Mar 31

Kershaw strikes at heart of Giants, 2-1


Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw, out of the blue and into the black

Any hope that the Los Angeles Dodgers would support their pitching with great fundamentals and an underrated offense took an early uppercut to the jaw on Opening Day, 2011.

But any fear that Clayton Kershaw wasn’t up to carrying the responsibility of team leader on his shoulders was KO’d.

In the latest of his coming-of-age performances, Kershaw shut out the San Francisco Giants for seven innings, striking out nine, and the Dodgers knocked the Giants off their Opening Day beanstalk, 2-1.

Kershaw struck out four in the first two innings, eight in the first four innings. He didn’t fret when he went 3-0 for the only time of the night to Pat Burrell, nabbing him two pitches later on a flyout, nor did he get shy after Aubrey Huff hit the night’s biggest shot, a fly ball to the wall in right field in the fourth. Kershaw simply reared back and struck out Buster Posey and Burrell.

He pitched out of his first two-on jam in the fifth inning, drew a double-play grounder after allowing a leadoff single in the sixth. In the seventh inning, he matched a Dodgers Opening Day record (for non-extra-inning games – thanks, Bob Timmermann) by striking out his ninth batter.

And after that, admired as Hong-Chih Kuo and embattled Jonathan Broxton — after a skipped heartbeat or two — held up their end of the pitching deal, closing out the game.

It was a true showcase for the ace — not so much at first for some other of the Dodgers’ skills.

The first inning set the tone, when Kershaw struck out the side to overcome Rafael Furcal’s one-out unforced throwing error. In the second inning, Kershaw was unable to handle James Loney’s lob for a 3-1 groundout, and in the bottom of the frame, Juan Uribe overslid second base and was called out after initially appearing safe stretching a single to a double. Then, after Rod Barajas singled (a hit that might have scored Uribe) and went to second base on a passed ball, Jamey Carroll couldn’t put the ball in play, striking out ahead of Kershaw doing the same.

Loney undermined his own Mr. RBI marketing campaign by grounding out with two runners on and two out in each of his first two at-bats — the Dodgers going 0 for their first five at-bats with runners in scoring position. Hey, it happen. And it figures to happen pretty often with the Dodgers this year, not due to a lack of heart but the law of low on-base percentages.

Of course, there was also a guy named Tim Lincecum out there on the mound, so no one’s really going to hold the Dodgers too accountable for not lighting up the scoreboard this time around. And then, as it turned out, last year’s world champions proved even more fundamental-free than the Dodgers.

After Matt Kemp walked for the second of three, count ‘em, three times in the game, Loney nearly hit into another groundout, only to be saved by a Miguel Tejada throwing error. Lincecum then hit Juan Uribe with a pitch to load the bases.

And then, in the first bizarre play of this young season, Posey shoveled up a pitch in the dirt, then fired at third base trying to pick off Kemp just as the Dodger was completing his return to the third-base bag. The throw got past Pablo Sandoval, and Kemp trotted home with Run No. 1.

“I saw Pablo,” Kemp told Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com after the game. “I saw his reaction. I saw his eyes, and I knew the ball was coming. I don’t know what was going on, but I’ll take it.”

Kershaw threw 13 pitches in the seventh inning, giving him 96 for the night and setting up the possibility that with a quick eighth inning, he might go the distance — and spare everyone the edginess of a Broxton appearance. But debut Dodgers manager Don Mattingly gunslinged straight to his bullpen to start the eighth, beginning with Kuo.

That’s the guy who elicits no scorn, but Kuo threw his first six pitches out of the strike zone (four to leadoff man Mark DeRosa, batting for Lincecum). Rallying, he retired Andres Torres, Freddy Sanchez and Huff to wrap up the frame.

In the bottom of the eighth, Kemp worked out that career-high third walk, followed by a no-contest stolen base. Loney, grateful for the latest chance to drive in a run, came through with a solid double. Neither Uribe, Barajas or Carroll could build upon that Farmer’s Insurance Run (naming rights pending) …and so we came to the heavyweight bout of the night.

Broxton vs. Broxton.

The crowd buzzed …

  • vs. Posey: ball a little high, and then a grounder to Loney that he slid for, kept in front and shoveled to the rumbling pitcher covering the bag.
  • vs. Burrell: ball, ball, foul back, and a home run smoked on a low arc to left field. Alarm bells.
  • vs. Tejada: ball, swinging strike, tapper in front of the plate for Barajas to throw to Loney for the second out.
  • vs. Brandon Belt: swinging strike, ball outside, ground foul wide of third, ball outside, soft foul toward the Giants’ dugout, hair’s breadth foul tip, foul back, looping liner to third base.

Done.

Mar 31

Kershaw LXXXIV: Kershopening day game chat

In the morning, Russell Martin singled in his first at-bat wearing pinstripes, later stole third and then scored the Yankees’ first run of 2011.

In the early afternoon, I looked up and saw the Padres, whom most predict will fall back to also-ran status, going spike-to-spike with the Cardinals, 2-2 in the eighth inning, two runners on. As a bystander said, with the ESPN daytime coverage and the full-house crowd, it seemed like a playoff game.

Down in the Dodger dugout, three hours before gametime, players in blue pregame shirts file in and out, sweating and hydrating even as their day has shifted into gear. This is a speculation-free zone. After six months of “what should we do, where will we finish,” it’s almost like an alarm waking up a groggy sleeper. These people are going to work. It’s all about the bottom line, a line that hasn’t been written.

Baseball fans love their past and live for their team’s future. But Opening Day is the present: 0-0. We’re not living on borrowed time – we’re just living.

It’s a fine thing. Here’s to a great day.

* * *

  • Matt Kemp is trying to homer in his sixth straight game.
  • Dodger clubhouse manager Mitch Poole gets his day in the sun, or more accurately, his day in the CNN.

Mar 31

Nature of Dodger-Giant rivalry is changing

Here’s the difference between how Dodger fans and Giants fans feel about the rivalry between the two teams …

When the Giants are in the Dodgers’ rear-view mirror, they’re forgotten. When the Dodgers are in San Francisco’s rear-view mirror, Giants fans never seem to stop looking back.

Obviously this comes with the disclaimer that not all fans of a team are the same, but you get the sense from up north that, for a great many people, the most important thing about the Giants winning the World Series is that the Dodgers didn’t. And I have to say, I just find it bizarre.

In my four decades of personally watching the Dodgers win division titles, National League pennants and World Series, I can assure you that once the Giants were out of it, I never gave them a single thought, not when I was 6 or 10, not when I was 20 or 40. And yes, I certainly consider them the Dodgers’ No. 1 rival.  But in Los Angeles, the winning alone has always brought complete satisfaction, and the Giants have nothing to do with it.

Up north, strangely, either winning isn’t enough, unless the ones who are satisfied are having their voices drowned out. All winter long, I’ve seen taunts from Giant fans who, now that they’re finally having their day in the sun, can’t stop poking the guy in the next lounge chair instead of simply basking.

The latest evidence:

  • A group of Giants fans has apparently put together more than $8,000 to fly a banner over Dodger Stadium during three games this week, including Opening Day, to taunt Dodger fans over San Francisco winning the World Series last year.
  • My guess is, had the Dodgers won the World Series, no one would have thought the reverse was worth doing.

That doesn’t mean that, as a Dodger fan, I’ve forgotten the past. The Miracle on Coogan’s Bluff, the Marichal-Roseboro incident, the near riots at Candlestick Park during that 1988 doubleheader (Chapter 50). Morgan at the end of ’82, Piazza at the end of ’93, Finley at the end of ’04. It doesn’t get more intense. And so, when the Giants and Dodgers meet Thursday for Opening Day, I completely expect the stands will be as friendly as two airline passengers fighting over the same overhead bin. But there should be a limit.

The rivalry is a big part of Dodger baseball, but it’s never been the biggest.  I hope it stays that way.  The Dodgers are winners, regardless of what’s going on in the short term of the franchise’s history, and I hope Dodger fans never let what’s going on with San Francisco become their barometer.

Mar 31

De Jesus, Ellis, Cormier, Gimenez, Paul round out Dodger Opening Day roster

Here’s who’ll suit up for Opening Day (Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has the details and the quotes.):

Starting pitchers: Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda

Bullpen: Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Matt Guerrier, Kenley Jansen, Blake Hawksworth, Mike McDougal, Lance Cormier

Starting lineup: Rafael Furcal, Tony Gwynn Jr., Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Juan Uribe, James Loney, Rod Barajas, Jamey Carroll

Bench: Ivan De Jesus Jr., Aaron Miles, Hector Gimenez, A.J. Ellis, Xavier Paul, Marcus Thames

Disabled list: Jon Garland, Vicente Padilla, Jay Gibbons, Casey Blake, Dioner Navarro

Manager: Don Mattingly, interviewed by Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com

John Lindsey and Jon Link have been designated for assignment – I think the expectation is that Lindsey, if not both Lindsey and Link, will clear waivers and possibly end up in Albuquerque.

Most vulnerable to coming off the roster as the injured players return: De Jesus, Ellis, Cormier, McDougal and Paul.

Oh, and here’s a bonus for you:

June 2012 starting rotation: Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Rubby De La Rosa, Zach Lee

Mar 30

Showcase for the kids

The spring ends on its highest note …

Dodgers 8, Mariners 1

Highlights:

  • Pitching in Dodger Stadium for the first time, Rubby De La Rosa struck out four of the six batters he faced and went on to dazzle with two-hit, no-walk shutout ball over 5 2/3 innings with six strikeouts. Legendary hitter Ichiro was two of those strikeouts.
  • Ivan DeJesus Jr. went 2 for 2.
  • Jerry Sands (1 for 2) and Dee Gordon each made diving catches.
  • Corey Smith completed his ridiculous spring with a three-run homer, leaving him 7 for 11 with four walks, two doubles and three home runs.
  • Andre Ethier doubled in the game’s first run, and James Loney followed with a two-run single to give the Dodgers a 3-0 first-inning lead.
  • Marcus Thames homered in the fourth.
  • Randy Keisler, who came out of the Dodgers’ open tryout camp four weeks ago to get a minor-league contract, retired all four batters he faced, striking out two, including Ichiro.
  • Allen Webster struck out the side in the ninth.
  • As a team, the Dodgers faced only 29 batters and struck out 12.

Lowlights:

  • Steven Ames allowed an eighth-inning homer to Michael Saunders to spoil the Dodgers’ shutout.
  • Aaron Miles hit into a double play and made an error on a foul pop-up.

Sidelights:

Mar 30

Exhibition finale chat

Ned Colletti spoke to Steve Mason and John Ireland on ESPN 710 AM about Andre Ethier. “I don’t have any interest in moving him, trading him, anything,” Colletti said.

  • Here are some ESPNLosAngeles.com and True Blue L.A. staff predictions on the Dodgers. I’m Scrooge.
  • The Dodgers have officially unveiled their memorial patch for Duke Snider and set August 9 as the date they will honor his memory at Dodger Stadium.
  • Tonight’s starting pitcher, Rubby De La Rosa, and Jerry Sands won the 2011 Jim and Dearie Mulvey Award, given to the top rookie in Dodger camp as voted on by the Dodger coaches.
  • Clayton Kershaw will donate $100 per 2011 strikeout to a nonprofit organization fighting poverty in Africa, where his wife has been deeply involved in charitable efforts.
  • The LADodgerTalk interview series with Logan White concludes with Part 4.
  • Lucas May, sent to Kansas City in last summer’s Scott Podsednik trade, was designated for assignment by the Royals.
  • Jamie Moyer will spend his age 48 year as an ESPN “Baseball Tonight” analyst before trying to complete his comeback from Tommy John surgery next year at age 49.
  • Cardboard Gods fought AT&T, and AT&T won — but so did Josh Wilker’s readers.

* * *

Mariners at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.

Mar 29

The emotional stakes

Dodger fans are going to have very little patience for games like tonight’s when the season starts. And they’ll come, as they always do. But if they come early and often, it’s going to get very ugly, very quickly.

* * *

Angels 5, Dodgers 1

Highlights:

  • Rod Barajas hit his third homer in the third inning.
  • Juan Uribe hit his team-high seventh double.
  • Hiroki Kuroda picked off Torii Hunter, and walked none while striking out four in four innings.
  • Michael Antonini, acquired in December for Chin-Lung Hu, pitched two shutout innings.

Lowlights:

  • Kuroda allowed three runs on seven hits.
  • Scott Elbert gave up a two-run homer to Hunter in his only inning – he faced six batters and allowed four baserunners.

Sidelights:

  • Spotlight man Andre Ethier went 1 for 3.
  • Molly Knight of ESPN the Magazine on Twitter: “When told of Ethier’s comments that he could be non-tendered after 2011, a visibly agitated Ned Colletti shook his head.”
  • Steve Mason and John Ireland of ESPN AM 710 had Chad Billingsley on today, then later, me. Mason and Ireland called me “the most mellow guy in the world.” If they only knew …
  • From The Associated Press: “Dodgers head trainer Stan Conte was not with the team, having spent Tuesday in San Francisco testifying in Barry Bonds’ perjury trial. The former Giants slugger is charged with lying to a grand jury when he denied knowingly taking performance-enhancing drugs. Conte, the Giants’ head trainer during seven of his 15 years with them, gave detailed and damaging accounts of Bonds’ daily activities with his personal trainers, Greg Anderson and Harvey Shields – whom Conte had attempted to ban from the clubhouse.”
Mar 29

Andre being Andre: Ethier elaborates on exit comments


Adam Davis/Icon SMIAndre Ethier is the first Dodger to have three consecutive seasons with an adjusted OPS of at least 130 since Gary Sheffield and only the fifth in Los Angeles Dodger history to do so.

Andre Ethier was asked today about his perplexing postgame comments from Monday, and here’s the explanation – as Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports, he’s apparently afraid of being non-tendered after this season.

The Dodgers went that route with former All-Star catcher Russell Martin over the winter, and Ethier hinted that a similar fate could be in store for him.

“My salary is increasing each year,” Ethier said. “I would say the likeliness of me being here beyond this year, it’s not just my decision. … I have been kind of lucky to be in one spot in baseball for as long as I have been, for six years now. That is a long time to be in one city playing for one team. There is no inclination now other than to go out and play this year and see what we’ve got.

“If I don’t play well, we have seen them non-tender guys here. If you do play well, sometimes they don’t offer those guys arbitration because their salaries are too high.”

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said he wasn’t aware of Ethier’s remarks, either from Monday night or Tuesday afternoon, and he initially seemed taken aback by them. …

But on the day the Dodgers finalized a three-year, $35 million contract extension for pitcher Chad Billingsley, Colletti did reveal that he had preliminary discussions during spring training with Nez Balelo, Ethier’s Los Angeles-based agent, on a possible extension for Ethier, but that those discussions died fairly quickly.Ethier insisted he was unaware that those talks had even begun between Colletti and Balelo, so he couldn’t have been aware that they had been quickly abandoned.

“I guess they didn’t get far enough for it to get to me,” Ethier said. “I guess that shows you how serious they were.” …

Ethier now says he would like to remain with the Dodgers for a long time to come, but he also qualified that statement.“Yeah, as long as the organization is going in the right direction and is still committed to winning rather than things not going good for a year or two and then rebuilding or maybe going through a transition year,” he said. “You hear it all the time, coaches and players saying they don’t know how many opportunities you’re going to get to be in the playoffs or on a winning team. I want to be somewhere [that provides] my best shot to win and win on an everyday basis. It feels like we have that here and we’re moving that way, but that’s kind of a wait-and-see basis.”

Yes, he does appear to have a fair bit of disenchantment with the front office. What’s poetic is that Billingsley could have felt exactly the same insecurity a year ago, when Ethier, Matt Kemp and Jonathan Broxton got two-year contracts but he didn’t.

There’s no doubt that a) the Dodgers aren’t going to pay $10 million or more to players they think can’t earn it, and b) Ethier is prone to melancholia and doomsday thinking. I think it’s one thing to motivate himself to have the best possible year, on and off the field, that he possibly can. It’s another thing for Ethier to think that the Dodgers aren’t interested in keeping him around – especially if he performs the way he is capable of.

Dodgers with three consecutive seasons, OPS+ of at least 130
2008-2010 Andre Ethier
1999-2001 Gary Sheffield
1993-1997 Mike Piazza
1981-1985 Pedro Guerrero
1980-1982 Dusty Baker
1952-1957 Duke Snider
1951-1954 Gil Hodges
1949-1953 Jackie Robinson
1949-1951 Roy Campanella
1943-1945 Augie Galan
1938-1942 Dolph Camilli
1928-1931 Babe Herman
1923-1925 Jack Fournier
1916-1918 Zack Wheat
1904-1907 Harry Lumley

* * *

Jackson with details on Billingsley’s deal: “He will receive $9 million in 2012, $11 million in 2013 and $12 million in 2014. The club option for 2015 carries a $14 million salary if it’s exercised and a $3 million buyout if it isn’t.”

“It was a little bit of a compromise, but I’m happy with it and I believe they’re happy with it also,” said Billingsley, who is represented by agent Dave Stewart, a former All-Star pitcher himself. “They came to us at the beginning of camp. We kept talking back and forth over the course of spring training and we were able to work something out. Ultimately, it was my decision and what I felt was best for me and my family.” …

“Being a pitcher, it’s nice to have the security to fall back on in case something happens — because you only have so many throws in this arm,” Billingsley said. “But I’ve been fortunate not to have too many health issues, except for hamstring problems.

“It’s a blessing for this opportunity to come my way, and I’m going to continue to focus on what I need to do. I want to continue to get better. I haven’t figured this game out. I’m still learning every day I step out on the mound.”

* * *

Dodgers at Angels, 7:05 p.m.

Mar 29

Dodgers and Giants tidbits and tattles

Some Dodger-Giant notes from ESPN Stats and Info:

  • Just 12 days after turning 23, Clayton Kershaw will be the fifth-youngest opening day starter for the Dodgers since moving to Los Angeles in 1958. He’s the youngest since Fernando Valenzuela in 1983. He’s also the first lefty since Valenzuela in 1988. Kershaw will be the Dodgers’ fifth different opening day starter in the past five years. It’s the first time in the last 90 years that the franchise has had five unique opening day starters in five seasons.

    Youngest Opening Day Starter
    Los Angeles Dodgers History (Yrs-Days)

    1981 Fernando Valenzuela      20-159
    1958 Don Drysdale             21-266
    1983 Fernando Valenzuela      22-155
    1959 Don Drysdale             22-262
    2011 Clayton Kershaw          23-12

  • Most Strikeouts Before 23rd Birthday, Dodgers History
    Fernando Valenzuela     584
    Clayton Kershaw         497
    Don Drysdale            488
    Ralph Branca            397
    Don Sutton              378
  • Kershaw’s 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings is the second-highest before turning 23 since 1900 (min. 400 IP):

    Sam McDowell      9.6         1961-65
    Clayton Kershaw   9.3         2008-10
    Dwight Gooden     8.7         1984-87
    Dave Boswell      8.4         1964-67
    Vida Blue         8.1         1969-72

  • Since 1900, no one has more strikeouts through his first four seasons than Tim Lincecum.

    Tim Lincecum      907   2007-10
    Dwight Gooden     892   1984-87
    Hideo Nomo        870   1995-98
    Tom Seaver        866   1967-70
    Bert Blyleven     845   1970-73

  • Among the Giants’ current rotation, Lincecum actually had the second-highest ERA last season. Much of that was due to an August in which he went 0-5 with a 7.82 ERA. Some notes on that month:

    1) According to Elias, Lincecum became the first Giants pitcher to go at least 0-5 with an ERA of 7.80 or higher since Bud Black (0-6, 8.01 ERA) in September 1992.
    2) Opponents hit .388 with runners on base off Lincecum in August.
    3) Right-handed batters hit .362 in August against Lincecum. For the rest of the season, they hit just .210.
    4) When you eliminate August, Lincecum was 16-5 with a 2.84 ERA in 2010.

  • According to Inside Edge, the velocity on Lincecum’s fastball has declined each of the past three seasons:

    2008  94.1 mph
    2009  92.6 mph
    2010  91.2 mph

  • His swing-and-miss percentage also has gone down each year:

    2008  27.5%
    2009  26.2%
    2010  25.7%

  • The Giants are looking to be just the fourth NL team to repeat as World Series champs, and the first since the 1975-76 Reds.
  • The team finished with a 1.78 ERA in September, the fifth-lowest in a calendar month in the live ball era (since 1930). Opponents hit just .182 in September, the lowest since the Indians held opponents to a .174 average in May 1968.

    Lowest ERA in Calendar Month
    Live Ball Era (Since 1920)

    Indians      1.42         May 1968
    Dodgers      1.59         Sept. 1965
    Dodgers      1.71         May 1920
    Yankees      1.76         Sept. 1952
    Giants       1.78         Sept. 2010

  • Don Mattingly makes his managerial debut. According to Elias, only four people have won an MVP and managed a team to a World Series title: Joe Torre, Mickey Cochrane, Frankie Frisch, Lou Boudreau. However, the latter three did so as player-managers.
  • Since 2008, Kershaw and Lincecum rank first and second in opponent batting average:

    Clayton Kershaw   .221
    Tim Lincecum      .223
    Jonathan Sanchez  .226
    Ubaldo Jimenez    .227
    Felix Hernandez   .232

  • This will be the 10th time since 1958 that these teams have met on Opening Day. The Giants have won six of the previous nine.
  • Though he had a reputation for overworking relievers, Joe Torre’s Dodgers were not generally among the top teams in using a pitcher on zero days rest.

    Dodgers relief appearances on zero days’ rest (NL rank)
    2010  66    (14th)
    2009  79    (6th)
    2008  69    (13th)

  • James Loney has 268 RBI over the past three seasons, but only 36 homers. Among the 43 players with 250 RBI since 2008, he has the fewest home runs.

    Name HR    RBI
    James Loney       36    268
    Joe Mauer         46    256
    Jhonny Peralta    49    253
    Bobby Abreu       55    281

  • Among current NL players, Loney has the third-highest career batting average with runners in scoring position (min. 500 PA):

    Albert Pujols     .345
    Todd Helton       .335
    James Loney       .326
    Freddy Sanchez    .320

Mar 29

The Jay Gibbons saga is just depressing

Whatever your 2011 expectations for Jay Gibbons were, you’ve got to feel for the man. From Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Gibbons is expected to begin the season on the 15-day disabled list because of lingering problems with the vision in his left eye, an issue Gibbons thought he had resolved when he returned two weeks ago from a visit to a San Francisco doctor who gave him a better-fitting contact lens.

Gibbons said upon his return from that trip that his vision in his everyday life was dramatically better. But he said Monday that wasn’t the case in the batter’s box, because he couldn’t pick up the spin on breaking balls.

“My vision was great coming back, but I had no depth perception,” Gibbons said before Monday night’s Cactus League game, a 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Angels before 19,415 at Dodger Stadium. “I went up there in spring training with very little chance. Those pitchers are pretty good. Once they figure out you can’t see, they cut you up pretty quickly.”

Gibbons, who lives in the Los Angeles area, plans to see another doctor here on Tuesday — “about the fifth different guy I’ve gone to,” he said — in hopes of trying yet another contact lens. His original problem was that the lens kept popping out, the result of some flattening of his cornea that is a normal result of the PRK (photorefractive keratectomy) surgery he underwent last fall as a follow-up to the lasik procedure he had in 2004.

He came back from San Francisco with a lens that had a lower base curve so it clung more securely to his eye. But he now says his vision at the plate was less clear than it had been before. …

OK, it’s not a total tragedy: Gibbons’ $650,000 salary for 2011 became guaranteed Monday. And when a door closes for one guy, it opens for someone else. But you’d still like to see a player go down swinging, instead of not seeing.

* * *

Almost-a-Dodger Eric Chavez will be on the Yankees’ Opening Day roster (with Russell Martin and Andruw Jones), but once-a-Dodger Ronnie Belliard will not, reports Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com:

It was hardly surprising — Chavez had a terrific spring, outhitting everyone on the team for average, even the red-hot Alex Rodriguez, and showed he could still play an excellent third base and a serviceable first base — but certainly inspiring for a player hampered by multiple back and shoulder injuries over the past five seasons, and potentially a steal for the Yankees, who waited as long as possible to be sure Chavez would make it through camp in one piece.

“That one’s pretty evident with the spring that he had,” manager Joe Girardi said in announcing Chavez had made the team. “We feel that he’s healthy and we feel that it’s a good bat on a day that we rest Alex or Tex [Mark Teixeira]. I’m really pleased with what he did. …

They also released Ronnie Belliard, which came as no surprise to anyone, since he came in overweight, almost immediately strained a calf muscle which cost him nearly two weeks, and batted .136 after his return to action. …

* * *

Up in Oakland, Andy LaRoche is still waiting to hear if he grabbed a spot with the A’s. LaRoche had a .987 OPS and team-high four homers this spring, playing four infield positions. In Arizona, Tony Abreu has reportedly been placed on waivers. Pittsburgh’s James McDonald, who has thrown only 6 2/3 innings this spring, might miss the start of the season with a left side injury.

Mar 29

Andre Ethier’s odd postgame comments

Preamble 1: Manny Ramirez, February 22, 2010:

“I won’t be here next year, so I just want to enjoy myself,” Ramirez said. “I don’t know [if I'll play next year]. I just know I’m not going to be here. When the season is over, I will see where I’m at.”

Local/national reaction: Significant uproar over Ramirez stating the obvious.

Preamble 2: Chad Billingsley, March 28, 2011:

“I started my career here in 2003,” Billingsley said. “I love what this organization stands for. Hopefully, we can get something done.”

Reaction: Isn’t that nice?

Main event:

In its recap of Monday’s Dodgers-Angels game, The Associated Press has this from Andre Ethier:

Ethier is in the final season of a two-year, $15.25 million contract that will pay him $9.25 million this season. And the way he’s talking, the Dodgers might have a difficult time re-signing him next winter because of the uncertainty of the team’s payroll and subsequent ownership in the wake of owner Frank McCourt’s divorce from wife Jamie.

“This is my sixth one, and who knows? It might be my last one here with the Dodgers. You never know. A lot of signs are pointing that way, so we’ll have to see,” Ethier said. “Six years for a Dodger is a long time, in the era that we’re living in. So I’m going to cherish every moment I can, enjoy the season and try to make it my best one.”

Reaction: Huh?

OK, first of all, unless everything I’ve ever seen and calculated about him is false, Ethier can’t become a free agent until after the 2012 season. So there’s no issue with regard to the Dodgers’ ability to sign him for next season other than the possibility of having to go to an arbitration hearing, which they narrowly avoided the last time around.

Beyond that, why is Ethier talking about leaving now? It was one thing when Ramirez did it, because everyone with a brain knew that, short of a massive season, he wasn’t coming back to Los Angeles in 2011 after being suspended for 50 games in 2009. If Jonathan Broxton had said what Ethier said, it would be pretty disturbing (at least among those who aren’t aching for him to be gone), but at least you’d know where it was coming from.

Are we to believe that Ethier is so discombobulated by the McCourt divorce that he’s plotting his exit from Los Angeles 19 months before he has the ability to engineer it?

I’m wondering if somehow, something got lost in the translation, but otherwise, I think the most tranquil Dodger Spring Training in years might have just had its first rock thrown through the glass.

Epilogue:

For surprising comments, it might be hard to top this:

… Had (Walter) O’Malley known of this connection, he surely would have jumped at the chance to rename his team and the stadium in honor of the first Los Angeles residents. Visualize his portly body shaking with laughter at the thought of pitting his Los Angeles Yang-nas against their former bitter New York borough rivals, the Yankees, in a World Series in Yang-na Stadium. …

Mar 28

Billingsley deal makes sense for both sides

About 14 months ago, I wrote this post on Dodger Thoughts: “What Justin Verlander’s new contract could mean for Chad Billingsley and the Dodgers.”

Justin Verlander signed a contract extension with the Tigers on Wednesday that amounts to $80 million over five years.

Verlander is 17 months older than Chad Billingsley and made his major-league debut 49 weeks before the Dodger righty (though Verlander pitched only 11 1/3 innings that year). A comparison of the two since they became full-fledged major-leaguers:

Verlander Billingsley
Year IP K/9 ERA+ IP K/9 ERA+
2006 186 6.0 126 90 5.9 118
2007 201 2/3 8.2 125 147 8.6 134
2008 201 7.3 93 200 2/3 9 133
2009 240 10.1 133 196 1/3 8.2 98

Verlander had an off year in 2008, but came back with his best season ever. His off year was arguably worse or at least little better than Billingsley’s off year in 2009. Billingsley outperformed Verlander two years running in adjusted ERA, though he didn’t pitch as many innings. The best season either pitcher had before last year was Billingsley’s 2008. And again, Billingsley is more than a year younger.

Before the 2009 season, it’s hard to see how anyone would have valued Verlander much more than Billingsley. It’s not as if Verlander had any postseason success to make up for his 2008 problems.

Billingsley obviously needs to show this year that he can bounce back from his disappointing second half (interestingly, both he and Verlander had first-half ERAs of 3.38 last season, though Verlander’s 3.38 was worth a little more because of league and park adjustments). But it’s hardly far-fetched that Billingsley will. And if he does, he will set himself up for a mighty nice deal – if not before he becomes a free agent in November 2012, then certainly after. …


Billinglsey didn’t have a 2010 to match Verlander’s 2009, but he did pitch well enough to earn a multiyear contract extension that means he will earns $40-odd million over the next four years. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs thinks the Dodgers got a bargain, and maybe that’s so – the career adjusted ERAs of the two pitchers are nearly identical now – but the dollars take into account that both Billingsley’s 2009-10 seasons didn’t live up to 2008. Billingsley gets a whole mess of security, and the Dodgers get a pitcher that should be good, maybe even great.  Both sides have reason to be happy.

Mar 28

Dodgers walk nine in 5-4 loss

Angels 5, Dodgers 4

Highlights:

  • Rafael Furcal singled, walked and scored two runs.
  • Consecutive RBI hits by Juan Uribe and Rod Barajas rallied the Dodgers from a 3-2 sixth-inning deficit.
  • Jerry Sands and Hector Gimenez each had late hits.
  • Relievers Mike MacDougal, Matt Guerrier and Hong-Chih Kuo pitched 3 1/3 combined shutout innings, allowing one hit and striking out three.

Lowlights:

  • Ted Lilly walked five and allowed four hits in a four-inning outing.
  • Kenley Jansen walked three more and gave up a hit and a run while recording only two outs.
  • Ivan De Jesus Jr. messed up a double-play ball behind Jonathan Broxton with the Dodgers leading 4-3 in the ninth.
  • After the tying run scored on a single by top prospect Mike Trout, Broxton walked minor-leaguer Andrew Romine, allowing Hank Conger to come up to bat and hit a sacrifice fly.
  • Gabe Kapler hit into a game-ending double play with two on in the bottom of the ninth.

Sidelights:

  • I’m seriously considering complete abstention from debating the merits of Jonathan Broxton for the time being. The season hasn’t even started, and already the fur is flying about his value. No, he didn’t do his job. Neither did De Jesus, Jansen or Lilly, but no one will question their manhood. I’m willing to admit I’m concerned about whether Broxton’s all the way back from his late 2010 troubles, but I just don’t know if I can spend yet another year arguing about the man’s courage, spine or gumption. It’s completely subjective, and people are just going to believe what they want to believe.
  • It seems Jay Gibbons might go on the disabled list because his eye issues remain unresolved. That would probably mean an Opening Day start for Tony Gwynn Jr. As for the roster spot, that could go to anyone: a pitcher (allowing Scott Elbert and Lance Cormier both to make the team), a catcher (allowing both Hector Gimenez and A.J. Ellis to make the team), an infielder (Juan Castro) or an outfielder (Kapler or Trent Oeltjen).
  • “Don’t Stop Believin’” is back? Goodness gracious sakes alive, why???