He walked No. 8 hitter Chris Snyder and Arizona pitcher Ian Kennedy to lead off the top of the fifth and later hit a batter before escaping a bases-loaded jam. Then in the sixth, he again walked the first two batters and was clearly laboring to find himself. Kershaw left after 5 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts and only two earned runs, but five walks and another four days to come of pitchers’ soul-searching.

But Kennedy, whom Arizona is counting on to hold down a spot in its starting rotation, was certainly little better after a 1-2-3 first inning for the Diamondbacks, allowing six runs and nine baserunners while using 100 pitches to get 13 outs.

No reliever really impressed for either team until the ninth, when Jonathan Broxton — who received a warm reception from a good-mooded crowd that held nothing from the end of 2009 against him – struck out two in a perfect final frame. Dodger fans worried about rising ticket prices at least got 222 minutes of game action today for their trouble, and a happy ending as they hit the postgame traffic.

The Dodger offense now has 45 runs in seven games (6.4 per game), though it is a slow-starting group. Russell Martin’s sacrifice fly provided the Dodgers’ first second-inning run of the season, and all but eight runs in 2010 have been scored from the fourth inning on. Kemp and Ethier each went 2 for 5, James Loney had two doubles and Blake DeWitt walked three times (once with the bases loaded) to give him 11 on the season against one strikeout. Yes, folks, your National League 2010 walk leader is none other than Mr. DeWitt.

As indicated above with Broxton, the atmosphere at Opening Day was positive, though perhaps not as euphoric as a year ago when Ramirez was making grand entrances from the left-field bleachers and Vin Scully was saying “It’s time for Dodger baseball” instead of Larry King. In particular, the staff working the scoreboards seemed a little disengaged from the festivities, rarely showing fans in the stands and being sluggish with stat updates. In addition, they’ve made a peculiar choice to air random trivia (not baseball trivia, but things like the temperature of lightning) in paid spots for Mega Millions, and even the bloopers segment had nothing to do with baseball.  They seemed to be marching to their own, odd drummer.

As for me, I’ll be marching home with a Russell Martin foul ball that I caught after it caromed off the hands of a fan behind me. It’s the fifth of my career – one for my fortunately not sore thumb.

Apr 13

Kershaw LIII: Kershawme Opener


John Cordes/Icon SMI
Andre Ethier blasted two homers and drove in four runs in the Dodgers’ home opener a year ago today.

They were overshadowed by Orlando Hudson producing the first Dodger cycle in 39 years, but there were plenty of heroes that made last year’s Dodger opener a laugher in the best kind of way for the fans. Every Dodger starter had at least one hit, Andre Ethier homered twice, Chad Billingsley scattered four singles and a double over seven innings while striking out 11 – heck, even Will Ohman pitched a shutout inning. All against the Giants. The good times rolled on through April’s record streak of consecutive home victories to start a season.

Things are a bit cloudier a year later, with the Dodgers 3 1/2 games behind the Giants in the National League West before the home crowd has even seen a regular-season pitch. But Monday’s gray skies have cleared up, just as Albert Peterson predicted. Let’s go have some fun!

* * *

  • Joe Torre-managed teams have won 12 consecutive home openers, notes Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. Stephen has more Dodger home opener details here.
  • In the comments of that thread, BHSportsGuy lists the 15 Dodger pitchers credited with a win since Clayton Kershaw’s last on July 18.
  • Via Twitter, Stephen points to a nice feature by Tom Krasovic on Dick Enberg, reborn as a Padres play-by-play announcer. Related: Rob Neyer of ESPN.com heard Enberg say that he tried to write a screenplay about legendary spy/catcher Moe Berg.
  • Memories of Kevin Malone took a close look at the Dodger defense.
  • Padres pitcher Chris Young went on the disabled list, where he’ll find Arizona catcher Miguel Montero and might soon be joined by Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Juan Castro is the Phillies’ current replacement for Rollins.
  • Josh Wilker of Cardboard Gods gets some nice Huffington Post exposure in writing about the anniversary of Mark Fidrych’s death and the connection with his childhood.
  • Blue Heaven passes along a March 6, 1948 letter from Branch Rickey to Walter O’Malley (written from Spring Training at Ciudad Trujillo, Dominican Republic) calling for a trade of Eddie Stanky “even if we were getting nothing for him at all,” to create  an opening in the Brooklyn infield. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Stanky was traded within 24 hours with a player to be named later to the Boston Braves for a player to be named later, Bama Rowell, Ray Sanders and $40,000. (A month later, the Dodgers completed the trade by selling Sanders back to Boston for $60,000.)
  • Four-hit nights for Dodger minor leaguers on Monday: Xavier Paul had three singles and a homer for Albuquerque, Dee Gordon had three doubles, a single and an error for Chattanooga and Jerry Sands had two doubles and two singles for Great Lakes. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus writes that after an 0-for-6 start in AA, Gordon has six hits (including four doubles) in his past seven at-bats.
  • Isotopes reliever Brent Leach is having a Sherrill of a time in his first two games of the year.
  • Matt Hiserman, son of Times assistant sports editor Mike Hiserman and a college pitcher for the University of San Francisco, has come back inside of two months from a liner to the head that landed him in intensive care for four days, writes Eric Sondheimer of the Times.
  • The crackdown on Dodger Stadium pregame tailgating was scheduled to begin at dawn in Elysian Park, according to Zach Behrens of LAist (via L.A. Observed, which also points to a David Kipen piece talking about the origins of the Dodgers’ “LA” logo.).
  • How much of a difference does payroll make in baseball? Tom Tango writes at TMI: “If you spend at the league average (Payroll Index = 100 percent), your chance of making the playoffs is 27 percent. If you spend at double the league average (Payroll Index = 200 percent), your chances are 77 percent. And if you spend at half the league average, your chances dwindle to almost 0.”
  • Bob Timmermann wrote movingly about his grandmother, Ella Kimberling, for L.A. Observed’s Native Intelligence.
  • Quick entertainment notes from my day job: 1) Definitive details on Conan O’Brien’s move to TBS, 2) DirecTV will broadcast all five seasons of “The Wire” commercial-free, 3) Three major new hits (“The Good Wife,” “Modern Family” and “NCIS: Los Angeles” premiered within 25 hours of each other.
  • Leaving you with this: Brian Akin of Dear (Tommy) John Letters is thinking of hanging up his blog if he has to hang up his spikes. While I certainly hope he signs with another team, reading his latest post will serve as a reminder that no matter what, he should keep writing.
Apr 12

Dodger Cogs and Dogs: Edition 1 of ?


Doug Benc/Getty Images
Hiroki Kuroda was one of eight qualifying National League pitchers with a 0.00 ERA after the first week of the season.

This is an experiment, but I’m hoping it takes hold. It’s my ranking of the most valuable Dodgers of the year, top to bottom, mixing subjectivity and objectivity but completely looking at what’s already happened, not what’s likely to happen.

If I can keep this going, expect it on Dodger off days (though no more often than once a week). We’ll see … in the meantime, discuss, debate and enjoy!

Rank Player Comment
1 Hiroki Kuroda Dodger Thoughts’ pick for Opening Day starter comes through huge with no earned runs in eight innings.
2 Russell Martin Great start (4 for 11, one HR, six BB, .611 OBP) for a player so many had given up on.
3 Charlie Haeger Watching knuckleballs land for called strikes is a unique pleasure.
4 Rafael Furcal Red-hot start ended with Sunday’s 0 for 5.
5 Matt Kemp Don’t worry about the nine strikeouts – he’s hittin’.
6 Casey Blake Quietly leading Dodger regulars in batting average (.375); Dodger third basemen have combined for 1.300 OPS.
7 Ronnie Belliard Slugging 1.000 in 12 plate appearances and even more shocking, dazzled on defense Sunday.
8 Reed Johnson If you guessed he’d be tied for second among Dodger OF in total bases, congrats on picking Butler for NCAA title game.
9 Manny Ramirez Batting average is there (.316), but no homers or unintentional walks in 20 opportunities.
10 Chad Billingsley Control remains an issue, but for an early April start, results were encouraging.
11 Andre Ethier .417 OBP in limited action (12 plate appearances) for the normally durable RF.
12 Ramon Troncoso Has retired 12 of 14 batters faced with no strikeouts: 10 outs on the ground.
13 Jonathan Broxton Little impact this year – through little fault of his own.
14 Blake DeWitt No extra-base hits, but five walks compared with one strikeout lead to .450 OBP.
15 Jeff Weaver If Jorge Cantu’s liner goes six inches to the left, Weaver (five appearances in six games) might have been a first-week god.
16 Garret Anderson A soft 4 for 16 (one walk, one double), mostly subbing for Andre Ethier.
17 Ramon Ortiz Still need to be wary, but probably will survive the return of Hong-Chih Kuo.
18 Jamey Carroll Looking more and more like defensive replacement for DeWitt will be major part of role.
19 A.J. Ellis Did everything asked of him Sunday except block Haeger’s three wild pitches.
20 Clayton Kershaw Just a really sloppy first outing — he’ll try to avoid Padillaing on Tuesday.
21 Carlos Monasterios Being brought along gingerly: two appearances this season, both in runaway games.
22 Russ Ortiz For want of three outs in garbage time Friday, the Dodgers’ entire Florida weekend went south.
23 Brad Ausmus Over-under on games played this year drops from 40 to 20.
24 James Loney Two steals but only one walk and one extra-base hit lead to a .475 OPS.
25 Vicente Padilla In a Dodger uniform, has four quality starts in 12 tries, including postseason.
26 George Sherrill Why couldn’t he have had visa problems?
Apr 11

Don’t fall prey to the RISP bogeyman

Doug Benc/Getty Images
Matt Kemp is feeling bad tonight after making an error on this play and striking out with the tying run on third in the ninth inning, but he still had a good first week.

No Dodger fan likes the team flunking with runners in scoring position. But just because it’s frustrating doesn’t mean the Dodgers should succeed all the time. It’s not as if your odds for winning the lottery increase the more you want to win.

Okay, not the greatest analogy, but it gets us headed in the right direction. Whenever a team wastes scoring opportunities, you start to see people toss around tidbits like batting average with runners in scoring position. This is a stat that gives stats a bad name.  Batting average is a stat of very limited value, and tacking it on to runners in scoring position doesn’t make it any more useful.

Batting average with RISP doesn’t take into account sacrifice flies, run-producing groundouts or walks. It doesn’t take into account the fact that often, an RISP at-bat comes against a pitcher brought in for a particular matchup to defuse that situation. It doesn’t reward you for getting a runner home from first base (or from home plate). Most of all, it give you any indication of how often a team has those situations.  Exaggerating to make a point, if the Dodgers had 30 at-bats in nine innings with RISP, succeeding in only six of them wouldn’t mean the offense was unproductive.

The idea of a clutch hitter is a dubious measurement to begin with, because clutch hitting tends to fluctuate from season to season. Looking for clutch hitting in a team is an even less useful activity. Batting average with RISP doesn’t come with enough context to have hardly any meaning.

In their first six games of the season, the Dodgers are batting .260 with RISP. That’s not going to light anyone’s pants afire, though it’s respectable. But then you see that the Dodgers have had 95 RISP plate appearances, an average of 15.8 per game – that’s more than one per inning. In those 95 plate appearances, the team has reached base 29 times while also delivering five sacrifice flies and four sacrifices – achieving the goal of an RISP at-bat at a .400 rate, even before you starting talking about productive outs.

Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
Even after today’s strikeout, Kemp has a .308 batting average plus a sacrifice fly with RISP and has seven RBI in six games.

Through Saturday’s games, the Dodgers were second in the National League in RISP plate appearances and second in RISP runs and RBI (before adding three more RISP runs today). Matt Kemp struck out with the tying run on third and one out in the ninth inning today in what was a bad-looking at-bat, but how much should we get on his case when, for the season, he is batting .308 with a sacrifice fly in RISP situations? How much better is he supposed to be? The Dodgers are  tied for third in the NL in runs scored – averaging 6.0 runs per game with at least five runs in every game but Wednesday’s – how much better are they supposed to be?

When you lose three one-run games on a six-game road trip, it’s natural to look at the what-might-have beens – and the Dodgers’ outs with RISP provide many. But to be fair, there is only one loss this season for which the offense can reasonably be blamed. The Dodgers might have some issues to upset their catnaps on their flight home from Florida, but RISP is just not one of them.

There are some people who decry the excess of esoteric stats that populate the game today, but my guess is that a lot of them think batting average with RISP as a good one. However, this is honestly a case where simplicity is for the best. You want to know how your offense is doing, you really are better off trashing batting average with RISP, and just looking at runs scored.

* * *

  • More on the rarity of a knuckleballer striking out 12 batters in a game from ESPN’s TMI blog. This isn’t confirmed, but it appears Charlie Haeger came within one strikeout of tying Phil Niekro and Charlie Hough for the most by a knuckleballer in a game in at least the past 40 years.
  • The ever-awesome Vin Scully Is My Homeboy posted a great Sport Magazine cover shot of a young Maury Wills.
  • Hugh Bernreuter of the Saginaw News (via Baseball Think Factory) writes about Dodger prospect Brian Cavazos-Galvez’s lost relationship with his father, former Dodger minor leaguer Balvino Galvez. Cavazos-Galvez hasn’t let it derail him, and when he’s not playing baseball, he volunteers for Special Olympics and Challenger Little League. “My uncle (Timmy Cavazos) has Down’s Syndrome, so I have experience being around those kids,” Cavazos-Galvez said. “Other guys are kind of scared to be around those kids or don’t know how to act. I love it.”
  • Former Dodger pitcher Edwin Jackson hit his first career home run in Arizona’s team-record 13-run fourth inning. Jackson allowed four runs over seven innings and 98 pitches to get credit for a 15-6 victory.
  • Marvin Bernard admits to steroid use? Marvin Bernard? Something tells me this one won’t be analyzed to death by the pundits.
  • Top MLB prospects Steven Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman each impressed in their U.S. professional debuts, writes Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com.
  • John Lindsey went 3 for 4 today, with his first homer of the year, to raise his 2010 Albuquerque on-base percentage to .632 and slugging percentage to .941.
Apr 11

Dodgers surrender another lead to end 2-4 road trip

“Slacks” did his part.

In a performance best seen to be appreciated, Charlie Haeger knucklestruck 12 batters in six innings, walked four and had as many hits allowed as wild pitches (three). He gave up a three-run homer to Jorge Cantu in the fourth after walking two batters with a 4-0 Dodger lead, but that inning was the only one when he really struggled, and he overall pitched well enough to win. Rob Neyer of ESPN.com pointed out that in his fifth career start, the 26-year-old Haeger equaled the career strikeout high of 43-year-old Tim Wakefield.

But a bobbled-and-dropped fly ball by an on-the-run Matt Kemp opened the door for the Marlins to cut the Dodgers’ lead to 5-4 in the bottom of the sixth, and then Jeff Weaver, pitching for the fifth time in six games, picked the wrong time to allow his first runs of the season, giving up a two-run double to Cantu that Florida didn’t waste, with the Marlins holding on for a 6-5 victory.

The Dodgers put runners on first and third in both the eighth and ninth innings, but pinch-hitter Andre Ethier grounded out to end the eighth, and Kemp struck out before James Loney grounded out to end the ninth. Kemp and Loney were both 2 for 5 on the day.

Ronnie Belliard had another three-hit start for the Dodgers and also made two outstanding plays at third base. A.J. Ellis made his first start of 2010 for the Dodgers and produced a boxscore line of 0 0 0 2, thanks to a squeeze bunt, walk and sacrifice fly.

And so the Dodgers head home after a 2-4 season-opening road trip in which they gave up the winning run in the seventh, ninth and 10th innings – all three games that Jonathan Broxton missed. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reported that Hong-Chih Kuo threw a side session today and could be activated during the Dodgers’ upcoming homestand, after at least one minor-league rehab assignment. The Dodgers, averaging 6.0 runs per game despite Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez combining for six starts this year, could use some good news out of that bullpen.

Apr 11

Relief disbelief: Same old song with a few new lines


Keith Srakocic/AP
George Sherrill’s bad outing against Pittsburgh on Opening Day was mere prelude to Saturday’s Florida fright night.

George Sherrill should be able to get three outs before he gives up three runs. And inevitably, there was going to be a do-or-die situation this season when he would need to do that. Just as Vicente Padilla shouldn’t give up four runs on nine baserunners in 4 1/3 innings, Sherrill needs to do better if the Dodgers are going avoid trouble.

But Padilla and Sherrill’s failings are basically heat-of-the-battle failings, whereas Joe Torre’s use of Jonathan Broxton this week is the equivalent of filling the bubbles in your SAT exam with Crayola burnt orange. (Assuming they still use bubbles.)

We’ve said it before and we hate to say it again – so this is going to be brief. If you can’t afford to allow a run – as was the case when the Dodgers played extra innings in Pittsburgh on Wednesday – you use the pitcher least likely to allow a run. Only after that pitcher has been used do you turn to others. And certainly, you don’t worry about saving your best pitcher for a situation in which you can allow a run and still win.

On one level, it was coincidental that Torre’s use of Broxton this week led to us talking about his absence from Saturday’s game. It required a specific flow of events from Opening Day on. On the other hand, we do see this from Dodger managers, including Torre’s recent predecessors, all too often. If Sherrill had been used Saturday after a proper use of Broxton in previous days, people would have been talking about Sherrill overnight a lot more than Torre.

Do not save your best reliever for a save situation in an extra-inning game on the road.

  • One other oddity regarding Saturday and the bullpen: Torre told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com that Ramon Troncoso, who was pitched a perfect eighth inning but was pulled after giving up a leadoff single in the ninth, “is basically a one-inning guy.” I realize that bullpen roles have changed with Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario out, but especially when he hadn’t pitched the day before and with Broxton out, since when is Troncoso a one-inning guy? The guy made his reputation with his ability to go multiple frames. Troncoso needed only seven pitches to get out of the eighth inning, then had thrown six pitches in the ninth when he came out of the game.
  • The botched squeeze in the second inning Saturday (that resulted in a bases-loaded, one-out situation imploding) was even crazier than it appeared. As many surmised, Vicente Padilla missed the suicide squeeze sign that resulted in Casey Blake getting tagged out between third and home. But from what Torre told reporters this morning, it appears that Torre himself wanted to take the squeeze off after having initially called for it – but that he gave the second sign too late for third-base coach Larry Bowa to see. So Bowa and Blake incorrectly, though understandably, thought the squeeze was still on – while Padilla, apparently, was oblivious to all of this. Torre indicated that he puts signs on and takes them off all the time.
  • Manny Ramirez had his 2,500th career hit Saturday, while Rafael Furcal had his 1,500th. Furcal has a .480 on-base percentage this season and is tied for the major-league lead in doubles.
  • Ian Kennedy is the scheduled starter for Arizona against Clayton Kershaw in Tuesday’s home opener, followed by Rodrigo Lopez against Chad Billingsley on Wednesday and Dan Haren against Hiroki Kuroda on Thursday.
  • LeeAnn Rimes will sing the national anthem Tuesday.
  • Josh Lindblom was hit hard in his first 2010 start for Albuquerque – needing 77 pitches to get through three innings that saw him give up eight hits, two walks and three runs while striking out one.
  • John Lindsey, the 33-year-old minor-league lifer still looking for his first major-league action, is 7 for 13 with three doubles in his first three games for the Isotopes. Lindsey would need a few injuries to right-handed hitting Dodgers before he’d have a shot at a cup of coffee.
  • James Adkins, a 2007 first-round pick, allowed five runs in three innings of relief in his first 2010 outing for AA Chattanooga.
  • Ethan Martin’s Inland Empire season debut was a different story: five innings, no runs, three singles, no walks, one hit batter, nine strikeouts.
  • Allen Webster allowed one run over five innings (six baserunners, four strikeouts) in his ’10 Great Lakes debut.
  • Dixie Walker, the Brooklyn Dodger long remembered for starting a petition against Jackie Robinson joining the team, is revisited today by Harvey Araton of the New York Times (via Inside the Dodgers). The article’s main point seems to be that Walker was remorseful and not the racist he’s been accused of being:

    … Though (Maury) Allen and Susan Walker suggest in the book that her father did not initiate the anti-Robinson petition, Roger Kahn, in his 2002 book, “The Era,” wrote that Walker told him in 1976 that he had.

    Kahn quoted Walker saying: “I organized that petition in 1947, not because I had anything against Robinson personally or against Negroes generally. I had a wholesale business in Birmingham and people told me I’d lose my business if I played ball with a black man.”

    In a telephone interview, Kahn said his conversation with Walker took place when Walker was the hitting coach for the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

    “He invited me out for a glass of wine — somewhat shocking in that Budweiser world,” Kahn said. “We talked for a while, and then he got to the point: the petition and his letter to Rickey. He called it the stupidest thing he’d ever done and if I ever had a chance to please write that he was very sorry.”

    Calling the Walker he met “a lovely, courtly man,” Kahn said that the assumption should not be made that all early opposition to Robinson was based on core discrimination and not confusion or fear.

    “Ballplayers depended on off-season work back then,” he said. “When I was covering the Dodgers, Gil Hodges sold Buicks on Flatbush Avenue. Now, if you’re Derek Jeter and you have a wholesale hardware business, you can say, ‘So what?’ ”

    Rachel Robinson’s response in the same article: “If you’re asking about forgiveness based on the context of the time, I can’t say I worry about the view of them at this time. Maybe they learned better or changed, but at the time, they had a chance to move forward from segregation and chose the opposite. They had an impact.”

Apr 10

A.J. Ellis replaces injured Brad Ausmus on roster


Keith Srakocic/AP
Brad Ausmus

Russell Martin’s unexpectedly quick recovery from Spring Training injury kept the Dodgers from having a catching tandem tonight of A.J. Ellis and Lucas May or J.D. Closser.

Ellis, who turned 29 Friday, has been recalled from Albuquerque to join the 25-man roster in place of Brad Ausmus, who has gone on the disabled list for the first time in his career with a pinched nerve in his back. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details:

… Ausmus said that while the injury originates in his back, it presents itself in the form of numbness all the way down his left leg, from his hip to his foot. The injury isn’t related to a chronic lower-back problem Ausmus has experienced sporadically during his career, an issue that flared up again during spring training and caused him to be shut down for a week.

“The other day, when I was catching in Pittsburgh, about the eighth inning my hip started giving me some problems,” he said. “I was hoping it was just a case of not having caught that much after missing a week of spring training. But over the next 18 hours, during any prolonged sitting or lying down, I would get a shooting pain down my left leg.”

Ausmus said he had trouble sitting on the team bus to the airport after Thursday’s game and on the charter flight to Fort Lauderdale, then had trouble sleeping that night. He woke up Friday morning feeling what he described as “pins and needles” in his foot.

The decision to place Ausmus on the DL actually was made before Friday night’s game, but it was kept quiet so the Florida Marlins wouldn’t know that Russell Martin was the Dodgers’ only catcher. Ellis was scratched from Albuquerque’s game at Oklahoma City during batting practice, but he wasn’t able to get a flight until the following morning.

Ausmus, who will turn 41 on Wednesday, said he was disappointed that he didn’t finish his career without a DL stint, but that he understood why it had to happen now.

“I’m pretty much at, or really close to, the end of my career, although who knows when it’s going to end?” he said. “I was hoping to avoid it my entire career, but this time, there wasn’t much chance of that. [Trainer] Stan [Conte] and [manager] Joe [Torre] knew there was too much risk involved in putting me into a game and that they would have to have somebody else here. The only way to do that was to put me on the DL.’” …

Joe Torre told reporters this afternoon that Ellis would start Sunday’s day game – the fourth start of his career and the second that has ever come before the month of September. Ellis will be catching knuckleballer Charlie Haeger, whom he caught in Albuquerque about nine times last season (if my quick scan of the minor-league game logs of Fangraphs is correct.)

Torre also said that Andre Ethier (a ripe old 28 years old today) won’t start this weekend but might come off the bench, and that he is a possibility for the starting lineup at Tuesday’s home opener. Manny Ramirez also will be held out of the starting lineup Sunday.

* * *

  • Josh Lindblom gets his first start for Albuquerque at 5:05 p.m.
  • Tim Wallach’s son Brett threw five no-hit innings Friday in his first start for Great Lakes, while 2009 first-round pick Aaron Miller struck out 10 in his five innings for Inland Empire.
  • Blue Heaven posted some fun Dodger-related videos from this year and yesteryear.
  • Pedro!
Apr 09

Dodgers, Kuroda win despite ongoing defensive concerns


Doug Benc/Getty Images
Hiroki Kuroda didn’t allow an earned run over eight innings in his first start of the season.

Stuck in a shutout duel for five innings and looking like he might be a hard-luck loser after six, Hiroki Kuroda emerged triumphant and then some.

Kuroda went eight innings in his first start of the season without allowing an earned run, by far the star in the Dodgers’ 7-3 victory that evened their season record at 2-2.

Doug Penc/Getty Images

John Baker’s blooper fell for a double after Blake DeWitt nearly collided with Reed Johnson in the second inning Friday. Hiroki Kuroda struck out two of the next three batters to get out of the inning.

The 35-year-old righthander, whose 2009 season ended mired in injuries, allowed four singles, a bloop double and a walk (intentional) while striking out seven. Kuroda tallied his eight innings in 100 pitches, and with better defense behind him might easily have pitched a shutout.

The near-collision in the second inning between Reed Johnson and Blake DeWitt that led to the only extra-base hit off Kuroda, the error by Casey Blake in the fifth and the throwing error by Russell Martin (leading to an unearned run) were among the defensive lapses that kept Kuroda from an even more efficent outing. The mistakes could be said to be just three of those things that happen at a baseball game. But as much as people have focused on DeWitt as a defensive worry, it’s pretty easy to point to half the eight defensive positions – second, third, left and right – and say the Dodgers have limited range there, compounded by the sometimes erratic play by Rafael Furcal at short and Martin behind the plate.

Even the best make mistakes. Gold Glove winner Matt Kemp and first-base artist James Loney aren’t perfect, and perfection isn’t expected. But the Dodgers are going to have to outscore or outpitch their defense a lot this year.

Fortunately for them tonight, they were up to the task, thanks to Kuroda and an offense that scored seven times in the final three innings. Furcal was 3 for 4 with a walk tonight and had two of the Dodgers’ five doubles.

The night ended after Jonathan Broxton made sure Russ Ortiz’s ERA didn’t go unpunished after Ortiz loaded the bases on a single and two walks in the bottom of the ninth. Broxton gave up a two-run double to Wes Helms before striking out the final two batters of the game.

* * *

Notes from Tony Jackson:

  • Andre Ethier remains day-to-day with a sore ankle, and figures to pinch-hit before he returns to the starting lineup.
  • Hong-Chih Kuo has a bullpen session scheduled for Sunday, which hopefully will greenlight his return from the disabled list within the next week.
  • Dodger Thoughts hero Pedro Guerrero visited the clubhouse and former teammates Rick Monday, Rick Honeycutt and Mariano Duncan today.

* * *

Scott Elbert had a whale of a first start tonight for Albuquerque. He pitched six shutout innings, allowing two hits, walking five and striking out 10 –  somehow needing only 96 pitches to do all that. Elbert, who twice pitched out of one-out jams with runners on second and third, left with a 1-0 lead, but Brent Leach couldn’t hold it and the Isotopes lost, 4-3.

Apr 09

April 9 game chat + Superhuman pretzel update

With the Dodgers’ home opener only a few days away, here’s a link to the latest Dodger Stadium food news. Apparently USC and UCLA fans both like pastrami. Also …

  • Victory Knot: A new item is the Victory Knot, an extreme take on the traditional soft pretzel. Enough to feed about four hungry fans, this giant pretzel is made with two pounds of dough, topped with sea salt and served with three dipping sauces – chipotle honey mustard, sweet cinnamon crème and beer cheese – in a full-size pizza box. The Victory Knot is available at California Pizza Kitchen stands
  • Fan Favorites – Back by Popular Demand: Due to overwhelming fan demand, including a Facebook group dedicated to the subject, the spicy Picante Dog will be reintroduced to the menu throughout Dodger Stadium. California Pizza Kitchen has also returned as the pizza sponsor and Dippin’ Dots will be available at portable carts on the Field and Reserve levels. The fish tacos at the Camacho’s stands, made with beer-battered cod served with shredded cabbage, chili lime crema, pico de gallo and a fresh lime wedge, were first introduced last season and will also return in 2010
  • Kaiser Permanente Healthy Plate Carts: Levy Restaurants continues to offer lighter, nutritious options for fans at the three Kaiser Permanente Healthy Plate Carts. The menus are expanding this year to include new items like the Curried Chicken Lettuce Wraps served with radish, cucumber, cottage cheese and cherry tomatoes; Spicy Shrimp Cocktail, a refreshing gazpacho-like dish; Fresh Fruit Salad using only fruits that are in season; Greek Salad made with basil, feta cheese, tomatoes and red onions with low-fat balsamic vinaigrette; assorted sushi including California rolls, spicy tuna rolls and cucumber rolls; and a turkey sandwich served on whole wheat with avocado. Gluten-free beer and snacks will also be available at the Kaiser Permanente Healthy Plate Carts
Apr 09

Is indecision a problem in managing a team? I don’t know …


Kyle Terada/US Presswire
Joe Torre

As much as I might procrastinate, I never turn in work late. But when it comes to difficult decisions, sometimes I’ll take those past the expiration date — in other words, by the time I make the decision, it won’t matter what I’ve decided.

Simple example: There’s a sale on something I might want to buy, but by the time I decide to go for it, the sale is over. Or there’s a story I might want to write, but by the time I commit to requesting interviews, someone else has gotten there first.

I got to wondering how much major-league managers (or for that matter, general managers) share this trait. We talk a lot about in-game strategy when it comes to managing; I’ve still got a diatribe at the ready about Joe Torre’s use of Jonathan Broxton in Pittsburgh this week. But today I’m thinking out loud about how many wins might come from decisiveness, how many losses might result from the lack of it.

Should the Dodgers be more decisive by this point about whether James McDonald is a starting pitcher or a relief pitcher? Should they have been less decisive a few years back about turning Jonathan Broxton into a reliever instead of a starter?

If you’re unsure about a roster decision, do you just put it off? To paraphrase Branch Rickey, is it better to get rid of a player a month too soon than a month too late?

Blake DeWitt (a subject of discussion in this morning’s comments) –went back-and-forth between the majors and minors last year, is it time to commit to him staying in the majors in 2010?

I’m not attempting to answer these questions today. Perhaps some of these kinds of decisions should be made sooner, others later. It’s obviously important to make the right decision, but how important is when you make that decision? Is timing an underrated skill in management?

As a postscript, Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy points to one decision Torre has been putting off — how long to stay with the Dodgers — and wonders if Torre has any inclination to flee the McCourt mess for the Mets mess.

* * *

Eri Yoshida, the 18-year-old female knuckleballer from Japan, is coming to California to pitch:

(Yoshida) signed with the Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League. The team said she will report to spring training next month. …

Yoshida will be the first female to pitch for a pro team in the United States since Ila Borders retired more than 10 years ago, the team said. …

“We are really looking forward to having Eri as a member of the Chico Outlaws this season,” team president Mike Marshall said. …

Yes, that’s former Dodger outfielder Mike Marshall speaking.

The 5-foot, 114-pound Yoshida became Japan’s first female pro baseball player last year when she pitched for the Kobe Cruise 9 in the Kansai Independent League.

She was 0-2 in 11 appearances with a 4.03 ERA, giving up seven runs in 10 2-3 innings. …

The Outlaws open on the road on May 21 in Tijuana and return for their home opener on May 26th.

* * *

Josh Wilker of Cardboard Gods can be heard in an NPR interview Saturday.