Apr 29

Dodgers strike strikes against Nationals for sweep

Vin Scully made a point today of emphasizing how Washington lefty Gio Gonzalez had not allowed a two-strike hit this year. Opposing hitters were 0 for 42 entering the game with two strikes against Gonzalez, and the Dodgers tacked on six more outs with two strikes before James Loney stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning today.

Gonzalez had thrown his last 11 pitches for balls to walk three consecutive batters – Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier understandably, Juan Uribe less so – but he did get ahead of Loney 1-2.

However, Loney went with a tailing pitch and stroked it smoothly to short left-center field, driving home Kemp and Ethier to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead that held up as the final score for a sweep of the Nationals.

The Dodgers ended up with six walks, but Loney’s single was their third and final hit of the day.

In another impressive performance, Chris Capuano pitched 6 2/3 innings with nine strikeouts and only five baserunners allowed, lowering his ERA to 2.73. Facing Jesus Flores, Josh Lindblom gave up a couple of high fly balls that threatened to tie the game, but one landed foul and the other in Tony Gwynn Jr.’s glove. Lindblom then stayed in to complete the eighth inning.

Kenley Jansen pitched the ninth inning, which combined with Don Mattingly’s pregame statement about Javy Guerra’s sudden lack of swag is sure to ignite some conversation about who wears the title of Dodger closer – as will the fact that Jansen walked two batters in a 26-pitch ninth before striking out the side. Guerra warmed up in the bullpen after Jansen began the inning with six straight balls, so I wouldn’t say there’s clarity on this issue.

Nevertheless, I’m just glad that Mattingly’s increased faith in Lindblom meant that he let him pitch the eighth, rather than take him out for no good reason. Whenever that trio of Lindblom, Guerra and Jansen pitches, I expect them to be effective over the long haul, despite the occasional hiccup. The inning that they pitch in should be the least of anyone’s worries – although the way these things go, I’m sure the calls for Lindblom to close are not far away.

Chad Moriyama has a worthwhile post on Guerra’s pitch selection, for those who wish to explore this further.

The Dodgers improved to 16-6, matching their best start since 1981, and have the best record in the National League by two games. This morning in the comments and on Twitter, I made note of a fact that was meant as pure trivia: In Matt Treanor’s two Sunday starts this year, the Dodgers had allowed 20 runs, compared with 53 total runs in their 19 other games (2.79 per game). I was hopeful that Treanor’s third Sunday start would break the pattern – and it did.
Apr 29

The A.J. Ellis All-Star campaign starts now!

© Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2012

A.J. Ellis will probably get a rest today after catching Saturday’s 10-inning thriller, and he will have earned it.

Ellis is fifth among major-league catchers in Wins Above Replacement this season, according to Fangraphs – third in the National League behind Yadier Molina and Buster Posey (who also plays first base). Ellis has caught 156 of the Dodgers’ 190 innings this season, with one error, no passed balls and outs on 40 percent of the 15 runners attempting to steal against him.

In on-base percentage, no major-league catcher tops Ellis’ .439, which is third in the entire NL behind Matt Kemp and David Wright. Take away his four intentional walks (if you must), and Ellis would still have a .403 OBP that would be 10th in the league.

Update: Ellis has 67 plate appearances this year.

  • He has gone after the first pitch twice – a single, and a sacrifice bunt.
  • He has taken the first pitch for a ball 35 times. After 1-0, he is 2 for 21 with 14 walks (.095 batting average/.457 OBP).
  • He has taken the first pitch for a strike 30 times. After 0-1, he 12 for 30 with no walks (.967 OPS).
  • Ellis is 6 for 16 (.875 OPS) after an 0-2 count.
Nationals at Dodgers, 1:10 p.m.
Tony Gwynn Jr., LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Uribe, 3B
James Loney, 1B
Justin Sellers, SS
Matt Treanor, C
Chris Capuano, P
Apr 28

It’s a wonderful game: Matt Kemp lassos the moon

Mark J. Terrill/AP

What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary. … Then you can swallow it, and it’ll all dissolve, see… and the moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair …

Because of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, the baseball world focused its attention on Dodger Stadium on Saturday.

Because of what happened over the next three and a half hours, the baseball world can’t stop buzzing.

And because of Matt Kemp … wow.

Kemp’s walkoff home run in the bottom of the 10th inning, his team-record 11th of April, gave the Dodgers a 4-3 victory in a game that for six innings was a taut pitcher’s duel, and for the remaining four played like a cat all tangled up in a ball of yarn … until Kemp smothered it all up and threw it in the air like skyrockets.

There’s so much more we could talk about, but I think I’m just gonna go with this:

Uribe’s double would have been the most stunning thing in the inning if not for the three wild pitches from the Nationals’ own version of Lucile II, Henry Rodriguez. The second one came with Washington one strike away from winning.

In the 10th, after Jamey Wright continued his unreal run of strikeouts (he now has 10 in nine innings this season), Kemp came up and did … well, kinda did what everyone expected him to do, once an intentional walk wasn’t offered. He drivered a ball that would have made Bubba Watson envious, sending it over the wall to dead center and the crowd into delirium. Dodger Stadium, buoyed by a bobblehead-Harper-Strasburg crowd, was rocking.

Strasburg and Chad Billingsley, who each pitched six shutout innings before allowing single runs in the seventh, deserve credit for setting up the night’s unbelievable third act – as does Jerry Hairston Jr. for his daredevil exploits in the field and racing into home to survive a laser Harper throw. (Hairston later left the game with a left wrist contusion.) A number of people on Twitter were saying this was the best baseball game of the 2012 season to date, and while there’s no doubt some hype to that, for the Dodgers and their fans, it’s the kind of hype you like to be a part of. What a nice change.

Remember, George: no team is a failure that has Matt Kemp.

Apr 28

Spending the night of the L.A. riots at Dodger Stadium

Twenty years ago, I was in between. I had left my full-time sportswriter job at the Daily News in March and was headed to graduate school in Georgetown in the summer, but for the time being, I was mostly killing time with a little occasional freelance work and a lot of sitting around. I had a destination and was adrift all at once.

Not surprisingly, I spent a lot of time at Dodger Stadium that spring. The 1992 Dodgers were dismal, losing 99 games (the most by the franchise in 84 years), but they started the season 9-9 before dropping three consecutive one-run games, two in extra innings, from April 26-28. The outfield of Eric Davis, Brett Butler and Darryl Strawberry all hit the ball decently in April, and rookie Eric Karros – a surprise starter at first base – was also off to a solid start. The starting pitching, perhaps surprisingly, was the shakiest part of the roster in April.

On the afternoon of April 29, I was in front of the family room TV in my parents’ Woodland Hills house, watching the verdict announcement in the trial of the four police officers charged in the Rodney King beating case. As it was being read, in formal, almost bland, tones, I remember most of all not being sure I was understanding it correctly.

Soon, I would really realize how little grasp I had of what was happening.

My friends and I had plans to see the Dodgers play the Phillies that night, a Wednesday. I don’t believe it occurred to me not to go, other than to perhaps stay home and watch more reaction to the acquittal of the officers. We knew there was anger, we knew there were protests, but we didn’t know how they were going to unfold. Our drive to Dodger Stadium was without incident. When Reginald Denny was being dragged out of his truck, at approximately 6:45 p.m, we were inside the ballpark and insulated from most news of the outside world.

The game wasn’t memorable. Orel Hershiser fell behind 5-0 in the fourth; the Dodgers made four errors and lost, 7-3. It would have been completely forgettable if not for one thing: the warning from the public address announcer not to take any of the southbound freeways away from Dodger Stadium. That certainly got our attention.

By the time we reached home – heading directly west – we fully understood what the deal was.  So would the Dodgers, who canceled their remaining home games that week, forcing them to play doubleheaders on July 3, July 6, July 7 and July 8. That night, I drove back to the Daily News office, an outsider there now as well as just about anywhere else. But in this pre-Internet era, I wanted to see the news coming in. Feeble as it was, that was the only way I knew how to feel connected.

During a recent conference call promoting the documentary Harvard Park, I asked Davis and Strawberry their recollections of the day. Both were in the Dodger starting lineup as the events of April 29 unfolded.

Davis:

It started out as a normal day. With any news of that magnitude, we were watching and paying close attention to the verdict. Unfortunately we had started to play when the verdict came down. And some things started to transpire that we weren’t aware of. And at the end of the game, the sheriffs came into the clubhouse (and told us) that the city was in an uproar and they kind of routed us home, as far as what freeways to take.

Going south out of South Central, the city was in a blaze. There was a lot of anger, there was a lot of hatred that was going on in the city at that particular time because of what had transpired. We actually went home and turned on the news and saw the city being in a blaze.

At that time, Darryl and myself had a store on 84th and Broadway, called All-Star Custom Interiors. The next day we got a call that the games were cancelled. And we were like, ‘Wow, this is really serious, they are canceling games.’ So, we went down to see the store and everything around it had been burned and vandalized — except our store. So it was like we had mixed emotions, because of the total chaos that was going on in the city but the upmost respect for what Darryl and myself had meant to that particular area as opposed to other areas that our store was not vandalized.

And then the time that we brought Rodney King down (to Dodger Stadium) … I had known Rodney’s attorney, and our thought was that it was a healing process and that here’s a man who was getting abused for getting beat. And when he came to Dodger Stadium, it was more of a comfort zone – from what Darryl and myself – to say, let’s try to move forward. But the response we got from some of the people at Dodger Stadium was like this guy was Charles Manson or somebody. It kind of hurt then, because of the fact that he was still being treated as an aggressor, or that he did some wrong outside of getting beat.

So I had mixed emotions about that.

It was a very tough time in South Central at that particular time. I had never been a part of a racial riot to that magnitude. I mean, I was a kid when I watched riots hit, but to actually be in the middle of that and have something to do with it, it was a very tough time – I’m just glad we got through it.

Strawberry:

Well said, E. That’s so true, because it was a very difficult time. You’re talking about two guys that grew up patrolling up these streets of South Central Los Angeles, and never saw so much hatred towards color. Just the frustration of people and the acting out over something hurt a lot of people.

I remember my brother Michael, he was (with the) LAPD at the time too, and he got his car got shot up during the riot as they rolled by. With a AK-47, he got shot up. He had a helmet on but bullets didn’t even hit him in the head, he could have been dead over the fact that the LAPD had got off this case here after being on (video) shown around America of the beating of Rodney King like he was a dog. It was just an unfortunate time for all of us to have to see that because that’s not what America’s supposed to be about.

America is supposed to be about a place of love and peace, happiness and joy and sometimes it turns out to be the opposite of that because of the color of your skin, and it shouldn’t be that way. We felt like we should have been past that, so that time of our life was very difficult to experience and looking back on it and seeing the guy.

The morning of April 30, 1992, we – those of us who slept – woke to a city on fire. The morning of April 30, 2012, we will wake to the day of new ownership of the Dodgers. The events are more coincidental than connected – even with an African-American as one of the new co-owners. Even if it’s just a coincidence, though, it seemed worth pointing out. It is strange what the calendar brings – acknowledgment of how much has changed, and misgivings over how much has not.

Update: My Variety colleague Andrew Barker, who says April 29, 1992 was the first major-league game he ever attended, points out that Strawberry (and then Davis) batted in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and a chance to tie the score, but made out.

Apr 27

Formidable opponents: The Washington Nationals

Nationals at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Kershaw CXXI: KershawSI
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Jerry Hairston Jr., LF
James Loney, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Clayton Kershaw, P

Here are the three starting pitchers that the Washington Nationals, with a National League-best 14-5 record, are using in Los Angeles:

Tonight: Ross Detwiler, 16 innings, 0.56 ERA, 8.4 K/9
Saturday: Stephen Strasburg, 25 innings, 1.08 ERA, 9.0 K/9
Sunday: Gio Gonzalez, 23 2/3 innings, 1.52 ERA, 10.3 K/9
Total: 64 2/3 innings, 1.11 ERA, 9.3 K/9

In other news out of Washington, the Nationals have placed Ryan Zimmerman on the disabled list and called up prize 19-year-old prospect Bryce Harper, who is scheduled to debut in Saturday’s game.

* * *

Michael Antonini went back to the minors today packing frequent flyer miles he wouldn’t have otherwise had, with Nathan Eovaldi replacing him on the roster.

Apr 27

Eovaldi ho!

Scene from Wednesday. © Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2012

Haven’t done a links post in a while … so let’s catch up.

  • Nathan Eovaldi is headed to Los Angeles, but we don’t know yet whom he is replacing on the roster, writes Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.
  • The move is interesting in part because Todd Coffey and Ronald Belisario have begun their minor-league rehab outings, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. Coffey can be activated Sunday, Belisario a week from today.
  • As Magic Johnson prepares to officially become a Dodger co-owner, Michael Jordan’s 7-59 Charlotte Bobcats wrapped up the worst winning percentage for a team in NBA history, .106.
  • J.P Hoonstra of the Daily News got a first-hand look at Dodger pitching prospect Zach Lee at Rancho Cucamonga, where the pitching coach is none other than Matt Herges.
  • Guest-posting at Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness, Christopher Jackson offers a position-by-position update on the Albuquerque Isotopes. My favorite note: Luis Cruz’s “imitation of teammate Trent Oeltjen’s Australian accent is a sight to behold.”
  • ThinkBlueL.A. has expanded from a forum into a full-fledged blog, led by friend of Dodger Thoughts and fellow Bluetopia co-star Ron Cervenka. Evan Bladh of Opinion of Kingman’s Performance is also contributing.
  • ESPNLosAngeles.com had an interesting way of summing up Albert Pujols’ trials in a headline: “James Loney Has 1 HR.”
  • Eno Sarris’ interview at Fangraphs with Stanford baseball “dean of stats” Dean Stotz is interesting. Sample: “Fifty percent of the time, the hitters take the first pitch. Twenty-six percent of the time, they hit it foul. Twenty-four percent of the time they put it in play —- and only 33% of those balls are hits. That means —- if you throw a first-pitch strike —- 92% of the time, you’ll get an out or an 0-1 count.”
  • Jackie Robinson movie 42 is set to be released April 12, three days before the next Jackie Robinson Day, reports Dave McNary of Variety.
  • As part of his 30 baseball books in 30 days series, Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News reviews Willie Mays Aikens: Safe at Home.
  • For my TV-viewing friends, this post by Mitch Metcalf of Showbuzz Daily might be of interest: “What Does a Tenth of a Rating Point Really Mean?”
  • Chess boxing? Chess boxing???
Apr 26

Please let my dad keep his foul ball

My father will soon be 77 years old. He has been going to baseball games since the 1940s. He saw the Cubs play in their last World Series when he was 10.

He has never gotten a foul ball at a game. Not once. And he still really, really wants to.

My fear is that one of these days, he’ll get one. But there will be a kid somewhere in the vicinity, and the surrounding crowd will angrily demand that my father give it up to the little moppet.

No, no, no.  A thousand million times no.

I have three kids. I want every moment of their lives to be special. But there is no way that my kids, let alone some stranger’s kids, deserve that foul ball, that keepsake of a lifetime of attending baseball games, more than my father.

In my mind, the appeal of getting a foul ball was centered in the fact that you got the ball. If it’s handed to you, I’m not sure what makes that ball special anymore. I’m not saying that a game-used ball wouldn’t have appeal to a kid, but I don’t know where the idea grew that a kid was more deserving.

And above all, just because you get older doesn’t mean you stop being a little boy inside, especially when it comes to being a baseball fan.

All you people who are aghast at the selfishness of a grownup who would keep a foul ball rather than hand it to a child need to do a serious rethink. If someone who has never gotten a foul ball wants to keep it, and you intimidate him into doing otherwise, you’re the cruel ones.

Apr 25

Lilly takes over NL ERA lead, but Dodgers fall in ninth

You know Matt Kemp has gone loco. But are you aware that Ted Lilly has too?

The veteran lefty, who started 2012 on the disabled list, has taken over the major-league lead in ERA. Lilly pitched seven innings of one-run ball, retiring his final 10 batters, and left with the Dodgers ahead tonight against the Braves, 2-1.

The Braves rallied to win the game in the ninth inning, 4-2, with Dan Uggla singling in the tying run immediately after Dodger reliever Javy Guerra took a line drive from Brian McCann to the chin, and then took the lead when Chipper Jones drove in the go-ahead run.

Kemp actually helped put Lilly over the top, hitting a tiebreaking homer off Brandon Beachy – No. 10 on the year for the Bison – in a rainy sixth inning. Beachy led the league in ERA when the game started, but thanks to that blast (and an earlier RBI groundout by Dee Gordon), Beachy left the game with his ERA at 1.05.

For that matter, Lilly’s ERA went up as well, to 0.90, but for the first time this season, he has enough innings to qualify for league ERA leadership: 20. That will last him until Saturday, when the Dodgers play their 21st game, and then he’ll try again next week.

Lilly struck out only two but surrendered but four baserunners. He extended his streak without allowing a home run to 62 1/3 innings, and opponents are batting .138 against him this year (.001 behind league-leader Matt Cain).

Kemp’s 10th home run tonight matched Gordon’s 10th stolen base, which means that while Kemp might never become a 50-50 player, the duo are on pace to become an 85-85 combo. Each leads the majors in their respective categories.

Apr 24

If I had a sledgehammer …

I’m trying not to be the person that worries about guys getting hurt when doing good. So moving past that, I think this Habitat for Humanity effort by the Dodgers today is great — and appealingly photogenic.

Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy and Jon SooHoo of the Dodgers Photog Blog have highlights. Here’s a sampling, featuring Josh and Aurielle Lindblom, Clayton and Ellen Kershaw and Matt Kemp.

© Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2012

© Roberto Baly/Vin Scully Is My Homeboy

© Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2012

Braves at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Andre Ethier, RF
Jerry Hairston Jr., LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Aaron Harang, P

Apr 24

Guerrier hits disabled list, Antonini called up

Here’s some unexpected bullpen news: Matt Guerrier has gone onto the 15-day disabled list with right elbow tendinitis, retroactive to April 19, the Dodgers announced today.

The team has recalled lefty Michael Antonini from Triple-A Albuquerque. Antonini, who came to the Dodgers in exchange for Chin-Lung Hu in December 2010, would be making his major-league debut. He has a 4.26 ERA with 15 strikeouts against 24 baserunners in 19 innings with Albuquerque this season. In 2011, he had a 4.01 ERA with 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings for Double-A Chattanooga.

Update: More disabled list news comes from the Isotopes, who have placed Alex Castellanos on the sidelines with a left hamstring strain.

Apr 24

Clock ticking on Mike MacDougal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apr 23

Happy Uribe to you, Dodgers win 7-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apr 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what I might recommend:

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

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

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