May 17

Two weeks until B-Day?

Two weeks from today, the bills reportedly come due for Frank McCourt. Will he bail and file for bankruptcy? Will he surrender the team to Bud’s butting-in? Will he find another blowhard to do his bidding? Or will there be a different Plan B?

* * *

I’m guessing that it’s been a very long time since the Dodgers have had a starting lineup this late in the season in which the players with the most playing time at three positions each had an OPS below .600.

Jerry Sands, James Loney and Juan Uribe have combined to go 75 for 352 (.213) with four home runs, 16 doubles, 26 walks and 69 strikeouts. On-base percentage: .273, slugging percentage: .293, OPS: .566.

May 16

Episode 3: ‘Nirvana: A state of bliss obtained through the extinction of the self’

This one’s going to be all about Vin. The result of the bottom of the ninth and the game won’t matter to me at all. Just his voice …

Milwaukee should have about a half a dozen runs, but they have two. The Dodgers should have what they’ve got.

John Axford … He’s a native of Dutch heritage on his mom’s side. He played soccer in elementary school.

Fouled that right into the mask of Jonathan Lucroy – nnnh.

Tried to time that thing and that pitch was on top of him, and he just did get a little bit of it and fouled it off.

So Kemp, blown away, strikes out for a second time. And now Uribe.

Boy he busted that thing – that was 97. He let that baby fly. Oh-and-two to Juan Uribe.

Ball one. Even that’s 97. Hard to see him throw as hard as he does and understand he had Tommy John surgery.

Big breaking ball. So Uribe follows Kemp and comes up empty-handed. Up here – down there.

Runs tough to come by. Dodgers shut out when Billingsley lost that one-hitter. Dodgers scrambled for one run yesterday and come back with one run tonight. And now the Dodgers down to their last strike.

And a high-fly ball. It’s playable. Gomez is calling all the way, and that’s it. So the Dodgers struggle and huff and puff and come up empty.

Just his voice …

May 16

Episode 2: You don’t gotta believe

Bottom of the eighth inning. This team is hopeless.

I’m giving up on them scoring a run. Not just in this inning. Not just in this game. Ever again.

The Dodgers have already hit two balls to the warning track in this game. They’ve already exceeded expectations. They’ve got nothing.

The opposing pitcher’s name is Kameron Loe. Kameron with a K. Need I say more?  There’s no chance.

Jamey Carroll steps up. An old man playing over his head. Living on borrowed time. Time to repay the debt.

Carroll fouls two pitches off his feet.  That’s our idea of consistency.

The next pitch tails away from him, and he pokes it slowly to the second baseman.  Slowly, yet Carroll is even slower to first base.

Aaron Miles is up – holy cow, we’re back to relying on Aaron Miles. Miles hits the ball a mile – if your map is on a scale of 1 inch: 7.3 feet. The comebacker easily retires him.

Retired superhero Andre Ethier is the third batter. Bad elbow, luck gone, ready to disappear off the batting leaders any day now.  A nation turns its lonely eyes to his hitting streak.

Ethier takes the first pitch the other way – grounding it right to the third baseman.

Nine pitches, three outs.  Rancid browbeating didn’t work either.

May 16

Episode 1: Forget-me-not

For one moment, I choose to forget.

I choose to forget the sub.-500 record, the black offense, anyone whose last name is McCourt. The empty seats in the stadium don’t reflect a depression – they’re just elbow room.

I choose for one moment to see the Dodgers as a complete blank slate, a team with its problems washed away, with every opportunity to define itself and its destiny.

This new team trails, 2-1, in the bottom of the seventh inning, but Juan Uribe and James Loney have led off the inning with singles. Jay Gibbons is the batter, and rather than fret, I choose to strip away layers and layers of pessimism.

Gibbons strikes out swinging.

It’s just one out, I say.

Big Rod Barajas takes a ball, then swings and fouls one back. A ball dips down at the plate for a 2-1 count, and then he fouls another pitch back, and then another. And then, he swings big and pops up to left field.

The tying run is still in scoring position. The pressure is still on Milwaukee. I am at one with possibilities.

Pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro steps to the plate, and I hone in on his pristine white uniform sleeve, with a memorial No. 4 patch honoring one of the best this franchise ever produced.  Navarro has a batting average, but I don’t look at it. He’s in that uniform, and that’s good enough for me. Such a uniform.

Navarro takes a strike, then swings at a pitch near his shoetops and golfs it. I pray that perhaps we have switched to golf, and Navarro is laying a picture-perfect shot onto the green. But no, it’s still baseball. The soft looper lands in the shortstop’s glove.

Runners in scoring position, nobody out, and I told myself to believe. But looking back, I’m not sure I really did. It would have been a pleasant surprise, but a surprise just the same, had the Dodgers scored their second run of the game.

May 15

Elbert returns triumphantly in Dodger loss


Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesScott Elbert threw 19 pitches, 12 for strikes.

Although there was another sad performance from the offense (including the end of Andre Ethier’s on-base streak) and another disappointing inning from Ted Lilly, a four-run second in today’s 4-1 Dodger loss, let’s take some time to cheer for Scott Elbert. The lefty, whose season went so awry a year ago, got off to a great 2011 start for the Dodgers by striking out the side in the eighth inning.

Javy Guerra made his major-league debut in the next inning and allowed a one-out single and nothing else.

* * *

Update: Contrary to initial reports, Rafael Furcal did not bat right-handed Saturday for Albuquerque, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. Sunday, Furcal doubled leading off the game on the way to a 1-for-4 day. He also made an error.

May 15

Quarter-pole report


Kelvin Kuo/US PresswireRod Barajas could become the second player in Dodger history, after Marquis Grissom in 2001, with at least 20 homers and fewer walks than homers.

By around the middle of the fifth inning today, the Dodgers will have completed 25% of their 2011 regular season. Here are the paces some of their most frequently used players are on:

Andre Ethier: 16 homers, 219 hits, 41 doubles, 117 strikeouts
Matt Kemp: 28 homers, 49 steals in 61 attempts, 203 hits, 81 walks, 101 RBI, 36 doubles, 138 strikeouts, 162 games
Jamey Carroll: 0 homers, 158 games, 178 hits, 12-for-12 stealing
Rod Barajas: 28 homers, 20 walks, 57 RBI, 134 strikeouts
James Loney: four homers, four steals, eight doubles, 49 RBI, 32 walks, 73 strikeouts
Juan Uribe: 24 doubles, 24 walks, 12 homers, 126 strikeouts

Clayton Kershaw: 20-12, 239 innings, 81 walks, 259 strikeouts
Chad Billingsley: 8-12, 227 1/3 innings, 85 walks, 203 strikeouts
Hiroki Kuroda: 16-12, 215 1/3 innings, 53 walks, 166 strikeouts
Ted Lilly: 12-12, 178 1/3 innings, 36 walks, 117 strikeouts
Kenley Jansen: 0-0, 65 innings, 41 walks, 113 strikeouts
Matt Guerrier: 8-8, 81 1/3 innings, 28 walks, 65 strikeouts

May 15

Rafael Furcal’s return might be imminent, while Hawksworth looks DL-bound

In a rehabilitation appearance with Albuquerque on Saturday, shortstop Rafael Furcal went 2 for 3 with a walk, drove in three runs and – most importantly – batted right-handed for most of the game.

Hitting from the right side had been said to be the final hurdle to Furcal’s return to the Dodgers’ active roster from a broken left thumb.

Furcal has been out since April 11 and has missed 33 of the Dodgers’ 40 games this season. On Saturday, he walked in the first as a left-handed batter, then turned around to bat right and had RBI singles in the second and fourth innings, as well as a sixth-inning RBI groundout. No issues were reported about his performance in the field.

My hunch is that if he makes it through today unscathed, we’ll see Furcal in Los Angeles on Monday.

When he returns, Jamey Carroll will likely move over to second base, pushing Aaron Miles to the bench and Russ Mitchell to the minors. One question that will have to be answered when Casey Blake returns is whether the Dodgers will reduce the playing time of Juan Uribe or James Loney to preserve playing time for Carroll, who has the highest on-base percentage in the National League among shortstops. Certainly, Blake will get his share of rest. And might an occasional start in left field become part of the equation for Carroll?

In other roster talk, Dodger reliever Blake Hawksworth may go on the disabled list today after failing to show progress Saturday, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. Los Angeles is expected to promote Javy Guerra, who has a 1.06 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 17 innings (against 13 baserunners) with Double-A Chattanooga. Guerra had pitched 11 straight shutout innings over his last nine outings until giving up a home run Monday. He’s been idle since then.

Guerra did a tiny bit of blogging in 2009. Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A., in his Saturday posting “Dodgers Lose Battle, Win Guerra,” noted that the pitcher said on his Facebook page that he had gotten the call.

* * *

Some more notes on Chad Billingsley’s Saturday performance, from ESPN Stats and Information:

- The Diamondbacks missed on 11 swings against Billingsley’s fastball, the most against the Dodgers’ right-hander in exactly two years (May 14, 2009).

- Billingsley’s fastball was particularly effective on the first pitch. He threw 21 fastballs on the first pitch of a plate appearance. Seventeen of those fastballs went for strikes, tied for his most in a start in the last three seasons. More remarkable is that the Diamondbacks put none of Billingsley’s first-pitch fastballs in play. They swung at eight, missing three and fouling off five.

- By throwing first-pitch strikes that didn’t end up in play, Billingsley started 18 of 27 hitters with an 0-1 count, his second-most 0-1 counts in a start since 2009. All eight of Billingsley’s strikeouts were in at-bats he started with a first-pitch strike. It also enabled him to rack up his strikeouts efficiently, as six of his eight were in at-bats lasting three or four pitches, tied for his most in the last three seasons.

May 15

Gap between Martin and Barajas is narrowing

On April 23, Russell Martin homered twice and walked, raising his 2011 on-base percentage to .410 and his slugging to .723.

Since then, Martin has gone 8 for 52 with nine walks, a .279 OBP and a .250 slugging.

Martin is still having a better season than the man who replaced him on the Dodgers, Rod Barajas, but the difference between the two is shrinking. The power is there with Barajas, whose main problem continues to be his walks – only five (against 33 strikeouts) in 126 plate appearances.

* * *

I couldn’t resist finding the irony in the fact that amid the maelstrom of poor-performing, massively paid Jorge Posada being dropped last in the Yankees’ lineup and then pulling himself out of the game entirely, the player selected to replace him Saturday was Andruw Jones, who knows a thing about maelstroms of poor-performing, massively paid players.

The other thing I noticed is that Posada’s adjusted OPS of 71 is still considerably higher than James Loney’s 50, even though Loney is on his hottest streak of the season.

Here’s what ESPN Stats and Information had to say about Posada: “Part of Jorge Posada’s poor start can be explained by a .164 batting average on balls in play, by far the lowest among 194 qualified players. However, it can’t all be blamed on bad luck, as Posada’s batted ball profile isn’t helping. His line drive rate is just 11.4, which is the sixth lowest among qualified players and would be by far his lowest since data is available in 2002.”

May 14

Carroll takes blame as Billingsley’s stellar effort goes for naught


Harry How/Getty ImagesChad Billingsley retired 24 of 27 batters.

It hasn’t even been half a season since the game last September when the Dodgers won despite getting one hit, so it’s not like the concept should be entirely foreign to us.

But that doesn’t make it much less melancholy for Dodger fans to ponder the fact that Chad Billingsley went eight innings, allowed two walks, one hit and no earned runs while striking out eight and still took a 1-0 loss to Arizona.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, those are the only two games won by a road team with one hit since 1993. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time the Brooklyn-Los Angeles franchise lost when allowing one or fewer hits occurred on July 17, 1914 in Chicago.

The run came across in the second inning on a Melvin Mora sacrifice fly after a Stephen Drew double and a throwing error charged to Billingsley on a pickoff attempt – that Jamey Carroll gamely took responsibility for.

“Miscommunication. It was my fault,” Carroll told The Associated Press. “Obviously, I was supposed to cover. He threw it and nobody was there.”

Billingsley, who doubled (for the second time this season) to match the hit he allowed, lowered his season ERA to 3.36 even as his won-lost record fell to 2-3. Over his past six starts, Billingsley has a 1.91 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings against 42 baserunners.

Dodger starting pitchers have now thrown 22 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run (not counting the two rained-out frames by Jon Garland on Thursday) and have a 0.64 ERA over the past four starts.

The Dodger offense consisted of a walk and four hits – two by James Loney, including his first extra-base hit in 34 games since April 6, a leadoff eighth-inning double. What happened next – a sacrifice by Rod Barajas and a pinch-hitting appearance by Dioner Navarro in place of Jerry Sands (Navarro struck out) – I’ll just say I would have done things differently than Don Mattingly did. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Tony Jackson said it “might have been Mattingly’s worst-managed inning since he took over.”

But let’s face it – it’s not like the Dodgers didn’t have plenty of other opportunities to get something going against Josh Collmenter, who was making his first major-league start and allowed two hits and no walks over six innings and 71 pitches. At one point, Billingsley and Collmenter combined to retire 21 batters in a row, and there were no hits by either team in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

In the ninth, Carroll singled and with one out, Andre Ethier walked (giving him 37 straight games reaching base), but Matt Kemp hit into a game-ending double play. “Arizona’s relievers have been charged with just one earned run over 33 innings during the team’s first 11 games this month,” said AP, a contrast from last season’s giveaway bullpen.

The Dodgers’ three-game winning streak ended with them missing their chance to reach 20-20 this season.

May 14

Unearned run provides margin for 4-3 Dodger victory

Mark J. Terrill/APMatt Kemp executes “The Crane” to topple Kenley Jansen at the All-Valley Karate Tournament.

It says something about Clayton Kershaw that he allowed back-to-back doubles leading off the first inning and loaded the bases in the third inning and still ended up pitching shutout ball. And by the end of his seven-inning outing, when he struck out 11 and retired his last 14 batters, he had gone from backpedaling to dominating.

It was the second-straight seven-inning shutout by a Dodger starter. Meanwhile, Los Angeles scored four runs, one unearned, and that was just enough to withstand the latest bullpen meltdown for a 4-3 victory.

Matt Guerrier allowed a run in the eighth inning, and Vicente Padilla allowed two in a 32-pitch ninth before Kenley Jansen came in and struck out Melvin Mora for the final out – the 15th strikeout of the game for the Dodgers.

By holding on, the Dodgers had their second three-game winning streak of the season and moved within 2 1/2 games of first place in the National League West despite an 19-20 record.

* * *

As if we hadn’t gotten enough scary medical news lately, Zach Lee entered the picture. From Jim Peltz and Kevin Baxter of the Times:

… Lee, the Dodgers’ first-round pick in last June’s draft, was sent to the team’s minor league complex near Phoenix for an MRI test on the right-hander’s pitching elbow.

Lee complained of tightness in the elbow after his last start May 5, when he went a season-long six innings, giving up one run on five hits. But he lacked his usual sharpness, striking out just one, a career low.

DeJon Watson, the Dodgers’ assistant general manager for player development, characterized the test as a standard procedure for young pitchers. He said the test showed no damage and that Lee, 19, would return to Great Lakes of the single-A Midwest League, though Watson said he did not expect Lee to pitch for 10 to 15 days.

“There’s nothing wrong,” Watson said. “We just want to make sure he’s 100%.”

Some happier tidings: Shawn Tolleson, who struck out 33 of the 56 batters he faced at Single-A Great Lakes while allowing only 12 baserunners and a 0.00 ERA in 15 innings, has been promoted to Rancho Cucamonga. (Thanks to Dodger Thoughts commenter Mike–Tink for the link.) In addition, Rancho Cucamonga reliever Steven Ames (60 batters, 28 strikeouts, 12 baserunners, 1.17 ERA) has moved up to Double-A Chattanooga.

* * *

Gathering dust: Scott Elbert has not pitched since May 9 and has thrown only one inning since May 6.

* * *

Today’s game has an unusual 4:10 p.m. start. The shadows could be timely for the pitchers …

May 13

Dodgers Juan up themselves again with Castro

Juan Castro is healthy again, and Aaron Miles has firmly beaten out Ivan DeJesus Jr. for starts at second base while Casey Blake and Rafael Furcal are both injured. So though it’s not a decision for fans of a youth movement, it makes sense for the Dodgers to bring up Castro from Albuquerque and send DeJesus down.

Hector Gimenez was moved to the 60-day disabled list to make room for Castro, who was 11 for 24 with two walks in Triple-A, on the 40-man roster.

When Furcal returns, Russ Mitchell will almost certainly go back to the Isotopes.

May 13

Aftermath of a rainout

There’s no easy-breezy way to reschedule Thursday’s rained-out game between the Dodgers and Pirates (which, unfortunately, had itself been scheduled the night before a cross-country flight, getting the team home in the wee hours this morning before tonight’s game). Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.

Jackson also has, in the wake of Hong-Chih Kuo’s anxiety disorder, an interview with former Pirates pitcher Steve Blass, whose career ended because he lost his ability to throw on target.

Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. has a nice remembrance of a sad year, 1993.

May 13

Harmon Killebrew says goodbye

Statement from Harmon Killebrew at MLB.com:

“It is with profound sadness that I share with you that my continued battle with esophageal cancer is coming to an end. With the continued love and support of my wife, Nita, I have exhausted all options with respect to controlling this awful disease. My illness has progressed beyond my doctors’ expectation of cure.

“I have spent the past decade of my life promoting hospice care and educating people on its benefits. I am very comfortable taking this next step and experiencing the compassionate care that hospice provides.

“I am comforted by the fact that I am surrounded by my family and friends. I thank you for the outpouring of concern, prayers and encouragement that you have shown me. I look forward to spending my final days in comfort and peace with Nita by my side.”