May 25

New commenting system for Dodger Thoughts – feedback welcome

After a brief trial run Tuesday, ESPN.com introduced a new commenting interface today that Dodger Thoughts now will use.  If you haven’t tried it out, please do. And once you have, here’s a dedicated thread where you can offer your feedback, your praise or pique, about the new system.  Your reactions and suggestions will be passed along to the folks behind the scenes.

May 25

Dodgers add Ian Snell to minor-league roster

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com passes along the following:

HOUSTON — Veteran major league right-hander Ian Snell signed a minor league contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday, barely two months after he retired during spring training. Snell had gone to camp with the St. Louis Cardinals but failed to make the club.

DeJon Watson, the Dodgers’ assistant general manager for player development who signed Snell, said Snell initially will go to the team’s spring-training complex in Glendale, Ariz., to get his arm back into shape after the two-month layoff, then eventually will report to the Dodgers’ Triple-A Albuquerque affiliate.

Snell, 29, last pitched in the majors last season for the Seattle Mariners, going 0-5 with a 6.41 ERA in eight starts and four relief appearances and also spending some time in Triple-A. Originally a 26th-round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates, Snell has a career major league mark of 38-53 in seven seasons, with a 4.80 ERA.

From 2004-2008, Snell struck out 7.7 batters per nine innings in the majors. That fell to 5.4 over the past two years, covering 191 1/3 innings.

May 25

Dodgers score one, allow two – that’s bad, isn’t it?

David J. Phillip/APDioner Navarro dove just in time to tag J.R. Towles and rescue a later defeat from the jaws of an earlier defeat.

There were some bright spots today. And most days this year with the Dodgers, isn’t that all we can look for?

Matt Kemp singled, doubled and homered. Dioner Navarro went 2 for 4 and made a run-saving tag at the plate on a potential wild pitch. Javy Guerra came right back from his Tuesday save with a shutout inning.

But even though the sun occasionally peeks through, just for a moment here and there, the fog won’t lift on this Dodger team, which fell to 22-29 with a 2-1 loss in the bottom of the ninth.

J.R. Towles, who had the game-winning hit and went 3 for 4, had been in an 0-for-32 slump entering the game.

Get slapped in the face enough times, it can even make you laugh …

May 25

Hong-Chih Kuo making progress

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has an update on Hong-Chih Kuo:

… (Kuo) appears to have regained his command while throwing off a mound at the team’s spring-training facility in Glendale, Ariz.

“He has been throwing a lot,” Dodgers manager Ned Colletti said. “He is at about 90 percent intensity and having no problems with his command. We’ll see where we go from here.”

Colletti said Kuo eventually will face hitters in extended spring-training games, but that there is no target date for that to happen, nor is there a target date for Kuo to begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment, which would be a necessary precursor to him coming off the disabled list and rejoining the Dodgers bullpen. …

Elsewhere …

May 25

So, have you started wondering about 2012 yet?


Julie Jacobson/APRubby De La Rosa

So, let’s say, just hypothetically …

just hypothetically, mind you …

… that the Dodgers don’t reverse their ugly 2011 start and reach the playoffs.

I mean, I know it’s crazy, but what if an injury-riddled team with almost no offense keeps losing?

What might happen with this roster?

For starters, there’s always the possibility that Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti will try to make a midseason deal to strengthen a playoff bid, as he has done every year of his tenure, with everyone but Zach Lee and Rubby De La Rosa serving as potential trade chips. But under Colletti, the Dodgers have never entered July with a double-digit deficit in the playoff races, and that obviously seems like a much more distinct possibility in 2011. That could dissuade Colletti from his typically go-for-it mentality.

Conversely, if the Dodgers’ fade-out continues unabated, Colletti could take the opportunity to do what is never done in Los Angeles and jump start a rebuilding program with the trade of any number of veterans to serious postseason contenders for prospects.  The conventional wisdom is that the bulk of Dodgers fans won’t tolerate a rebuild, but given what they’re already putting up with and how attendance is already in decline, it’s not as if much more damage can be done. And really, you have to be pretty myopic not to see the potential benefits of this path.

It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if Colletti gets caught in between the fork in the road and ends up largely standing still. Whether or not that turns out to be the case, it’s as good a launching point as any for our “what next” speculation.

Brian Mount/Icon SMITed Lilly

Starting rotation
In the short term: The most stable part of the team this year has needed only one substitute, John Ely in the first week of the year. Ely is around if a spot start is needed, while De La Rosa would also be a candidate to be a replacement. Keep in mind, however, that De La Rosa only threw 110 1/3 professional innings last year and has already thrown 41 this year, counting his major-league debut Tuesday — they should be looking to protect him.

In the long term: Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly will return next year, with De La Rosa poised to join them. Hiroki Kuroda will be a free agent, and Jon Garland has an $8 million vesting option that the Dodgers will probably be able to buy out, since he doesn’t figure to reach the required 190 innings. As was the case last year, the return of Kuroda (37 in February) will probably depend on his willingness to do a one-year deal in the U.S., while Garland would probably also have to agree to a similar contract as he had this year, which calls for a lower base salary plus performance incentives.

The imminent arrival of De La Rosa could allow the Dodgers to pit Kuroda against Garland in a negotiating stance — they make offers to both, and whichever one agrees first would get the deal. If neither one bites, the Dodgers would seek out a veteran starter, to give De La Rosa a cushion and provide depth in a place where Colletti most values it. (It would be encouraging if Lilly, 36 in January, showed some improvement between now and next year.)

Also, if injuries don’t hold him back, Lee could be in Double-A by the start of 2012 and in the majors by the end, if Clayton Kershaw’s path is any model. We’ll see.

Bullpen
In the short term: Expect the revolving door to continue, not just as players like Blake Hawksworth, Vicente Padilla, Jonathan Broxton and hopefully Hong-Chih Kuo return from the disabled list, but as the team decides whether Kenley Jansen, Javy Guerra, Scott Elbert or Ramon Troncoso need to spend more time in the minors. Josh Lindblom, who had 30 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings for Double-A Chattanooga through Saturday, could get his long-awaited first shot in the majors, while other non-roster players like lefty Cole St. Clair (1.02 ERA, 16 strikeouts, 12 baserunners in 17 2/3 innings) wait in the wings. And there are always names like Jon Link …

Rob Grabowski/US PresswireJavy Guerra

In the long term: Even if he returns this season at peak performance, Broxton will be a free agent at the end of the year. If he’s great, the Dodgers won’t be able to pay for him, if he’s not great, the Dodgers won’t want to pay for him. Padilla will also be a free agent, and the Dodgers will probably be out of patience with his inconsistent health. Mike MacDougal qualifies as a pleasant surprise, but if he asks for seven figures in salary for 2012, the Dodgers might balk.

Kuo will be arbitration eligible and stand to earn a big raise – his mental and physical condition makes him a non-tender candidate, although if there’s any sign he’s conquered his anxiety disorder, he might be the reliever they decide to reinvest in.

Most likely to return are Hawksworth, Matt Guerrier and the rookies including Jansen, Elbert and Guerra, with the Dodgers patrolling the major- and minor-league free agent market for their usual host of candidates.

Further down the line, the Dodgers will keep their eyes on Steven Ames and Shawn Tolleson – the latter continuing his strikeout-mad ways with 13 in 7 2/3 innings since his promotion to Rancho Cucamonga.

Though the bullpen has been a lightning rod for discussion this year, this is not the place for the Dodgers to spend a high portion of their resources. They have bigger fish to fry.

Catching
In the short term: A.J. Ellis stands by, waiting for the next disabled list trip for Rod Barajas or Dioner Navarro.

In the long term: Navarro has done little to indicate he was worth his 2011 contract, let alone that he’d be worth a 2012 deal. Ellis, who will finally be out of options just before his 31st birthday, figures to settle in at last on the major-league roster. Barajas, 36 in September, will be a free agent, and though he is currently second in the team in home runs, it’s anyone’s guess whether the Dodgers will bring him back. You can’t rule it out, but the Dodgers will consider alternatives.

In the real long term, the Dodgers might finally have a new catching prospect in 23-year-old Gorman Erickson, who had a .991 OPS for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga, relying (as Ellis does) on plate discipline rather than power. But Erickson’s numbers will diminish once he leaves the friendlier confines of the California League for Double-A. Maybe he, too, will become a full-time backup in about five years.

Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesCasey Blake

Infield
In the short term: Injuries will likely dictate playing time for the remainder of spring and on into the summer. But should Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal and Juan Uribe actually end up on the active roster at the same time next month, it doesn’t mean the end of Jamey Carroll’s playing time. The indispensable, no-longer-a-reserve Carroll has been too productive to sit. Carroll can give those other three players rest, and if that also means Blake moves around to play some first base, so be it.

Aaron Miles, on the other hand, could go back to sixth-infielder status, which suits him, and Russ Mitchell would go back to the minors. Juan Castro can go and clear waivers.

On the other hand, if the injuries continue, we’ll just see more of what we’ve seen, with Ivan De Jesus no doubt making a return appearance at some point.

In the long term: Overhaul. Loney, due for one more arbitration-eligible raise despite his most disappointing season, will be jettisoned unless he shows some hint of power. Even his mainstream reputation as a clutch hitter has been scarred. Blake has a $6 million club option, too rich for a 38-year-old who will be a part-timer. Same story with Furcal’s $12 million club option. That leaves only Uribe among the nominal starters.

Carroll will be a free agent – and he’ll also be 38. This has been a happy marriage, and I actually like the odds of his returning, but he will get other offers. In any event, as great as he has been in 2010-11, it’d be risky to count on him as a starter in 2012 – though perhaps you could use him as a stopgap until minor-leaguer Dee Gordon is considered ready.

But will Gordon be ready next year? With a .735 OPS and 10 errors so far in his first 40 Triple-A games, there’s no way you can pencil him into the 2012 Dodger starting lineup. De Jesus also seems like a longshot to do much of note in the majors next year, if ever.

Although Jerry Sands could hold down left field, one option for the Dodgers would be to move him to the infield, where the team is much thinner. Uribe would take a second position, while the Dodgers look outside the organization for help at the two other spots. Gordon, though some might not want to hear it, could be a trade chip.

A late-breaking candidate is Scott Van Slyke, who has been playing first base for Chattanooga after starting his pro career as an outfielder. Van Slyke, 25 in July, had a .954 OPS (fifth in the Southern League) with 16 doubles in his first 42 games this year.

Outfield
In the short term: Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Sands, who is platooning with Jay Gibbons. Sands looked ripe to go back to Albuquerque just a week or two ago, but that notion has changed dramatically. A healthy Marcus Thames could still knock Sands down to Triple-A temporarily, but there’s going to be much more resistance to that happening now. Sands could also enter the infield mix even before 2012.

In the long term: Kemp for sure. Ethier, probably. The outfielder certainly won’t be non-tendered, and he is as likely to get a multiyear deal as any other fate. That doesn’t mean Ethier, 30 in April, couldn’t be a trade candidate in 2012, the year he becomes eligible for free agency, but as noted recently, that’s not the type of trade the Dodgers have been making.

So there’s Sands, or if he moves to the infield, Trayvon Robinson could get a shot. Roster expansion in September should provide an early peek at Robinson.

Summary
The Dodgers will need at least one front-line starting pitcher next season, whether it’s Kuroda, Garland or someone else, with an eye on possibly two. No walk in the park, but simple enough.

The starting lineup is another story. You have Kemp, Ethier and (grumble) Uribe. You probably have Sands. Maybe Carroll. Then your next two in-house options to start are Ellis at catcher and either Robinson or Van Slyke. If desperate, the Dodgers could resurrect the Sands-to-third idea.

The point is, the Dodgers are going to make some big moves in the offseason, otherwise their 2012 starting lineup could look like this:

Carroll, SS
Robinson, LF
Ethier, RF
Kemp, CF
Sands, 3B
Uribe, 2B
Ellis, C
Van Slyke, 1B

It’s gonna be an interesting offseason … five months from now.

May 24

Rookies shine in Dodgers’ 5-4 victory


Brett Davis/US PresswireWith the third inning extended by a Houston error, Jerry Sands hit a no-doubter blast to center field for his first career grand slam. Rubby De La Rosa struck out two of three batters in a perfect eighth-inning major league debut, and fellow rookie Javy Guerra weathered a long foul ball by Bill Hall to close in the ninth for his first career save and a 5-4 Dodger victory.
May 24

Rubby De La Rosa gets the call

The Dodgers’ accelerated youth movement continues today with the promotion of pitcher Rubby De La Rosa from Double-A to the big leagues.

De La Rosa follows Jerry Sands as the second active Dodger who began last season in Single-A ball. (Correction: Make it three, as Kenley Jansen also qualifies.) De La Rosa has a 2.92 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 40 innings this season for Chattanooga.

He figures to be a top candidate for the starting rotation as soon as next season, but while this move will put him in the bullpen, it might help preserve an arm that had only thrown 180 professional innings before this season. Chad Billingsley and Pedro Martinez are among the starting pitchers who spent early portions of their major-league careers in relief.

In the process, the Dodgers gave up on Lance Cormier, designating him for assignment rather than sending Ramon Troncoso back to the minors and making room for De La Rosa in some other fashion.

May 24

May bitter blues

May has historically been a good month for the Dodgers since they moved to Los Angeles. So it might come as no surprise that the 2011 Dodgers are on pace for their West Coast worst.

They’ll need to go 4-3 over their final seven games this month just to avoid matching Los Angeles’ worst May ever.

Worst Mays in Los Angeles Dodger history
.333 7-14, 2011 (seven games remaining)
.393 11-17, 1958
.393 11-17, 2005
.393 11-17, 1995*
.423 11-15, 1984
.423 11-15, 1987
.433 13-17, 1998
.452 14-17, 1959*
* reached postseason

Tony Jackson has more on the woebegone Dodgers at ESPNLosAngeles.com.

May 23

Your seat cushion may be used as a floatation device …


David J. Phillip/APRuss Mitchell scores in the seventh to give the Dodgers the lead … not for good.

I imagine a lot of Dodger hearts sank when, with the score 1-1 against Houston and two out in the top of the seventh inning, the Astros intentionally doubled Dioner Navarro and then intentionally walked Russ Mitchell.

Well, maybe the ground-rule double allowed to Navarro (his fourth hit of the season) wasn’t intentional, but it certainly could have been part of a clever gambit, because after the two baserunners reached, Dodger manager Don Mattingly was compelled to pinch-hit for Clayton Kershaw after the lovely lefty had thrown only 84 pitches.

Instead of Juan Castro coming off the bench, however, it was Andre Ethier, held in reserve to rest him from his Sunday injuries. And all those beaten down by this 2011 Dodger team were pleasantly surprised for the second time in four games, as Ethier singled up the middle to drive in the go-ahead run – with an error by center fielder Michael Bourn allowing an insurance run to score – as the Dodgers held on for …

Oh, wait.

The front of the Dodger bullpen has actually been reasonably effective this month, but the bad times returned tonight. Kenley Jansen gave up three runs in the bottom of the ninth – all three coming across the plate with two out – and the Dodgers lost, 4-3.

Jansen struck out two of the first three batters, but then troubles and his pitch count mounted. Bourn doubled in the tying runs on a 3-2 pitch, and then after a hit batter, Hunter Pence singled in the game-winner on Jansen’s 38th pitch of the inning.

And the descent continued …

Kershaw allowed six baserunners and struck out seven, his ERA dropping to 2.96 thanks to his allowing only the single run, on a leadoff double by Bill Hall in the fourth inning (that a better outfielder than Jay Gibbons would have caught) and an RBI single by Humberto Quintero. Though he did face a couple of two-on situations, no other baserunner passed second base against Kershaw.

Mike MacDougal and Matt Guerrier each pitched a shutout inning of relief before Jansen entered the game, though Guerrier himself put two baserunners on before getting out of his jam.

Matt Kemp’s fourth homer in the past seven games, leading off the second inning, gave him 100 for his career. Kemp also stole second base, giving him 13 steals to go with his 11 home runs this season.

Jerry Sands walked three times – a lone strikeout interrupting what otherwise would be 10 straight times on base. Sands, who was already tied for the team lead in doubles, has now tied Jamey Carroll for third place on the squad in walks with 15, despite having barely half as many plate appearances. Sands has drawn a walk every 6.9 plate appearances, the best rate on the team for anyone with more than 75 plate appearances this season. You take what you can get …

May 23

Ethier, Barajas out of lineup but not on DL

Andre Ethier and Rod Barajas are being held off the disabled list, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

In addition, Aaron Miles has returned to the playing field. He’ll give Jamey Carroll, who has played in 46 of 48 games this season, a theoretical day off — although it seems very likely we could see Carroll off the bench.

Dodger batting leaders for May appear in the chart below. James Loney, who is batting third in the Dodgers’ latest makeshift lineup, does in fact have the third-best May OPS among tonight’s starting nine:

Update: More from Jackson:

Ethier said he woke up without soreness one day after injuring his left big toe, left elbow and lower back when he banged into the right field wall chasing a ball.

“I’m going to go out and see how I feel [during batting practice] and go from there,” he said. “I don’t know if it was a good sign or a bad sign, but I really wasn’t all that sore when I woke up this morning.”

Mattingly said he wouldn’t hesitate to use the left-handed-hitting Ethier as a pinch hitter, but with the Dodgers scheduled to face Astros lefty J.A. Happ on Tuesday night, Mattingly said that might be a good excuse to rest Ethier for one more day.

Barajas, who suffered a sprained right wrist on a play at the plate, was sent for an MRI exam on Monday morning. Just as the X-rays he underwent on Sunday, the MRI showed no fracture and nothing seriously wrong.

“It’s still sore, but it hasn’t gotten any worse,” Barajas said. “I think I could [play], but I love to play. I feel like I could tough it out even if I’m not 100 percent.” …

“At this point, we have a couple of guys we can put back there [to catch],” Mattingly said, adding that infielder Russell Mitchell is his primary emergency catcher for now. “But obviously, you don’t anticipate Navarro getting hurt.”

Meanwhile, third baseman Casey Blake (left elbow) and reliever Blake Hawksworth (right groin) were set to begin their minor league rehabilitation assignments on Monday night at Triple-A Albuquerque and advanced Class A Rancho Cucamonga, respectively. Outfielder Marcus Thames (right quad) is tentatively slated to report to Albuquerque on Friday, and Mattingly said he likely will need a longer rehab than Blake, whom team officials hope to activate in about a week.

May 23

Tornado spares Elbert’s family

Jeff Roberson/APPeople walk through a Joplin, Mo. neighborhood Monday completely destroyed by a tornado Sunday evening. The tornado killed at least 89 people and injured hundreds more.

The Dodgers passed along word that the family of relief pitcher Scott Elbert, who was born in Joplin, Mo. and went to high school in nearby Seneca, escaped being affected by the devastating tornado that hit Joplin this weekend. My best thoughts go out to the victims of the tragedy.

Elbert told Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com that his family lives in Seneca, which is just north of the Arkansas/Missouri border, several miles south of Joplin. Elbert himself now lives in Phoenix.

May 22

Andre Ethier, Rod Barajas leave game with injuries

A day that has gone poorly from the start for the Dodgers has become a real nightmare.

With the White Sox leading 4-0 in the bottom of the fourth inning, Juan Pierre muscled up on a Hiroki Kuroda slider and send it toward the right-field wall.  Andre Ethier chased it, and at the last moment, turned the right side of his body into the fence and slammed into it in his vain attempt to make the catch. As Gordon Beckham went into third base and Pierre into second, Ethier retrieved the ball but clearly looked shaken up afterward.

The next batter was Alexei Ramirez, who homered earlier in the game. The Dodgers had the infield in, while the staggered Ethier was playing deep. Ramirez hit a 3-1 pitch for a pure Texas Leaguer in between the oncoming Ethier and backpedaling second baseman Jamey Carroll. The ball fell in for an RBI single.

After that play, as Ethier retreated back to his position, Tony Gwynn Jr. came running out of the dugout on manager Don Mattingly’s direction to replace Ethier in right field. It was unclear to me whether Ethier signaled that he needed to replaced.

Though Ethier had been in a 1-for-30 slump (including 0 for 2 today) when the play occurred and has only one extra-base hit this month, there’s no doubt that any kind of injury to him would be a significant blow to a reeling Dodger team. Of course, Ethier has already been nursing a troublesome left elbow, which some think might be responsible for the hitting woes that followed the end of his 37-game on-base streak.

In the meantime, the Dodgers were hoping that Kuroda could just stabilize things, not out of any realistic hope of winning the game, but just to spare a Dodger bullpen that used mop-up relievers Ramon Troncoso and Lance Cormier for outings Saturday of 30-plus pitches each.

Kuroda ended up allowing two runs in the inning (both unearned, thanks to an error by Rafael Furcal), but at least he made it through four frames, albeit on 89 pitches. Rookie reliever Javy Guerra, who warmed up in the fourth inning, would probably combine with Scott Elbert to take the role of long man today.

However, the sixth White Sox run of the day brought about another injury, as Pierre, sliding home on Paul Konerko’s sacrifice fly, brought his right leg right into catcher Rod Barajas’ face. Dioner Navarro pinch-hit for Barajas in the top of the fifth.

Update: The Dodgers tried to come back, managing to score three runs and get Matt Kemp to the plate as the tying run in the seventh, before ultimately losing, 8-3. A day after his first major-league home run, Jerry Sands went 4 for 4 with his 10th double of the season and third stolen base. James Loney reached base three times. Rafael Furcal made an error and went 0 for 5 with three strikeouts, including one with the bases loaded, in his return from the disabled list.

Chicago’s Ramirez went 4 for 5 with his home run and two doubles, driving in five runs.

Ethier and Barajas are currently day-to-day with their injuries, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. The Dodgers said Ethier had injuries to his right elbow, right lower back and left big toe, while Barajas had a right wrist injury.

Even if Barajas is only going to be out for a few days, it’s hard to imagine the Dodgers won’t have to call up catcher A.J. Ellis from Albuquerque, rather than rely on Dioner Navarro and emergency catchers – regardless of whether it’s Barajas, Ethier or Aaron Miles who goes in the disabled list. (Miles has been said to be improving enough to be ready to play Monday in Houston.)  If two players went on the DL, then Jamie Hoffmann would be the likely second callup.

After the three-game Houston series that starts Monday, the Dodgers play 19 consecutive games against teams with winning records. Brace yourselves.

May 22

Furcal comes off disabled list, Uribe goes on

The Dodgers today traded Juan Uribe to the Los Angeles Disabled Listers for Rafael Furcal.

The Disabled Listers, hoping to make a run for the National League West title, apparently believed that Uribe’s versatility would be an asset, despite his slow start to the 2011 season. A factor for the DLers is certainly that Uribe is in the first year of a three-year contract, and they want him to feel comfortable playing on their team for the long haul.

The DLers have also been trying to lure Aaron Miles to bolster their infield. Some have questioned the value of this potential acquisition, but Miles, despite his lack of power, has shown some amount of timely hitting that could make his move to the DLers a significant one.

The biggest weakness for the DLers remains their starting rotation, as the Dodgers have stubbornly refused to deal a frontline pitcher to the band-aided wonders. Luckily for the DLers, their bullpen has been overflowing with arms. In the meantime, Darren Dreifort and Jason Schmidt have come out of retirement to anchor the starting pitching.