Apr 26

Broxton’s status in turnaround

Making more front-page drive-in news is Jonathan Broxton. An excerpt follows, but be sure to read the full story on Broxton’s status from Tony Jackson at ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Jonathan Broxton was told by Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly on Tuesday that he is still the team’s closer despite widespread media reports that the team had decided to go with a closer-by-committee approach in the wake of Broxton’s blown save on Monday night against the Florida Marlins.

Mattingly saw one of those media reports, on the MLB Network, while working out on Tuesday morning and immediately decided to meet with Broxton to reassure him that the job was still his. That closed-door meeting, which also included pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, took place in the visiting clubhouse at Sun Life Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before the Dodgers played the Marlins. The Marlins scored three runs off Broxton after two were out and nobody was on base in the ninth inning on Monday night to beat the Dodgers 5-4.

“I’m the closer right now, so I just have to go out there and continue to throw,” Broxton said after the meeting. “I just have to turn the page. That is the big thing about closing or doing anything, setting up, relieving. You have to turn the page. … [Mattingly] said he liked what he has been seeing and that I’m throwing the ball good. I just have to get back to that attack mode, especially with two outs.”

Those media reports stemmed from comments Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti made during his weekly radio interview on Tuesday morning with KABC’s Peter Tilden. Although Colletti never used the term “closer-by-committee,” he did mention the names of at least two other pitchers — Hong-Chih Kuo, who is on the disabled list but expected to return as early as Friday, and Vicente Padilla, who came off the disabled list on Friday and has since had one strong outing and one shaky one — as possible closer candidates.

“I can’t help but be concerned,” Colletti said when Tilden asked about Broxton. “I’m one of those people who are pretty much concerned about everything anyway. I am concerned about him. Hopefully, we will get Kuo back Friday, and Padilla has been back for a couple of games. Hopefully, we can give Donnie three choices or so at the end of a game and let him make up his mind by matchup or whatever until Broxton can get his confidence back and get settled.”

Contacted by ESPNLosAngeles.com, Colletti downplayed the implications of what he had told Tilden earlier in the day.

“I just said when we get Kuo back and Padilla back to 100 percent, it’s going to give Donnie some options, depending upon matchups and the previous day’s usage, things like that,” Colletti said. “But that doesn’t mean Broxton isn’t the closer.”

Both Mattingly and Honeycutt said Broxton wasn’t available to close on Tuesday night against the Marlins, but only because he had pitched each of the previous two games. …


Also, Jackson reports that Frank McCourt is meeting in New York on Thursday with MLB execs — but not commissioner Bud Selig.

Finally, Xavier Paul was claimed on waivers by Pittsburgh, where he’ll be a teammate of Brandon Wood, recently claimed from the Angels, and former Dodger James McDonald.

Apr 25

The whole Jonathan Broxton saga in one depressing inning

As I feared when he entered the game as a relief catcher in the seventh inning, Dioner Navarro couldn’t close out the three-inning save.

Here’s what happened in the final inning:

1) With a 4-3 lead, Jonathan Broxton is within one strike of a perfect ninth and a save.
2) Broxton walks Emilio Bonifacio.
3) Broxton gives up a single to pinch-hitter Hanley Ramirez to put the tying run at third.
4) Scott Cousins up. A called strike, then a slow roller. Jamey Carroll charges, sticks down his glove and comes up completely empty. Bonifacio scores the tying run.
5) Cousins takes second base on defensive indifference.
6) Chris Coughlan, who homered twice off Jon Garland, is walked intentionally.
7) Omar Infante, who bailed Vicente Padilla out of the eighth inning by getting thrown out by Matt Kemp at third base, lines a catchable but hard-hit shot past Jerry Sands for a game-winning single. Dodgers lose to Florida, 5-4.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesJonathan Broxton

And that’s really what the Broxton slide has been about – a loss of dominance (since mid-2010), punctuated by recurrences of really bad timing.

When Padilla gave up an RBI single to Gaby Sanchez the inning before to cut the Dodgers’ lead to one run, I commented, “The way that the Dodger bullpen has been this season, how does anyone have any anger left by the time Broxton gets into a game?” Of course, I know the answer.

I think if 1) Cousins had delivered a hit instead of what should have been a game-ending ground out, tonight might have marked the end of Broxton’s run as a Dodger closer if 2) there were any alternative doing better. But there isn’t.

There’s no way around the fact that the Dodger bullpen is underperforming as a unit, and all fans can do is wait for someone to get it together, or look for Ned Colletti to make a desperation move (approved by his new overlord, profiled here by Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com) that somehow makes a difference. Broxton is the last bit of air out of the leaky balloon that is the relief crew.

For the visitors, it was a grind-it-out game virtually the whole way. The Dodgers fell behind 2-1 on the two Coughlan homers, but came back thanks to Rod Barajas reaching first base after striking out on a wild pitch, Ivan De Jesus getting his second hit of the game (and third of his career), Jon Garland laying down a sacrifice bunt, Aaron Miles driving in a run with a groundout and then Carroll, looking like a hero, delivering an RBI single for a 3-2 lead.

The Dodgers’ fourth run came from its most downtrodden hitter, James Loney, pushing a single to center past a drawn-in infield.

It was that close to a night of well-earned celebration for the Dodgers, who saw Sands get three hits and Andre Ethier break baseball’s all-time April hitting streak record with a first-inning single that extended his skein to 22 games. But for the second time in three games, the bullpen couldn’t finish.

Apr 05

Dodger bullpen may look worse before it looks better


Shelly Castellano/Icon SMIHong-Chih Kuo recovered after throwing four straight balls to start his 2011 season.

The Dodger bullpen could be a strength of the team, but it might be a while before you can tell.

Dodger relievers have a 7.15 ERA, and that’s going into a trip to Colorado. They have allowed 22 baserunners (14 hits, eight walks) in 11 1/3 innings. On the bright side, they’ve struck out 11.

Jonathan Broxton has gotten attention for allowing two home runs and a single in his first three innings/outings (no, we’re not talking about belly buttons here), but two other noteworthy relievers, Kenley Jansen and Hong-Chih Kuo, have been erratic. Kuo has walked two of the eight batters he has faced and allowed a double, while Jansen, of course, got pummeled in his only appearance: one inning, four hits, two walks, four runs.

Matt Guerrier has faced seven batters and allowed two walks and a hit, Mike MacDougal has given up a single to go with his strikeout, Lance Cormier allowed two runs in three innings of mop-up relief, and Blake Hawksworth loaded the bases before escaping his one inning of work score-free.

The common thread you’ll notice here is that a little damage can go a long way toward ruining your early season stats, a problem that the hitting environment in Colorado figures to exacerbate. The good news for the relievers is that after the two games in Denver, a sextet of games in San Diego and San Francisco follow.

In the end, the Dodgers still figure to have one of the best bullpens in the National League, according to Jay Jaffe of Baseball Prospectus. Also good news, at least for 24 players on the team: Vicente Padilla could pitch in to help out sooner than later.

For now, Dodger relievers can knock on wood: They haven’t given up any leads yet this season.

* * *

  • Howard Cole of Baseball Savvy has gotten a nice gig blogging about the Dodgers for the Register. In this post, he questions whether the Dodgers are going to activate Jon Garland too soon.
  • Line of the day goes to Geoff Young at Baseball Prospectus, writing about Tony Gwynn Jr.: “In Gwynn, meanwhile, the Dodgers have found that which has eluded them for nearly 30 years: a suitable replacement for Cecil Espy.”
Feb 18

Why Lance Cormier is a darkhorse roster candidate

Kim Klement/US PresswireIn the past three seasons, Lance Cormier has allowed a sub-.700 OPS against left-handed batters, including 26 extra-base hits in 486 plate appearances.

Outside of the left-field conundrum, the Dodgers’ biggest question mark for Spring Training might be how they will address the task of getting left-handed batters out with their almost completely right-handed bullpen. No one wants to see Hong-Chih Kuo relegated to facing only lefties, and the only other left-handed thrower on the 40-man roster is the uncertain Scott Elbert.

Three non-roster invitees to major-league camp are left-handed: 39-year-old Ron Mahay, achy-hamstringed Dana Eveland (whose career 5.74 ERA will apparently be sidelined for weeks after Thursday’s injury) and Wilkin De La Rosa, who has never pitched about Double-A. After that, you start dipping down into the minors for developing players like James Adkins.

With Ronald Belisario’s absence seemingly opening up a roster spot, Mahay would seem to be the default candidate. He had a .520 OPS allowed against lefties last season. But the previous two seasons, his OPS allowed against lefties was above .700 — which isn’t terrible, but isn’t exactly the kind of authoritative performance you’re looking for when you really want someone to come in and get that guy out.

I got to wondering if there were any righties among the Dodger relievers who were reliable against lefties. Here’s a chart of the bullpen candidates’ OPS allowed against lefties over the past three seasons in the majors:

2010 PA/ 2010 OPS   2009 PA/ 2009 OPS   2008 PA/ 2008 OPS
Belisario 86 .793   122 .720      
Broxton 123 .626   148 .414   126 .800
Colon 5 .650   94 .713      
Cormier 162 .718   180 .671   144 .667
Elbert 4 2.000   40 .699   14 1.000
Eveland 59 .802   60 .999   170 .646
Guerrier 102 .649   120 .525   126 .801
Hawksworth 185 .886   76 .724      
Jansen 51 .586            
Kuo 69 .271   40 .524   98 .557
Link 16 .962            
MacDougal 39 1.353   124 .760   24 .858
Mahay 68 .520   111 .743   110 .721
Monasterios 188 .709            
Padilla 166 .590   352 .837   385 .944
Redding       282 .860   402 .808
Schlichting 39 .465   9 .905      
Troncoso 99 .823   157 .751   84 .707
Villarreal             68 .862

Some observations:

  • The Dodgers have a few righties who seem consistently effective against their opposite numbers: Jonathan Broxton, Matt Guerrier and, based on a small sample size, Kenley Jansen.
  • Oh, and another guy who probably isn’t on your radar … late signee Lance Cormier.
  • Based on only his one season, Carlos Monasterios offers an intriguing first impression — though looking at the chart, you can see how much these numbers can fluctuate. Look at what happened to Ramon Troncoso, for example, or moving in the other direction, Vicente Padilla.
  • For extreme small-sample candidates, there’s Roman Colon and Travis Schlichting. Consider at your own risk.

If the Dodgers decide that Kuo, Broxton, Guerrier, Jansen and Padilla are all effective against lefties, they could decide to go without a second left-handed pitcher — especially if they also think Cormier is worth a roster slot. It might still be Mahay’s spot to lose or Scott Elbert’s spot to win, but Cormier might be this year’s guy you least expected.

Aug 09

Ramon Troncoso optioned … for Ronald Belisario?

The Dodgers announced today that they have sent Ramon Troncoso back to Albuquerque:

Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Ramon Troncoso was optioned to Albuquerque today, creating an opening for fellow reliever Ronald Belisario to return to the active roster from the restricted list Tuesday.

Troncoso pitched 2 1/3 shutout innings over two games since being recalled from Triple A on Aug. 3, when Jeff Weaver was placed on the disabled list. Troncoso — like Belisario, a mainstay of the Dodgers’ bullpen in 2009 — has a 4.85 ERA in 39 innings this season.

The Dodgers, who were off Monday, did not immediately confirm that Belisario would be activated before Tuesday’s game in Philadelphia. However, Dodger manager Joe Torre said over the weekend that Belisario, who made rehabilitation appearances for Class-A Inland Empire on Saturday and Sunday, was close to a return.

Belisario has not pitched for the Dodgers since July 5. He was placed on MLB’s restricted list effective two days later, for reasons still not publicly disclosed. Belisario, who resumed workouts two weeks ago, has a 3.79 ERA in 35 2/3 innings for the Dodgers.

Belisario’s 2010 season also began on the restricted list, after visa problems delayed his spring training arrival. Belisario had a 2.04 ERA in 70 2/3 innings last season.

What’s interesting to me is that the Dodger bullpen suddenly seems so deep that it could part with Troncoso even though he had not been scored upon since his return — and that’s with Weaver still sidelined. The offense, certainly, remains a different story.

* * *

After Brandon Morrow threw a 17-strikeout one-hitter Sunday, Stat of the Day made a list of all the pitchers under age 26 since 1920 who had thrown one-hitters while striking out at least 10, within their first 160 career games.

Two Dodgers are on this quirky list. Sandy Koufax is one. If you can guess the other without looking, I’ll be really impressed. Name the non-Koufax Dodger under the age of 26 who struck out at least 10 batters in a one-hitter. It came in the pitcher’s 22nd career game.

Jul 23

Dodgers recall Kenley Jansen

The Dodgers announced they have designated Justin Miller for assignment and recalled the tantalizing Kenley Jansen.

Jansen has struck out 50 in 27 innings since his promotion to AA Chattanooga this season. He was converted from catcher to pitcher in 2009, when he caught 34 games and pitched in 12.

Miller had a 4.44 ERA with 33 baserunners allowed in 24 1/3 innings and 30 strikeouts. He allowed 12 runs and seven inherited runs in his last 18 innings.

Jul 01

Think twice before trading for middle-relief help


Al Behrman/APRonald Belisario

Remember all the indignation when Ronald Belisario put himself on the layaway plan when it came to Spring Training this year? Plenty of people wanted to wash their hands of the delayed arrival.

Given the current state of the Dodger middle relief, I’m not sure too many people want to cast off Belisario for his sins today.

The Dodger bullpen has shown some unexpected weakness, though circumstances aren’t dire. Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo are brilliant short relievers, while Belisario and Jeff Weaver are satisfactory set-up men.

Carlos Monasterios will probably take the back end of the bullpen when he returns from the disabled list. Monasterios, while flaming out for the time being as a starting pitcher after a briefly glorious run, remains adequate for long relief. Assuming the Dodgers still have a long-term vision for the Rule 5 draft-day acquisition, that’s where he’ll be.

That covers five of seven spots in the bullpen.

Ramon Troncoso is a question mark right now. Right now, as Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reports, we’re in the phase of Troncoso claiming that overwork isn’t the issue, but execution is.

“I feel perfect, I feel brand new, like a baby with a new toy,” Troncoso said. “My arm is good. I’m here to pitch every day. I’m going to pitch in 50 more games this year. Of course this year has been frustrating for me, but if we win, everything is OK. I don’t care about my ERA, I just want to pitch good and help the team.”

Bullpen coach Ken Howell said Troncoso’s problems this year are part mechanical, which he’s cautiously optimistic have been worked out, and partly pitch selection and execution.

“He’s been throwing the curveball instead of the sinker in some situations, and the sinker is his money pitch,” said Howell. “And he needs to be at the bottom of the [strike] zone. When he’s thigh-high and up, he gets in trouble. His stuff is fine, but he’s not pounding the bottom of the zone with the consistency of last year. But lately it’s been better.”

And then there’s George Sherrill.

Sherrill looks hopeless, but his lefty-right splits indicate that he does retain some value if he were used only against left-handed batters. Ned Colletti has cut bait on his relief acquisitions before — Danys Baez didn’t even last a season in Los Angeles — but something tells me that Sherrill won’t be sent away.

However, either Troncoso or Sherrill might end up on the disabled list, for reasons legit or not — and for that matter, Troncoso still has minor-league options remaining. So the Dodgers are probably looking for a couple of relievers as contingencies.

The thing is, they probably have them already.

It would be ironic, if it weren’t easy enough to foresee, that the reason the Dodgers might trade for middle relief this year is that last year’s trade for middle relief has gone south. Right now the Dodgers’ farewell to Josh Bell, the organization’s top third-base prospect, for Sherrill isn’t one to savor; Bell was called up by the Baltimore Orioles to play the hot corner tonight. It so happens that the Dodgers caught lightning in a bottle with Sherrill and his sub-1.00 ERA with the team, but Sherrill’s rapid decline this year illustrates how fluky that was.

The Dodgers have Travis Schlichting, Jon Link, Kenley Jansen, Josh Lindblom, Kiko Calero and James McDonald, among others, that they can test out in middle relief. Each comes with a mitigating factor — for example, McDonald, who returns from the minor-league disabled list tonight, might be considered the No. 6 starter right now — but from that group of six alone, odds are that at least one can do the job. (Cory Wade, outrighted to Albuquerque today after a minor-league rehab assignment, is also in line for a try.) So if the Dodgers decide they need a break from Troncoso or Sherrill, they have people they can turn to at no cost at all.

They might be like Justin Miller, who was brilliant when he arrived but has since faltered. They might be worse. But a fresh arm that major-league hitters aren’t familiar with — or heck, a fresh arm period — often works wonders coming out of the pen. And you only need to make it for two months until September, when rosters expand and it’s all hands on deck.

Los Angeles needs to be very careful about any trade for middle relief. The species is too erratic. What you have might well be as good as it gets.

Jun 25

Dodger bullpen status heading into Yankee series

Pitch counts for the Dodger bullpen since the team’s last off day:

Tues. Wed. Thurs.
Ronald Belisario 16    
Ramon Troncoso 12   19
Jonathan Broxton   24 8
Jeff Weaver     17
Hong-Chih Kuo     15
Justin Miller     18
George Sherrill     1

It’s not dire, but the use of the Dodger bullpen Thursday might compel the Dodgers to look for a reinforcement before tonight’s Yankee game. Ramon Troncoso, Hong-Chih Kuo and Jonathan Broxton are borderline at best for tonight.

Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. didn’t like Joe Torre’s use of Broxton with a four-run lead Thursday, and normally I wouldn’t have either, but I defended Torre in the comments:

That stopped being the night for working out struggles after Sherrill gave up the hit. It was worthwhile for the Dodgers just to put that game away rather than hang on. The only other option after Sherrill was Belisario. If he gives up one hit, it’s 10-7, the tying run is on deck and the whole world is asking for Broxton.

If Broxton can’t pitch three games in a row, then he has to miss one Yankee game no matter what. Why not the Padilla game?

I don’t think Sherrill could be trusted (on this night) to get three outs with a four-run lead and one guy on base. He’s on the team because the Dodgers aren’t ready to cut bait on him yet.

They could have brought in Belisario, though I’d say he lowers your 95.1% win expectancy too. And if Belisario gives up but two baserunners – and that’s with Hunter, Matsui and Napoli due up – your tying run is at the plate and you’ve burned both pitchers.

If you think Belisario can do a good job, then let him do that job for two innings Friday. Thursday’s game, if only for subjective reasons, was a special case.

Anyway, whether Stephen’s right or I’m right, we look ahead.

Though I’m ready to designate Charlie Haeger for assignment, sending him back to Albuquerque if he clears waivers or wishing him well if he doesn’t, the Dodgers might hold onto him at least until Chad Billingsley is activated Monday. If that’s the case, another option is to put the shaky Ramon Troncoso on the disabled list with a sore shoulder. This is purely a hunch, but it really seems like he could use the break. That would also allow the premature recall of Travis Schlichting inside the 10-day waiting period.

I thought Jon Link might be called up today, but he pitched 1 1/3 innings Thursday for the Isotopes. A bold move would be to take a look at Kenley Jansen, who in 17 1/3 AA innings has allowed nine hits and 12 walks while striking out 28.

Keep in mind that the Dodgers’ main use for a pitcher tonight is for long relief in case Vicente Padilla’s outing is short. That’s why a Troncoso-for-Schlichting exchange might be the best at this point. I think Schlichting could do Troncoso’s job for a couple weeks.

Jun 21

Yankee standout Phil Hughes held out of Dodger series

Chris McGrath/Getty Images
The Yankees have won 11 of Phil Hughes’ 13 starts this season.

This one’s interesting on two levels. As Ben Shpigel of the New York Times reports, Phil Hughes won’t make his scheduled start Friday at Dodger Stadium.

Level one: The Dodgers avoid facing Hughes, who has a 3.17 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 82 1/3 innings (against 93 baserunners). Opponents have a .610 OPS against Hughes this year.

Level two: Hughes isn’t hurt. New York is resting the righthander, who turns 24 Thursday, in order to limit his innings this season. Hughes has averaged 6 1/3 innings (and 105 pitches) per start, and he’s on pace to throw 193 innings this year. Last year, pitching more in relief, Hughes only threw 86 innings in the majors along with 19 1/3 in the minors.

Hughes grew up in Southern California and, after missing the Yankees’ April series in Anaheim by the luck of the rotation draw, will miss another opportunity to pitch in front of family and friends.

The Yankees might be the best team in baseball but don’t have a playoff spot locked up by any means, so it’s interesting to see them exercise this caution.

Update: Oh, almost forgot to mention whom the Dodgers will face this weekend. According to Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com, three nobodies: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and A.E. Pettitte.

“It’s definitely a disappointment,” Hughes told Matthews. “And there’s really not talking them out of it. It’s an organizational decision and that’s that. I knew it was coming. It was just a matter of when they were going to do it.”

* * *

Yet another reason for San Diego’s success this year: The Padres bullpen has allowed only 10 inherited runners to score all season, according to Stat of the Day. By comparison, George Sherrill by himself has allowed 15, and Ramon Troncoso 13.

Jun 02

Schlichting might have earned the most positive of demotions


Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire
Travis Schlichting allowed four baserunners in four unexpected but indispensable innings of relief today.

The pitch counts for the relievers in today’s 14-inninger: Ramon Troncoso 11, Justin Miller 41, Jonathan Broxton 11, Ronald Belisario 10, Travis Schlichting 60 – none of whom pitched Tuesday except Belisario, who threw 11 pitches. That gives the Dodgers four relievers they can easily use Thursday against Atlanta in back of Hiroki Kuroda: Troncoso, Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo and Jeff Weaver.

The Dodgers might make a move to add a reliever – that move would probably include optioning Schlichting to Albuquerque. If that happens, Schlichting can make the trip knowing that he made quite a positive impression on this organization, not to mention a lifetime memory for this converted infielder who has been plagued by back trouble in his career and was pitching for the Kansas City T-Bones of the independent Northern League inside of three years ago.

Schlichting is the 19th pitcher the Dodgers have used this season, and the 11th to get a victory.

Options for the Dodgers for Thursday don’t include Charlie Haeger (turf toe), James McDonald (bad hamstring), Scott Elbert (not eligible for a recall yet – and the Dodgers probably don’t want him right now) or Brent Leach (threw 70 pitches for Albuquerque today). Perhaps most likely would be the temporary return of Jon Link, who hasn’t pitched since Sunday and has an ERA of 0.87 in his past six appearances (10 1/3 innings) with eight strikeouts.

“Kim [Ng] is out there waiting to talk to me,” Joe Torre said about a potential roster move after today’s game, reports Chris Volk of DodgerFan.net. “She’s going to come in and ask me the same question. I haven’t really digested this yet and I don’t know where we would make room for that person, but we are going to be a bit short, so we’ll have to see.”

Torre added that he would have used Weaver after Schlichting, but beyond that, Reed Johnson might have been the next arm.

“I don’t know,” Torre told Volk. “I didn’t poll anybody. Short of one of those things, I was hoping that if we weren’t going to score, that it would be Garrett making the last out so at least the next inning I’d have Johnson leading off and I’d have nine guys. Pick one of those guys to pitch. But if I had to use him in the 14th inning, then I was going to have to probably use a pitcher to play a position and not pitch, which is something I’ve never had to do.”

As for Carlos Monasterios, he is winning a convert in the manager’s chair, and the plans to move him out of the rotation in favor of Haeger might indeed be shelved a little longer – skin permitting. Monasterios would have gone out for a sixth inning today but for a blister on his right middle finger, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

May 22

Ely glides and Dodgers finish the ride, 6-4


Harry How/Getty Images
John Ely allowed five baserunners in his final five innings today.

Like the space shuttle in its glory days, John Ely came back to Earth in the first inning today – then took off again for the skies.

Ely gave up three hits and his first base on balls after 89 walkless batters to let Detroit score two runs in the top of the first, but like Chad Billingsley the night before, put up only zeroes after that, and the Dodgers rode out a 6-4 victory over the Tigers.

The Dodgers steadily worked Tigers starter Armando Gallaraga and knocked him out in the fifth inning. Casey Blake (11 for 23 with three homers and a walk on the homestand) had a homer and two singles, Matt Kemp had a homer and a double, Blake DeWitt’s third triple of the homestand drove in two runs, and Xavier Paul and James Loney added two hits each. (Paul also walked.) Russell Martin walked in the first inning but went 0 for 3, ending his 15-game hitting streak but extending his on-base streak to 17.

Ely went six innings plus one batter, allowing eight hits and the one walk while striking out three and lowering his ERA to 3.41. Joe Torre had a quick hook for Ely, who had thrown only 83 pitches when he came out of the game following a leadoff single in the seventh by Austin Jackson, and the main men of the Dodger bullpen made the move seem even more questionable by delivering one of their roughest collective outings in some time.

Hong-Chih Kuo, who warmed up Friday but didn’t pitch, first gave the Tigers a look at the game by walking Magglio Ordonez after Ramon Santiago reached on Blake’s two-out error. But with the bases loaded, Kuo made a nice play on Detroit cleanup hitter Miguel Cabrera’s slow grounder to no man’s land between the pitcher’s mound and the foul line, fielding and firing to James Loney for the third out.

In the next inning, Ramon Troncoso, who allowed three runs without getting an out Wednesday in his third consecutive night of work, came back after two days off and gave up a solo homer to Santa Monica native Brennan Boesch. Troncoso followed by walking Brandon Inge, getting a double-play grounder from Gerald Laird and then beaning Austin Jackson (don’t expect him in the starting lineup Sunday). Jeff Weaver came in to bail Troncoso out by inducing Ryan Raburn to fly out to end the eighth.

Jonathan Broxton, pitching in his third consecutive ninth inning, allowed leadoff singles to Johnny Damon and Ramon Santiago. Alex Avila struck out, and Blake made a diving stop of a Cabrera grounder to create a force out at second base. Boesch ripped a first-pitch liner to right for a ground-rule double that brought the Tigers within two runs and put the tying runs at second base.

But after falling behind 2-1 to Inge, Broxton got a swinging strike on a 97-mph fastball, then a called third strike to end the game.

Twelve wins in 13 games for the Dodgers, who moved a half-game ahead of San Diego in the National League West pending the outcome of the Padres’ game at Seattle tonight. The Dodgers will try to keep it going Sunday behind Hiroki Kuroda, though it’s doubtful they’ll have Broxton or Kuo available. But those worries can wait, as the Dodgers celebrate another successful flight of Spaceship John Ely.

May 14

An unexpected thriller: Dodgers 4, Padres 3


Lenny Ignelzi/AP
Matt Kemp took Tony Gwynn, Jr. to the wall, and we all held our breath …

With Jon Garland matching Ramon Ortiz in allowing baserunner after baserunner – and with both offenses failing to take advantage – the early innings of tonight’s Dodgers-Padres game in San Diego had a sluggish, Spring Training feel. But somewhere along the way, a switch flipped, and a nearly random game in May took on the illusion of a true pennant-drive contest between two teams desperate to win.

And so, as the Dodgers trailed 3-2 in the seventh inning with Russell Martin on second base, when Matt Kemp lofted an enormous fly ball to dead center field, and Tony Gwynn, Jr. leaped a good two feet over the wall, and the ball disappeared momentarily in the blur of his glove … only for Gwynn to slam the wall in anger after the ball had somehow gotten through and to the other side, the Dodger season ascended into a moment of September-caliber drama. The Dodger bullpen then made Kemp’s two-run homer hold up, giving Los Angeles a 4-3 victory, its fifth victory in a row and 10th out of the past 13, cutting the Padres lead to four games in the National League West.

“That’s probably the hardest ball I’ve hit in a little while,” Kemp told Prime Ticket after the game. “If he had caught it, I probably would have had some words for him in batting practice tomorrow.”

The drama came five innings after what was probably the Dodgers’ offensive lowpoint this season, when they loaded the bases with one out in the second inning, down 1-0, but came away empty after Ortiz bunted feebly into an easy 1-2-3 double play. (“I still don’t understand it, trying to bunt with the bases loaded,” Dodger manager Joe Torre told reporters after the game.)  In the next inning, the top of the Dodger order slammed four straight singles off Garland, but settled for one run to tie the game.

Lenny Ignelzi/AP
After fastballs on seven of his previous eight pitches, Hong-Chih Kuo struck out Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez on a slider.

Ortiz gave up a first-inning homer to Adrian Gonzalez (who is 6 for 9 with two walks and two homers against Ortiz in his career) and nine baserunners in all out of 20 batters faced, but for all his problems wasn’t really outpitched by Garland, whose ERA is more than three runs lower. Both were often in trouble; both managed to avoid the big inning. (Garland caught a break, in a manner of speaking, when a fifth-inning blast by Andre Ethier hit high off the wall and ended up being only an RBI double instead of his 12th home run of the year.)

The spirit of the night turned serious when, after Ethier’s double made the score 2-2, Torre finally got Ortiz out of the game after allowing a walk and a single to lead off the bottom of the fifth and, as I predicted, began playing with his entire bullpen to get through the game. George Sherrill, Jeff Weaver and Ronald Belisario each faced three batters before Hong-Chih Kuo came in with the tying run on base. In a nine-pitch encounter, Kuo struck out Gonzalez – another edge-of-your-seats moment – then went on to complete the eighth inning in his longest shutout outing since September 7, 2008.

“Kuo was huge. Kuo was huge,” said Torre, who earlier had praise for Kemp. “I guess I wasn’t disappointed that DeWitt got (caught in an eighth-inning rundown), because that would have forced me to pinch-hit.”

Jonathan Broxton didn’t mess around in the ninth, retiring the side on 12 pitches to close things out. After Ortiz, Dodger relievers retired 15 of 17 batters.

“We were able to pitch great out of the bullpen, and that was the difference tonight,” Torre said.

May 06

Dodgers can only wonder, ‘What next?’


Getty Images
Stat o’ the Day: Just 27 games into the Dodgers’ 2010 season, Ramon Troncoso has already pitched in 11 losses.

It may be early, but the fans are going wild – and not in a good way.

Wednesday’s 11-3 loss to Milwaukee marked the one-month anniversary of a Dodger season that began with an 11-5 loss to Pittsburgh. Two days shy of one year since Manny Ramirez’s suspension, it’s remarkable to think back and realize: The Dodger community was probably in better spirits that sorry day than now.

The wreckage of the Dodgers’ start to 2010 fits perfectly with the narrative that began in the offseason, which foretold that the divorce of Frank and Jamie McCourt would have a domino effect that would leave the franchise in ruins. And while this isn’t exactly Carthage, it is last place in the National League West in May.

A different ownership situation might have bred a different start to the season, it’s true. No, a pair of happily married McCourts would not have turned the 2009-10 Dodger offseason into a wheeling-and-dealing free-for-all – not after reaching the National League Championship Series two straight years, certainly not after the Jason Schmidt and Andruw Jones debacles of recent offseasons. But Frank and Jamie surely wouldn’t have made fewer moves if they were still going steady.

But what’s sad about the 2010 Dodgers is that the doleful divorce has been only one of many, many, many other things that have gone wrong this season. Here begins “Lament: Why Even in Their Worst Nightmares, the Dodgers Couldn’t Fathom Being This Bad.”

Chapter the First: A Rotation Off Its Axis

Harry How/Getty Images
Mixed bag: The last 23 batters Chad Billingsley faced Wednesday did not score; the first four did.

Consider, if you will, that the Dodger starting rotation at the end of the 2009 season was made up of Randy Wolf (having something of a career year), a wounded Hiroki Kuroda, a staggering Chad Billingsley, a green Clayton Kershaw, and Vicente Padilla having, well, two great weeks.

Though spring training 2010 began with Wolf in a Milwaukee Brewers uniform, there was every reason to believe that at least 60 percent of that bunch would be better than they were – in contrast to Wolf, who you’d reasonably expect to decline after everything imaginable went right for him at age 33. And in fact, that’s exactly what happened with Kuroda, who has a 2.08 ERA while averaging 6.9 innings per start this year.

But though they have had their moments, Billingsley and Kershaw haven’t exactly been the equivalent of, say, Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez, who has pitched 41 1/3 innings with a 0.87 ERA and 44 strikeouts. The growing pains are still evident – more painfully in the case of Billingsley, who is only six months younger than the cherry-picked Jimenez, but more fable-busting for Kershaw, who was supposed to be the guy with the head on his shoulders but instead has walked a mind-boggling seven batters per nine innings in ’09. Both still have bright futures, but the need for more consistency remains. (Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles has more on Billingsley.)

Then there was Padilla, who had two fine starts in the postseason but otherwise had been a forgettable pitcher for most of the past five years or more. The Dodgers chose him in January over Jon Garland, a pitcher they thought enough of five months earlier that they traded infield prospect Tony Abreu for him. The 30-year-old Garland, who signed with San Diego for a guaranteed $5.9 million (including a potential 2011 $600,000 club buyout), has an ERA of 2.06 (adjusted ERA 184) over 35 innings in six starts. The 32-year-old Padilla, who signed with the Dodgers for a guaranteed $5.025 million plus incentives, has pulled a mini-Schmidt: 21 2/3 innings, 6.65 ERA (61 ERA+) and an indefinite stay on the disabled list. This wasn’t the divorce or the budget talking. The Dodgers made a pretty simple either-or choice, and at least to this point, they chose wrong. (And did so even with the character issues that are supposedly so important to Dodger general manager Ned Colletti being in Garland’s favor.)

The fifth spot in the Dodger starting rotation had a number of candidates, though ideally there should only have been two: James McDonald and Scott Elbert. McDonald was the 2008 and 2009 Dodger Minor League Pitcher of the Year who had a rough start in 2010 before finishing the year strong. Elbert is considered by many to be an even brighter prospect. However, neither came close to making any kind of case in spring training that they belonged in the rotation – though they were given little opportunity while manager Joe Torre quickly turned his focus to pitchers who had no more minor-league options, like perennial also-ran Eric Stults and knuckleballer Charlie Haeger, along with a cascade of scrapheap veterans like the Ortiz Unbrothers, Ramon and Russ. Honestly, it was reasonable to suspect that someone from McDonald, Elbert and frenemies could give the Dodgers inconsistent but useful enough output in the back of the rotation – and the Dodgers have certainly had their share of luck in this area in recent years – but it hasn’t come close to happening. That in turn made the Dodgers particularly ill-prepared, at least at this point, for an injury to one of their front four starters, even Padilla.

This brings us back to the four pitchers most talked about this Dodger offseason. One was Wolf, who had a 4.91 ERA after three starts this season but has since allowed two runs in his past 14 innings. Two was John Lackey, who signed a five-year, $82 million contract with the Red Sox and has a 3.89 ERA. Lackey figured to be a B version of the former Dodger with the famous seven-year contract itch, Kevin Brown – not quite as expensive but not quite as good and arguably every bit as likely to get injured for part of his contract. Lackey raises a good question: Do you pay big money for a pitcher even knowing that one of those years he’s likely to spend on the DL? I would have said no – and perhaps that’s ultimately a question for the accountants – but given the Dodgers’ current pitching desperation, many people would probably be inclined to say yes.

Pitchers three and four are Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, the most-discussed trade targets of the past year. Whatever efforts the Dodgers made to acquire them, the organization has ultimately had to bet that what they had in Kershaw and Billingsley (among other young players) in the long term would be worth more than what they would get out of Lee and Halladay in the short term – not a bad bet, but strictly as of May 2010, a losing bet.

So there you have it. We’ve discussed close to a dozen starting pitchers, and of that group, only Kuroda has given the Dodgers a happy beginning to 2010. Some of the misfortune the Dodgers brought upon themselves; some of it has been ill-fated – but when you add it all up, it’s almost a clean sweep for Murphy’s Law over Los Angeles.

Chapter the Second: The Blahpen

Kathy Willens/AP
George Sherrill: 0.65 ERA as a Dodger in 2009, 9.00 in 2010.

When your best reliever (Jonathan Broxton) hasn’t even pitched nine innings all year, when your next-best bullpen success story is a Rule 5 draftee (Carlos Monasterios) who remains on the roster, things have gone horribly wrong.

Maybe it all started with Ronald Belisario, for virtually all of spring training trapped in a distant land like a passenger crashing with Oceanic 815, his absence shifting the balance of the bullpen when the season began ever-so-slightly yet ever-so-significantly. His MIA act, accompanied by another ill-timed injury to lefty mesmerizer Hong-Chih Kuo and an almost complete reversal-of-fortune by 2009′s stellar set-up man, George Sherrill, turned a key Dodger strength into a disaster area. In the Dodgers’ first 15 games of 2010, the bullpen lost five – that alone made a huge difference between the Dodgers being 11-16 this morning as opposed to 16-11, of being 5 1/2 games out of first place as opposed to just half a game. And that doesn’t even count games like Wednesday’s, in which the bullpen was handed a one-run deficit and let it multiply by 800%.

What did the Dodgers do wrong with their relievers? Not a lot. Yeah, if money were no object, they could have outbid the Angels for a guy like Fernando Rodney, who signed for an exorbitant amount of money for a reliever: two years, $11 million. Or they could have spent $50,000 on a chaperone for Belisario. Beyond that, what they assembled was battle-tested and looked like one of the best bullpens in baseball. It just hasn’t worked out that way.

Chapter the Third: Defenestrate the defense

Danny Moloshok/AP
Charged with 10 errors last year, Casey Blake has made half that many this year.

Wednesday, Major League Baseball announced that a change by the official scorer gave James Loney a throwing error for a play that occurred against the Reds nearly two weeks before. It kind of fit: The Dodger defense has been so poor this year that it can pick up errors without even playing.

The defense had actually been on a modest streak of errorless games recently until Wednesday night against the Brewers, when Casey Blake threw in the dirt in the seventh inning of what at the time was a one-run game. Before the night was over, the team botched a rundown play and Blake made another error, his fifth in 24 games.

It felt very familiar. For most of the year, the defense has been toxic. The expected weak spots, such as Ramirez in left field, haven’t even been the story. There have been mistakes all over the field, to the extent that Matt Kemp’s 2009 Gold Glove in center field is being examined for “Dewey Defeats Truman” inaccuracies.

The defense broke the levee on the already cracking Dodger pitching, helping spoil what really was a true onslaught by the Dodger offense in the opening days of the year. The Dodgers averaged 6.5 runs in those first 15 games, but lost eight of them. And yet at seven of eight positions, this was the same defense that the Dodgers took to the NL playoffs last year. The mere aging of players Blake and Ramirez doesn’t begin to explain it. Did the Dodgers not prepare properly in spring training? Who knows? But this was another walk off the cliff that at least in part appeared out of nowhere.

Chapter the Fourth: Yes, Everyone Gets Injuries

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Manny Ramirez has a 1.159 OPS – but only 52 plate appearances.

… so we won’t cry too long over the Dodgers’ sick bay.  Losing Kuo was one thing, losing Jeff Weaver was barely anything, but losing Padilla was a problematic thing, and then Ramirez and Rafael Furcal going out almost simultaneously was a big thing. No one expected either Ramirez or Furcal to play 162 games, but in a better Dodger world, they would have at least made it through April. Heck, Ramirez made it into May last year before he was unceremoniously sidelined by what turned up in the lab.

In any case, it’s fair to say that the Dodgers knew in advance they would need a bench this year – and it’s no secret that Colletti has always liked to have depth. But again, some choices that had nothing to do with the divorce have gone awry. For example, on December 16, Jamey Carroll (36 in February) signed with the Dodgers for nearly $4 million over two years. Two weeks later, Kelly Johnson (28 in February) signed a cheaper contract in overall value with Arizona: one year, $2.35 million. Carroll has a .383 on-base percentage but just one extra-base hit. Johnson was just named NL Player of the Month after going 25 for 80 with eight doubles and nine home runs – a .404 on-base percentage and .750 slugging percentage.

Brad Ausmus and Garret Anderson have been wasted signings, albeit relatively inexpensive ones. You’re never going to get ‘em all right, and you can certainly argue that so far, Ronnie Belliard has been worth the $825,000 he lost weight to earn from the Dodgers, while Reed Johnson has been what you’d expect him to be. But those are the few breaks the Dodgers have caught, in a first month that exposed another nagging worry sooner than they would have hoped.

Chapter the Fifth: Five months to go

Wednesday, Billingsley gave up four runs in the first inning – then pitched five shutout innings and could have come out battling for a win in the seventh inning had Carroll, well, been able to hit his first three-run homer in 2,574 career plate appearances. Yep, this is when you bring out the unseemly disclaimer: It’s still early.

I haven’t even wanted to mention that the 2009 Colorado Rockies started with an 11-16 record at this time last year, exactly where the Dodgers are today – and then lost 12 of their next 19 before bouncing back with a months-long hot streak that scared the pajamas off every NL rival going into the playoffs. When John Ely, who was something like the Dodgers’ No. 14 starter entering spring training, is the guy you’re counting on for the second week in a row to prevent a series sweep, it’s not auspicious. If Kuroda goes down at some point this year, the Dodgers could give their 91-loss 2005 a run for its worthless money. But yes, it’s still early.

Maybe with happier owners, the Dodgers sign Wolf. Mainly with different owners, the Dodgers splurge for Lackey. Maybe there’s a parallel universe where the Dodgers make the big trade for Lee or convince Halladay that the West Coast ain’t so bad. But the Dodger problems in 2010 have been much more than the loss of one veteran pitcher.

And that’s with some things that people expected to go wrong not doing so at all. Kuroda wasn’t done as a pitcher. Ramirez wasn’t done as a hitter. Broxton has not been scarred by Jimmy Rollins’ game-winning double in the 2009 NLCS. Andre Ethier hasn’t regressed – he’s an early contender for the Triple Crown. James Loney is showing signs of life.

For that matter, Juan Pierre, the supposedly reborn savior from 2009 who was sent to the White Sox for 2010, is batting .226, with seven walks and 15 steals in 19 attempts but no extra-base hits.

It’s still early – but whether it’s early enough for a turnaround or just early in a miserable year, I don’t know. Even for a team playing ball both on the field and in divorce court, so much can change between May and October. After all, look at what’s happened to the Dodgers between October and May.

Apr 16

Russell Martin deserves a hand, if not a nap


Chris Williams/Icon SMI
Back in the home opener, Russell Martin had no idea of how rough the middle of his week would get.

Last May, I wrote about Orlando Hudson in the midst of his hot start to 2009:

I’m not going to attempt to tell you how long Hudson can perform at an All-Star caliber level. Rather, my point in these giddy times for Dodger fans is to remind us that there was serious doubt whether Hudson, coming off a traumatic 2008 wrist injury, could play this well at any point in the remainder of his career — for a month, for a week, for even a day. That we now know he can is a revelation.

Things will go up and down, but just setting the ups this high is juicy. Right now, this is looking like a magical signing.

That Hudson didn’t finish the season in the starting lineup shows how a hot start doesn’t guarantee anything, but I do feel it’s worth making a similar point about Russell Martin.

In a year where expectations for Martin couldn’t have been lower – particularly after he missed most of Spring Training – the Dodger catcher leads the major leagues in on-base percentage and is 19th overall in OPS. Martin always has had a good eye, but he’s even slugging .591, compared to .329 last season and .256 last April.

Again, there are no assurances he won’t slump, especially if the Dodger pitchers keep wearing him out, but it’s nice to know that he can get this hot even for a little while.

* * *

Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness makes explicit what I implied in my last post: The Dodgers really only have Russ Ortiz, Carlos Monasterios and Ramon Troncoso available in relief of Vicente Padilla tonight, unless they make a more dramatic move. (Petriello includes Jeff Weaver among the available — Joe Torre included both Weaver and George Sherrill in his pregame conversation with reporters — but I can’t imagine the Dodgers want to go there tonight.)

If the Dodgers fall behind big early, then you pretty much can burn Ortiz and Monasterios to get through the game. But in a competitive game, the Dodgers figure to be at a huge bullpen disadvantage if Padilla has to leave before the eighth inning.

I’ve never been all that high on Padilla, but I kind of feel he’s due for a good outing. Just a gut thing I’m having.

* * *

Torre said that the day-after reports on Hong-Chih Kuo’s rehab outing showed no problems, and that he’s due to pitch again in a minor-league game Sunday. Torre pointed out that Ronald Belisario isn’t eligible to make rehab appearances, so that he will come straight to the Dodgers when his command is present.

Torre also said that he doesn’t consider carrying 13 or 11 pitchers on the staff to be an option at this time. Twelve it is.

* * *

One pitching bright spot: As a team, the Dodgers have struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings. Four pitchers are over the 9.0 mark, led not by Jonathan Broxton (15.4) but Charlie Haeger (16.7).

Apr 16

Might be time for some fresh blood …

Dodger pitch counts this season:

                       
  4/5 4/6 4/7 4/8 4/9 4/10 4/11 4/12 4/13 4/14 4/15 Total
Padilla 93         96           189
Kershaw     109           110     219
Billingsley       107           116   223
Kuroda         100           106 206
Haeger             116     20   136
Ra. Ortiz 18   25     23     29 4 6 105
Monasterios 8     23           19   50
Ru. Ortiz 23   24   19         36   102
Sherrill 24   15     19       12 23 93
Weaver 4   1 13   8 22   16   14 78
Troncoso     15 10   13 16   15 5   74
Broxton       11 14       12 13 15 65
Loney                       0
Total 170 0 189 164 133 159 154 0 182 225 164 1540