Mar 12

We’re talking about what now?

Dodgers at Angels, 1:05 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Adam Kennedy, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, LF
Jerry Hairston Jr, 3B
Cory Sullvian, DH
A.J. Ellis, C
Josh Fields, 1B
(Aaron Harang, P)

More than once already this morning, I’ve seen pieces making arguments that I didn’t think needed to be made.

First: No disrespect to Buster Olney, but I can’t imagine the Dodgers are going to hit Opening Day with a 13-man pitching staff, as he suggests is possible, especially with Chris Capuano in the bullpen because of the day off April 9.

David Schoenfeld of ESPN.com and Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness were compelled to analyze the pros and cons of this — they’re correct in concluding that the 13-man staff would be a mistake, but this was one of those things that wasn’t really worth worrying about.

Barring anything out of the ordinary this spring, the Dodgers have six bullpen locks and an opening for a seventh reliever. After Kenley Jansen, Javy Guerra, Scott Elbert, Matt Guerrier, Todd Coffey and Mike MacDougal, the Dodgers are going to be deciding whether they think it’s worth hanging on to a non-roster invitee like Jamey Wright or keep Josh Lindblom from going to the minors. That’s it. Going with a nine-man bullpen and a four-man bench for the first four games of the season makes so little sense, I just don’t believe it’s a consideration. That 25th roster spot will go to Jerry Sands or an infielder.

* * *

This was the second of two topics today whose origin confused me. The first was Eric Seidman’s piece on Fangraphs, “Will A.J. Ellis develop any power?” I don’t mean to be critical at all — the piece is completely well-argued (spoiler alert: answer is probably not) — but I’m not understanding why the question is being asked.

There’s no reason to suspect that Ellis will suddenly become a slugger … but so what?  While it’d be nice if Ellis suddenly blasted balls out of the park, I think the Dodgers and their fans will all be quite happy if Ellis maintains his on-base skills over the long haul. How likely is it that he’ll do that? That’s a question worth exploring.

Seidman replied in the comments of his piece:

All good points, guys. Intention wasn’t to argue anything, really, just to take a historical look at a somewhat rare player. I think his OBP and defense make for a solid backup, but his slugging inability will hurt his effectiveness over 450+ PAs. Thought it was interesting that nobody has really had a similar OBP/SLG disconnect like his while also making it in the majors at a relatively older age.

* * *

Interesting tidbit from Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Although the Dodgers are off to a sizzling start in the Cactus League with a 5-1-2 record — something that in reality means absolutely nothing — Mattingly is growing impatient with the unusual number of fundamental miscues.

“For me, we have gotten a little lazy lately,” he said. “We have missed some cutoffs and missed some signs. I think it’s just that part of the spring where we have to push ourselves to be a little better.”

* * *

The famous 1980 Pat Jordan piece for Inside Sports on Steve and Cyndi Garvey has been rerun in full by Alex Belth at Bronx Banter.

* * *

Jay Jaffe analyzes National League starting rotations at Baseball Prospectus.

Mar 11

Dodgers pitching to contact, winning

Join the Dodger Thoughts March Madness Tournament Challenge here.

Dodgers 5, Cubs 0

  • Following Ted Lilly’s three innings today, here is the combined line for Dodger starting pitchers in their past three day games: nine innings, six hits, two walks, zero runs, zero strikeouts.
  • Tony Gwynn Jr. and Matt Angle each had a hit and two RBI.
  • Trent Oeltjen had two hits and two runs.
  • The Dodgers’ embrace of the iPad and in particular an app from Bloomberg called “Sport Pitch Review” is chronicled in interesting detail by Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • Cory Sullivan is attempting a comeback of sorts after taking much of last season off to spend quality time with his daughter, writes Gurnick.
Mar 11

Fields emerges as leading Spring Training underdog

Cubs at Dodgers, 12:05 p.m.
Tony Gwynn Jr., DH
Mark Ellis, 2B
James Loney, 1B
Jerry Sands, LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Trent Oeltjen, RF
Tim Federowicz, C
Justim Sellers, SS
Matt Angle, CF
(Ted Lilly, P)

Though I’m not wishing to take away anything away from Cory Sullivan, whose ninth-inning grand slam lifted the Dodgers to a 10-6 victory over the White Sox late Saturday, I find myself thinking more this morning about Josh Fields.

No matter what he does in the spring, Sullivan is a 32-year-old fringe outfielder on a team with several stronger candidates. Never say never, but he remains a longshot to make a difference to the Dodgers and a much safer bet to become a Jason Romano-like footnote.

Fields, on the other hand, is still only 29 (younger than A.J. Ellis, for example), and he plays a position where the Dodgers are incredibly thin: third base. He also has power: 34 home runs in 713 major-league at-bats. That doesn’t mean he’s still not ultimately a Hector Gimenez in disguise, but there is a greater chance for Fields to mean something to the team.

The bar at third base for the Dodgers is so, so low: Juan Uribe, Jerry Hairston Jr., Adam Kennedy. Fields is 7 for 11 with three extra-base hits so far in the spring, and if he keeps that up, you can see where he might play his way into the 25th spot on the roster and earn some starts at third base (and at first base against right-handed pitching, with Jerry Sands getting more seasoning in the minors).

Again, I’m not getting my hopes up that Fields is anything more than a 2012 version of Corey Smith, who went 7 for 12 last year in March and then disappeared. I’m also not convinced that his shaky glove (that includes 24 errors and negative Ultimate Zone Rating in 158 career games at third base) wouldn’t undermine his contributions at the plate. But I do know that the Dodgers need all the help they can get at the position, and that they would be much better off if Uribe were their top utility infielder instead of a primary starter at third base.

It can all all apart in a minute, but for now, Fields is one unexpected Spring Training sensation that I’m not going to reflexively dismiss, but rather will keep an eye on.

* * *

Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness offers a status update on the Dodger ownership race, a subject that I find myself with no desire to cover, despite its huge importance.

Mar 10

Eovaldi evolving

Dodgers at White Sox, 6:05 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Matt Kemp, DH
Juan Rivera, LF
Adam Kennedy, 1B
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
Jerry Sands, RF
A.J. Ellis, C
Ivan De Jesus Jr., 2B
(Chad Billingsley, P)

Dodgers 5, Mariners 5

Highlights:

  • Nathan Eovaldi duplicated Clayton Kershaw from the day before in throwing three shutout innings with no strikeouts.
  • Matt Chico and Josh Wall each pitched a shutout inning of relief with two strikeouts.
  • Josh Fields’ hot hitting continued: 2 for 4 with two RBI.
  • Matt Treanor homered in his first at-bat.
  • The Dodgers turned four double plays.

Lowlights:

  • Ronald Belisario allowed four runs (three earned) on three hits and a walk.
  • Alex Castellanos, who moved from left field to second base midway through the game, went 0 for 4 and also made an error that contributed to the unearned run.
  • Justin Sellers took a batted ball to the chin and had to leave the game.

Sidelights:

  • With one Mariner on and one out, the bottom of the fifth ended as J.P Hoonstra of the Daily News describes:

    … With (one out) and a runner on first base in the Mariners’ half of the fifth inning, Casper Wells lined a single to right field. Trent Oeltjen couldn’t come up with the catch but Wells mistakenly passed the runner, Michael Saunders, and was immediately called out. Oeltjen’s throw went to first baseman James Loney as Saunders took off for second base. The shortstop, Luis Cruz, didn’t realize that Wells was out and tagged second base with his foot thinking a force play was in effect. It wasn’t, but Saunders took a couple steps off the bag, Cruz tagged him out, and the inning was over.

  • Castellanos also completed a game-ending double play, catching a Tim Federowicz throw after a Wells strikeout and making the tag on Saunders.
  • Andre Ethier is day-to-day with back stiffness.
  • Don Mattingly to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com on the midseason firing of hitting coach Jeff Pentland:

    … “That coaching change wasn’t comfortable at all,” Mattingly said. “I love Pent, and I think he is really good at what he does. He has a ton of knowledge with the swing and how it works. It was tough, but somebody has to go if something is going badly, because you can’t get rid of the players. It happened to us in New York, whenever they would fire the manager or the pitching coach or whoever it might be. I always knew in that situation that we had failed as players. We let somebody down. We took the blame, but somebody had to go.” …

Mar 10

Paging Page

Join the Dodger Thoughts March Madness Tournament Challenge here.

Dodgers at Mariners, 12:05 p.m.
Justin Sellers, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Andre Ethier, RF
James Loney, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
Cory Sullivan, CF
Josh Fields, DH
Matt Treanor, C
Alex Castellanos, LF
(Nathan Eovaldi, P)

Former NFL defensive back Jarrad Page from UCLA earned a minor-league deal with the Dodgers following their open tryout. Bill Shaikin of the Times points to this 2005 Ben Bolch story about the two-sport athlete, now 27.

In other news, the Lakers have offered a contract to Matt Kemp. (Not really, but I’ve heard worse ideas …)

* * *

David Pinto of Baseball Musings points to a New York Times online piece that offers audio of the Mets’ first Spring Training game in their history. In part of the excerpt, Howard Cosell talks about and to Gil Hodges.

* * *

At Opinion of Kingman’s Performance, Evan Bladh remembers umpire Harry Wendelstadt, who passed away Friday.

Mar 09

Dodgers clobber Rangers

Dodgers 9, Rangers 0

Highlights:

  • Lots to choose from on a day the Dodgers had 16 hits while shutting out the opposition.
  • Matt Kemp singled and homered.
  • Alex Castellanos singled and homered.
  • Andre Ethier singled and tripled.
  • Griff Erickson singled and doubled.
  • A.J. Ellis walked and doubled.
  • Dee Gordon walked, singled and stole a base.
  • Justin Sellers walked and singled.
  • Juan Rivera homered for his first spring hit in 10 at-bats.
  • Dodger relievers Angel Guzman, Scott Rice, Fernando Nieve and Ryan Tucker combined for six shutout innings.
  • And oh yeah, Clayton Kershaw pitched three shutout innings against the American League champs, though he struck out none.
Mar 09

Jansen to have heart checked

Dodgers at Rangers, 12:05 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
Matt Kemp, CF
Juan Rivera, DH
Andre Ethier, RF
Jerry Sands, 1B
Justin Sellers, 2B
A.J. Ellis, C
Scott Van Slyke, LF
(Clayton Kershaw, P)

Kenley Jansen experienced shortness of breath and an irregular heartbeat Thursday night, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Times, and is seeing a doctor today.

Jansen was on the disabled list in 2011 for an irregular heartbeat and began to take a blood-thinning medication. Ken Gurnick of MLB.com has more.

… “He had a little bit of flutters and shortness of breath like last year with the palpitations and his blood pressure was up,” said manager Don Mattingly. “He had trouble sleeping. Sue (Falsone, trainer) said it could be nothing, but she didn’t want to play around with it.”

Mattingly said he hadn’t heard of Jansen experiencing any problems since last year’s incident and added that Jansen is already on blood pressure medication and “not supposed to take any caffeine.”

“This is the first I’ve heard of it since the issue last year,” he said. …

Update: Jansen has been cleared to resume workouts, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Mar 09

L.A.’s big free agent: LACMA’s Levitated Mass

While the import to Los Angeles of free agents such as Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano generated split opinions over their value, they were not alone, or even the most noteworthy in the county.

Landing strip for Levitated Mass, at rear of LACMA, as seen from Variety building.

Within 24 hours, the primary part of Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass, a 21-foot, 340-ton boulder (yes, bigger than Jonathan Broxton and Todd Coffey combined) that has been slowly working its way across Southern California, will arrive at its new home, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where it will hover above a 456-foot-long, 15-feet deep slot. (Information concerning its arrival can be found here; you can also follow on Twitter.) Levitated has interested me for several reasons: my ties to LACMA from having worked there from 2002-2006, my view of the museum and its landing-strip outdoor home for Leviated from the window of my current Variety office, and above all, the polarized reaction Levitated has generated.

In its initial stages, any appreciation for what Levitated might mean was drowned out by amazed if not angry cries: “LACMA is spending $10 million for a rock?” Indeed, the cost for bringing Levitated to LACMA did require eight digits worth of private fundraising, to account for the unique challenge of the oversize delivery that required removing and reinstalling traffic lights, wires and other obstacles. Surely that money could be better spent on something else.

There are two threads to that argument. The first is whether any arts spending is superfluous when your city faces hard times. From my experience at LACMA, all I can tell you is that study after study exists to show that arts spending has payoffs for the community that more than justify itself. (Not to be ignored is the question of whether funds diverted from the arts would go to an area that had even less value to society.) In addition, LACMA notes that Levitated offers Los Angeles both a near- and long-term economic benefit.

The second thread is, even if you support arts spending, whether Levitated qualifies as the right kind of arts spending. This is inherently subjective. Again, much initial reaction across the public seemed highly skeptical. However, the rapid groundswell of interest — as celebratory as an Olympic torch run — in Levitated indicates, at a minimum, that there’s a high curiosity factor. And something tells me that once it is in place at LACMA, it is going to be the kind of experience that more than fulfills its goals: to amaze and inspire.

The path through which visitors will be able to walk beneath Levitated Mass.

Rare is the piece of art, no matter how much its financial worth, that is meaningful to everyone. Everyone has seen a so-called masterpiece that leaves them cold. So it’s unreasonable to expect everyone to appreciate Levitated Mass, but despite the initial concern, this might be a free-agent gamble that pays off.

If so, this would be akin to a scouting department triumph for LACMA, though you can decide how Moneyball-like it is. Levitated might not have had the look of a top prospect or marquee free agent, but here we are, poised for its potential earthquake of a debut.

Mar 08

Capuano deguanoed

Dodgers 7, A’s 2

Highlights:

  • Chris Capuano struck out three in two shutout innings, allowing two singles.
  • Alex Castellanos hit his first home run in a Dodger uniform, off ex-Dodger Travis Schlichting.
  • Dee Gordon started things with the first of two walks on the day and then stole second. A double by Mark Ellis and a single by Matt Kemp then brought home two runs.
  • Andre Ethier capped a four-run Dodger sixth with a two-run double. Ethier also drew one of the Dodgers’ seven walks.
  • Josh Fields singled, making him 4 for 5 this spring.
  • Adam Kennedy went 2 for 2.
  • Tim Federowicz reached base twice, on a hit-by-pitch and a walk.
  • Todd Coffey struck out two in a perfect inning.
  • John Grabow, who had been nursing a sore calf, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, also pitched a perfect inning.
  • In his glowing review of the day, Steve Dilbeck of Dodgers Now notes that Kemp tagged from second to third on a foul-out to the first baseman.

Lowlights:

  • Days at the O-fer Inn: Trent Oeltjen, Tony Gwynn Jr., Juan Rivera, Ivan De Jesus Jr., Josh Bard, Lance Zawadzki.
  • Stephen Fife and Wil Ledezma each allowed late-inning runs.

Sidelights:

  • From differing perspectives, Maury Wills and Don Mattingly reflect on the effect of long-term contracts in this Gurnick piece.
  • Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com chronicles the visit of Cory Hahn, the former Southern California prep baseball player who was paralyzed in his first game for Arizona State.
  • Jackson said that non-roster invitee Scott Rice won the team’s annual “Dodgers Idol” competition with an original song about Kenley Jansen.
  • In a post that’s interesting if only for its detail about the baseball’s new draft salary structure, Conor Glassey of Baseball America looks deeper at who might end up with injured Harvard-Westlake righty Lucas Giolito. You might file this one away until June.
Mar 08

Smokejumpers forever!

A’s at Dodgers, 12:05 PM

Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, LF
James Loney, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
Tim Federowicz, C
Adam Kennedy, DH
(Chris Capuano, P)

Aside from the health of Andre Ethier’s mind, body and soul, the top story of the opening days of Spring Training appears to be how quickly the Dodgers might move their top relief pitcher, Kenley Jansen, into a role that reduces the value of his dominance. Good times.

Mar 07

Harang harangued

Dodgers 3, A’s 3

Highlights:

  • Cory Sullivan went 3 for 4 with a game-tying double in the seventh.
  • Kenley Jansen, Scott Elbert, Javy Guerra, Alberto Castillo and Will Savage combined to shut out the A’s after the fourth inning, each striking out one batter in one inning.

Lowlights:

  • In their past two games, the Dodgers are 1 for 23 with runners in scoring position.
  • Aaron Harang allowed two singles, two doubles and two runs in two innings.
  • Outside of Sullivan, the Dodger lineup went 1 for 25 …

Sidelights:

  • … with eight walks. Los Angeles’ two fourth-inning runs came without a hit.
  • Manny Ramirez “was scratched 20 minutes before the first pitch with stiffness in his back experienced while getting some extra at-bats in a simulated game,” according to The Associated Press.
  • Former Dodger Jon Meloan, the part of the Carlos Santana trade that actually saved the Dodgers cash, has signed a minor-league deal with Texas, Battling arm trouble, Meloan hasn’t pitched in the majors since throwing 8 1/3 shutout innings with 11 strikeouts in 2009 with Oakland.
  • Jason Repko (.555 OPS in 144 plate appearances with Minnesota last year) has signed a minor-league deal with Boston.
  • Hiroki Kuroda allowed three runs and three hits over two innings in his New York Yankee spring training debut.
  • Yu Darvish struck out three in two scoreless innings of his American spring debut.
Mar 07

Manny pedi

Dodgers at A’s, 12:05 PM

Jerry Hairston Jr., SS
Tony Gwynn Jr. CF
Jerry Sands, RF
James Loney, 1B
Russ Mitchell, 3B
Adam Kennedy, 2B
A.J. Ellis, C
Ivan De Jesus Jr., DH
Cory Sullivan, LF
(Aaron Harang, P)

Manny Ramirez is batting cleanup as the designated hitter for Oakland.

Bummer news from the prep ranks: top righthanded high school pitching prospect Lucas Giolito from Harvard-Westlake is out for the season. Eric Sondheimer of the Times has the report, while Dave Cameron of Fangraphs reports on how this might affect Giolito’s future — and whether this increases his chances of heading to UCLA.

Mar 06

Just to come again: Bring on your ‘Wrecking Ball’

No album from my all-time favorite rock ‘n’ roll performer is ever anything close to a failure, but Bruce Springsteen’s most recent release of new material before this year, 2009′s Working on a Dream, was as sloppy as he’s ever had. Two of the songs, “Outlaw Pete” and “Queen of the Supermarket,” forever come across as virtual Springsteen parodies, each telling a story that resembled a vintage Springsteen tale except for the way they were stretched into utter preposterousness. The rest of the album was a mixed bag – certainly adequate, especially considering the high standards Springsteen has set for himself, and with a couple true gems such as the Danny Frederici tribute “The Last Carnival” – but overall as a collection of songs, it was a work in search of coherence, lyrically and musically.

Between then and now, Springsteen put out the double-sided The Promise, a compilation of numerous songs composed following Born to Run but either left off Darkness on the Edge of Town and other subsequent albums, or significantly reworked. The Promise simultaneously illustrated the ability of Springsteen at the top of his game and the extent of his wide-ranging interests, again both in music and subject matter. As if we didn’t know already, there’s a reason Springsteen has kept putting out material into his 60s: he’s a well that won’t dry up.

His brand-new album, Wrecking Ball, isn’t as satisfying or enlightening as The Promise, but it does represent the beginning of a journey back from the erratic qualities of Dream. The Boss is still a bit too infatuated with stylistic variety for his own good – some will certainly argue that it keeps things fresh, but it starts to take on a everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach that becomes a distraction.

Parts of Wrecking Ball are simply overproduced. More than once when a stray gospel chant, Irish accent, rap solo or other element comes into earshot, I found myself saying, “Just play the song.” From a younger artist it might come across as insecurity, but from a Hall of Famer like Springsteen it feels more like the indulgence of someone who is just having too much fun – even in the angry songs – to help himself.

But this much can be said: Never on Wrecking Ball does Springsteen go so far as to venture into the kind of implosions that “Outlaw Pete” and “Queen of the Supermarket” represent, and often, especially after repeat listening, the pieces of flair win you over.

And when things work, they really do work. “Land of Hope and Dreams,” which has been a Springsteen tour staple for some time now, is just rousing – if you haven’t heard the live version, you’ll certainly get a taste of what it must be like. (It also includes what would seem to be the final notes played by Clarence Clemons on a Springsteen album, and your heart will break each time you hear them.)

And the pitch-perfect “Wrecking Ball,” one that he began playing on tour a couple years back (with little hint at least at the outset that it would become his next album’s title track), proves to be the best of them all.

In some ways, it’s a rough and tough sequel to the now 27-year-old “Glory Days.” Its main character is Giants Stadium, just before being demolished, and it opens …

I was raised out of steel here in the swamps of Jersey
Some misty years ago
Through the mud and the beer, and the blood and the cheers
I’ve seen champions come and go

So if you got the guts mister
Yeah, if you’ve got the balls
If you think it’s your time
Then step to the line
And bring on your wrecking ball

Bring on your wrecking ball
Bring on your wrecking ball
Come on and take your best shot
Let me see what you’ve got
Bring on your wrecking ball …

The lyrics don’t need my explanation. It’s a song that stares straight into the face of mortality. “Wrecking Ball” reminds us that everyone has their battles, and we fight them, fight them to win, even if we know, in the end, we all lose the war.

… Now when all this steel and these stories
They drift away to rust
And all our youth and beauty
It’s been given to the dust

And your game has been decided
And you’re burning the down the clock
And all our little victories and glories
Have turned into parking lots

When your best hopes and desires
Are scattered to the wind
And hard times come
And hard times go
And hard times come
And hard times go
And hard times come
And hard times go
And hard times come
And hard times go
And hard times come
And hard times go
Just to come again!
Bring on your wrecking ball …

The song then brings the entire E Street Band in a singing primal call to the wild, one that couldn’t sound more right. It’s moments like these that Springsteen delivers like no one else.

Mar 06

Lilly hammered

Giants 8, Dodgers 4

Highlights:

  • Andre Ethier followed Monday’s double with a home run off a lefthander, the Giants’ Barry Zito.
  • Dee Gordon beat out an infield grounder to the right side for a single.
  • Ronald Belisario put that Dodger uniform on and pitched a shutout inning of relief.
  • Josh Lindblom retired all four batters he faced, if you don’t count an error by Josh Fields against him.
  • Tim Federowicz can throw, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Lowlights:

  • San Francisco’s first four batters of the game went homer, double, groundout, homer against Ted Lilly, who allowed five runs on six hits and a walk with one strikeout while facing 13 batters. Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. has more.
  • Dodger pitchers allowed 20 baserunners in all.
  • Matt Kemp struck out in both his at-bats, making him 0 for 4 with three strikeouts this spring. Roof caving in!

Sidelights: