Apr 24

Clock ticking on Mike MacDougal?

The Dodger bullpen is nearing another crunch. Todd Coffey is scheduled to pitch in minor-league rehab games Wednesday and Friday, in advance of becoming eligible to come off the disabled list Sunday, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.

Before Coffey went on the disabled list to make room for the activation of Ted Lilly, it appeared that Josh Lindblom would be sent to the minors, because he had options remaining. Since that time, the importance to the Dodger bullpen of Lindblom, who had a 2.73 ERA and 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings last year, has only been underscored. Even after allowing his first run of the season Monday, the 24-year-old Lindblom has a 0.84 ERA in 2012 with nine baserunners in 10 2/3 innings, generally pitching in critical situations. Meanwhile, Mike MacDougal has been just about useless in what has become a mop-up role, allowing 12 of 26 batters to reach base.

Even though the Dodgers have committed $1 million to MacDougal ($650,000 salary for 2012, plus a $350,000 buyout of the club’s nearly insane $2.35 million 2013 option), it’s seemed clear in recent days that Lindblom has established that he has become too important to the Dodgers to send to the minors.

There’s room for a little second-guessing, however.

MacDougal has suffered from a .412 batting average on balls in play (Lindblom is at .174). The 35-year-old’s top problem has been that he has walked five batters in 4 2/3 innings. MacDougal has always had control problems, but as overrated as he might have been in 2011, he’s probably better than he has shown in 2012. The sample sizes are so small that I’m not sure the Dodgers would be ready to give up on their MacDougal investment so early in the year.

On the other hand, they might as well be. MacDougal’s peak value is still replaceable. The Dodgers aren’t hurting for alternatives, including Shawn Tolleson, who continues to absolutely destroy opposing batters in the minors. After becoming the team’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2011, Tolleson has started 2012 by facing 22 batters and striking out 13, while allowing only three to reach base.

In addition, Ronald Belisario’s suspension will end next week (May 3) after the Dodgers play their 25th game, forcing Los Angeles to confront his future. And somewhere down the road, a recovery for Blake Hawksworth theoretically lurks.

There’s only one logical assumption, and that’s another conveniently timed injury will befall a Dodger reliever, perhaps one whose initials are the same as Mickey Mantle’s. Barring that, Los Angeles should be brave enough to confront a future without MacDougal, who conceivably could clear waivers anyway and spend some time in Triple-A, where he pitched as recently as 2010.

Apr 24

Castellanos/Van Slyke/Sands postscript

Christopher Jackson, who covers the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque for the Albuquerque Baseball Examiner, stopped by the Dodger Thoughts comments Monday and offered the following reaction to my post about Scott Van Slyke, Jerry Sands and Alex Castellanos.

Castellanos is not ready for the big leagues. He can chew up and spit out the lousy pitching in the PCL, but he is very prone to chasing stuff on the outside part of the plate. Big-league pitchers will eat him alive, a la Sands last year with the inside pitches. The good news is Castellanos knows he’s not ready. I asked him if he’d heard the rumors people were tossing about when Uribe was hurting, and he told me everyone’s getting ahead of themselves. He knows for his development that a full season (or at least close to a full season) at Triple-A is a must. And no, folks, he’s not going to solve the 3B dilemma. The Dodgers are focused on him playing 2B, period.

Van Slyke, besides being one of the funniest guys on the team (his stories about life in baseball as a kid are outstanding), is a solid hitter and someone I could see going up to the big leagues in the second half. He can hit to all fields, he will take pitches at the plate and defensively he seems fine in the outfield (first base, well, there’s a reason the Dodgers moved him off there this spring).

Sands and the Topes’ coaching staff are confident he can turn things around, but lordy, that boy seems stubborn. They tell him “lay off the first pitch” and he goes up and swings away from the start. In most games his early plate appearances are hard to watch, then he starts to settle down. I think if anything he’s trying too hard; he’s overthinking at the plate. It’s frustrating for everyone involved, and you want to root for the guy since he is a good kid. You just wonder that if he can’t turn things around in the next month or so what the Dodgers are going to do. They want him to succeed, they need him to succeed, but right now …

Oh, and best bet for first Tope to be called up: Scott Rice. The kid is legit as a lefty reliever. Might spare you all from MacDougal/Coffey sooner rather than later.

Jackson is on Twitter: @TopesWriter.

Apr 23

Happy Uribe to you, Dodgers win 7-2

Well, if you’ve been waiting for the rest of the Dodger offense to get involved, this was your night.

Not that Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier had bad games – each reached base three times (and each gave one back in a bizarre 7-6-2-3 double play). But it’s not every day that Juan Uribe goes 4 for 4 and drives in three runs, as he did in tonight’s 7-2 victory over Atlanta.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, it was the fifth four-hit game of Uribe’s career and first since 2007 with the White Sox. Uribe once had four hits in a 2002 5-4 victory by the Rockies over the Dodgers. That game took place during the famous Kevin Beirne era in the Dodger rotation.

James Loney added two hits, meaning that both corner infielders now have on-base percentages above .300 for the first time this season. A.J. Ellis and Dee Gordon gave the Dodgers’ six batters with multi-hit games.

Chris Capuano was on the wild side with four walks but still managed to hold the Braves to a run in a season-high seven innings. Josh Lindblom gave up his first run of the season, allowing a home run to Dan Uggla, but otherwise he and Scott Elbert wrapped up the Dodgers’ 13th win.

Four years and three days ago, Atlanta pitcher Jair Jurrjens stymied the Dodgers, striking out eight in seven innings of one-run ball, but 2012 is not treating him kindly. He has made four starts this season, and has a 9.37 ERA to show for them.

Apr 23

Castellanos hot, but Van Slyke might make better case for callup

Braves at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, LF
James Loney, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Chris Capuano, P

So, are you wondering about Alex Castellanos? If not, should you be?

The Dodgers’ hottest high-level minor-league hitter is Castellanos, who has a .483 on-base percentage and .757 slugging percentage for Albuquerque this year. His numbers have actually been better on the road, so while you have to take Pacific Coast League stats into account, it’s safe to say he’s been doing some of this on his own.

It’s hard to believe the lopsided Los Angeles lineup couldn’t use a guy like Castellanos, but the situation is a bit complicated. The 25-year-old has spent this year being converted to second base, which is not one of the Dodgers’ trouble spots right now. Mark Ellis has a .730 OPS (111 OPS+) and has been fielding well. You might make a case that Castellanos would provide an offensive boost, though I’m not so sure — but in any case, I’m not sure anyone would be ready for a double-play combo of Castellanos and Dee Gordon.

Castellanos hasn’t played a professional game at third base since 2009 — not even this year, when the Dodgers have had such uncertainty at the position. So I think you can dismiss the idea of him being called up to play there.

Left field, on the other hand, is a different story. Castellanos has spent most of his pro career in the outfield (albeit in right), while Juan Rivera is very quietly off to a start notably worse than the more publicized James Loney. Rivera has a .298 on-base percentage and .314 slugging percentage and provides none of Loney’s defensive value — indeed, Tony Gwynn Jr. comes off the bench at the earliest opportunity to replace Rivera.  In the heart of the order, whether batting between or after Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, the 33-year-old Rivera is problematic to say the least, and when he comes out, that leaves Gwynn (or, in case of a double switch, a relief pitcher) in the meat of the lineup.

That’s not to say Rivera might not kick it into gear offensively starting tonight, but essentially we saw last summer the best that he can provide, and we know it doesn’t last long. He’s broken a .750 OPS in a full season once since 2006.

Now, we wouldn’t even be having a Rivera conversation had Jerry Sands not had a miserable March, which happens to have been followed by a miserable April (.316 OBP, .318 slugging so far with the Isotopes). Sands reminds us how hit-and-miss the leap from Triple-A stardom to the majors can be.

So the question is, do you call up Castellanos for a role that would push Rivera to the bench, where the latter might be a decent No. 1 pinch-hitter against lefties (not surprisingly, he hits them better than righties)? I think that depends on how you view the Dodgers’ future at second base. If Castellanos truly can learn to hold down that position, that would ultimately make him more valuable to the franchise, which is fairly thin in middle-infield talent. But when would he get to play there? Ellis is signed through the end of 2013, but he turns 35 in June. If he wears down, the Dodgers might need to replace him this summer, but if he pulls a Jamey Carroll, the Dodgers might not need a new second baseman for two years.

Here’s what I might recommend:

Though he’s not quite at Castellanos levels this year, 25-year-old Scott Van Slyke with little fanfare has followed his outstanding 2011 by starting strong in 2012: .443 OBP, .600 slugging and more walks than strikeouts. Try Van Slyke in left field, Rivera on the bench and Adam Kennedy on an outbound train (with Justin Sellers and Jerry Hairston Jr. picking up the infield time taken by Kennedy, whose signing to a guaranteed contract this past winter never made sense). That gives Van Slyke a taste of the majors and the Dodgers hope for increased production in left field and off the bench, while buying time for Castellanos to continue to grow acquainted with second base and for Sands to figure out what’s gone wrong.

Calling up Van Slyke has a pretty good chance of making the Dodgers better in the short term and the long term. What’s not to like?

(Footnote: Castellanos came to the Dodgers in exchange for Rafael Furcal, who is for the time being hale and hearty. Furcal leads the National League with eight doubles and has a .423 OBP and .523 slugging in 72 healthy-for-now plate appearances in 2012.)

Apr 22

How much would you pay to watch the Dodgers on TV?

Below are four questions for an unscientific survey on how much you would pay to see the Dodgers on TV, if the games weren’t part of an overall TV package.

Note: If the Dodgers aren’t your favorite team, obviously feel free to take the poll by applying the questions to your favorite team.

Question 1:


Question 2:

Question 3:

Question 4:

Apr 22

Looks like close but no cigar for Kemp’s next Player of the Week award

Matt Kemp follows through Saturday on his ninth home run of the season. © Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2012

Dodgers at Astros, 11:05 a.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Andre Ethier, RF
Jerry Hairston Jr., LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Matt Treanor, C
Chad Billingsley, P

Major League Baseball will look everywhere for someone who can be the next National League Player of the Week instead of Matt Kemp, who has won the award the last three times it has been given out. But he hasn’t made it easy.

Kemp has a 1.524 OPS for the week going into the final eligible day today. That’s second among NL regulars, trailing only Freddie Freeman of Atlanta (1.621). And there’s no other batsman that’s really in the running unless someone goes nuts at the plate today.

Among pitchers, Cliff Lee stands an excellent shot at the award with his 10 innings of shutout work Wednesday (followed by a trip to the disabled list with an oblique injury), while Cory Luebke has gone 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA: seven innings of one-run ball in Colorado followed by eight shutout innings Saturday against the Phillies.

My guess is that Luebke gets the nod, but you just can’t say enough about what Kemp has done.

* * *

Congrats to James Loney for hitting his first home run of the season. “Loney began this season 0-for-16 and 1-for-20 but in his last eight games has hit .320/.433/.600, including four doubles and a home run in his last seven starts,” writes Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.

And congrats as well to Dee Gordon, who went 3 for 4 Saturday and celebrates his 24th birthday today.

* * *

  • New Dodger owner Mark Walter is profiled by Kim Christensen of the Times.
  • Under new management, the Dodgers can learn from the Phillies, writes Bill Baer at ESPN.com’s Sweet Spot.
  • High school coaches still ignore pitch counts at the risk of their young players, writes Chad Moriyama.
  • Roxanna Green, Christina-Taylor Green’s mother, will sign copies of her book at Dodger Stadium on Monday.
  • “You Haven’t Lived Until You’ve Seen Dee & Andre’s Pre-Game Boogie” – who can argue with the Sons of Steve Garvey?
Apr 21

Home run d’ohby

Dodgers at Astros, 4:05 p.m.
Kershaw CXX: Kershawrvin Gardens

Why is August 21, 2010 significant to this Dodger team?

On that date, four different Dodgers homered. That’s one more than has homered for the 2012 Dodgers in 14 games this season.

Aside from Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, the Dodgers have one home run in 350 at-bats this year. That was hit by A.J. Ellis on April 7. The Dodgers have played 11 consecutive games without someone besides Kemp or Ethier hitting one out.

Kemp’s slugging percentage is exactly 1.000 (first in the National League). Ethier is at .648 (sixth in the NL). The rest of the Dodgers are slugging .277.

* * *

Clayton Kershaw did not have a good start the last time out, facing 26 batters and allowing 11 baserunners with three strikeouts. Looking forward to seeing him bounce back today against the Astros.

If the Dodgers can build a lead against Houston starter Kyle Weiland (7.90 ERA in 35 1/3 career innings), perhaps we’ll see two Los Angeles relievers who have been absent lately. Mike MacDougal hasn’t pitched for the Dodgers since April 14, Scott Elbert since April 13. MacDougal has thrown 60 pitches this season, Elbert 50.

Apr 20

Hairston’s unbelievable defensive hot streak

© Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Matt Kemp has reached base four times in seven innings tonight, including his eighth home run with a runner on in the first inning, and Andre Ethier singled home a run in the third, but how incredible has Jerry Hairston Jr. been at third base tonight and in the past three games?

Fans of defense, click and enjoy.

Wednesday, seventh inning: Diving backhand catch of Jonathan Lucroy liner with none out, score tied 2-2.

Thursday, eighth inning: With runners at second and third (tying run at third base), diving stop and throw from his knees to retire Alex Gonzalez.

Thursday, ninth inning: Barehand pick of Travis Ishikawa bunt, throwing him out with the Dodgers leading by one run.

Tonight, third inning: Runs down hard-hit ball off his glove, slide-stops and fires to second base to nail Jose Altve.

Tonight, fifth inning: With bases loaded in a two-run game, corrals grounder behind third base and dives at the bag to tag out J.D. Martinez.

Update: The Dodgers wasted some scoring opportunities, letting the Astros stay close, but still eked out a 3-1 victory. Ted Lilly walked six in six innings but allowed just the one run, while Josh Lindblom, Kenley Jansen and Javy Guerra combined to strike out six in their three shutout innings.

Apr 20

Matt Kemp bends but breaks through

My latest piece for ESPNLosAngeles.com is a reflection on Matt Kemp’s journey from 18-year-old draftee to 27-year-old baseball superhero, noting that overcoming setbacks has been part of his profile from the beginning.

The story of Matt Kemp ‘s evolution from the Los Angeles Dodgers doghouse in 2010 to his place in baseball’s penthouse today has been so well-chronicled, you might be excused for thinking that this was his only bend in the otherwise steady road to the top.

But looking back from what is now Kemp’s 10th professional season and seventh in the majors to the beginning, we can see that his struggle in 2010 was the latest zigzag in a career full of them. …

Read the entire piece here. Also, check out ESPN.com’s Stats & Info blog for some remarkable stats on Kemp’s incredible work on outside pitches this year.

Apr 20

Don’t panic over Dee Gordon

Dee Gordon’s hitting and fielding over the season’s first two weeks is no worse than anyone should have anticipated.

If there were no hope for him, it might be time to replace him. If there were someone obviously better, it might be time to replace him. If he were the sole problem in a lineup that would thrive in his absence, it might be time to replace him.

None of those things are the case. The plan, all along, has been for the Dodgers to enjoy what they can get from Gordon and let him develop. Two weeks into the season, there is no reason to change that plan.

Angel Berroa started 65 games for the 2008 Dodgers. I think we can live with Dee Gordon for now.

Apr 19

Happy Hairston, Jazzy Jamey save Dodgers

Matt Kemp hit his seventh home run, but he’s not stealing the spotlight today. That goes to Jamey Wright and Jerry Hairston Jr.

Wright entered a one-run game in the seventh inning and struck out the first five batters he faced, before essentially turning the game over to Hairston.

The utility infielder, who has made an early case to be this year’s Jamey Carroll, made sensational plays in both the eighth and ninth innings to help the Dodgers hang on to a 4-3 victory at Milwaukee today.

In the eighth, with the tying run at third base, Hairston made a diving stop and from his knees threw out Alex Gonzalez. If a Dodger third baseman makes a better play this year, I’ll be surprised.

The next Brewers batter, Travis Ishikawa, led off the ninth with a bunt that Hairston barehanded to throw Ishikawa out.

Javy Guerra put the demons of Tuesday behind him, striking out the next two batters — giving Dodger relievers seven strikeouts in three innings — for the victory.

Kemp had a single to go with his home run, while Andre Ethier singled and doubled. Both players now sit at 18 RBI.

Juan Rivera had the Dodgers’ other RBI hit, while Matt Treanor had a sacrifice fly to go with a triple.

In his first game since striking out 13, including nine in a row, Aaron Harang went six innings and allowed three runs on nine baserunners with four strikeouts.

Wright has now faced 16 batters this season. They are 0 for 12 with four walks and six strikeouts.

Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun had the game-winning sacrifice fly Wednesday but otherwise went 0 for 11 against Los Angeles in the series.

Apr 19

Uribe could be sidelined for some time

The Dodgers’ first significant lineup change of the season may be underway, with Juan Uribe headed to see a specialist about his injured left wrist.

Uribe, with a .257 on-base percentage and .265 slugging this season in 36 plate appearances (one walk, one double) has missed two games already on this road trip. The trip to the specialist is “an indication that the club is concerned the injury — incurred during a slide — could be something serious,” writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.

I’m not so sure a great many Dodger fans will be crushed by this news. Uribe’s value to the Dodgers has mainly been reduced to his defense at third base.

In the short term, Jerry Hairston Jr., Adam Kennedy and Justin Sellers can all play third base for the Dodgers. If Uribe goes on the disabled list, Josh Fields (.949 OPS at Triple-A Albuquerque) might head to the big club, as could infielder Luis Cruz (.995 OPS).

If the Dodgers wanted to get crazy, they could bring up Double-A third baseman Pedro Baez (.838 OPS at Chattanooga), a once-highly regarded prospect who has been beset by injuries.

Update: Gurnick now writes that Uribe “was examined by the Brewers’ team doctor on Thursday and will not see a specialist in Houston, as was considered.”

Apr 19

Leg the sweep

Dodgers at Brewers, 10:10 a.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Juan Rivera, LF
Andre Ethier, RF
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
James Loney, 1B
Matt Treanor, C
Aaron Harang, P

So the quest today for the Dodgers is not only to take the last of the three games with Milwaukee, but win the series on run differential!

  • Juan Uribe is day to day with a sore wrist, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, which in my view gives the Jerry Hairston Jr. a chance to make a case for even more playing time at third. Hairston has an .812 OPS in 20 plate appearances this season and made a diving catch Wednesday.
  • Bartolo Colon – now with Oakland, in case you haven’t been keeping up – had a stretch Wednesday in which he threw 38 consecutive pitches for strikes between the fifth and eighth innings against the Angels. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle has details. It’s the longest such streak dating back to at least 1988.
  • Cliff Lee pitched 10 innings for Philadelphia against San Francisco, needing only 102 pitches to do so, before going out for a pinch-hitter in the 11th. Naturally, the pinch-hitter (Jim Thome) struck out, and the Giants won in the bottom of the 11th.
  • Matt Cain of the Giants, coming off a one-hitter in his last start, allowed only two hits in his nine innings, throwing 91 pitches. That’s right – the two combined for 19 innings on 193 pitches. The 11-inning game itself only took 2:27 to play.
  • In the second half of this Baseball Prospectus column, Bradley Ankrom writes about former Dodger James McDonald’s rare feat – being a pitcher who had the only hit of the game against his opponent.
  • Josh Lindblom leads major-league relievers with 8 2/3 scoreless innings, according to the Dodger press notes. Lindblom has allowed two of four inherited runners to score (those crossed the plate in Clayton Kershaw’s last start).
  • Frank Jackson of the Hardball Times writes about the final days of Dodger baseball at the Coliseum.