Jun 12

Andre Ethier set to sign five-year contract extension

At ESPN.com’s Sweet Spot, I react to Andre Ethier’s imminent new contract:

The news came late Monday that Andre Ethier and the Los Angeles Dodgers have agreed to terms on a contract extension that would keep him in Dodger white and blue through at least 2017, at the cost of $85 million over five years – an average of $17 million per year – with a $17.5 million option (against a $2.5 million buyout) for 2018.

Does it seem like a lot of money to you for Ethier, a 30-year-old who ranks 24th in the majors in park-adjusted OPS since 2006, but who has some lingering concerns about his health and ability to hit lefties?

Well, it is, and it isn’t.

Read the entire piece here.

Jun 11

Champions!


Glorious congratulations to the Los Angeles Kings and their fans – Stanley Cup champions. A wonder team, indeed. 

Now, how about just not tearing downtown apart … okay?

Jun 11

Farewell, Yutaka Shimizu

When I began my full-time sportswriting career with the Daily News in 1989, covering high school sports, a major figure was the boys basketball coach at Kennedy High in Granada Hills, Yutaka Shimizu.  In fact, I interviewed Shimuzu for my first piece as a full-timer, on a Kennedy hoops star named Garret Anderson.

Eric Sondheimer (of course) of the Times is the one to pass along the sad news that Shimizu has passed away.

Yutaka Shimizu, a second-generation Japanese American who coached high school basketball in Los Angeles for more than 50 years and spent three years in an internment camp during World War II, died Sunday at a Lakewood hospital. He was 84 and had a lung ailment.

Shimizu was the head coach at Hamilton High from 1959 to 1981, coaching future UCLA All-America Sidney Wicks and leading the team to a City Section runner-up finish in 1965. He was the head coach at Granada Hills Kennedy High from 1982 to 1999.

He later became a trusted assistant coach and advisor to Derrick Taylor at Woodland Hills Taft and Bellflower St. John Bosco, staying in the background while offering words of wisdom.

“He’s the most underrated, great high school coach in our era,” Taylor said. “No one understood how good a coach and how brilliant a basketball mind he is.”

Shimizu was well known in Los Angeles. In 2007, when Taylor was coaching in the McDonald’s All-American game and walked into a room for breakfast with Shimizu, a familiar voice spoke up: “Coach Shimizu.”

It was John Wooden, the former UCLA coach. “That’s when you know you’re the man, when the ultimate coach calls you over,” Taylor said. …

The story that always sticks with me is that when I first came to know him, I knew him only as Coach Shimizu. When I asked for his first name, for publication purposes, he would only say, “Y.”  (Or maybe it was “Why?”) Either way, “Y.” is how it ran.

Farewell, sir.

Jun 09

Where Jerry Park meets Clayton Place: Dodgers roll, 8-3

And to think the Dodgers and their fans thought they had a supersub over the past two years in Jamey Carroll.

Jerry Hairston Jr. continued his world-beating tour of 2012 on Saturday, delivering a home run and two doubles in the Dodgers’ 8-3 victory over Seattle. Thirteen days after knocking a career-high five hits, the 36-year-old Hairston drove in a career-high five runs, including a three-run home run smashed down the line in left in the first inning that put the Dodgers ahead for good.

In 101 plate appearances this season, Hairston has a .435 on-base percentage and .525 slugging percentage, which puts him on pace to become one of the best Dodger reserves in many a moon. Since the franchise’s last World Series title in 1988, according to Baseball-Reference.com, the only true Dodger reserve to have a higher adjusted OPS in a single season than what Hairston has so far in 2012 is Dave Hansen.

Hairston managed to overshadow Clayton Kershaw, who got the win after striking out 12 in seven innings today. There have been “What’s wrong with Kershaw” mutterings this season, which might have revived after he gave up a three-run home run today to Miguel Olivo in the fourth inning. Given his new battle with plantar fasciitis, I might have been ready to join in had something gone wrong today, and I can’t say I’ve stopped worrying that something will.

But let’s now compare Kershaw’s current stats with last year’s through June 9, 2011.

Year	G	IP	ERA	OPS	K/9	WHIP
2011	14	91.67	3.44	.605	10.0	1.15
2012	13	88.33	2.65	.610	8.3	1.00

Kershaw’s 2011 numbers were inflated by consecutive outings to start June in which he allowed six runs apiece.  The flawless Kershaw that won the Cy Young Award didn’t really kick into gear until after this point of the season. So yeah, his 2012 strikeouts show a decline, but overall, Kershaw is actually off to a better start.

That, combined with Ronald Belisario, who pitched another shutout inning, practically filling the role of 2010 Hong-Chih Kuo (his ERA now sits at 1.10), Todd Coffey lowering his ERA to 3.18 since coming off the disabled list with a shutout ninth, and a 14-hit attack on offense, meant the Dodgers could put the memories of Friday’s no-hit loss far behind them.

Jun 08

Oh oh oh: Mariners say yes to no-hitting Dodgers

Like a Farmer John hot dog and Nancy Bea Hefley at the organ, trying to win a game without a hit is a time-honored Dodger tradition.

But tonight in Seattle, the Dodgers got boiled, rocked and rolled. There would be no repeat of the Dodgers’ June 29, 2008 hitless victory over the Angels. A record-tying six Mariners combined to no-hit Los Angeles in a 1-0 victory.

It was the first no-hitter the Dodgers lost since Kent Mercker threw one at Dodger Stadium in 1994. The only twist was how Mercker’s successor in Atlanta, Kevin Milwood, was deprived of the victory.

Milwood pitched the first six innings in 68 pitches without giving up a hit or anything really close to one (save perhaps for a fourth-inning bunt by Dee Gordon that needed a bare-handed play by Kyle Seager for the out), allowing just a fifth-inning walk to Juan Rivera. But after throwing one warmup pitch before the seventh inning, Milwood didn’t throw another. He left the game with what was said to be a mild groin injury.

Lefty reliever Charlie Furbush got the next batter, then threw a ball hit by Elian Herrera away for a two-base error. But Furbush manhandled Andre Ethier with a third strike, and then newly called up Stephen Pryor struck out Rivera.

Nathan Eovaldi, who matched Milwood at least in innings and runs allowed, left the game after 103 pitches, allowing seven baserunners and striking out six while lowering his 2012 ERA to 1.93. Facing five lefty batters in a row, Scott Elbert looked great in striking out the first two and allowing a scratch infield single by Ichriro Suzuki. However, Elbert walked Dustin Ackley, then surrendered a 1-2 single to Seager (older brother of the Dodgers’ top draft choice this week, Corey), to dive in the game’s big-deal run.

The drama increased in the eighth when Prior walked Bobby Abreu and Jerry Hairston Jr. on nine pitches. The Mariners’ fourth pitcher, lefty Lucas Luetge, came in to face James Loney, who looked uncomfortable squaring to bunt but sacrificed one of the Dodgers’ remaining six outs to move the runners to second and third. That brief appearance was it for Luetge, who gave way to Seattle pitcher No. 5, Brandon League.

A.J. Ellis came up with an opportunity to tie the game even without a hit. He sent a sinking fly to left that Chone Figgins caught in shallow enough territory that pinch-runner Alex Castellanos held at third. League then struck out Tony Gwynn Jr., and the Mariners were one inning away.

After Josh Lindblom pitched a shutout eighth to keep Los Angeles witn a run, Tom Wilhelmsen came in to pitch the ninth inning as the Mariners aimed to match the Houston Astros (June 11, 2003) by using six pitchers for a no-no.

Dee Gordon led off the ninth with a slow grounder to shortstop Brendan Ryan, but unlike Ichiro, he was called out by half a step. Herrera, the hero of Philadelphia, followed by hitting a liner, but right at Ryan for the Dodgers’ 26th out.

Up came Ethier. He fouled off the first pitch, then hit a grounder to second baseman Ackley — and it was celebration time in Seattle. It was something to see. Close, and yes, cigar.

 

Jun 07

Dodgers order a 4 x 4, eat up Phillies

Animal style, protein style, error style — any way you cook it, the Dodgers came in ‘n out of Philly with four consecutive victories, capped by today’s 8-3 munching.

That’s what a sweep is all about.

Today’s game picked up on this morning’s defensive theme early, with Alex Castellanos and Elian Herrera each making errors in a third inning that put the Dodgers behind the Phillies, 3-0.

Undaunted, the Phillies came back with four errors of their own, two of them on consecutive plays to start the sixth inning by Ty Wigginton, with the Dodgers then capitalizing off Phillies starter Cole Hamels to take 4-3 lead.

Los Angeles was set up to take its fourth consecutive one-run victory in Philadelphia when the Phillies made two more errors in the ninth inning, helping the Dodgers score four runs to all but put the game out of reach. Herrera, Juan Rivera, Jerry Hairston Jr., James Loney and Matt Treanor each reached base twice on the day.

Aaron Harang went the first six innings for the Dodgers and allowed eight hits and a walk on 92 pitches. With the front end of the Dodger bullpen resting after being used heavily in the series’ first three games, Los Angeles got a boost from two innings of shutout relief from Jamey Wright. Shawn Tolleson then made his major-league debut and walked the first two batters he faced, causing him to get yanked for Ronald Belisario. The prodigal Dodger got the final three outs on seven pitches, capped by a game-ending double play by Hunter Pence.

Belisario lowered his 2012 ERA to 1.17. He has allowed two runs and 16 baserunners in 15 1/3 innings with 11 strikeouts.

Update: A ninth-inning error was later changed to a double for Andre Ethier.

Jun 07

Radical notion: Play James Loney every day

Dodgers at Phillies, 10:05 a.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Elian Herrera, 3B
Juan Rivera, LF
Jerry Hairston Jr., 2B
James Loney, 1B
Alex Castellanos, RF
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Matt Treanor, C
Aaron Harang, P

I wouldn’t say I’ve spent much time defending James Loney’s performance in the past couple of years, and I don’t know if I’ve ever suggested that defense at first base is important. But in the absence of many heroes with the bat (appearances in Philadelphia notwithstanding), putting their best foot forward defensively seems to be a huge contributor to the Dodgers’ success, and even with his shaky hitting, I’m not comfortable when Loney isn’t in the lineup.

The Dodgers have a few players whose contributions with the glove have been valuable, such as Loney, Tony Gwynn Jr. and (when healthy) Mark Ellis. Defense has been Juan Uribe’s one redeeming quality as a Dodger, while Jerry Hairston Jr. was sensational in April at third base, though perhaps that was a fluke.

Defense has made a difference for the pitching staff and in the standings, and, especially when Matt Kemp is sidelined, I’m not sure that the Dodgers have the kind of bats that call for messing with that defense. In particular, Juan Rivera is not so valuable at the plate that I’m happy when he’s playing first base, even against left-handed pitchers. Judging by Fangraphs’ ratings, defense propels Loney into the ranks of adequacy among National League first basemen, non-Joey Votto division – and that doesn’t factor in his above-average ability to rein in the sometimes wayward throws from the left side of the infield. In a crucial situation, you can always pinch-hit for Loney.

In a way, it’s unfortunate that Loney and Gwynn are both left-handed hitters, because keeping each in the lineup while batting them eighth against lefty pitchers would seem like a satisfactory solution. But that’s not possible, which poses problems in a lineup that also includes lefty hitters in Dee Gordon, Andre Ethier and often Bobby Abreu.

Still, until Kemp’s return, I would probably keep both Loney and Gwynn in the lineup, batting one sixth and the other eighth. (That ideal lineup would probably have A.J. Ellis leading off, but that’s another matter.)  Elian Herrera and Hairston would be the other infielders to go with Gordon and Loney. If Uribe returns to action next week from the disabled list, I’d then consider platooning Herrera, a capable looking outfielder, and Gwynn in center until Kemp recovers.

Next year, presumably, the Dodgers will go in an entirely different direction at first base. But for now, Loney remains the best one they have.

Jun 05

Billingsley, Herrera rise to occasion as Dodgers stun Phillies again

Philadelphia won’t soon forget Elian Herrera.

For the second straight evening, the Dodgers’ utility star drove in the winning run, delivering a two-out, two-strike, two-run double in the eighth inning to give Los Angeles what it needed for a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia and winless Cliff Lee.

Lee had allowed three baserunners and struck out 12 before the eighth inning — and the Dodgers did him the additional favor of having two baserunners thrown out at third base to begin that frame. (Following a leadoff double, Matt Treanor couldn’t make it to third on a Tony Gwynn Jr. bunt, and then Gwynn himself was thrown out trying to take two bases on a single by pinch-hitter Bobby Abreu.)

But after Dee Gordon singled, Herrera doubled to deep left-center, driving in the tying and go-ahead runs. Josh Lindblom and Kenley Jansen then closed the door on Philadelphia.

Herrera has twin .377 on-base and slugging percentages for the Dodgers now. Lee fell to 0-3 despite a 2.92 ERA on the year.

The Dodgers stayed close thanks to Chad Billingsley, who threw seven innings of one-run ball to set himself up for another blistering critique from the fans the next time he fails to impress. In the first inning, Billingsley allowed a leadoff double, an RBI single and a walk before escaping on a to-the-wall fly to right. After that, however, the righthander permitted only four baserunners over his final six innings, despite striking out only three of 28 batters he faced in the game.

Jun 05

Plantar fasciitis nags Kershaw

This news from Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, I find pretty alarming:

Dodgers Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw has been dealing with plantar fasciitis for the past week, manager Don Mattingly said Tuesday.

Kershaw took a painful step going to first base Monday night, and Mattingly said it’s “a little plantar fasciitis. He took a funny step and just felt it.”

Mattingly said Kershaw has been receiving treatment for the condition for “at least a week.” …

I recall Mark McGwire and Tim Salmon having major problems with this condition years back. No idea if Kershaw’s case in the same ballpark, but of course, the added fear is that it causes him to adjust his mechanics and create more problems for himself.

Jun 05

Lasorda suffers heart attack, in stable condition

Sadly, Tommy Lasorda doesn’t just give heart attacks, he gets them. Best wishes to the former Dodger manager, who is recovering at a New York hospital.

“Doctors inserted a stent to correct a blocked artery in Lasorda’s heart,” the Dodgers said in a press release. “He is resting comfortably and in stable condition.”

“The doctors confirmed I do bleed Dodger Blue,” Lasorda joked. “I’m looking forward to being back at the stadium to cheer on the Dodgers.”

Update: Dylan Hernandez of the Times reports that Javy Guerra had knee surgery this morning and is expected to be sidelined from four to six weeks.

Dodgers at Phillies, 4:05 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Elian Herrera, 3B
Juan Rivera, 1B
Andre Ethier, RF
Alex Castellanos, LF
Jerry Hairston Jr., 2B
Matt Treanor, C
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Chad Billingsley, P