May 27

Dodgers, Ely have no defense against lack of offense in 1-0 defeat


Jerry Lai/US Presswire
Blake DeWitt tags out Derrek Lee attempting to steal in the seventh inning today.

Today’s story, as far as I’m concerned, is that the remarkable John Ely raised his game yet another level. Pitching in his hometown (albeit not on the South Side), Ely took a two-hit shutout into the eighth inning. That’s the story.

That the Dodgers hadn’t and ultimately wouldn’t score any runs in support of Ely, that Ely ultimately allowed two more hits and a run, that the Dodgers lost, 1-0, those are indeed significant details, but I’ll not let them divert me from the main story: John Ely keeps bringing it, and bringing it, and bringing it.

Ely’s final totals: 7 1/3 innings, four hits, two walks, four strikeouts, 98 pitches, 19 first-pitch strikes to 27 batters. For the first 6 2/3 innings, Derrek Lee was the only Cub to reach base against him. Lee had two walks and a double, making him 7 for 9 with three walks against the Dodgers in the three-game series. But Lee never scored.

Instead, the real damage came in the eighth inning. Mike Fontenot hit a shot down the right-field line leading off the inning, a double (maybe a single) that outfielder Xavier Paul played into a triple. After Ely struck out Geovany Soto, Tyler Colvin hit a bounder past James Loney to score Fontenot.

Paul made an error on that play, but this loss can’t be put on the defense. The hits were legitimate and together probably would have added up to a run, unless Paul made a great play to hold Fontenot at first and everything thereafter went the Dodgers way. Further, Paul, second baseman Blake DeWitt and left fielder Reed Johnson each made fine catches today — as did Ely himself, on a liner back at the mound. Russell Martin also threw out Lee attempting to steal in the seventh inning, a play that at the time might have seemed a game-saver, considering that Kosuke Fukudome singled one out later.

Rather, it was the Dodger offense that couldn’t make hay against Ted Lilly, who combined with Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol on the Cubs’ second shutout in three days. Paul popped out with the bases loaded (on walks) to end the fifth inning — the only inning the Dodgers had a runner on third. And in the only other inning the Dodgers put a runner on second base, after Martin and Matt Kemp singled, Casey Blake (who, along with Martin, was the only Dodger to reach base twice) and James Loney could not drive them home.

In the ninth, DeWitt walked with one out, but Marmol struck out pinch-hitters Manny Ramirez and Garret Anderson to end the game.

All of these details mattered, all of these details add up to another tally in the loss column, one that puts the Dodgers further behind the persistently pesky Padres. But still, for me this game remains primarily about John Ely working his magic, yet again. He lowered his ERA to an even 3.00 — 13 runs in 39 innings — and gave the Dodgers even more hope about his future, even if today didn’t bring much of a homecoming present.

Update: Want to know what the sixth-inning brouhaha was about? Rob Neyer of ESPN.com explains.

Update 2: MLB.com has video.

May 26

Dodgers turn out the lights at Wrigley, 8-5


Nam Y. Huh/AP
Players and fans wait during the fourth-inning power outage at Wrigley Field.

Gosh, there are just so many jokes you can make about a power outage at a baseball game, I really don’t know which one to pick. It’s like Cyrano offering multiple choices for the right nose hose. But the Dodgers were just happy to get the last laugh tonight with an 8-5 victory over the Cubs.

This was a weird one from the start for the strike-minded Chad Billingsley, who faced 11 batters in the first two innings but threw only 28 pitches in the process, allowing one run. In the third inning, a Rafael Furcal error (his third in two games) on a potential double-play grounded forced Billingsley into extended dance mode. A bases-loaded hit batter cut the Dodgers’ lead to 5-2, but Billingsley got out the final two batters of the inning to escape further damage.

Then in the fourth, with Billingsley due up, this became the night the lights went out in Georgia – er, Chicago.  The 18-minute delay, combined with the extra work from the Furcal inning, seemed likely to hasten Billingsley’s exit from the game, though he did face only one batter over the minimum in the bottom of the fourth and fifth innings. But in the sixth, after the Dodgers built their lead up to 7-2, Billingsley was pulled after allowing a one-out homer to Xavier Nady and a single to Kosuke Fukudome. He finished the night charged with two earned runs on a career-high 10 hits but only one walk, while striking out six. It wasn’t his best performance in recent weeks, but hard to be too critical considering all the mummenschanz. He faced 28 batters and was charged with 30 balls out of the strike zone.

Billingsley, for those who care about such things, is quietly on pace for a 21-win season. He has a 2.51 ERA in seven starts dating back to April 20.

Reliever Ronald Belisario induced a double play to end the sixth but was charged with two runs in the seventh. Those came thanks in part to two hits to left (an Alfonso Soriano double off Belisario, a two-run Jeff Baker triple off Hong-Chih Kuo) that would have been caught by a better left fielder than Manny Ramirez, who continues to look worse in the outfield since he returned from the disabled list than he ever has as a Dodger. Instead, even though Kuo struck out the side, the Dodger lead was cut to 7-5.

Jonathan Broxton, rested since Saturday, appeared with one out in the eighth and a runner on first and induced the Cubs to hit into their third double play of the night (not counting, obviously, the one Furcal didn’t get). Broxton then retired the side in order in the ninth for the sixth five-out save of his career.

Six different Dodgers drove in runs, including James Loney, who singled, doubled and tripled. Casey Blake drove in the Dodgers’ first run with a double and their last run with a solo homer that enabled Loney to get a chance to hit for the cycle. Loney flied to medium left field.

And so the Dodgers avoided hitting a mini-swoon, ending their two-game losing streak. Early game on Thursday: lights or no lights.

May 25

Dempster’s Revenge: Cubs shut out Dodgers (again)


Charles Rex Arbogast/AP
In his past 15 innings against the Dodgers, Ryan Dempster has allowed four runners to reach second base and none to score.

Ryan Dempster would rather have the first game of the 2008 National League Division Series back, but he’s doing well with consolation prizes.

Since giving up the NLDS-changing grand slam in October 2008, Dempster has pitched twice for the Cubs against the Dodgers – May 30 last year and tonight – and done nothing less than throw 15 consecutive scoreless innings against the Dodgers, who lost their second straight game after winning 12 of 13, 3-0.

Dempster went eight innings this time around, allowing three hits and walking one while striking out seven. Russell Martin (single), Manny Ramirez (single and walk) and Casey Blake (single) were the only baserunners for the Dodgers, whose final 16 hitters were retired by Dempster and Cubs closer Carlos Marmol.

Rafael Furcal had a miserable return from the disabled list, going 0 for 4 with two errors, each of which led to an unearned run. The first was a failed backhand pickup on a Ryan Theriot grounder leading off the bottom of the sixth, with Theriot coming around to score on a Derrek Lee single to break a scoreless duel between Dempster and Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw lowered his ERA for the season to 2.90 with six innings of four-hit, two-walk, four-strikeout ball, but was charged with the loss.

Furcal then threw in the dirt after fielding a Starlin Castro grounder starting the bottom of the eighth, and Lee (3 for 3 with a walk) homered off reliever Ramon Troncoso – who told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com hours before that he had figured out the flaw in his delivery that caused him to give up three other homers last week – to give the Cubs breathing room.

In his past four starts covering 28 1/3 innings, Kershaw’s ERA is 0.64.

Update: Rafael Furcal wasn’t the only one who goofed Tuesday. I managed to miss another start Ryan Dempster made against the Dodgers last year – August 23. Thanks to commenter DodgerKramer for alerting me. Dempster allowed no earned runs in seven innings that outing, meaning that his streak of innings without allowing an earned run against the Dodgers is actually 22.

May 23

Dodgers play smashball but lose, 6-2

It wasn’t for lack of hitting the ball hard. Three times the Dodgers smashed Whac-a-mole shots at Tigers starting pitcher Rick Porcello, and all they got for their trouble was an infield single and three outs.

So even though the Dodgers always seemed on the verge of rallying to overcome the three runs Hiroki Kuroda allowed in the first inning Sunday, eventually things all fell apart in a 6-2 loss to Detroit.

For the third consecutive day, a different Dodger starting pitcher held the Tigers scoreless after the first inning. But unfortunately for Kuroda (six innings, six hits, one walk, five strikeouts), the Dodger offense did not have much luck on its side.

  • With Russell Martin on second base in the bottom of the first inning, Porcello snared Matt Kemp’s liner and turned it into a double play.
  • With runners on first and second base in the bottom of the fourth inning, Porcello flagged James Loney’s hot shot and turned it into an out that helped him exit the inning without allowing a run.
  • There was another shot off Porcello that went for an infield hit, and the Dodgers scored two runs in the bottom of the fifth on Xavier Paul’s single to left. But with two on and two out, Kemp rocketed one to center – deep, but not deep enough.

After that, virtually nothing went the Dodgers way. Manny Ramirez grounded out as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded in the sixth, and Magglio Ordonez homered off Ronald Belisario in the eighth to give Detroit an insurance run. The Dodgers got their 10th hit and third walk in the bottom of the eighth inning, but pinch-hitter Ronnie Belliard hit into the team’s third double play. The Tigers added two more runs in the ninth, and Martin made it four double plays to end the game.

Martin, Paul, Garret Anderson, Blake DeWitt and Jamey Carroll each reached base twice, but it just wasn’t the Dodgers’ day.

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 21

Billingsley, Dodgers in tip-top condition, 4-1


Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Chad Billingsley has allowed two runs or less in six of nine starts this season.

Boy, how rewarding is it to see Chad Billingsley be on such a roll. And of course, how rewarding must it feel for him.

Oh – and I suppose the Dodgers are enjoying being in first place, too.

Billingsley continued his roll in pitching the Dodgers to a 4-1 interleague victory over Detroit tonight, the team’s 11th win in their past 12 games. With San Diego and San Francisco both getting pummeled tonight, the Dodgers were poised to find themselves atop the National League West (tied with the Padres but ahead in head-to-head competition), a mere 13 days after their 8-0 loss to Colorado had them six games off the pace and in last place.

Billingsley threw 105 pitches over seven innings, allowing two singles, two doubles and two walks while striking out five. (Both doubles were arguably catchable balls that Manny Ramirez couldn’t haul in.) Billingsley now has a 3.66 ERA on the season, 2.39 in his past six starts covering 37 2/3 innings.

His toughest challenge came right at the start, when Tigers leadoff hitter Austin Jackson doubled at the end of a 10-pitch at-bat. Jackson came around to score on two productive outs, and that was it for Detroit. Twice they got runners on first and second with two out, in the third and fourth innings, but Billingsley got the next batter each time. He retired 10 of the last 11 batters he faced in the game.

In contrast, Dontrelle Willis had allowed only one hit and no walks among the first 12 batters he faced, but was in trouble the rest of the way and didn’t make it through six innings. The first jam for Willis began with two out in the bottom of the fourth, when he gave up a single and two walks before hitting Nick Green with a bases-loaded pitch that tied the game.

The next batter, A.J. Ellis, making his first start since April 27, hit the ball on a line but right to second baseman Danny Worth for the third out. But in the fifth, Willis gave up two more runs, and then Ellis got his revenge in the sixth with an RBI single. (Ellis got robbed of two more RBI in the eighth – potential insurance runs – when his liner to right was speared by Miguel Cabrera.)

Reed Johnson had a perfect night for the Dodgers with a walk, a single and two doubles, and Jonathan Broxton struck out the side on 14 pitches for the save.

* * *

James McDonald allowed four runs over seven innings tonight in Albuquerque’s 10-4 victory over Las Vegas. He gave up nine hits and no walks while striking out eight. Las Vegas scored two in the fifth and two in the sixth.

Chin Lung Hu went 2 for 4 with his first homer of the season, and is now OPSing .815 in May after a terrible April.

* * *

The Dodgers will skip the No. 5 slot in their rotation and start Clayton Kershaw in Chicago on Tuesday, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. The Dodgers will next need a fifth starter May 29 in unfriendly Colorado.

May 20

Unsung Jamey Carroll boosts Kershaw, Dodgers: 4-1


Mark J. Terrill/AP
Casey Blake and Jamey Carroll congratulate each other after Carroll’s sacrifice fly in the second inning tonight.

Just two seasons ago, Rafael Furcal went down with an injury, and the Dodgers were saddled with Angel Berroa as their primary shortstop – which wasn’t very pretty.

However, with Furcal out for more than half of the 2010 season to date, the Dodgers have been much more fortunate. Jamey Carroll, whose signing I’ve questioned, has at least for now more than shown his value.  The 36-year-old Carroll had two more hits and two RBI in tonight’s 4-1 Dodger victory, raising his season on-base percentage to .391.  He has only three extra-base hits in 115 plate appearances, so he’s hardly an unqualified success. But still, his consistent OBP has given the Dodgers a threat at the bottom of the order, and that combined with his steady if rangeless defense has given Dodger fans one less thing to fret over in this down-and-up season.

Carroll, amusingly, also had his career-high fourth sacrifice fly tonight – not long ago, I made a point in the Dodger Thoughts comments about how rare it was for him to hit sacrifice flies, and since then he’s gone on a sac fly tear, with all four in the past 16 days.

In fact, three of the four Dodger runs in support of Clayton Kershaw came in without the benefit of a hit: scoring fly balls by Carroll and Anderson, and a wild pitch by Kevin Correia. Kershaw had his usual first-inning walk but delivered his sixth quality start of his past seven, going 7 1/3 innings and allowing seven hits and two walks while striking out seven. Kershaw has pitched at least seven innings in three straight games for the first time in his career, and lowered his season ERA to 3.23.

With two out in the top of the ninth, Jonathan Broxton faced nemesis Matt Stairs with a chance to close out the game. Broxton sent him fishin’ on four pitches, and the Dodgers won their 10th game in their past 11 to move back within a game of first place, leapfrogging San Francisco in the process.

May 19

Padres slam Ortiz if you please, Padres slam Ortiz if you don’t please


AP/US Presswire
Adrian Gonzalez raised his career numbers against Ramon Ortiz to 7 for 13 with four walks and two homers – and finished the night with six RBI.

Joe Torre gave Ramon Ortiz another start tonight for the Dodgers, despite Ortiz pitching rather poorly in San Diego last week – not that I think anyone was all that surprised by Torre’s decision. Allowing three runs in four innings in pitching-friendly San Diego was nothing to be proud of, but Torre seemed to feel not only that it was a reasonable first effort, but that it outshone the four innings of one-run ball that Carlos Monasterios gave the Dodgers against Pittsburgh two weeks earlier.

This isn’t anything to start lighting effigies over, but the lack of a second chance for Monasterios is a bit vexing in light of the unexpected success that John Ely has had. While there’s no certainty that Ely can maintain his outstanding performance to date, no one wants to jump off that train just yet. Why Torre was so quick to get off Monasterios’ choo-choo to get on Ortiz’s doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Remember, though, that even Ely’s second start was delayed so that Torre could give Charlie Haeger one more opportunity – one that ended up rather disastrous for the knuckleballer. And so maybe, Torre’s rope for Ortiz will be cut now that the 37-year-old righty has followed up that last start against San Diego with a stinker in tonight’s 10-5 defeat: 3 1/3 innings, five runs, six hits, three walks, one strikeout. Ortiz now has a 6.30 ERA (thanks in small part to Ramon Troncoso, who allowed an inherited run to score and gave up two homers in a five-run fourth). Monasterios, after throwing three shutout innings tonight, is at 1.90.

James McDonald or Scott Elbert should be grabbing that No. 5 spot in the rotation, but they haven’t. I might just throw McDonald out there to see what happens, but in their absence, it’s time for Monasterios to get another shot – not with the expectation that he’ll give you six innings, but that he’ll keep the score more manageable in the early going than Ortiz would. With the rest of the Dodger starting pitching having stabilized, the Dodgers can afford this. Whether the Dodgers next use a fifth starter on May 25 (after an off day) or May 29 (the next time it’s necessary), Ortiz is no longer the man to bridge the gap between now and Vicente Padilla’s return.

All this being said, the Dodgers hung on for most of tonight’s game despite allowing six RBI to Adrian Gonzalez and five times on base to Will Venable, and despite being down 8-3 after four innings (that took two hours to play). They threatened constantly, tallying 15 baserunners for the game, but simply couldn’t get the big blow, and after George Sherrill allowed two more runs in the ninth, fell to defeat for the first time in 10 games. It cost the Dodgers a chance to move into first place in the National League West. On the other hand, maybe it moved them one step closer to figuring out the starting pitching they’re supposed to have.

* * *

Manny Ramirez was a late scratch from tonight’s starting lineup because of a left foot injury he suffered during pregame warmups, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. Ramirez pinch-hit for the Dodgers in the fifth – no further details on the injury were immediately available.

May 17

Elymania! Dodgers 6, Astros 2

Alex Gallardo/AP
John Ely: 24 strikeouts since his last walk.

Well, the infamous eighth inning came, and once again John Ely couldn’t get past it.

I kid, of course. I kid, because I love. Love love love.

The 24-year-old rookie has now faced 84 consecutive batters without walking one – by far the longest active streak in the majors – and more importantly, pitched well enough Monday to lead the Dodgers to their eighth consecutive victory, 4-2 over Houston.

Need someone to tell you what facing Ely is like? Try asking the Astros’ best hitter, Lance Berkman. In the top of the fourth, Berkman worked the count to 3-2 (only the second three-ball count for Ely to that point). Undaunted, Ely offered a tantalizing 76-mph changeup that drew Berkman into swinging early, and he was done. His next time up, with the count 2-2, Ely froze Berkman on an 89-mph fastball.

It’s not about the speed. It’s about the fact that Ely has become a puppetmaster out there.

He struck out a career-high eight in his career-high seven innings – his longest outing ever complemented by his lowest pitch count ever, 97. Allowing two runs, he lowered his season ERA to 3.51 while raising his strikeout total to 25 in 25 2/3 innings, against 25 baserunners.

Not only has Ely not walked anyone in his past 23 innings, he hasn’t allowed an extra-base hit in his past 23 innings.

Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. tweeted that Ely is the first pitcher since Ross Grimsley 1971 to have three starts of at least six innings with no walks out of the first four in his career.

Remarkable.

Ely actually allowed a first-inning run, but the Dodgers came back with three in the bottom of the first off Wandy Rodriguez, aided by a close call at second base that could have been a forceout but instead loaded the bases. James Loney followed with a sacrifice fly to tie the game, and then slumping Casey Blake rapped a shallow double just inside the first-base line to score two more runs (including Matt Kemp, who saw the opportunity in front of him instead of third-base coach Larry Bowa’s stop sign).

Blake DeWitt had two triples to right field tonight (besting Hunter Pence, who was shading him toward center), scoring once to give the Dodgers a 4-1 lead in the fourth, then driving in two with the other to boost the Dodgers’ lead in the eighth to 6-2. It was the 19th time that a Los Angeles Dodger has tripled twice in a game. (I’m sure everyone remembers Eric Anthony matching the feat in a Dodger uniform.)

With Jonathan Broxton taking the night off, Jeff Weaver, George Sherrill and Ramon Troncoso combined for two shutout innings of relief, giving the Dodger bullpen a 0.90 ERA over 20 innings during the winning streak.

Ely, who went out for a pinch-hitter with the Dodgers leading 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh, will continue to be tested, by teams much more challenging than the 2010 Houston Astros, but so far in this riotous world, he’s been like a dose of nature sounds. He’s been as respendently good as Takashi Saito in his first season as a Dodger – only he does it for six innings or more at a time.

“He hasn’t had a bad outing,” Dodger manager Joe Torre said on Prime Ticket after the game. “The first one, the numbers didn’t look very very good, but I thought he competed very well. Tonight, he looked terrific.”

Said Ely: “I’m just going out there with the same game plan – trying to throw strikes and keep the ball down.”

The kid must be on cloud nine.

Update San Diego defeated San Francisco, which means that the Dodgers remain two games out of first place in the National League West but move within half a game of the second-place Giants.

Update 2: Memories of Kevin Malone is among the sites tracking the best of Twitter-based Elymania.

May 16

Demons be gone: Billingsley, Broxton bookend 1-0 victory


Lenny Ignelzi/AP
Chad Billingsley

It wasn’t just that San Diego was the site of Chad Billingsley’s last foray into the latter third of a baseball game. It’s that the last time it happened, on July 5, Jonathan Broxton had the ignominy of helping Billingsley’s 6-1 ninth-inning lead get away.

But on a day – just like a week ago against Colorado – when the Dodgers needed their pitching staff to keep runs off the board, Billingsley, Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo came through, shutting out San Diego, 1-0.

Padres starter Wade LeBlanc (1.54 ERA) held Los Angeles hitless for 5 1/3 innings before Russell Martin singled home Jamey Carroll (who had walked for the second time) with the only run of the two-hour, 18-minute game. Despite only one other hit from a Dodger lineup that was missing Andre Ethier, Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake, Blake DeWitt and Rafael Furcal, the pitching made it stand up.

Billingsley was replaced with no runners on base after 7 1/3 innings in which he allowed four hits, one walk and one hit batter while striking out six – all in 95 pitches. Kuo and Broxton retired all five batters they faced, as Dodgers pitchers faced the minimum number of Padres over the final five innings (thanks in part to two double plays in back of Billingsley).

In his past five starts, Billingsley has now gone 30 1/3 innings with a 2.67 ERA and 25 strikeouts, while allowing 38 baserunners (one home run).

After his first inning homer off Ramon Ortiz on Friday, Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez was retired in 12 straight at-bats by Los Angeles.

The Dodgers have won seven straight games and 12 of their past 15 to move within two games of first place in the National League West. Four of the five NL West teams are now over .500.

May 15

Dodgers win, wait anxiously on Ethier news

Quick recap tonight: Clayton Kershaw had his only hiccup in the first inning on his way to seven innings of one-run, five-baserunner ball, boosting the Dodgers to a 4-1 victory. James Loney homered, while Kershaw lowered his season ERA to 3.55.

Meanwhile, Andre Ethier is heading back to Los Angeles to have his broken right fingertip examined Sunday. No idea at bedtime how long Ethier will be out – could be days or weeks. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more details. Depressing for Dodger fans during this magical Ethier season.

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 12

Diamondbacks walk but can’t hide: Ramirez blast lifts Dodgers, 6-3


Ross D. Franklin/AP
Manny Ramirez follows through, literally and figuratively.

A year ago, Andre Ethier was being told he couldn’t hit at all unless Manny Ramirez was batting behind him.

Tonight, the Arizona Diamondbacks told Ethier that they were so scared of how well he can hit, they’d rather face Ramirez.

It was an awe-wow moment that punctuated the Dodgers’ 6-3 victory over Arizona Wednesday, yet not at all shocking considering Ethier’s unbelievable season – and it was hardly a slight against Ramirez, who brought a 1.064 OPS for 2010 into the at-bat. But with runners on second and third with two out in the top of the seventh inning, and the Dodgers leading 3-2, Diamondbacks pitcher Edwin Jackson simply didn’t feel he could mess around with Ethier, who boosted his Triple Crown numbers earlier in the game with a two-run homer.

The logic was simple: Walking the left-handed Ethier eliminated the platoon advantage for the Dodgers and created a force at every base for Ramirez, who turns 38 at the end of the month. But still, here it was, the bases being loaded on purpose for one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters (still) – only because the Dodgers have come up with a player 10 years younger and even more dangerous.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

Edwin Jackson wipes his forehead after loading the bases ahead of Manny Ramirez in the seventh inning.

Jackson shouldn’t have even been in the situation. He had pitched well overall, allowing three runs on nine baserunners in 6 2/3 innings and striking out eight before the intentional walk. He had already thrown 114 pitches when Ethier came up.  But the Arizona bullpen has been such dogmeat that Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch decided he didn’t have a better hope against Ramirez with the bases loaded than the gassed Jackson.

Ramirez fouled off two pitches to fall behind 0-2 in the count, but on the next pitch, he cannoned a ball high off the center-field wall, 407 feet away, easily a grand slam in Dodger Stadium but a mere three-run double tonight. The smash blasted  Jackson’s valiant effort into ruins, and gave the Dodgers a most exuberant and comfortable four-run lead.

The moment stole the spotlight from what I think we can call a vintage Hiroki Kuroda performance. Kuroda’s first four pitches of the game were low and outside, but he didn’t walk a man after that in 7 1/3 innings, while allowing three runs on six hits and striking out nine. The third run – the run that would have tied the game were it not for Ethier and Ramirez – came across on a sacrifice fly off Hong-Chih Kuo in the eighth, after walks by Ronald Belsiario and Kuo loaded the bases and brought the tying run to the plate. But nothing more came across.

Jonathan Broxton, who hadn’t been needed in the series up to now, fell short of a 1-2-3 inning for the sixth time in his past seven chances but got the save, interspersing a single and walk with three strikeouts, giving him 22 in 12 2/3 innings this year.

The Dodgers won their ninth in their past 12 games, reached the .500 mark (17-17) for the first time since they were 7-7 on April 21 and moved within two games of second-place San Francisco. And another threshold in Andre Ethier’s mammoth season was crossed.

May 11

Wa happen? Dodgers blindside Haren and Diamondbacks, 13-3


Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
Manny Ramirez is congratulated by Matt Kemp during the Dodgers’ victory.

“John Ely” is “John Elway” minus “wa,” the Japanese term made famous to baseball fans in the U.S. in Robert Whiting’s book “You Gotta Have Wa.” “Wa” means “group harmony,” so I’m told, and I get the sense that a heroic John Ely gave up his “wa” for the good of the Dodgers.

That is my best explanation for how, on a night when Arizona pitcher Dan Haren got all nine outs in the first three innings via strikeout, the Dodgers ended up coming away with a 13-3 slaughter of the Diamondbacks – and how Ely defied the odds and took a shutout into the seventh inning for the second game in a row.

Ely has now faced 48 batters over 12 2/3 innings in his past two starts and allowed only 10 singles – and no walks or extra-base hits – while striking out 13. He has allowed three runs in that period, all of them in the seventh inning. He has been indisputably critical in turning around the season for the Dodgers, who have now won eight of 11 games to move into third place by themselves, 4 1/2 games behind San Diego and three games behind second-place San Francisco.

As for the offense, after weathering Haren’s strikeout storm, the Dodgers got three consecutive doubles in the fourth inning to take a 2-0 lead and doubled that margin by the bottom of the seventh, when Ely, Jeff Weaver and George Sherrill combined to allow three runs and make it a tight game again. (Ramon Ortiz was called into get the final out of the seventh inning, throwing four pitches and raising questions about whether this will impact his scheduled start Friday.)

Just when nervous time seemed to be approaching, Jamey Carroll and pinch-hitter Garret Anderson singled before Russell Martin hit a three-run homer to give the Dodgers breathing room in the top of the eighth, an inning that ended up with Los Angeles sending 12 men to the plate and scoring seven runs. Two more tallies came across in the ninth, while Carlos Monasterios (lowering his ERA to 2.18) retired all six batters he faced to wrap things up.

The Dodgers had 23 baserunners in all. James Loney had two doubles and two singles, Manny Ramirez two walks and two singles, Martin a single and hit-by-pitch to go with his homer, and Andre Ethier two doubles. Ramirez’s on-base percentage is now at .507 for the season, Ethier’s league-leading OPS is at 1.175, and thanks in no small part to Ely, the Dodgers are looking like a real team again.

May 10

A fine time for a shutout

Clayton Kershaw’s 30th pitch of the first inning Sunday was a laser that on first glance looked too high and too inside to prevent him from walking in a run and unleashing another torrent of dread for the Dodgers. But home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman called it a strike, and on replay it appeared it was the right call.

Another right call: Having faith in Kershaw, who went from the tightrope to the autobahn in the Dodgers’ 2-0 victory over Colorado and Ubaldo Jimenez.

After loading the bases in the first on a single and two walks, Kershaw allowed only two more baserunners  in his next seven scoreless innings, striking out nine. The Rockies didn’t once hit the ball to the outfield, as Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. notes, until an eighth-inning flyout by Clint Barmes. Kershaw didn’t get first-pitch strikes on about half the batters he faced, but Colorado still couldn’t figure him out.

Kershaw’s shutout ball enabled the Dodgers to outlast Jimenez, who had thrown 104 pitches through seven innings and presumably could have continued if he hadn’t been pinch-hit for with one out in the top of the eighth. Russell Martin took advantage of the Rockies’ move to reliever Matt Daley with a hard home run to left. That run provided some comfort when a 50-foot single by Ryan Spilborghs in the ninth inning put runners on first and second against Jonathan Broxton. Ian Stewart swung at the next pitch, a fastball clocked at 95, but got under it, leaving Andre Ethier to stock the can of corn on the shelf and let the Dodgers come home victorious.

Ethier, of all people, struck out in all three of his at-bats against Jimenez, but the Dodgers for once won without his contributions.

The Dodgers’ first run of the game was brought home by Blake DeWitt, who had his sixth double in his past 12 games after having no extra-base hits in his first 14 games.

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more on the game.

* * *

Wild one in Albuquerque on Sunday. James McDonald started and allowed two runs over his first six innings, striking out six, then was pulled after allowing a walk and two singles to start the seventh. Jon Link relieved and allowed one inherited run to score while being charged with five others. The Isotopes still won, 15-12, thanks in part to a 4-for-4 (plus a walk) day from Chin-Lung Hu and a triple and homer from Jamie Hoffmann. Hu’s OPS crossed the .600 threshold and now sits at .618.

It is widely expected that John Ely will be recalled from Albuquerque to start Tuesday’s game. After being sent down Friday, the Dodgers needed to place a pitcher on the disabled list to allow Ely’s recall inside of 10 days. Sunday, the Dodgers began making a public case that Charlie Haeger has right heel problems. You do the math.