May 13

Kemp, Ethier watch Dodgers finish win from clubhouse

A nightmare scenario produced a dreamy finish – today, anyway.

Despite losing Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier midway through today’s game, the Dodgers rallied from deficits of 3-0 and 4-2, scoring six in the bottom of the fifth on their way to a 11-5 Mother’s Day victory that improved their MLB-best record to 23-11.

Before I get into the other details, I want to say this about A.J. Ellis, who singled, walked and hit a three-run home run today (capping the fifth-inning onslaught) and now is OPSing .974 this season. I have absolutely believed for a long time that he was capable of delivering high on-base percentage and occasional power. Plate discipline is huge in this game, and Ellis has it by the bushel. What he’s doing in 2012 matches my highest expectations, but it doesn’t exceed them, certainly not for a stretch of this length. I am thrilled, I am elated, but I am not shocked. Not in any way.

As for the rest of the action …

1) No, we’re not getting out of today’s game unscathed. Kemp left today’s game after running out a ground ball in the bottom of the third, engineering new concern over his left hamstring. What this means long-term isn’t clear, though in the short-term, at least, the Dodgers didn’t suffer. Bobby Abreu hit a three-run double in his first at-bat to give the Dodgers their first lead of the day.

2) Ethier left today’s game in the fifth inning on the behest of home-plate umpire Mark Carlson’s right thumb. Ethier argued a borderline called third strike at length, then began to walk away but cursed unmistakably in the process. Carlson had showed patience during the initial argument, but didn’t extend it any further. I sent my daughter to her room for a few minutes in response to her own shouting at around the same time, so I understand the feeling. (Don Mattingly also was sent on his less-than-merry way a minute later.)

3) Scott Van Slyke replaced Ethier in right field and looked great. In his first plate appearance, he drew a walk and stole a base, then scored the Dodgers’ ninth run on a perfectly executed squeeze by Adam Kennedy on a high and outside pitch. In the eighth inning, Van Slyke doubled in two more runs, continuing his perfect start to his career.

4) Tony Gwynn Jr., moments after moving to center field after Kemp left, made a spectacular horizontal catch.

5) James Loney doubled and walked twice.

 

May 13

Happy Mother’s Day

Rockies at Dodgers, 1:10 p.m.
Tony Gwynn Jr., LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
James Loney, 1B
A.J. Ellis, C
Adam Kennedy, 3B
Justin Sellers, SS
Ted Lilly, P

To all of the mothers and grandmothers out there, and to all who are remembering theirs, I hope this is a special day. Especially to the one that lives in my house – who is also celebrating her birthday!

May 12

Dodgers sign Aaron Miles to minor-league deal

Rockies at Dodgers, 6:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Bobby Abreu, LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
James Loney, 1B
A.J. Ellis, C
Aaron Harang, P

I’ve made a few references to Aaron Miles this year, wondering why, with all the issues the Dodgers have had at third base, the Dodgers didn’t take him for another spin. Not that Miles was a problem-solver – but compared with Adam Kennedy or Justin Sellers, it just seemed odd that he wasn’t invited to the party. He came to the plate a whopping 490 times for the Dodgers last year.

Well, here it is. Dylan Hernandez of the Times reports that Miles has signed a minor-league deal with the Dodgers and has begun working out at the team’s Arizona facility. Miles “misplayed the free-agent market,” Hernandez wrote, implying that his contract demands were too high after a .314 on-base percentage and .360 slugging percentage in 2011. Miles hit .231 after July 1.

In Friday’s game, the Dodgers never trailed and won, 7-3. Chris Capuano turned in another striking performance, extending his scoreless inning streak to what would have been the 25-inning mark before allowing a seventh-inning home run to Michael Cuddyer.

Mark Ellis was the Dodgers’ early hitting star with a home run and two-run double, and Andre Ethier came a triple shy of the cycle. Juan Uribe joined Ellis in hitting 2012 home run No. 1, while James Loney reached base three times and Matt Treanor had two singles.

Ellis has a .472 on-base percentage and .533 slugging percentage in 37 plate appearances this month. For the year, he is 10th in the National League in OBP (not counting A.J. Ellis, whose day off Friday left him two plate appearances short of the minimum), and he has yet to make an error.

Pitching with a 7-1 lead in the ninth, seldom-used Todd Coffey faced five batters and allowed three hits and a hard-hit sacrifice fly that Ethier caught with perhaps the best defensive play of his career, sliding into the wall in the corner of right field. Coffey has now allowed 13 baserunners in 3 1/3 innings this season.

There was some fear that Ethier might be hurt, but he professed to be fine.

“I just banged up my toe a little bit,” he told Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.. “I was trying to avoid hitting my knee. I tried to kick the wall to avoid sliding into it.”

MIke MacDougal, by the way, is not coming back to the Dodgers. MacDougal “has cleared waivers and rejected an outright assignment to the minors,” according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. “The Dodgers thusly have requested unconditional release waivers on him, meaning MacDougal’s time with the club is over.”

Matt Kemp, who was recovering from hamstring issues earlier this week, has gone hitless in consecutive starts for the first time this season. (Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports has more on Kemp.) In May, Kemp is 7 for 28 with a double, triple and seven walks (.746 OPS) – and is no longer the hottest player in baseball. That would be Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton, who in his past five games is 11 for 21 with four walks, a double and eight home runs. Shawn Green of the Dodgers was the last to hit more homers in such a short span.

May 11

Hairston to the disabled list

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

Jerry Hairston Jr., the Dodgers’ third-most valuable position player this season according to Baseball Prospectus, has gone on the disabled list (retroactive to May 7).

Justin Sellers has been recalled for his second stint with the 2012 club.

May 11

Fast starts, uncertain finishes

For ESPNLosAngeles.com, I looked at what the Dodgers’ 20-11 start to the season has meant historically

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ 20-11 record to begin the 2012 season, tied for the best in the National League, has been shot down by the gatekeepers of the Fraternity of Legitimate Hot Starts as being asterisk-worthy — to the point that the footnote almost seems bigger than its antecedent.

Los Angeles 20-11*

* Haven’t played anybody

Nevertheless, that’s 20 wins in the bank with 131 games to go, so the Dodgers’ start - rather than dominant, let’s call it, say, affable - might make you wonder what it means for the team’s postseason chances. …

Read the full story here.

May 10

Home run

So, a couple times this week, Youngest Master Weisman, age 4, has asked me to play baseball in the backyard with him after dinner. Nearly 10 years of parenting, and it’s finally happening. 

Aside from the pleasure you can imagine I take from this, I realized just how much I still like to go play ball in the yard. Four decades has made no appreciable difference.

May 09

Van Slyke debuts with RBI single in Dodger victory

Tonight at Dodger Stadium, Chad Billingsley needed 85 pitches to get through four innings, allowing 11 baserunners – but only two runs, and that was the preeminent silver lining.

A huge play came in the third inning, with the Dodgers down 2-0, when Matt Kemp threw out Nate Schierholtz rounding second base, seconds before Brandon Belt would have crossed home plate with the Giants’ third run. That was as close as San Francisco came to scoring again in what became a 6-2 loss to the Dodgers.

With Tim Linceum pitching, you might expect San Francisco wouldn’t need more than two runs, but 2012 has not been Lincecum’s year.  Tony Gwynn Jr. capped a four-run fourth inning with a bases-loaded triple off an 0-2 Lincecum changeup – according to Bob Timmermann, Gwynn became the first to hit a bases-loaded pinch-triple in the fourth inning since Jeff Burroughs in June 1978. Dodger manager Don Mattingly had rightly pinch-hit for Billingsley, who didn’t offer much reason to remain in the game in that situation.

Two innings later, A.J. Ellis tripled with one out, and Scott Van Slyke – in his first major-league at-bat – singled up the middle to get him home. According to the Dodgers’ public relations staff, Van Slyke became the first Dodger with a pinch-hit RBI hit in his first at-bat since Carl Warwick in April 1961.

Billingsley, by the way, singled in his only at-bat, meaning that the bottom spot in the order went 3 for 3 – with Chris Capuano hitting a pinch-sacrifice in the bottom of the eighth. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Capuano was the first Dodger pitcher to pinch-sacrifice since Orel Hershiser in September 1988.

Jamey Wright, Ronald Belisario, Josh Lindblom and Kenley Jansen combined for five innings of shutout relief.

Ellis, Andre Ethier, Bobby Abreu and Juan Uribe each had two hits for the Dodgers. Abreu is OPSing .971 as a Dodger so far, while Ellis now leads National League catchers in OPS at .927.

Matt Kemp, on the other hand, went 0 for 5 for the first time since September 2009.

May 09

Clarification

Magic Johnson was asked about the lease payment at the ownership press conference, this clip from Dodger Thoughts commenter Robert212 illustrates. Given this exchange – which I completely missed and don’t see quoted anywhere else – it’s fair to say that Johnson, irresponsibly, was not truthful about the arrangement with McCourt. And it certainly wasn’t worth obfuscating.

It’s disappointing, both as a follower of the Dodgers and as the writer of this piece today. I feel that this was a critical piece of information that I should have had. It wasn’t that I was ignoring it – I just didn’t have it. But I should have.

I stand by my belief that lease money isn’t the same as parking revenue, but more importantly, I stand by my conclusion in this afternoon’s piece, which is that I hope and believe the Dodgers can flower despite the team’s connection with the McCourts. As I said in my piece, there’s reason to be skeptical – and that was true whatever Johnson’s words. The truth about what Johnson said rightfully might impact the trust that the fan base has with what is spoken by ownership, but hopefully it serves as a teaching moment that compels them to better, rather than the symptom of a pattern.

I don’t believe that the new ownership is poisoned. It’s simply too soon to know. Heck, even as I repeatedly criticized McCourt eight years ago, I still held out hope that he might prove an asset. I intend to do the same with the Guggenheim group.

May 09

Rivera injures knee tendon, Van Slyke called to the show

Giants at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Adam Kennedy, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Bobby Abreu, LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
James Loney, 1B
A.J. Ellis, C
Chad Billingsley, P

Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. got the scoop: 2011 Dodger Minor League Player of the Year Scott Van Slyke is coming to the big leagues. The reason: an injured left knee tendon suffered Tuesday by outfielder Juan Rivera, who is headed to the disabled list.

Van Slyke, whose case for a callup was discussed here a couple of weeks ago, has a .411 on-base percentage and .623 slugging percentage for Albuquerque, playing the first base and corner outfield positions.

Rivera has a .276 OBP and .358 slugging this season. J.P. Hoornstra of the Daily News tweeted that Rivera is expected to be out for some time.

In other injury news, not so fast, Jerry Hairston Jr. – you’re getting an MRI on your left hamstring.

Expect the right-handed hitting Van Slyke to start as soon as Friday against the Rockies and 49-year-old Jamie Moyer. For you trivia buffs, Moyer faced Van Slyke’s father Andy 21 times, giving up two singles, a double, a home run and two walks for a .707 OPS.

May 09

Overwrought reaction to Guggenheim ‘lie’ misses point

In January, more than four months before the sale of the Dodgers was completed, Bill Shaikin clarified in the Times that Frank McCourt might not include the Dodger Stadium parking lots in the transaction.

That meant the new owners, while retaining the actual revenue from parking at the stadium, would owe McCourt a $14 million annual lease payment for use of the land. At the time, it was not clear whether McCourt was just using this as a bargaining chip, or whether he intended to hang onto the lots. But we lived in fear that some group bidding on the team would be unable to resist caving in to McCourt and letting him retain an interest in the property.

As it turned out,that’s what happened. McCourt did retain an interest in the lots when he sold the team to the Guggenheim group at the end of March. We learned this within hours of the announcement of the sale.

New owners collect daily parking revenue. McCourt retains interest in land. These facts were  established weeks ago.

Then, at last week’s press conference introducing the Guggenheim ownership group, Magic Johnson told the assembled that as far as McCourt was concerned, his “only future profits is from new development, if we do any. … Frank’s not here, he’s not part of the Dodgers anymore.”

McCourt, Johnson said, “would not get a dime from the parking.”

It seemed clear to me what Johnson meant. McCourt would not be involved in the day-to-day operations for the Dodgers. He would not be making any decisions that didn’t involve development of the property surrounding the stadium. His income would not depend on how many tickets were sold and how many cars parked at Dodger Stadium.

None of this was contrary to anything we already understood.

But over the weekend, Gene Maddaus of L.A. Weekly reported that Johnson “flat-out lied to Dodger fans,” the first step in a you-know-what storm that not only (unsurprisingly) swept up T.J. Simers of the Times but even new team president Stan Kasten, who expressed regret to the Times that the new owners had given the wrong impression.

But had they?

Again, let’s review.

1) We know McCourt still has an interest in the Dodger Stadium property. That wasn’t denied.

2) McCourt isn’t getting parking revenue from the Dodgers. That remains true.

3) McCourt is getting a land lease payment from the new owners. That, despite Shaikin’s new report on May 4, was something we essentially had all known would be the case for more than a month. There was never any report that McCourt, in retaining co-ownership of the land, wouldn’t retain a financial interest in the Dodgers’ use of it.

The idea that we should be angry about this, that we should feel lied to, doesn’t make sense to me.

There are two separate things going on. One is that McCourt still has a connection to the world of the Los Angeles Dodgers. That is exceedingly unfortunate — and his profit from the team after the way he debased it is offensive — but it’s a fact of life and one we’ve had time to get used to.  I wish it weren’t so, but it is.

But let’s be clear on the other thing. McCourt’s post-sale connection to the franchise is not a secret and has not been a secret. The new owners haven’t hid it, and while they understandably don’t want to talk about it, they did not hide it at the press conference last week.

The new owners didn’t lie. McCourt isn’t getting a dime from parking.  He is getting lease income. Now, you can say that’s semantics, as Maddaus and Simers clearly believe, and that the two things are the same. But if you do so, you’re the one that’s being misleading, by implying that a fan going to the game can affect McCourt’s income by choosing whether or not to park at Dodger Stadium or not.  It’s not true. Parking at Dodger Stadium does not affect how much money McCourt will get, any more than sales of tickets, hot dogs or baseball caps affect how much money McCourt will get.

So who is more guilty of giving the wrong impression about McCourt’s connection to the parking? The Guggenheim group, or the members of the press who misreport the connection?

Clearly, the Guggenheimerians could have handled this issue a little better, by outlining the land-lease payment the same way I just did. I actually thought the press conference last week was mostly a successful one, though their discomfort about talking about McCourt was palpable, a price of their ongoing relationship with him.

But the implication about this controversy is that it’s a metaphor, that it speaks to a level of deception with the new owners. Is it?

I don’t think it speaks to deception, as much fallibility.

The new owners have promised to make the Dodgers and Dodger Stadium the best they can be. They haven’t ruled out developing the surrounding property. They haven’t ruled out (to my chagrin) selling the naming rights. While they’ve said they are not broke and will invest in on-field improvements to the team, they haven’t indicated that there’s a blank checkbook. This isn’t the Chocolate Factory, and they aren’t Willy Wonka.

There isn’t much reason to believe that the Guggenheim group is up to some scheme that we’re not aware of. If you want to fear something, fear that they just won’t achieve what they set out to achieve.

If you were under the impression that the new owners would somehow make everything perfect at Dodger Stadium, you’ve got your own naivete to blame. I fully expect an improvement over the previous regime, thanks largely to Kasten, who said more meaningful things last week than I heard from McCourt in eight years and who, most importantly, has a relevant track record of success. But there’s no more going to be Nirvana here than there was under Peter O’Malley. Remember — even Matt Kemp gets out half the time. There’s no perfection in baseball.

My hope is that the new owners have the best intentions, and that their actions are positive ones. I want the Dodgers to win. I want Dodger Stadium to be the jewel it can be. But of course, there’s reason to remain skeptical about the Guggenheim group, just as there’s reason to remain skeptical about any set of businesspersons making grand pronouncements.

McCourt’s actions never backed up his words. Is that going to be the case with Guggenheim? We don’t know yet, and nothing that happened at last week’s press conference told us one way or the other. We know that the future of the Dodgers under Guggenheim will include McCourt on the periphery. That has not been in question, and no shocking revelations have emerged.

What remains in doubt — but what I remain hopeful for — is that the future of the Dodgers can flower despite this connection. That’s what matters.

Update: Magic Johnson was asked about the lease payment at the ownership press conference, this clip from Dodger Thoughts commenter Robert212 illustrates. Given this exchange – which I completely missed and don’t see quoted anywhere else – it’s fair to say that Johnson, irresponsibly, was not truthful about the arrangement with McCourt. And it certainly wasn’t worth obfuscating.

It’s disappointing, both as a follower of the Dodgers and as the writer of this piece today. I feel that this was a critical piece of information that I should have had. It wasn’t that I was ignoring it – I just didn’t have it.

I stand by my belief that lease money isn’t the same as parking revenue, but more importantly, I stand by my conclusion in this afternoon’s piece, which is that I hope and believe the Dodgers can flower despite the team’s connection with the McCourts. As I said in my piece, there’s reason to be skeptical – and that was true whatever Johnson’s words. The truth about what Johnson said rightfully might impact the trust that the fan base has with what is spoken by ownership, but hopefully it serves as a teaching moment that compels them to better, rather than the symptom of a pattern.

I don’t believe that the new ownership is poisoned. It’s simply too soon to know. Heck, even as I repeatedly criticized McCourt eight years ago, I still held out hope that he might prove an asset. I intend to do the same with the Guggenheim group.

May 08

‘And that’s why you don’t bunt with Matt Kemp on deck’

Tonight’s J. Walter Weatherman game, ending in a 2-1 Dodger loss to the Giants – who turned four double plays, is ably recapped by Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.

In an otherwise strong tenure as Dodger manager, the overuse of bunting is by far Don Mattingly’s biggest weakness.

Clayton Kershaw started shakily, ended up pitching eight strong innings, but saw his 10-game winning streak and 12-game home winning streak end. Javy Guerra pitched a 1-2-3 ninth – in a situation that, yes, you normally use your best remaining reliever. If you enter the ninth inning tied or trailing at home, there’s no more save opportunity.

May 08

Casey Blake retires

Giants at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Kershaw CXXIII: Kershmeatballs
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
Clayton Kershaw, P

Former Dodger third baseman Casey Blake told the Des Moines Register he is retiring from baseball.

Blake told the Des Moines Register that he has been leaning toward retiring, but stopped short of a decision until now.

“My wife (Abbie) has been telling people I’m retired, but I’ve kind of been giving her a look,” said Blake, 38, who has played parts of 13 seasons in the majors with five teams before attempting to make the roster this season with Colorado.

“But I think I knew in my heart that I am (retiring), but I just haven’t announced it.” …

… “My career has to end at some point. … If I was going to play, it would probably only be one more year anyway.

“I just decided to shut it down. And I’m OK with the decision.”

Blake had a .768 OPS in 406 games with the Dodgers, hitting 10 home runs in 58 games down the stretch in 2008 and OPSing .832 in 2009, both playoff years for the Dodgers. Despite not becoming a full-timer in the majors until age 29, Blake ended his career with 167 home runs.

He was a quite likeable player in my view, and I wish him all the best.

It’s worth reminding people at this point that as far as his acquisition goes, the Dodgers did not use Carlos Santana as a throw-in to avoid paying extra cash to the Indians. It has been established that the Indians would not have done the trade with the Dodgers without getting Santana. Jonathan Meloan was the throw-in to save the Dodgers money.

May 08

Hell yes, ‘M-V-P!’

© Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2012

Of all the inane criticisms of Dodger fans I’ve heard, this might be the most inane in the membrane.

Apparently, Dodger fans have committed a Code 2 violation of the Fan Behavior Contract by chanting “M-V-P!” for Matt Kemp.

In multiple spots of the Internet (not including Hank Schulman of the Chronicle, whose different criticisms I’d need to address elsewhere), I’ve seen people deride the “M-V-P!” cheer for a player who justifiably deserved the award last season and has only improved his performance this season – in other words, the player who is currently the most valuable one in the league.

See, it’s only May, and the National League MVP award isn’t given out until … wait, let me ask someone who follows the sport of baseball … oh, they say it’s after the season ends! Whoa – who knew?

I guess just too dum 2 realize calender.

Good lord. Yes, there is a group of stupid people in this discussion – and it’s the group that thinks it’s wrong to express enthusiasm for a player of Matt Kemp’s caliber outside of … I don’t know, the official nomination period for MVP balloting that doesn’t actually exist. Dodger fans believe he’s the best player in baseball, an opinion that happens to be shared by many nationwide.  But since “He’s the best player in baseball! He’s the best player in baseball!” doesn’t make for a great chant, they’ve shortened it to “M-V-P!” It’s not rocket science. It’s also completely valid.

And it’s – heaven forbid – fun.  Remember that?  Fun?  Some people enjoy it. You know, I might even just chant “M-V-P!” for A.J. Ellis. In March. If I see him at a basketball game. For fun. You’re really going to have a problem with that?

Get. Over. Yourselves.

May 07

Dodgers laugh last, 9-1

A Dodgers-Giants game that was tied 1-1 in the bottom of the sixth ended up a 9-1 Dodger laugher.

Fun treats in the boxscore all around. The most exciting player in baseball, Dodger catcher A.J. Ellis, doubled, singled, scored and RBIed. Andre Ethier had two hits and two RBI, Bobby Abreu went 2 for 3 and Juan Rivera produced a 5 0 0 2 line. Ted Lilly struck out six in six innings of one-run ball – and his ERA for 2012 rose to 1.41.

My personal highlight came after Matt Kemp (3 for 3 with a walk), who was favoring his sore hamstring tonight, scored from third on a throwing error in the seventh inning, when I suggested on Twitter that the Dodgers put James Loney at first base, Tony Gwynn Jr. in center and Juan Rivera in left so that Kemp could take a seat.

In the top of the eighth, Gwynn ran down a ball in left-center that might have driven in one run, and then Loney made a tremendous diving stop to save what would have been two runs. The Dodgers then blew the game open with five runs in the bottom of the eighth, thanks to the coup de non grace from a San Francisco defense that was shaky all night.

May 07

Upbeat news on Hairston (or wishful thinking)

Giants at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Bobby Abreu, LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Ted Lilly, P

Jerry Hairston, Jr. might be back in action within a couple of days, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. Of course, the Dodgers have a long history of underestimating the severity of injuries, but we’ll try to be optimistic.

In fact, already making it back into today’s lineup are Matt Kemp (hooray!) and Juan Uribe (hooray?).

In other news, Kenley Jansen has replaced Javy Guerra as the Dodgers’ closer. Presumably, Josh Lindblom is now the primary set-up man, though it wasn’t immediately spelled out whether Guerra would move into a set-up role or into middle relief while he works out his problems.