Jul 01

News on Manny Ramirez: not much news

From Dodgers communications VP Josh Rawitch: “Manny Ramirez felt better today and underwent an MRI here in Phoenix. It showed inflammation in the hamstring, as was expected by the medical staff upon examination yesterday, and we will see how he progresses tomorrow before determining the next step.”

Jun 29

Manny Ramirez gets Matt Kemp back on the field … by getting hurt


Jason O. Watson/US PresswireJoe Torre leaves the field with Manny Ramirez after the outfielder’s injury.

Manny Ramirez injured his right hamstring on a freak slide (some would say that’s an appropriate term) back into second base in the first inning tonight – forcing Matt Kemp into the lineup after all of today’s commmotion. From The Associated Press:

Ramirez was initially listed as day to day, but there was no immediate word as to the nature or severity of the injury.

Ramirez, who had singled up the middle with two outs, went to second on a subsequent single by James Loney that scored Andre Ethier from third. But Ramirez then inexplicably rounded second base and wandered three or four feet toward third even as the throw from Giants right fielder Aubrey Huff came to shortstop Edgar Renteria, who was standing on the second base bag.

Ramirez then made a feeble attempt to get back as Renteria applied the tag, but the ball popped out of Renteria’s glove as second base umpire Ron Kulpa was calling Ramirez out, causing Kulpa to change his call.

Ramirez was on the disabled list earlier this season with a calf strain in the same leg. Xavier Paul, who had a .328 on-base percentage and .404 slugging percentage when called up earlier this season, has continued his banner season with Albuquerque (.402/.633).

Jun 15

Rain on the parade: Did Kuroda make a risky return?


Al Behrman/AP
It was a long night, but Hiroki Kuroda struck out eight in five shutout innings with no walks.

After a rain delay of more than two hours, Hiroki Kuroda came back out to pitch the fifth inning for the Dodgers tonight in Cincinnati.

I have no expertise to be able to discuss if this was a risk or not. All I know is that in my roughly 35 years of following baseball, this kind of thing is almost never done because of the fear it will bring injury to the pitcher. But on the day they announced Chad Billingsley was going on the disabled list, the Dodgers did it.

Here’s what the Dodgers stood to gain:

1) The 23rd win in the United States for Kuroda, who had thrown four one-hit shutout innings while striking out seven.
2) Possibly a better chance of winning tonight’s game, because Kuroda is better than the Dodgers’ middle relievers.
3) A little more rest for the bullpen, which figures to be taxed between now and Sunday.
4) Status as pioneers in the You Can Bring Back Starting Pitchers After Rain Delays Movement.

Here’s what the Dodgers stood to lose:

1) The game, if Kuroda couldn’t regain his effectiveness after the break. He loaded the bases in the bottom of the fifth before getting the final out.
2) The sanity of Dodger fans.
3) Shine off Torre’s reputation.
4) Kuroda.

The Dodgers might have made the right decision. I don’t know. I do know that most people would say it was a bad bet, and I’m curious why they made it.

Jun 15

Chad Billingsley to the disabled list


Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Chad Billingsley

Well, now that changes everything.

The Dodgers announced this afternoon that Chad Billingsley would go on the 15-day disabled list with a groin strain. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details. I’ll update this post with the news of who is being added to the roster as soon as I hear.

Billingsley was scheduled to start for the Dodgers on Thursday. John Ely could make that start on four days’ rest, with Vicente Padilla then being activated to pitch Friday in Boston. Charlie Haeger, by the way, is scheduled to pitch for Albuquerque tonight.

Kinda amusing to think of what would happen if Padilla and Haeger aren’t ready to go by Saturday. With James McDonald and Scott Elbert out, do we start talking about guys like Seth Etherton? Alberto Bastardo? Or do the Dodgers call up another reliever and give Jeff Weaver a spot start?

The road just got a little rougher.

* * *

In other malady news, another celebration yielded a big injury. UCLA’s No. 3 hitter, Tyler Rahmatulla, broke his wrist in the dogpile celebrating the Bruins’ advance to the College World Series.

* * *

Update: Joe Torre told reporters that Padilla is ready to go and will be activated. Ely starts Thursday, Carlos Monasterios on Friday, Padilla on Saturday and then back to Hiroki Kuroda on Sunday before Monday’s off day. Torre said Padilla is ready to throw 100 pitches.

Billingsley strained his right groin in the last inning of his last start, the Dodgers said. An MRI showed no structural damage. The team wasn’t expecting him to miss any time, but he felt tightness during his latest bullpen workout at the very end on his pushoff leg, and the Dodgers didn’t want that to mess up his mechanics.

Jun 08

Casey Blake returns to action

Casey Blake returns to the Dodger starting lineup after missing four games with back spasms. Trainer Stan Conte gave the go-ahead.

* * *

Memories of Kevin Malone has information on the Dodger draft picks that came after the third round:

* * *

Scott Elbert had to miss his start for Albuquerque today because of a family matter. Bobby Blevins and his 5.80 ERA for Class A Inland Empire took his place and allowed one run in five innings. Last week’s Dodger hero, Travis Schlichting, gave up two runs in a 9-6 Isotopes loss.

* * *

Former Dodgers Andy LaRoche and Delwyn Young had the first hit and home run, respectively, off Steven Strasburg during his otherwise impressive major-league debut. Strasburg struck out six in his first three innings for Washington before giving up the two-run homer to Young in the fourth, and was still losing 2-1 in the sixth despite having 11 strikeouts and no walks.

But back-to-back homers by Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham in the bottom of the sixth put Strasburg in position to get the victory.

Stat of the Day places Strasburg’s debut in historic context. Through six innings, he had the most strikeouts without a walk in a major-league debut ever.

* * *

Jerry Stephenson, the former Dodger scout and major-league pitcher, passed away from cancer at age 66. Ken Gurnick of MLB.com writes about Stephenson.

Jun 07

Torre thinks Blake will avoid disabled list, Martin rests again

Casey Blake, who hasn’t played since Thursday’s 14-inning game, might be available to pinch-hit tonight, Joe Torre told reporters today. Torre now believes Blake will avoid a trip to the disabled list.

A.J. Ellis is starting for the second consecutive day in place of Russell Martin. Torre said Martin was ready to play, but Torre felt that he could use the extra rest. This is the first time since June 30-July 1, 2009 that Martin has missed consecutive starts.

Jun 01

Bison buys one for the Dodgers, 1-0


Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
“The Dodgers are going to have to take an ad to get a run for him,” Vin Scully commented after John Ely’s seven innings of shutout ball left him with a no-decision.

And so we’ve found the kryptonite for John Ely – the Dodger offense. With his seven innings of two-hit, two-walk shutout ball tonight, Ely has allowed one run on 10 baserunners over 14 1/3 innings – a 0.63 ERA – but in that time, the Dodgers haven’t scored for him.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Matt Kemp: Glory be.

They did score for Jeff Weaver, however. With one out in the bottom of the 10th inning of a scoreless tie, Matt Kemp hit a hanging fastball hard, deep and winningly. His blast to the left-field bleachers off Juan Guiterrez gave the Dodgers a slightly more conventional walkoff victory, 1-0 over Arizona.

With walkoff wag Andre Ethier on deck, Kemp tied his outfield colleague with his 11th homer of the year and moved the Dodgers within a game of San Diego for the best record in the National League. It was the first 1-0 extra inning victory since Russell Martin hit that game-winning homer against the Giants on August 13, 2006, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. For the year, the Dodgers are now 2-2 in 1-0 games.

Kemp stole the spotlight from Ely, but the wunderkind pitcher still glows.

Ely took a no-hitter into the fifth inning before a Rusty Ryal single got past a somewhat immobile Casey Blake. To be honest, that wasn’t the first hard-hit ball off Ely – on MLB Gameday, the “Away Outs” portion of the hit chart in the bottom left-hand corner shows five balls caught at the warning track or deeper. But that doesn’t mean Ely wasn’t mesmerizing. At one stretch, he threw first-pitch strikes to 11 consecutive batters.

Ely even mesmerized Russell Martin, who committed a passed ball on what would have been an inning-ending strikeout in the top of the seventh but instead allowed Arizona to put Ely in some of his biggest jeopardy of the night – runners at first and second. (Martin also committed a throwing error after an Ely wild pitch that allowed Ryal to reach third base in the fifth.) But two pitches later, LaRoche practically mimicked the James Loney blunder of Monday’s game – actually did worse, considering how many outs there were – by getting himself thrown out by Martin trying to advance on another ball in the dirt.

That, as it turned out, was the last we’d see of Ely tonight. With a runner on first base and one out, Joe Torre decided to have Garret Anderson pinch-hit for Ely, who had thrown 92 pitches, in what I commented at the time was not exactly going to be a popular decision. Anderson then did himself no favors by hitting into a routine 4-6-3 double play.

Ely went to the showers with his ERA lowered to 2.54 and his sixth consecutive quality start in which he allowed no more than two runs. (The six straight quality starts are the most by a Dodger rookie since Hideo Nomo in 1995, according to the Dodger press notes.) Ely struck out five, and his K/BB ratio actually declined to 4.63. Interestingly, he’s getting close to having enough innings to qualify for the National League ERA race, and even more interestingly, it’s kind of relevant. As of now, Ely is 12th in the league in ERA among pitchers with at least 40 innings and third in K/BB.

“The Dodgers are going to have to take an ad to get a run for him,” Vin Scully commented.

Dodger fans who were doubly disappointed by the Anderson-for-Ely exchange might have felt that disappointment redouble when Ronald Belisario gave up a leadoff single in the eighth, and, after a Chris Snyder bunt, Dan Haren was left in the game to bat. The explanation: Haren was 14 for 34 (.412) this season, plus Arizona’s bullpen is notoriously poor. But Haren flied out, and Hong-Chih Kuo came in to get Kelly Johnson to ground out.

Haren, who had an 8.68 ERA over his past three starts, continued through the eighth inning. Ethier got his first hit since coming off the disabled list, meaning that for the third time in three weeks, Manny Ramirez would bat in a potential game-winning situation in the eighth inning against a tiring Arizona starter. Ramirez hit a grand slam off Edwin Jackson on May 12, then struck out with the score tied 4-4 Monday against Rodrigo Lopez. Tonight, Haren just missed striking out Ramirez on his 125th pitch, and then on his career-high 126th pitch, Ramirez popped to center field. Amid chatter that Haren might be left in for infinity and beyond, he instead ended his night with eight shutout innings, allowing seven hits and striking out seven while walking nada.

Neither team scored in the ninth, despite two-out hits by Martin and Jamey Carroll, and so the Dodgers and Arizona took their scoreless game to extra innings. Weaver allowed a hit in an otherwise harmless top of the 10th, and then one out after Rafael Furcal lined to short, Kemp made Ely the valued best supporting actor in a victory.

* * *

Sour note: James McDonald’s hamstring injury is significant, writes Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.

… McDonald is presently on the seven-day DL and is at the Dodgers’ spring-training facility in Glendale, Ariz., where he is throwing off flat ground. But he isn’t expected to return to pitching competitively anytime soon.

“It’s a significant strain,” Dodgers trainer Stan Conte said. “It’s not a small one. We call it a Grade 2 out of a possible three. We’ll just have to see how long it takes. We don’t believe it’s a matter of days. It’s longer than that.”

May 31

Memorial Day game chat

My best, if inadequate, thoughts to everyone on this Memorial Day. It’s a humbling day that makes me feel fortunate. At Cardboard Gods, Josh Wilker posts a lengthy exchange he has had with a soldier in Afghanistan.

* * *

For the first time since April 22, 35 games ago, the Dodgers are fielding their intended starting lineup. As David Young writes at True Blue L.A., the Dodgers have gone 21-14 (.600) despite being without Manny Ramirez, Rafael Furcal and/or Andre Ethier in that time – not to mention Vicente Padilla and other pitchers. Celebrate Ethier’s return (and embrace of “Yo Gabba Gabba!” by reading Ramona Shelburne’s long feature story on him for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

As of this writing, the expected option of Xavier Paul to Albuquerque had not been made official.

  • Colorado’s incredible Ubaldo Jimenez couldn’t beat Clayton Kershaw, but he went 128 pitches to get the shutout victory over San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum today. Jimenez lowered his ERA to 0.78.
  • Great Lakes star Allen Webster, 20, pitched shutout ball for seven innings Sunday, lowering his ERA to 1.94, best in the Dodger organization. Webster has 50 strikeouts in 51 innings against 58 baserunners, with one home run allowed.
  • John Lindsey went 2 for 4 with his 10th home run Sunday for Albuquerque, pushing his OPS back up to 1.217. Lindsey then went 1 for 2 in the Isotopes 11-0 loss to Memphis today.
  • Mario Alvarez, 26, allowed one run on eight baserunners in six innings Sunday for Chattanooga, striking out five. Alvarez has a 3.81 ERA, but with 32 strikeouts in 54 1/3 innings and 91 baserunners allowed.
  • At Real Sports Heroes, Ross Porter writes about being the last person to interview Art Linkletter before his passing last week.
May 23

Lakers trainer Gary Vitti comes to Andre Ethier’s aid


Matt Kartozian/US Presswire
Andre Ethier has fallen out of the National League home run lead while on the disabled list.

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com writes that Dodger trainer Stan Conte asked his Lakers counterpart Gary Vitti for guidance about Andre Ethier’s pinkie fracture, and Vitti recommended a special splint that appears to have accelerated Ethier’s timetable for returning to the playing field.

… Conte put in a call to Vitti because he knew some of the Lakers players had dealt with similar injuries.

“This was the day before their playoff game,” Conte said. “But he called right back and couldn’t have been nicer.”

Vitti recommended a special splint that immobilizes the first knuckle but leaves the second knuckle flexible. What that does is allow Ethier to swing a bat more-or-less unfettered, which he has been doing in the indoor batting cages. Conte said Ethier already has progressed from hitting off a tee to hitting soft-toss pitches and even catching a ball because the split also allows him to squeeze his glove.

The knuckle that is broken has to be immobilized in order to heal. However, because of the splint, that knuckle can be immobilized without immobilizing the entire finger. That means the fracture doesn’t have to heal completely in order for Ethier to get back on the field. Conte said that when Ethier does return, he will play while wearing the splint, which he will wear constantly until the fracture heals.

This is a major step forward that conceivably could allow Ethier to return from the disabled list as soon as he becomes eligible to do so May 30 at Colorado. And while Conte wouldn’t go so far as to predict that, he did concede that the process is moving much more quickly than it would have without the splint.

* * *

  • Dodger starters have allowed three home runs in their past 99 2/3 innings, notes David Pinto of Baseball Musings. John Ely hasn’t allowed a homer in 31 2/3 innings, and Clayton Kershaw hasn’t given one up in 22 1/3 innings since May 4.
  • Blue Heaven posts a vintage snapshot of a young Bill Russell.
  • Not sure I’ll be in front of the computer if activation news about Rafael Furcal comes later this morning, but despite the reports of the past 24 hours that Blake DeWitt might be sent down to make room, I find that almost impossible to believe. You don’t send down the starting second baseman in order to keep a guy like Nick Green at the back of your bench.
May 17

Dodgers try to get by on reserve power


Ed Wolfstein/Icon SMI
Ronnie Belliard has an .872 OPS in 12 starts this season. The Dodgers are 5-7 when he is in the starting lineup.

Until further notice — hopefully days but possibly weeks — the Dodgers will be playing without two starting position players, Andre Ethier and Rafael Furcal. It’s the second time this season this has happened: Furcal and Manny Ramirez were both on the sidelines from April 27 through May 7.

Those injuries, combined with scheduled rest for older players and the semi-platooning of Blake DeWitt, have meant there have been 11 games this year in which the Dodgers have started at least three reserves. The Dodgers are 4-7 in those games, averaging 3.5 runs per game.

Los Angeles is 16-10 when it has at least six regulars starting.

Oddly, in games with four or more reserves starting, the Dodgers are 2-2, but in games with three reserves starting, the Dodgers are 2-5.

  • Dodgers 10, Pirates 2 (April 8): Brad Ausmus (C), Ronnie Belliard (3B), Reed Johnson (LF), Garret Anderson (RF)
  • Marlins 6, Dodgers 5 (April 11): A.J. Ellis (C), Ronnie Belliard (3B), Garret Anderson (LF), Reed Johnson (RF)
  • Giants 9, Dodgers 0 (April 17): A.J. Ellis (C), Ronnie Belliard (3B), Jamey Carroll (SS), Garret Anderson (LF)
  • Dodgers 2, Giants 1 (April 18): Ronnie Belliard (1B), Jamey Carroll (2B), Reed Johnson (LF)
  • Nationals 5, Dodgers 1 (April 23): A.J. Ellis (C), Ronnie Belliard (3B), Garret Anderson (LF)
  • Nationals 1, Dodgers 0 (April 25): Ronnie Belliard (2B), Garret Anderson (LF), Reed Johnson (RF)
  • Mets 10, Dodgers 5 (April 27, Game 2): A.J. Ellis (C), Ronnie Belliard (3B), Jamey Carroll (SS), Reed Johnson (LF)
  • Mets 7, Dodgers 3 (April 28): Ronnie Belliard (2B), Jamey Carroll (SS), Xavier Paul (LF)
  • Dodgers 9, Pirates 3 (May 2): Ronnie Belliard (3B), Jamey Carroll (SS), Xavier Paul (LF)
  • Brewers 11, Dodgers 3 (May 5): Ronnie Belliard (2B), Jamey Carroll (SS), Reed Johnson (LF)
  • Dodgers 1, Padres 0 (May 16): Nick Green (2B), Ronnie Belliard (3B), Jamey Carroll (SS), Garret Anderson (LF), Reed Johnson (RF)

Sunday’s 1-0 victory over San Diego was the first time since in nearly three weeks that Joe Torre rested more than one healthy player in the same game. The Dodgers are 3-4 when they rest more than one healthy player (again, keeping in mind that some of these decisions involve a platoon situation).

May 06

Dodgers can only wonder, ‘What next?’


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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter the First: A Rotation Off Its Axis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter the Second: The Blahpen

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

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

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

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

Chapter the Third: Defenestrate the defense

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter the Fourth: Yes, Everyone Gets Injuries

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

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

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

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

Chapter the Fifth: Five months to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 03

Former Dodger Dave Roberts in treatment for lymphoma


Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Before being sent to postseason glory in Boston, Dave Roberts stole 33 bases in 34 attempts as a Dodger in 2004.

Dave Roberts, who ranks 10th in Los Angeles Dodger history in stolen bases, is suffering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Still only 37, Roberts has had two rounds of chemo and says his prognosis is good.

With Roberts, the question always comes up about why he was traded by the Dodgers. The Dodgers entered the 2004 stretch run with an overload of outfielders: Steve Finley, Jayson Werth, Milton Bradley, Juan Encarnacion and Shawn Green. Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta basically did Roberts a favor by sending him somewhere where he wouldn’t be buried on the bench, but DePodesta was quoted later as saying it was a trade he truly regretted.

Roberts’ last season was in 2008, and he now works for the Padres as a special assistant.

Elsewhere, Ken Gurnick of MLB.com has posted the most in-depth feature in my memory on all-time Dodger Thoughts favorite Pedro Guerrero. Guerrero dug quite a hole for himself off the field, so it’s nice to see some hopeful news about him.