Apr 17

An all-or-something season

In the throes of watching people on Twitter react to Tuesday’s 9-2 pounding by the Padres — the Dodgers’ third loss in a row and worst since August 27 — I mused on what it would be like if those in favor of swift roster moves actually got to run the franchise for a year.

You have to admit, it would be interesting.  Matt Kemp struggles in his first 14 games— and gets demoted to Triple-A. The fascinating, hot-hitting Yasiel Puig is called up, apprenticeship be damned — and becomes the starting third baseman, despite the fact that he’d make Pedro Guerrero look like Graig Nettles. And so on … one reactionary move after another. I really would be curious to see it.

During my full-time days with Dodger Thoughts, this would naturally be the time for me to point out that it’s too soon to despair. Despite all that has gone wrong — and I think it’s fair to say that much more has gone wrong than gone right, since the “gone right” is pretty much limited to Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Clayton Kershaw — the Dodgers remain at .500. San Francisco, in case you haven’t noticed, has its own share of problems, with a starting rotation that is not only thin in depth but struggling to a 4.78 ERA. Arizona and Colorado have their own issues.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles will have Hanley Ramirez’s bat in the lineup sooner than later, a midseason injection of Zack Greinke to look forward to and, yes, the possible promotions of players like Puig and Dee Gordon after they’ve had some more valuable seasoning.

At the same time, there’s no doubt that we knew this was a problematic Dodger team before the season began, that the left side of the infield would be a problem, that Kemp might not be the hitter he was after labrum surgery and so on. If you didn’t know it, you were simply uninformed or deluded, but frankly, I’m almost sure that most were aware. My argument has been that, despite the “World Series or bust” proclamations of Magic Johnson, the new ownership is on a long-term project to make the Dodgers contenders, in which domestic and international scouting and player development becomes every bit as important as the nine-figure contracts being handed out. So though I’m impatient for a title, I wasn’t that preoccupied about what happened in the short term.

You can be forgiven for thinking this should be the Dodgers’ year, with all the spending, not to mention it being the 25th anniversary of the franchise’s last World Series glory. But in reality, the best you could count on is that the Dodgers should be competitive. The fact that Los Angeles could not find players over the winter to displace Cruz from the starting lineup or Juan Uribe from the bench — and I’m not here to bury Uribe, who remains tied for team lead in homers, but to thank him (for the time being) — tells you everything you need to know about any guarantees.

Kemp himself has almost become the embodiment of Dodger hopes and fears. The 14-game milestone in 2013 is particularly interesting for the star outfielder:

— It was after 14 games in 2010 that he had five home runs, a .385 on-base percentage and .740 slugging percentage. Of course, the rest of the year didn’t exactly play out in the same fashion.

— And then the following year, he got off to a sizzling start in his first 14 games (two homers, .534 OBP, .673 slugging — and kept it going to essentially become the National League MVP.

— And then the following year, he was even hotter after 14 games — eight home runs, .525 OBP, 1.000 slugging.  But then it went downhill again, thanks in no small part to his health.

From his way-up and way-down rookie season (six homers, .408 OBP, .795 slugging after 14 games; one homer, .239 OBP, .309 slugging the remainder of the year), Kemp has never been a flatline hitter. He always keeps us guessing.

At the same time, I’m as concerned as anyone that surgery has robbed him of his exceptional greatness. Not once since I heard the words “torn labrum” next to Kemp have I not thought of Shawn Green’s decline after a similar experience (though to be clear, not identical).

The most frightening, melodramatic and almost downright irresponsible comparison you can make is this: Kemp’s OPS after 14 games this season is .483. For Andruw Jones after 14 games in 2009, it was .493. Of course, Jones was about to turn 32 and noticeably out of shape. Kemp is 28 1/2 and still John Henry in a baseball uniform.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you everything’s going to be fine for the Dodgers in 2013, not with players ailing and holes remaining. I still nurse the long-ago expressed notion that the Dodgers could become the Cubs of the 21st century — a hundred years without a title. I’m also not going to sit here and tell you everything’s going to be a disaster.

What I will say, as tired and frustrated as Dodger fans are, is that 2013 is not a “World Series or bust” year. It could be 2013. It could be 2014. It could be soon after or much, much later. But it’s not now or never. It’s whenever it’s going to be.

Apr 15

Book signing for revised ‘100 Things Dodgers’: May 4


The revised version of “100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die” is on sale now. I’m pleased to say that there will be a booksigning event May 4 at Barnes & Noble on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, beginning at 2 p.m

The new edition of “100 Things Dodgers” features several new chapters (including Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw) and other tidbits, as well as new information for some existing chapters. If you want to be a completist — or moreover, if you never bought the original — this is the time to buy.

At 6 p.m. May 4, the Dodgers play the Giants on the road. If all goes well, maybe we can hang out or reuinte afterward and watch the game somewhere. In any case, come on by to the booksigning to get your signed copy … or just say hi.

Confirmation of the booksigning came, conveniently enough, on Jackie Robinson Day. So with that in mind, here’s the first chapter from 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die to give you a taste of what’s inside the book and as a tribute to the Dodger hero.

* * *

1. Jackie

From beginning to end, we root for greatness.

We root for our team to do well. We root for our team to create and leave lasting memories, from a dazzling defensive play in a spring training game to the final World Series-clinching out. With every pitch in a baseball game, we’re seeking a connection to something special, a fastball right to our nervous system.

In a world that can bring frustrations on a daily basis, we root as an investment toward bragging rights, which are not as mundane as that expression makes them sound. If our team succeeds, if our guys succeed, that’s something we can feel good about today, maybe tomorrow, maybe forever.

The pinnacle of what we can root for is Jackie Robinson.

Robinson is a seminal figure—a great player whose importance transcended his team, transcended his sport, transcended all sports. We don’t do myths anymore the way the Greeks did — too much reality confronts us in the modern age. But Robinson’s story, born in the 20th century and passed on with emphasis into the 21st, is as legendary as any to come from the sports world.

And Robinson was a Dodger. If you’re a Dodgers fan, his fable belongs to you. There’s really no greater story in sports to share. For many, particularly in 1947 when he made his major league debut, Robinson was a reason to become a Dodger fan. For those who were born or made Dodgers fans independent of Robinson, he is the reward for years of suffering and the epitome of years of success.

Robinson’s story, of course, is only pretty when spied from certain directions, focusing from the angle of what he achieved, and what that achievement represented, and the beauty and grace and power he displayed along the way. From the reverse viewpoint, the ugliness of what he endured, symbolizing the most reprehensible vein of a culture, is sickening.

Before Robinson even became a major leaguer, he was the defendant in a court martial over his Rosa Parks-like defiance of orders to sit in the back of an Army bus. His promotion to the Dodgers before the ’47 season was predicated on his willingness to walk painstakingly along the high road when all others around him were zooming heedlessly on the low.

Even after he gained relative acceptance, even after he secured his place in the major leagues and the history books, even after he could start to talk back with honesty instead of politeness, racial indignities abounded around him. Robinson’s ascendance was a blow against discrimination, but far from the final one. He still played ball in a world more successful at achieving equality on paper than in practice. It’s important for us to remember, decades later, not to use our affinity for Robinson as cover for society’s remaining inadequacies.

Does that mean we can’t celebrate him? Hardly. For Dodgers fans, there isn’t a greater piece of franchise history to rejoice in — and heaven forbid we confine our veneration of Robinson to what he symbolizes. The guy was a ballplayer. Playing nearly every position on the field over 10 seasons, Robinson had an on-base percentage of .409 and slugging percentage of .474 (132+ OPS, .310 TAv). He was an indispensable contributor to the Dodgers’ most glorious days in Brooklyn — six pennants and the franchise’s first World Series victory.

It also helps to know that some of Robinson’s moments on field were better than others, that he didn’t play with an impenetrable aura of invincibility. He rode the bench for no less an event than Game 7 of the 1955 World Series. He was human off the field, and he was human on it.

In the end, Robinson’s story might just be the greatest in the game. His highlight reel — from steals of home to knocks against racism — is unmatched. In a world that’s all too real, Robinson encompasses everything there is to cheer for. If you’re a fan of another team and you hate the Dodgers, unless you have no dignity at all, your hate stops at Robinson’s feet. If your love of the Dodgers guides you home, Robinson is your North Star.

Apr 14

Dodgers might retaliate, but not Monday

The Dodgers told Dylan Hernandez of the Times they don’t intend to retaliate against San Diego at Dodger Stadium on Monday for Carlos Quentin’s mound-charging fracture of Zack Greinke’s collarbone, but they didn’t exactly rule out some kind of revenge tactic later in the season.

Quentin agreed Sunday to begin serving his eight-game suspension. From the last section of Hernandez’s story:

… Furthermore, Mattingly expects the umpires to officially warn both teams before the start of the game.

Under such circumstances, any pitcher believed to be throwing at a hitter would be immediately ejected and subject to a suspension. With Greinke already down, the Dodgers can’t afford to have one of their starting pitchers suspended.

“We’ll probably talk about it,” Mattingly said.

Pitching for the Dodgers on Monday will be Chad Billingsley, who said he has no intention of throwing at anyone.

“I’m not going out there headhunting tomorrow,” Billingsley said. “I’m going out there to pitch and win a ballgame. That’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s what we’re here for, to win baseball games, make the playoffs, win the division. That’s why I go out there every fifth day.”

Billingsley was widely criticized for failing to protect the Dodgers hitters when Brett Myers of the Philadelphia Phillies was throwing at them in the 2008 National League Championship Series.

“That whole series is in the past,” Billingsley said. “That’s five years ago and you’re still bringing it up. This is nothing similar to the past. That was playoffs. This is regular season.”

Previously on Dodger Thoughts:

Stay classy, Los Angeles: The problem with the Dodgers’ tweet

Revenge on Jackie Robinson Night?

Furious Dodgers fight off Padres but lose Greinke

Apr 14

Rickey descendant to sing at Dodger Stadium on Monday

Singing the National Anthem at Dodger Stadium on Monday for Jackie Robinson Night will be Branch Rickey’s great-granddaughter, Kelley Jakle.

“Mr. Rickey, do you want a singer who’s afraid to do all sorts of vocal tricks during the anthem?”

“No. I want a singer with the guts not to do all sorts of vocal tricks during the anthem!”

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 1:10 p.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Andre Ethier, RF
A.J. Ellis, C
Luis Cruz, SS
Nick Punto, 3B
Josh Beckett, P

Update: Apparently the information the Dodgers sent this morning was incorrect, and Jakle is singing “God Bless America,” not the anthem.

Apr 13

Raise the Ryuf! ‘Babe’ dominates in Dodger victory

If Hyun-Jin Ryu keeps playing like this, we’re going to have quite a run at the Pun Store.

The rookie Dodger lefty had a barrel of fun against Arizona tonight, striking out 9 in 6 1/3 innings while going 3 for 3 at the plate – with his parents watching from the first row behind the Dodger dugout – in Los Angeles’ 7-5 victory over the Diamondbacks.


Ryu baffled Arizona, allowing only four hits, a walk and an RBI groundout before the seventh inning, along with doubling and singling twice. His bid to become the first Dodger pitcher with four hits since Claude Osteen in 1970 was enabled and then disabled by Justin Sellers, who singled with two out in the top of the seventh but was picked off.

Player Date Tm Opp Rslt PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI
Claude Osteen 1970-05-26 LAD SFG W 19-3 5 5 3 4 1 0 1 4
Don Newcombe 1955-07-15 BRO STL W 12-3 5 5 2 4 1 0 1 3
Chris Van Cuyk 1952-05-21 BRO CIN W 19-1 5 5 3 4 0 0 0 2
Carl Erskine 1950-08-31 BRO BSN W 19-3 6 5 1 4 0 0 0 0
Kirby Higbe 1941-08-17 (1) BRO BSN W 5-1 4 4 1 4 1 0 0 1
Kirby Higbe 1941-08-11 BRO NYG W 15-7 5 5 3 4 1 0 0 4
Bobby Reis 1935-09-24 (2) BRO BSN W 6-5 5 5 1 4 0 1 0 1
Sloppy Thurston 1932-08-13 (1) BRO NYG W 18-9 5 5 2 4 1 0 0 2
Dazzy Vance 1927-05-12 BRO CIN W 6-3 4 4 2 4 1 0 0 0
Burleigh Grimes 1925-04-22 BRO PHI L 7-8 5 5 0 4 0 0 0 2
Dutch Ruether 1924-09-04 (2) BRO BSN W 9-1 4 4 1 4 0 1 0 2
Burleigh Grimes 1924-08-18 BRO PIT W 7-4 4 4 0 4 0 0 0 0
Dutch Ruether 1922-04-16 BRO PHI W 10-2 4 4 2 4 0 1 0 1
Burleigh Grimes 1921-07-06 BRO NYG W 11-4 5 5 2 4 1 0 1 3

Ryu wasn’t alone in providing offense, as the Dodgers knocked out a season-high 14 hits and got an Adrian Gonzalez homer in the fourth, two runs in the fifth and three in the sixth, building a 6-1 lead. Gonzalez went 3 for 4 with a walk, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier each singled and doubled and Matt Kemp doubled his season RBI total from two to four.

Crossing the 100-pitch mark, Ryu gave up two hits to start the bottom of the seventh, and like Clayton Kershaw the night before, watched from the bench as the first Dodger reliever, in this case Ronald Belisario, allowed both to score. (Ryu’s ERA rose from 1.93 to 2.89.) Martin Prado homered off Kenley Jansen in the bottom of the eighth to cut the Dodger lead to 6-4, and Aaron Hill’s pinch-hit RBI double later in the frame made it a one-run game.

Jansen struck out Cody Ross to end the inning and preserve the lead, but back-to-back doubles by Ethier and Ramon Hernandez built it back to 7-5. Brandon League retired the side in order to end the game.

The Dodgers (7-4) are tied with Arizona and Colorado for second place in the National League West, half a game behind San Francisco.

Apr 13

Stay classy, Los Angeles: The problem with the Dodgers’ tweet

The Dodgers’ satirical invocation of Anchorman on Twitter in the wee hours Friday, before the anger over Thursday’s brawl had begun to die down, has earned a lot of praise for its bold comic timing, with even U-T San Diego taking note.

I wish it didn’t make me uncomfortable, but it does.

The past two years have been an ongoing effort to rebuild the reputation of the Dodger fanbase following the 2011 attack by two men on Bryan Stow in the stadium parking lot. It should go without saying that the actions of those men don’t represent Dodger fans overall, but – with no small help from what had become a rough atmosphere in some sections of the stadium – we have needed to make the point over and over again. We support our team, but you have the right to support yours. Every city has its bad apples, but they don’t speak for us.

“You stay classy San Diego” undermines all that. The Dodgers themselves have told the world that it’s okay to label a city based on the unfortunate actions of just one individual.

And they’ve done so with an arrogance that, with the memory of the Stow tragedy so fresh, they shouldn’t necessarily possess.

The text on the Dodgers’ tweet, “See you on Monday in Los Angeles,” even seems to encourage confrontation.

Yes, some people in San Diego defended Carlos Quentin’s actions. And yes, the tweet was all in good fun – though clearly fun mixed with exasperation at what had happened. It rallied together the Dodger fan base, thousands laughed and even many outsiders now think the Dodgers have, if nothing else, good comic taste.

That doesn’t change the fact that the Dodgers have opened the door for anyone to mock the entire city of Los Angeles any and every time something goes wrong. I’m not happy about it.

Humor can defuse a fight, but it only exacerbated this one.

Perhaps I shouldn’t care what other people think of us, but I’ve got too much pride in Los Angeles, the Dodgers and their fans to just ignore perception. I’ve spent about four decades watching people make fun of a fan base for being dilettantes, even as evidence ceaselessly appears around the country of others acting in the same way. (Here’s but one example of many.) Following the Stow attack, the ridicule only intensified, drowning out the voices of those who were disgusted by the criminal behavior and support their team as well as anyone else in the country. In the eyes of countless baseball fans around the country, Dodger fans became thugs.

With better security, new ownership, improvements to the stadium and what I believe to be some level of collective soul-searching about behavior at the ballpark, I like to think the negativity surrounding Dodger fans is dissipating. Some wil never credit us for being great fans – certainly, many in our rival cities have no incentive to. But I do think it’s important to put our best face forward. This is a proud franchise with a glorious history, and it deserves to be seen that way. Not to mention the fact that the atmosphere at Dodger Stadium is best when everyone feels secure.

The city of San Diego did not fracture Zack Greinke’s collarbone. Carlos Quentin did. Yet the Dodgers themselves chose to make it about the city. Now, when almost inevitably someone in Los Angeles does something unthinkably stupid at a baseball game – perhaps as soon as Monday, when tensions toward the Padres hit a fever pitch – the rest of the baseball world will have carte blanche to make it about all of us. Will we still be laughing then?

Apr 12

Diamondbacks waste Kershaw and Dodgers, 3-0

The rule about who covers second base on a stolen-base attempt isn’t hard and fast. Generally, you choose the opposite-field defender (second baseman for a right-handed batter, shortstop for a left-handed batter), but scouting and sixth senses might convince you to do the opposite, as the Dodgers did in the fourth inning tonight when Arizona’s Gerardo Parra took off from first base with right-handed hitting Martin Prado at the plate.

Justin Sellers vacated his shortstop position, and Prado pulled a 94-mph Clayton Kershaw fastball right where Sellers’ shadow sat, into left field for a hit-and-run single. Instead of a double play, the Diamondbacks had runners on first and third with none out against Kershaw, who to that point was still unscored upon in 19 innings this season.

The 6-4-3 double play came from the next batter, courtesy of Paul Goldschmidt, but it delivered the first run of the season against Kershaw … and ennervatingly for the Dodgers, the critical piece of a 3-0 Arizona victory.

The Dodgers, who left 10 runners on base tonight for a total of 85 in their first 10 games, had two key opportunities to score on behalf of Kershaw. In the top of the fourth, they loaded the bases against Arizona starter Patrick Corbin on two walks and an infield single by Sellers, before Kershaw himself had a potential RBI single taken away by second baseman Josh Wilson.

Then in the eighth, Matt Kemp singled and went to third on two wild pitches by Diamondbacks reliever David Hernandez, the second of them ball four to Adrian Gonzalez. The red-hot Carl Crawford, lurking on the bench, came up as a pinch-hitter, but he struck out on a pitch in the dirt, and then Andre Ethier grounded out.

Kershaw came to the mound for the bottom of the eighth needing one strikeout for 1,000 in his career, but was forced out of the game after a single, a bunt single and a 3-2 walk to Parra. Kershaw threw 111 pitches, allowing six hits and three walks while striking out nine.

Shawn Tolleson, the high-school contemporary of Kershaw who was called up from Albuquerque to temporarily replace Zack Greinke on the Dodger roster and help a suddenly depleted Dodger bullpen, was chosen ahead of lefty J.P. Howell to pitch to Prado and Goldschmidt, but walked them both to force in the game’s second and third runs. Each was charged to Kershaw, whose ERA rose from 0.39 to 1.16 while he watched from the bench. Howell then came in to strike out left-handed Miguel Montero and retire right-handed Alfredo Marte on a liner to third.

Had the bullpen bailed Kershaw out of that last jam, Kershaw would have tied four other pitchers for the second-longest streak in major-league history of allowing no more than one run, as Jim McLennan of AZ Snakepit noted. Kershaw settled for seven starts in a row.

In their last-gasp ninth inning, Nick Punto hit a one-out single up the middle off J.J. Putz, who then walked Skip Schumaker. But Jerry Hairston Jr. hit into a game-ending double play, the double play that didn’t come soon enough for Kershaw in the fourth.

Even in defeat, Kershaw continues to astonish.  His 19-inning scoreless streak to start 2013 is the second longest by a starter in Dodger history and the longest by anyone on the team since Jim Gott’s 19 1/3 innings in 1993. Ridiculously, Kershaw has lost his last four starts against Arizona and is 7-6 lifetime despite an ERA against them of 2.37.

Los Angeles (6-4, a game behind Arizona in the National League West) finished its first 10 games of 2013 with 27 runs.

Apr 12

Revenge on Jackie Robinson Night?

For Sports on Earth, I look ahead to the next meeting between the Dodgers and the Padres in the wake of their Thursday brawl. It comes Monday, on Jackie Robinson Night.

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 6:40 p.m.
Kershaw CLII: Kershawvanhoe

Jerry Hairston Jr., LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
Andre Ethier, RF
A.J. Ellis, C
Justin Sellers, SS
Clayton Kershaw, P

Update: “Zack Greinke was examined by Dr. Neal ElAttrache today in Los Angeles and underwent a CT scan on his left clavicle,” the Dodgers said in a statement. “It was determined that he should undergo surgery to place a rod in the clavicle to stabilize and align the fracture.  The surgery will be performed tomorrow by team physicians,  Drs. ElAttrache and John Itamura, at White Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles.  Greinke’s expected return is eight weeks.”

Shawn Tolleson has been recalled from the minors for the time being.

Apr 11

Furious Dodgers fight off Padres but lose Greinke

I was angry, so I can only imagine how the Dodgers felt.

The idea that Zack Greinke was trying to hit Carlos Quentin with a 3-2 pitch in the sixth inning of a one-run game was ludicrous. So was the idea that Quentin, who is notorious for not getting out of the way of anything in his hemisphere (already, at age 30, ranking seventh among active players in career HBPs), should have taken offense at the run-of-the-mill shoulder-high pitch from Greinke.

When Quentin paused and then charged the mound, the less composed side of myself felt that it was less out of anger and more out of seizing an opportunity to simply injure a rival team’s star. That’s probably wrong, but at best, it takes a pretty huge ego and an even larger blind spot to think what Greinke did was intentional, even if they had a spat a blue moon ago.

The consequences were serious, as Greinke didn’t run away from Quentin but lowered his left shoulder to take the initial hit from the Padre as the wrestling match began and the benches cleared. That Matt Kemp (who was buzzed near the head early in the game) and Jerry Hairston Jr. were ejected along with Quentin was one thing, but the possibility that Greinke, who left the game with trainer Sue Falsone, might be hurt was quite another.

And immediately after the game came the news. Greinke had suffered a fractured left collarbone.

The official statement from the Dodgers: “Zack Greinke sustained a left fractured clavicle.  He was immobilized with a sling and will return to Los Angeles to be evaluated by Dr. Neal ElAttrache tomorrow.”

“A 2-1 game and we’re trying to hit him 3-2? It’s just stupid,” Dodger manager Don Mattingly said after the game. “He should not play a game until Greinke can pitch. If he plays before Greinke, something is wrong.”

Mattingly’s dreaming, of course, and he knows it. “Their guy will probably be playing in three days,” he added. The Dodgers will have to move on despite the injustice.

Back to the game. On their heels, the Dodgers surrendered the tying run one batter later when Quentin’s pinch-runner, Alexi Amarista, scored on a Yonder Alonso single after going to second base on a Chris Capuano wild pitch. (The Padres’ first run also happened to score in the fourth inning on a Greinke wild pitch, halving the two-run lead Adrian Gonzalez’s first homer of the year gave the Dodgers.)

With Dodger fans’ teeth bared, Los Angeles escaped a two-out, two-on jams in that inning and the next, before Juan Uribe came up as a pinch-hitter in the top of the eighth. Rarely has a player held in such disfavor by the multitudes done himself such a service. Uribe tomahawked a Luke Gregerson pitch over the left-field wall for his second home run of the series, giving the Dodgers a 3-2 lead (and, incidentally, knocking Clayton Kershaw out of the top ranks of Dodger home run hitters after nearly nine games).

Uribe, said Vin Scully, was so emotional returning to the Dodger dugout after he blast that it appeared he was close to tears.

And so it went to the bottom of the ninth. With Brandon League having thrown 34 pitches the previous night, Kenley Jansen was given the save assignment. Cody Ransom struck out, Chris Denorfia popped out and Everth Cabrera flied out, giving the Dodgers the victory.

The Dodgers and Padres next meet Monday. April 15. Jackie Robinson Night. On an evening that is meant to honor baseball’s greatest achievement, it could be one that instead pays homage to Robinson’s competitive spirit.

Apr 10

Dodgers survive a League of his moan, 4-3

So Chad Billingsley was the pregame worry, but in the end it was pins and needles with Brandon League.

It’s Jackie Robinson week, but instead we got the ghost of Mickey Owen.

Despite 17 baserunners tonight, the Dodgers’ final pitch of the game came with the tying and winning runs in motion on the bases for the Padres during a full-count pitch from League. But the last swing by Yonder Alonso sent a pop fly to the glove of backup left fielder Skip Schumaker, and Los Angeles hung on to a 4-3 victory.

The game offered little you could rely upon except Carl Crawford pounding the ball and the Dodgers leaving runners on base.

After the Dodgers stranded their 10th, 11th and 12th runners on base in the top of the ninth, League entered with a 4-1 lead and gave up a one-out double and two two-out singles for a run. He then struck out Chris Denorfia for what would have been the final out of the game, had the ball not eluded A.J. Ellis for a passed ball and another run.

League got two strikes on Alonso before the Padre worked the count full. With their stomachs lurching, Dodger fans instead got a dose of Pepto from the final out.

That preserved Billingsley’s first victory of the year and seventh in a row dating back to last season. After a leadoff walk, Billingsley sailed through the first three innings on barely 30 pitches, before falling out of sync in the fourth and fifth innings. But he kept the damage to a single run, and pushed through a sixth inning before calling it a night after 94 pitches. He allowed eight baserunners in all while striking out three.

Crawford homered on the second pitch of the game and tripled before scoring his second run in the fifth inning. Ellis hit a two-run homer in the second. Every Dodger position player who started had at least a hit, including the previously hitless Luis Cruz, who had two.

Apr 10

As Billingsley returns, do armchair therapists lurk?

Eleven men, brave and true, have pitched for the Dodgers in this young season. None, with the possible exception of Zack Greinke (who has publicly acknowledged social anxiety and depression issues), have had their performances psychoanalyzed in terms of mental toughness.

But back to the couch tonight, for the first time since his 2012 midseason injury, comes Chad Billingsley. It will be a test — not just for Billingsley, but for Dodger fans, who have habitually graded the righthander’s mental toughness ever since the 2008 playoffs.

Dodgers at Padres, 7:10 p.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Andre Ethier, RF
Luis Cruz, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Justin Sellers, SS
Chad Billingsley, P

The practice went on hiatus during the six-game, 1.30 ERA hot streak that came right before Billingsley was sidelined. Will it return as soon as he has his first bad inning, or will there be the kind of grace period that other pitchers get when they are coming back from an injury? I have my suspicions, but it would be nice if Dodger fans could be as clear-headed as they expect their pitcher to be.

The thing to remember is, Billingsley was having an odd 2012 even before its supernova finish. From July 28:

Continue reading

Apr 09

Baseball, you’re so baseball

Of course, the perfect Dodger bullpen would fall apart on the night Juan Uribe hit his first home run since the golden age of Vaudeville.

Just like Uribe couldn’t hit that home run without grounding into a double play with the bases loaded in the first inning.

Just like the San Diego Padres, who were 1-5 with 14 runs all season before tonight, were able to score more runs in the eighth inning than they had in any entire game all season, finishing off a 9-3 whomping of Los Angeles.

Remember, the Dodgers had allowed only six earned runs in 2013 before this one.

Carl Crawford went 2 for 4 with a walk, though he unfortunately made his third out in six starts on the bases. You can stack that alongside three double plays the Dodgers hit into, along with a 1-for-9 performance by the team with runners in scoring position, to illustrate why the team had 15 baserunners and scored thrice.

But at least those guys from Boston can hit …

… because right now, it’s not clear that Josh Beckett can pitch. But check back with me in a week, because baseball will no doubt continue to be baseball.

Some tweets from late in the game:

Apr 06

Kershaw lovely and amazing again in 1-0 Dodger victory

Luis Tiant (1966) and Harry Breechen (1948) each threw three shutouts to start the season. Since 1916, 32 other pitchers, including lone Dodger member Karl Spooner in 1954, had a pair of shutouts to open the year, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

Clayton Kershaw looked like he might join the party tonight against Pittsburgh, before settling for the consolation prize of merely maintaining his 0.00 ERA.

Kershaw threw seven shutout innings tonight before handing a 1-0 lead to the Dodger bullpen, which held the line for the team’s second consecutive whitewash victory over the Pirates.

Friday, Zack Greinke retired 14 batters in a row between the two hits he allowed. Tonight, Kershaw gave up a leadoff single to Starling Marte, then set down 17 in a row before Marte’s two-out infield single in the sixth.

With two out in the seventh, Kershaw issued his first walk of the season on a 3-2 pitch to Russell Martin. Three pitches later, he picked Martin off first base to bring on the seventh-inning stretch, but after 97 pitches, Don Mattingly decided not to start a new inning with his ace and told him – in a not-so-brief dugout conversation – his night was over.

Paco Rodriguez struck out left-handed hitting Pedro Alvarez to start the eighth, then Kenley Jansen retired the next two batters on 10 pitches. The fact that Jansen had also thrown 18 pitches 24 hours earlier helped mitigate any debate over the inevitable decision to turn to Brandon League to close the game in the ninth.

League issued a two-out walk with Pirates All-Star Andrew McCutchen on deck, but McCutchen grounded out to Mark Ellis on League’s next and last pitch. As the Dodger postgame press notes stated, the Dodger bullpen has pitched 10 1/3 scoreless and hitless innings in 2013, walking two and striking out nine.

In his seven innings, Kershaw struck out nine, giving him 16 in 16 innings. Opponents are 6 for 53 against him this year with a .132 on-base percentage.

Fernando Valenzuela, in case you’re wondering, allowed a run in his second career start in 1981, in between throwing shutouts in four of his first five starts. Valenzuela also allowed no earned runs but four unearned runs in his first four starts of 1985.

The Dodgers got their run on an infield single by Carl Crawford, his first stolen base and an RBI single by Mark Ellis. Crawford went 2 for 3 with a walk and is now 7 for 16 with two walks as a Dodger; Ellis (2 for 4) is 6 for 16 with a walk in 2013.

Adrian Gonzalez went 2 for 3 with a walk to raise his on-base percentage to .450 and his OPS to .888.

That trio is 18 for 48 this year. The rest of the Dodgers are 13 for 103, and tonight, the team went 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10.

The left side of the Dodger infield is 0 for 33 this year with two walks, one intentional, leaving it within striking distance Sunday of making Eugenio Velez’s 0 for 37 in 2011 look quaint. Matt Kemp, meanwhile, went 0 for 4 and is now hitting .056.

Five games into the season, the Dodgers have allowed four earned runs in 45 innings for an 0.80 ERA. Total runs: 11 for the Dodgers, 8 for the visitors.

 

Apr 06

Dodgers trade Aaron Harang for neither Ramon Martinez nor Carlos Hernandez



The Dodgers have traded Aaron Harang to the Colorado Rockies for, broadly speaking, the second coming of Rod Barajas – an old, slow catcher with perhaps some vestiges of power.

The acquisition of catcher Ramon Hernandez is much more like an NBA salary-cap maneuver than a traditional baseball trade, especially considering the Rockies immediately designated Harang for assignment. Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. parses the details.

… Hernandez has a salary of $3.2 million this season, and was designated for assignment on Mar. 29. Harang is due $7 million this season, and has an option for 2014 that could vest with at least 180⅓ innings pitched in 2013, or a buyout of $2 million.

The Rockies designated Harang for assignment immediately upon making the trade.

Counting Sunday, Mar. 31, six days of the 183-day season have lapsed. That means the Dodgers are on the hook for $3,095,082 of Hernandez’s salary, and the Rockies responsible for $6,770,492 for Harang, plus the $2 million buyout in 2014, though Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported the Dodgers would send $4.25 million to Colorado.

So, instead of having $9 million guaranteed to Harang, the Dodgers will instead pay approximately $7,574,590 ($3,095,082 for Hernandez, $229,508 for Harang, and $4.25 million to Colorado). Subtract the major league salary that would have been paid to Tim Federowicz and the Dodgers save approximately $2 million and upgraded their catching depth. …

Major League Baseball’s first Ramon Hernandez had a 3.03 ERA in 403 1/3 innings from 1967-77 (including 2.36 from 1971-75), peaking with a 1.67 ERA in 70 innings for the 1972 National League East champion Pirates.

This Ramon Hernandez has 166 home runs and a .744 OPS in 14 seasons, dipping sharply in 2012 when he had a .601 OPS in 196 plate appearances for Colorado (though he did go 3 for 4 against the Dodgers in a game last May). He turns 37 next month. Lucille IV, anyone?

Federowicz will probably remain on the Dodger roster until the team activates Chad Billingsley for his Wednesday start. It’s a sad but not altogether surprising turn for Federowicz, who essentially is enduring what current Dodger starter A.J. Ellis did in previous years – watching a veteran take the backup spot. The upside is that Federowicz, still only 25 and unlike Fernandez, the first of his name in the majors, can play regularly for Albuquerque.

I didn’t have the highest hopes for what the Dodgers would get for Harang, but I did dream that he might bring an actual bat off the bench instead of more filler. In a sense, that’s what Harang himself had become, despite the $12 million, two-year deal he signed in December 2011.

Harang leaves with two great Dodger Stadium memories – throwing six no-hit innings on July 9, 2011 and setting a team record with nine consecutive strikeouts 51 weeks ago today, on April 13, 2012.

Pirates at Dodgers, 6:10 p.m.
Kershaw CLI: Kershawrgo

Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Andre Ethier, RF
Luis Cruz, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Justin Sellers, SS
Clayton Kershaw, P