Apr 11

Dodgers surrender another lead to end 2-4 road trip

“Slacks” did his part.

In a performance best seen to be appreciated, Charlie Haeger knucklestruck 12 batters in six innings, walked four and had as many hits allowed as wild pitches (three). He gave up a three-run homer to Jorge Cantu in the fourth after walking two batters with a 4-0 Dodger lead, but that inning was the only one when he really struggled, and he overall pitched well enough to win. Rob Neyer of ESPN.com pointed out that in his fifth career start, the 26-year-old Haeger equaled the career strikeout high of 43-year-old Tim Wakefield.

But a bobbled-and-dropped fly ball by an on-the-run Matt Kemp opened the door for the Marlins to cut the Dodgers’ lead to 5-4 in the bottom of the sixth, and then Jeff Weaver, pitching for the fifth time in six games, picked the wrong time to allow his first runs of the season, giving up a two-run double to Cantu that Florida didn’t waste, with the Marlins holding on for a 6-5 victory.

The Dodgers put runners on first and third in both the eighth and ninth innings, but pinch-hitter Andre Ethier grounded out to end the eighth, and Kemp struck out before James Loney grounded out to end the ninth. Kemp and Loney were both 2 for 5 on the day.

Ronnie Belliard had another three-hit start for the Dodgers and also made two outstanding plays at third base. A.J. Ellis made his first start of 2010 for the Dodgers and produced a boxscore line of 0 0 0 2, thanks to a squeeze bunt, walk and sacrifice fly.

And so the Dodgers head home after a 2-4 season-opening road trip in which they gave up the winning run in the seventh, ninth and 10th innings – all three games that Jonathan Broxton missed. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reported that Hong-Chih Kuo threw a side session today and could be activated during the Dodgers’ upcoming homestand, after at least one minor-league rehab assignment. The Dodgers, averaging 6.0 runs per game despite Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez combining for six starts this year, could use some good news out of that bullpen.

Apr 11

Relief disbelief: Same old song with a few new lines


Keith Srakocic/AP
George Sherrill’s bad outing against Pittsburgh on Opening Day was mere prelude to Saturday’s Florida fright night.

George Sherrill should be able to get three outs before he gives up three runs. And inevitably, there was going to be a do-or-die situation this season when he would need to do that. Just as Vicente Padilla shouldn’t give up four runs on nine baserunners in 4 1/3 innings, Sherrill needs to do better if the Dodgers are going avoid trouble.

But Padilla and Sherrill’s failings are basically heat-of-the-battle failings, whereas Joe Torre’s use of Jonathan Broxton this week is the equivalent of filling the bubbles in your SAT exam with Crayola burnt orange. (Assuming they still use bubbles.)

We’ve said it before and we hate to say it again – so this is going to be brief. If you can’t afford to allow a run – as was the case when the Dodgers played extra innings in Pittsburgh on Wednesday – you use the pitcher least likely to allow a run. Only after that pitcher has been used do you turn to others. And certainly, you don’t worry about saving your best pitcher for a situation in which you can allow a run and still win.

On one level, it was coincidental that Torre’s use of Broxton this week led to us talking about his absence from Saturday’s game. It required a specific flow of events from Opening Day on. On the other hand, we do see this from Dodger managers, including Torre’s recent predecessors, all too often. If Sherrill had been used Saturday after a proper use of Broxton in previous days, people would have been talking about Sherrill overnight a lot more than Torre.

Do not save your best reliever for a save situation in an extra-inning game on the road.

  • One other oddity regarding Saturday and the bullpen: Torre told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com that Ramon Troncoso, who was pitched a perfect eighth inning but was pulled after giving up a leadoff single in the ninth, “is basically a one-inning guy.” I realize that bullpen roles have changed with Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario out, but especially when he hadn’t pitched the day before and with Broxton out, since when is Troncoso a one-inning guy? The guy made his reputation with his ability to go multiple frames. Troncoso needed only seven pitches to get out of the eighth inning, then had thrown six pitches in the ninth when he came out of the game.
  • The botched squeeze in the second inning Saturday (that resulted in a bases-loaded, one-out situation imploding) was even crazier than it appeared. As many surmised, Vicente Padilla missed the suicide squeeze sign that resulted in Casey Blake getting tagged out between third and home. But from what Torre told reporters this morning, it appears that Torre himself wanted to take the squeeze off after having initially called for it – but that he gave the second sign too late for third-base coach Larry Bowa to see. So Bowa and Blake incorrectly, though understandably, thought the squeeze was still on – while Padilla, apparently, was oblivious to all of this. Torre indicated that he puts signs on and takes them off all the time.
  • Manny Ramirez had his 2,500th career hit Saturday, while Rafael Furcal had his 1,500th. Furcal has a .480 on-base percentage this season and is tied for the major-league lead in doubles.
  • Ian Kennedy is the scheduled starter for Arizona against Clayton Kershaw in Tuesday’s home opener, followed by Rodrigo Lopez against Chad Billingsley on Wednesday and Dan Haren against Hiroki Kuroda on Thursday.
  • LeeAnn Rimes will sing the national anthem Tuesday.
  • Josh Lindblom was hit hard in his first 2010 start for Albuquerque – needing 77 pitches to get through three innings that saw him give up eight hits, two walks and three runs while striking out one.
  • John Lindsey, the 33-year-old minor-league lifer still looking for his first major-league action, is 7 for 13 with three doubles in his first three games for the Isotopes. Lindsey would need a few injuries to right-handed hitting Dodgers before he’d have a shot at a cup of coffee.
  • James Adkins, a 2007 first-round pick, allowed five runs in three innings of relief in his first 2010 outing for AA Chattanooga.
  • Ethan Martin’s Inland Empire season debut was a different story: five innings, no runs, three singles, no walks, one hit batter, nine strikeouts.
  • Allen Webster allowed one run over five innings (six baserunners, four strikeouts) in his ’10 Great Lakes debut.
  • Dixie Walker, the Brooklyn Dodger long remembered for starting a petition against Jackie Robinson joining the team, is revisited today by Harvey Araton of the New York Times (via Inside the Dodgers). The article’s main point seems to be that Walker was remorseful and not the racist he’s been accused of being:

    … Though (Maury) Allen and Susan Walker suggest in the book that her father did not initiate the anti-Robinson petition, Roger Kahn, in his 2002 book, “The Era,” wrote that Walker told him in 1976 that he had.

    Kahn quoted Walker saying: “I organized that petition in 1947, not because I had anything against Robinson personally or against Negroes generally. I had a wholesale business in Birmingham and people told me I’d lose my business if I played ball with a black man.”

    In a telephone interview, Kahn said his conversation with Walker took place when Walker was the hitting coach for the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

    “He invited me out for a glass of wine — somewhat shocking in that Budweiser world,” Kahn said. “We talked for a while, and then he got to the point: the petition and his letter to Rickey. He called it the stupidest thing he’d ever done and if I ever had a chance to please write that he was very sorry.”

    Calling the Walker he met “a lovely, courtly man,” Kahn said that the assumption should not be made that all early opposition to Robinson was based on core discrimination and not confusion or fear.

    “Ballplayers depended on off-season work back then,” he said. “When I was covering the Dodgers, Gil Hodges sold Buicks on Flatbush Avenue. Now, if you’re Derek Jeter and you have a wholesale hardware business, you can say, ‘So what?’ ”

    Rachel Robinson’s response in the same article: “If you’re asking about forgiveness based on the context of the time, I can’t say I worry about the view of them at this time. Maybe they learned better or changed, but at the time, they had a chance to move forward from segregation and chose the opposite. They had an impact.”

Apr 09

Dodgers, Kuroda win despite ongoing defensive concerns


Doug Benc/Getty Images
Hiroki Kuroda didn’t allow an earned run over eight innings in his first start of the season.

Stuck in a shutout duel for five innings and looking like he might be a hard-luck loser after six, Hiroki Kuroda emerged triumphant and then some.

Kuroda went eight innings in his first start of the season without allowing an earned run, by far the star in the Dodgers’ 7-3 victory that evened their season record at 2-2.

Doug Penc/Getty Images

John Baker’s blooper fell for a double after Blake DeWitt nearly collided with Reed Johnson in the second inning Friday. Hiroki Kuroda struck out two of the next three batters to get out of the inning.

The 35-year-old righthander, whose 2009 season ended mired in injuries, allowed four singles, a bloop double and a walk (intentional) while striking out seven. Kuroda tallied his eight innings in 100 pitches, and with better defense behind him might easily have pitched a shutout.

The near-collision in the second inning between Reed Johnson and Blake DeWitt that led to the only extra-base hit off Kuroda, the error by Casey Blake in the fifth and the throwing error by Russell Martin (leading to an unearned run) were among the defensive lapses that kept Kuroda from an even more efficent outing. The mistakes could be said to be just three of those things that happen at a baseball game. But as much as people have focused on DeWitt as a defensive worry, it’s pretty easy to point to half the eight defensive positions – second, third, left and right – and say the Dodgers have limited range there, compounded by the sometimes erratic play by Rafael Furcal at short and Martin behind the plate.

Even the best make mistakes. Gold Glove winner Matt Kemp and first-base artist James Loney aren’t perfect, and perfection isn’t expected. But the Dodgers are going to have to outscore or outpitch their defense a lot this year.

Fortunately for them tonight, they were up to the task, thanks to Kuroda and an offense that scored seven times in the final three innings. Furcal was 3 for 4 with a walk tonight and had two of the Dodgers’ five doubles.

The night ended after Jonathan Broxton made sure Russ Ortiz’s ERA didn’t go unpunished after Ortiz loaded the bases on a single and two walks in the bottom of the ninth. Broxton gave up a two-run double to Wes Helms before striking out the final two batters of the game.

* * *

Notes from Tony Jackson:

  • Andre Ethier remains day-to-day with a sore ankle, and figures to pinch-hit before he returns to the starting lineup.
  • Hong-Chih Kuo has a bullpen session scheduled for Sunday, which hopefully will greenlight his return from the disabled list within the next week.
  • Dodger Thoughts hero Pedro Guerrero visited the clubhouse and former teammates Rick Monday, Rick Honeycutt and Mariano Duncan today.

* * *

Scott Elbert had a whale of a first start tonight for Albuquerque. He pitched six shutout innings, allowing two hits, walking five and striking out 10 –  somehow needing only 96 pitches to do all that. Elbert, who twice pitched out of one-out jams with runners on second and third, left with a 1-0 lead, but Brent Leach couldn’t hold it and the Isotopes lost, 4-3.

Apr 08

You don’t have to duck and cover anymore: Dodgers win first in ’10


Keith Srakocic/AP
Already down an outfielder with Andre Ethier nursing a sore ankle, the Dodgers nearly lost two more when Matt Kemp and Reed Johnson tangled in the sixth inning of their 10-2 victory.

Tony Jackson’s game recap and notebook.

The Chad Billingsley that half of us love and the other half forgot about came out firing today, with a first-pitch out and seven strikeouts among 24 batters. The Chad Billingsley that half of us think is temporary and the other half hate also came out, walking four batters and failing to make it through the sixth inning.

So Billingsley’s 5 1/3-inning, one-run outing in the Dodgers’ 10-2 victory didn’t resolve the Billingsley debate one way or another – not that one game could. But it turned the page on the second half of 2009, allowing people to begin looking forward instead of back.

On the radio, Dodger announcers Charley Steiner and Rick Monday so persistently hammered home a point that Billingsley’s fate depended on where he planted his foot on his follow-through, that you could be excused for forgetting that Billingsley’s mental toughness had ever been questioned. This was a pure mechanics issue – if the brain was involved, it was only out of the need to provide consistency, not courage.  I don’t quite believe that the solution to Billingsley’s problems is that simple – I’m not saying that Steiner and Monday believe that either –  but it does remind you that there’s a lot more going on with Billingsley than what’s between the ears. (Steiner and Monday also commented that Billingsley reduced his pregame warmup time compared to last year.)

Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ misanthropic five-reserve lineup turned expectations upside down by just hammering the ball, with the top six hitters in the batting order – three of them reserves – each reaching base at least two times, and Ronnie Belliard coming within a single of hitting for the cycle 360 days after Orlando Hudson did. More monkeys were kicked off more backs today than in Curious George’s worst nightmare.

Footnote: Carlos Monasterios gave up the first run of his two-inning major-league career, while Jonathan Broxton’s first outing of the season came in garbage time.

* * *

  • Takuya Kimura, a 37-year-old former Hiroshima teammate of Hiroki Kuroda, collapsed and died last week, and Dylan Hernandez of the Times talked to Kuroda about it.
  • Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com has a feature on how Jared Weaver has coped with the death of friend and teammate Nick Adenhart over the past year.
  • James McDonald allowed one run on seven baserunners over five innings, striking out three, in Albuquerque’s season-opening 6-3, 13-inning victory. McDonald threw 83 pitches. Jamie Hoffmann, Russ Mitchell, Xavier Paul, John Lindsey, Prentice Redman, Michael Restovich, Ivan DeJesus, A.J. Ellis and Chin-Lung Hu were in the starting batting order.
  • Chris Withrow allowed two runs on four baserunners over six innings, striking out four, in AA Chattanooga’s 4-2 kickoff victory.
  • Carlos Santana homered twice in his 4-for-5 AAA International League debut tonight.
Apr 07

This game’ll make you feel a hundred years old


Gene J. Puskar/AP
Russell Martin is the glum in an emotional contrast sandwich.

I mean, my grandmother could have walked the pitcher twice.

I promised myself at the birthday dinner tonight that I wasn’t going to let anything Dodger-related interfere with my enjoyment of the night, but that came after Clayton Kershaw (who had already walked the leadoff man before giving up a three-run home run to Pirates outfielder Wilver Jones) free-passed Pittsburgh pitcher Russ Ohlendorf in two consecutive at-bats.

Just to give you some insight into my offline personality, I really let Kershaw have it when Ball 8 came to Ohlendorf as I pulled into my driveway to grab my family for dinner. I spare you folks the rage – just not my steering wheel, which bore the brunt of my shouts.

It was the 33rd time in 53 seasons since the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles that an opposing pitcher drew at least two walks. Kershaw was the culprit the last time it happened – July 1 against Jason Hammel of Colorado (in a 1-0 Dodger victory).

Hey, it’s an old gripe for me. My third post ever on Dodger Thoughts was frustration about a ridiculous walk. But throwing strikes just isn’t automatic yet for Kershaw. We’ll keep waiting, but all that talk about Kershaw being the completely together pitcher and Chad Billingsley being the mental dyspeptic seems a bit silly now, at least until Thursday morning.

Conversely, Joe Torre’s decision to leave his best reliever in the bullpen during a game that was tied from the fifth until the 10th inning – that’s also an old gripe for me, for which there are no excuses unless the guy is physically unavailable  – but it came after Grandma Sue’s dinner started, so I can’t comment about it. And I didn’t even see Blake DeWitt’s error in the 10th inning, which came around the time we were blowing out the candles on the 100 cake.

In fact, there was lots about this game that was just crappy, but I saw Russell Martin’s homer and I heard my grandmother say she was excited about her birthday, so that wins.  Some things are just more important. (New dad Ramon Troncoso understands. “I want to be with her every second,” Troncoso told Dylan Hernandez of the Times.)

So for now, you just get the photo of Martin above. And if you want more details about tonight’s game, Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has lots of them – really a thorough report. But I promise that if the Dodgers go down Thursday, I’ll hit you with something gripy. Not doomsdayish, but certainly enough to commemorate an opening three-game sweep by the Pirates.

Good thoughts, everyone …

* * *

  • Forbes values the Dodgers at $727 million, the fourth-highest figure in baseball – details in this story from The Associated Press.
  • Manny Ramirez told T.J. Simers of the Times that he likes Jamie McCourt more than Frank.
    Update: Man, I really, really zoned out while reading Simers late Thursday. Sheesh. Anyway, disregard the sentence above.
Apr 05

That’s a Padillaing: Dodgers fall in opener, 11-5


Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Vicente Padilla allowed 11 of 24 batters he faced to reach base Monday.

The last time the Dodgers played a game that counted, Vicente Padilla started for Los Angeles in Pennsylvania and got pounded before the Dodgers tried to rally from a six-run deficit in the seventh inning — and almost made you think they would succeed.

In Philadelphia for Game 5 of the 2009 National League Championship Series, the Dodgers were down, 9-3, but scored a run and loaded the bases in the eighth inning with none away before James Loney, Russell Martin and Casey Blake made outs. Today in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles halved their 8-2 deficit and had the tying run on deck in the seventh — and at the plate in the eighth — before faltering and ultimately tumbling, 11-5, in their 2010 season opener.

Fortunately for the Dodgers, Wednesday’s second game of the regular season should, if nothing else, break the Paddle Padilla Pattern.

The cup of Dodger offense was more than half-full today, pouring five runs on 14 baserunners but, unfortunately for them, stranding 10. Every Dodger starter reached base except Loney, who had an RBI groundout in the seventh on an 0-for-5 day. Rafael Furcal had a couple poor at-bats with runners on base before recovering with a single and walk late, and in general the Dodgers’ missed some golden opportunities to score more, but it’s not as if you could lay this loss on the hitters. Matt Kemp and Manny Ramirez each had a single and a double, Blakes Casey and DeWitt each had two hits, and Martin reached base three times.

Keith Srakocic/AP
Pirates outfielder Garrett Jones homered to right field and left field in his first two at-bats of the season.

But it was Padilla who from the beginning looked very much like the castoff that he had been when the Dodgers signed him, rather than the savior who earned playoff and Opening Day starts. Granted a 2-0 first-inning lead on Matt Kemp’s two-run single, Padilla walked the leadoff batter and then gave up a prodigious Allegheny River-splasher to Garrett Jones that tied the game. (I’ll try not to belabor this point beyond today, but if Chad Billingsley had performed similarly in the first inning with a lead, there would have been calls from the usual suspects to institutionalize him.)

Padilla allowed at least two baserunners in each of the first three innings — escaping a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the second with the aid of a 1-2-3 double play, before giving up another homer to Jones in the third. He then settled down, relatively speaking, to get out of the fourth with just a single.

This being early April, you could make an argument to be made that the Dodgers should have cut their losses and gone to the bullpen before the fifth inning rather than extend Padilla farther, given the off days yesterday and tomorrow, but instead Joe Torre went by the book and stuck with Padilla into the fifth. (I’m not saying Torre did anything controversial — just that it wasn’t likely that Padilla was going to do much better this day.)

In fact, Padilla was rousted in the fifth — HBP, walk, double — and with new reliever Ramon Ortiz unable to minimize the damage, the Dodgers fell behind, 8-2.

Carlos Monasterios had a 1-2-3 sixth in his major-league debut and Russ Ortiz struck out former Dodger Delwyn Young to end a Pirate threat in the seventh after the Dodgers scored three, but then after Andre Ethier’s bid to tie the game in the eighth with two on base went awry, George Sherrill came out and gave Dodger fans even more to worry about, allowing a double, walk and then a three-run homer to Ryan Doumit. (Remember, Sherrill only allowed one homer as a Dodger last year, before the playoffs.)

It’s just one game, and Dodger fans can calm themselves with the notion that by getting  Padilla out of the way, they should have matchup advantages on the mound for the rest of this series.  But Opening Day 2010 was certainly a reminder of Closing Day 2009 in all the wrong ways.

* * *

Ronald Belisario is making rapid progress in his efforts to rejoin the active roster, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Belisario is scheduled to throw to hitters for the first time this spring on Tuesday, a significant move in his effort to rejoin the big league club. Belisario arrived five weeks late to spring training because of lingering visa issues in his native Venezuela, but club officials don’t think he will need the full six-week equivalent of spring training in order to be ready. One Dodgers source said Monday that Belisario could be ready in as few as “15 or 20 days.”