May 25

Livestream of consciousness

Cardinals at Dodgers, 4:15 p.m.

Nick Punto, 3B
Mark Ellis, 2B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Scott Van Slyke, LF
A.J. Ellis, C
Dee Gordon, SS
Ted Lilly, P

With today’s funky starting time and the kids occupying themselves for an indefinite amount of time, I’m going to try to do some live-blogging while I can, catching up on some stuff from the past week and commenting on at least the start of the game. So keep refreshing until I tell you to stop …

3:26 p.m.:  The Don Mattingly saga this week stirred so many thoughts in me that I didn’t have time to get to and, at this point, I’m not sure where to begin.

If this makes sense, while I think Andre Ethier was clearly in mind as Mattingly spoke about what it takes to win and all that, I don’t think Mattingly was singling out Ethier.  I think he was making an example of Ethier, which is an entirely different thing.

Take note of this. The Dodgers put out their Wednesday lineup. Ethier isn’t in it. Reporters ask why. Mattingly doesn’t directly answer the question, instead delivering his rugged sermon about what he expects from every member of his squad. It’s clear that Ethier is falling short of this standard. But it’s also clear that Ethier is not the only one falling short of the standard (in Mattingly’s mind), and I don’t know why people didn’t see this.

3:31 p.m. Do you see what I’m getting at? Perhaps this is more of a nuanced position than I wish to acknowledge. Consider, for example, what happened with Matt Kemp in 2010. Ned Colletti makes some critical comments about Kemp that are clearly about him, right? At the time, Kemp appeared to have been playing particularly well, which made the criticism surprising. But even if you grant that behind the scenes there was a level of commitment Kemp wasn’t living up to, Kemp was being singled out.

What happened this week with Ethier is not that, especially if you consider that Mattingly had already been talking publicly in recent days about the shortcomings of other Dodgers, such as Dee Gordon and Luis Cruz – who also, you might notice, were not in Wednesday’s starting lineup.

It’s clear that Mattingly believes that multiple people on his roster aren’t pulling their weight.  Anyone who made this about Ethier missed the point.

I certainly agree with the idea that Mattingly needs to communicate with Ethier directly and not through the press. Mattingly and Ethier are publicly disagreeing about whether that has happened.

3:37 p.m. The two oldest kids are screaming upstairs. I’m trying to ignore them.

3:38 p.m. As long as I started down this nuanced path, let’s go farther.

Mattingly was wrong when he said that sabermetrics don’t account for the level of play he is seeking – or at a minimum, he is underestimating how much they count. Preparation, grit, intensity, fight – these are all attributes that ultimately will manifest much of their value through statistics.

Let’s say Smith works harder than Jones. What does that mean? Nothing, unless it leads to more production on the field. Now, that production could mean better stats for Smith. It could also mean better stats for Jones as well, if Smith inspires him to do better. It could even mean better stats for Jones and not Smith if, for example, Smith makes sacrifices that boost Jones.

Our ability to quantify effort might be imperfect. But there is a statistical outcome. When Kirk Gibson rebelled against Jesse Orosco’s eyeblack prank in the spring of 1988, there was a tangible result.

Am I playing semantics? Perhaps. But no more than those who are citing hard work and effort as a counterpoint to statistical value. They walk hand in hand.

3:46 p.m. With that said, let’s talk about grit and effort and determination.

For the most part, these are pregame activities. These things are about preparation. And I imagine there’s no limit to the preparation you can do before the first pitch is thrown, whether you’re talking about work during the offseason, an off day or the hours before gametime.

Once the game starts, things change a bit. In my view, there is a limit to how much mental energy is useful when you’re at the plate. Overthinking is a huge danger when a pitch is coming at you. By the time you are in the batter’s box, everything should be instinctive.

This brings us back to Ethier, and Mattingly’s famous quote that the outfielder gives away at-bats because of his emotional state. That might or might not be true – it reeks of exaggeration, but I don’t know. In any case, this isn’t a question of effort, unless you’re arguing that Ethier hasn’t put in sufficient effort (I have no doubt there’s been some effort) to channel his emotions positively.

You can understand how simultaneously Mattingly could be correct and Ethier could be offended. Again, this is nuanced. Ethier doesn’t dog it. Ethier gets angry at himself. Ethier gets frustrated. Ethier wants the best for himself. And yet Mattingly could be right that Ethier’s still not getting it.

I find myself sympathetic to both sides because I feel that I hear both Mattingly and Ethier in my own head on a regular basis.

3:55 p.m. The Angels won their seventh in a row today. Does this mean the Dodgers are unlucky that the Angels have gotten hot just in time for their series next week, or the Dodgers are lucky that the Angels’ hot streak may run out before they meet?

That Mike Trout is, once again, something else.

3:58 p.m. I might be the last outsider not to give up on Ted Lilly. I mean, he was more or less getting by on wiles before last year’s injury, right? Was that injury specifically a career-ender? I’m not aware it was that significant.

4:02 p.m. Apparently the screaming was part of an iMovie the kids are filming. I told them to do a script rewrite.

4:04 p.m. Youngest Master Weisman has come downstairs. The liveblog could be in trouble. One of the reasons I suspended Dodger Thoughts in September was that I was less and less comfortable with it taking me away from devoting time to the kids when it was available. But it is a tug in both directions. I want to be a good father, and I want to write, and it’s tough when the two come in direct conflict.

Obviously, I don’t have to write right this second. But it’s hard to walk away when you’re just in the mood.

4:09 p.m. Scott Van Slyke’s current value to the Dodgers, however intermittent, has been so pleasing to be not just because of how desperately it’s needed – how can he be the only power threat on the team – but what it says about the game. I love the idea that it’s not over for a player just because the establishment decides it’s over.

At any given moment, some players are better bets to contribute than others. But the line to decline is not a straight one. The game is forever one of adjustments, and you never know when someone has a last burst. That’s part of what makes baseball such a great American drama.

4:12 p.m. I remember when I used to look forward to the Dodgers being on a national telecast. But that was when they were good, and when I didn’t have to hear the simplistic summaries of national broadcasters.

How long has Joe Buck had that beard? I’m not sure it works, and yet it probably looks better than my wintertime scruff.

4:15 p.m. If you don’t have the confidence in Dee Gordon to be a starter, you might as well send him back to the minors unless you think his best long-term contribution to the team is as a bench player. But as thin as the Dodger bench is, they probably can’t afford to carry a guy whose only contribution is as a pinch-runner. Prove me wrong, Dee …

4:17 p.m. “Mostly sunny – it’s L.A. It could be a little hazy or a little … whatever, but it’s L.A.” – Joe Buck

4:18 p.m. First pitch from Lilly is a strike, 85 miles per hour. Second one is also 85 mph, and lined right back through the box by Matt Carpenter.

“Through the box” is pretty archaic, huh?

4:22 p.m. Matt Holliday slashes an 0-2 pitch from Lilly deep down the right-field line, and Ethier makes a running catch – degree of difficulty 6. The replay indicates that Mattingly applauded.

4:23 p.m. Allen Craig is badly fooled on a 72 mph curve to fall behind 0-2.

4:24 p.m. Gritty player makes error on routine grounder. Seriously, what does that tell you?

4:25 p.m. Yadier Molina is called “the most irreplaceable guy on any roster in major league baseball” by Buck.

4:27 p.m. A sinking, medium arc fly to left center field eludes a diving Scott Van Slyke for an RBI double and an unearned run. It was a good effort.

4:28 p.m. The next pitch from Lilly hits David Freese in the back to load the bases.

4:29 p.m. Jon Jay grounds out to end the inning. Are you disappointed anyone scored or grateful that it was only one?

4:30 p.m. Thoroughly feels like I’m ignoring my 5-year-old, who is out in the backyard by himself with the dog. I’m not sure how much longer I can tell myself this is character building.

4:32 p.m. Punto and Adrian Gonzalez, who I think both have good fielding reputations, are now tied for the team lead with five errors. How the heck has Gonzalez racked up five errors? Matt Kemp is next with four.

4:33 p.m. Leadoff walk from John Gast to Nick Punto. See, good teams make mistakes too!

4:34 p.m. WIll I get to see even this much of Clayton Kershaw vs. Shelby Miller on Sunday?

4:35 p.m. Mark Ellis hits a ball to left fielder Holliday that the back of my brain tells me would have been a home run if a Cardinal hit it.

4:36 p.m. On a 2-0 pitch, deep fly by Gonzalez that turns Jay around in center field and bounces at the wall, for an RBI double that ties the game, 1-1. And again, why not just a clean and pretty home run?

4:37 p.m. Kemp grounds to third on the third pitch, sparing us a longer discussion from Buck and McCarver of his woes.

4:38 p.m. Andre Ethier Chat!

4:39 p.m. Youngest Master Weisman can’t open the Pringles can by himself. Does he not want them enough?

4:40 p.m.  Ken Rosenthal, who if I understand correctly was wrong in a column this week about the Dodger managerial situation, is about to talk about the Dodger managerial situation.

Though I suppose you could argue that Rosenthal hedged his bets a bit.

4:45 p.m. San Francisco losing in the 10th inning at home against Colorado. Game’s not over, so I can’t quite say out loud what I’m thinking.

4:46 p.m. Laptop battery level: 18%. Plug location: distant.

4:47 p.m. With one out in the top of the second inning and the Cardinals’ pitcher batting, I check Mike Petriello’s handy bullpen chart to see who is likely to get action today. Confidence!

Lilly strikes out Gast on the next pitch, then retires Carpenter to complete a perfect inning. Still not used to a different Carpenter on the Cards.

4:48 p.m. The kids are now filling up water pistols.

4:51 p.m. A Van Slyke is batting in the late afternoon sun at Dodger Stadium.

4:52 p.m. As Rosenthal talks, the Cardinals go to the mound and pull Gast from the game for medical reasons, following a ball four to Van Slyke that was more like a lob. Joe Kelly enters the game, and it’s time for me to go get that charger.

4:54 p.m. Good lord, the Giants win on a two-run walkoff inside-the-park homer.

4:57 p.m. A.J. Ellis strikes out on three pitches from Kelly, none slower than 96 mph. Bodes well for Gordon.

4:58 p.m. The Dodgers do a hit-and-run on a one-out, 0-2 pitch to Gordon with Van Slyke taking from first base and Molina behind the plate. A foul ball preserves the comedy, and Gordon strikes out two pitches later.

5:00 p.m. Gast left with left shoulder tightness.

5:01 p.m. Kelly has an ERA over 7 but he throws fire. Nothing below 95 mph. Lilly becomes his third strikeout victim in a row to end the inning. (OK, that hasn’t actually happened yet – the count is 2-2.)

5:02 p.m. OK, now it’s happened. Three outs.  Buck teases a Kershaw interview for the third inning.

5:03 p.m. The kids are soaking wet. One of them threw one of the water guns. A piece broke off and the dog snagged it and chewed it up. Total time of ownership for that toy: 3 1/2 hours.

5:06 p.m. As Kershaw talks to Buck, Lilly gets an easy first two outs in the top of the third. But now the trainers are visiting Gordon at shortstop.

5:09 p.m. Kershaw on having the lowest ERA of any starting pitcher since 1920: “I’ve only been playing for five years. I’ve got a lot of time to screw that up.”

5:10 p.m. Whatever it was, Gordon is staying in the game. Kershaw is now talking about his batting strategy against Miller.

5:11 p.m. Buck says he’s worried about asking his last question to Kershaw, about the mood of the team, because he can’t see who’s standing around Kershaw. Kershaw does a mock look around to see who’s eavesdropping, then replies.

“There’s no doubt that there’s some stuff going on, but if we win some games, that’s really all that matters,” Kershaw says. “Donny’s doing everything he possibly can. We all have his back. Personally, I love him to death, and he’s such a great guy to have as a manager. It’s really not fair to him just because we haven’t been performing as a team. That’s on us. It’s a lot easier to look at one guy than 25 but at the end of the day, we’ve got to go out and win some games. The pressure’ll be taken off, and we’ll be good to go from there. ”

Lilly strikes out Craig to end the top of the third. So far: three innings, two hits, no walks, one hit batter, one unearned run, 45 pitches.

5:16 p.m. Punto, leading off the bottom of the third, hits a low liner to right-center, and Jay was shaded toward left-center. A double.

5:17 p.m. With first base open, the next pitch hits Ellis in the hip. Retaliation? Ah, who cares? Two on, none out for Gonzalez.

5:19 p.m. Gonzalez was in a 4-for-32 slump with three walks and no extra-base hits going into today’s game. But he’s got RBI hits in his first two trips to the plate today, driving home Punto here with a single to center.  And suddenly we know how Kelly has an ERA over 7. As of this moment, it’s soaring through the air at 7.47.

5:22 p.m. Sigh. Kemp strikes out on three pitches.

5:23 p.m. Siiiigh. Ethier pops out to third. Some boos. Will Van Slyke keep it going?

5:25 p.m. Full count, two out.

5:26 p.m. Van Slyke sends one high and deep to center, but it dies on the warning track.

OK, I’m more than two hours into this, and definitely on borrowed time right now. Posting might become a bit sporadic in the middle innings as I try to figure out dinner.

5:34 p.m. Lilly has a perfect fourth and has retired … hello, 10 in a row.

Mac and cheese for kids’ dinner with green beans. My wife doesn’t think I use enough water in the pot for the mac. But she ain’t here …

5:38 p.m. Gordon ends an 0-for-25 skein with a one-out single off Kelly, setting up a potential Gordon-Molina showdown.

5:43 p.m. Lilly strikes out trying to bunt – giving Kelly a career-high six strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings so far. Now, you might as well send Gordon with two out and Punto up.

5:45 p.m. Gordon doesn’t test Molina. Lilly’s failure to bunt is underscored when Punto singles to left and Gordon goes to third base. Punto has been on three times in the first four innings.

5:47 p.m. Craig makes a nice running catch of a Mark Ellis foul ball near the stands to end the fourth. Dodgers still lead, 2-1.

Young Master Weisman is eating a giant pickle as a pre-mac appetizer.

6:02 p.m. Lilly cruises through the top of the fifth – now 13 in a row against the National League elite – and then Gonzalez kicks off the bottom of the frame with a legitimate solo four-bagger. That’s three straight RBI hits for Gonzalez, by the way. After a walk to Kemp, Kelly is pulled from the game, having gone three innings and 62 pitches in his emergency appearance.

6:11 p.m. Mom’s home! (Postscript: Dinner was not my best work, but it did what it needed to do.)

6:17 p.m. Catching up here. Carlos Martinez  – not this one – relieved Kelly and retired the next three batters (two on strikeouts) to strand Kemp. St. Louis relievers have eight strikeouts in four innings, and the Dodgers have struck out 19 times in 14 innings against the Cardinals so far in this series.

6:18 p.m. After retiring 14 in a row, Lilly walks Holliday with one out in the sixth – his first walk of the game – and just like that, he’s pulled from his first start since his return from the disabled list by Mattingly. He threw 79 pitches in 5 1/3 innings, allowing a run (unearned), two hits (one unearned) and a hit batter (unearned) while striking out three.

Ronald Belisario enters. I can already hear Mattingly saying, “I was not going to let Ted Lilly lose that game.”

6:22 p.m. See 3:58 p.m. I feel inappropriately vindicated by Lilly’s excellent outing.

6:23 p.m. Craig forces Holliday at second for the second out. By the way, Carl Crawford came in with Belisario in a double switch, replacing Van Slyke. Crawford will bat second in the bottom of the sixth.

6:24 p.m. Trouble. Molina singles, bringing Freese to the plate with the tying runs on base.

6:25 p.m. Freese hits a ball not unlike the one Molina hit in the first inning, right to the same spot, and Crawford does the same dive as Van Slyke did and comes up the same empty. It also goes for a double, the Cardinals have cut the Dodgers lead to 3-2 and Jon Jay is walked intentionally to load the bases with two out for Pete Kozma, who popped out twice against Lilly.

6:26 p.m. Hard smash down the third-base line. Punto makes a diving backhanded stop, beautifully. No time to recover and step on third, and he can’t get to his feet to make a throw to first in time to get Kozma. The game is tied, as Belisario can’t preserve Lilly’s lead.

6:28 p.m. If the bullpen were in better shape, I’d have been more content to see the Dodgers quit on Lilly while they were ahead. But it’s just hard to watch Belisario enter games with any kind of stakes these days.

6:30 p.m. Pinch-hitting for the Cardinals is left-handed batter Matt Adams, who is 16 for 40 with three walks, a .442 on-base percentage and a .700 slugging percentage this season. All of that damage is against righty pitching, however. Paco Rodriguez relieves Belisario, and Adams pops out on the third pitch. We’re tied going into the bottom of the sixth, 3-3.

6:35 p.m. A.J. Ellis has struck out in his first three at-bats. Previously in his career, he had one other three-strikeout game and one four-strikeout game.

6:36 p.m. With Crawford on deck, Gordon flies to the sun field in right to lead off the bottom of the sixth. Crawford then reaches base on an error by Carpenter, bringing Punto and his .844 OPS to the plate.

6:40 p.m. Argh, Punto strikes out. Mark Ellis up.

6:41 p.m. There it is – Ellis lashes a double down the line, and Crawford, “flying around the bases,” as McCarver says, comes all the way around to score to give the Dodgers back the lead.

6:42 p.m. Gonzalez needs a triple for the cycle – he has 12 in his career. But he’s walked intentionally to put runners at first and second with two out for Kemp.

6:45 p.m. Kemp strikes out on a 2-2 pitch that’s ankle-high. That’s 10 strikeouts in five innings for the Cardinal bullpen.

6:48 p.m. I don’t know if this feels like one of the more interesting Dodger games of the year only because I’m paying this much attention.

6:50 p.m. Dodger defense has come to life the past two innings. Gonzalez dives to his right to intercept a potential single by Carlos Beltran, then throws from his knee to Rodriguez covering first base for the second out of the seventh.

6:51 p.m. Mattingly brings in Kenley Jansen to face Holliday with the bases empty.

6:52 p.m. And you don’t see this much: Kemp is removed from the game in a double switch, with Skip Schumaker entering. It’s fairly sound strategy – Jansen would have been the third batter in the bottom of the sixth – but you do have to ask yourself, is Schumaker better to have in the game than even a struggling Kemp?

You now have the pitcher’s spot behind Gonzalez, which isn’t a good position for a team whose remaining bench is Luis Cruz, Ramon Hernandez and Juan Uribe. Gonzalez might not see a strike until Sunday.

6:59 p.m. Everyone on Twitter talking about Kemp’s negative reaction in the dugout to being pulled. By the way, Jansen struck out Holliday to end the top of the seventh.

7:00 p.m. Matt Holliday almost Matt Hollidayed that fly ball by Andre Ethier, but he caught it.

7:01 p.m. McCarver and Rosenthal are saying that Kemp’s removal by Mattingly is a pure strategy move. But clearly, it’s a move that never happens if Kemp isn’t struggling.

7:02 p.m. Schumaker, for his part, reaches base on an infield single to third base.

7:04 p.m. A.J. Ellis walks to end his strikeout streak, but Gordon flies to center for the second out. Crawford now batting to try to give the Dodgers a bigger cushion.

7:07 p.m. Didn’t mention that old friend Randy Choate is in the game for St. Louis. He has allowed nine baserunners in 7 1/3 innings with two strikeouts entering the game, but has a 1.23 ERA.

7:08 p.m. After hitting a foul ball off someone’s Dodger cap in the front row of the seats near first base, Crawford hits a fly to right-center. Jay and Beltran come close to each other before Jay gloves it for the inning-ending out.

7:13 p.m. If Jansen can get all three batters in the eighth, the closer in the ninth would face the bottom third of the Cardinals order in the ninth. Jansen strikes out Craig, but Molina singles to left for his third hit of the game.

7:16 p.m. Jansen goes 2-0 to Freese, and I’m starting to worry. The next pitch is a high strike, followed by a swing and a miss on a 90 mph pitch down the middle.

7:17 p.m. High heat, upstairs. Freese strikes out, bringing on Jay.

7:19 p.m. Jay hits a 200-foot drop shot into right field for a single. Kozma, who tied the game in the sixth, is up at the plate with two on and two out.

Again, there are ramifications beyond this inning. Even if Kozma is retired, Carlos Beltran is now guaranteed to bat in the ninth inning, with Holliday after him if anyone else gets on.

7:21 p.m. On his 23rd pitch of this outing, Jansen goes 3-0 to Kozma.

7:22 p.m. I’m corrected! Beltran came out of the game in a double switch for Choate.

7:23 p.m. The count is 3-2. Runners going. Jansen throwing his 27th pitch. It catches the edge of the zone for a called strike three.

Dodgers head to the bottom of the eighth, trying to add to their 4-3 lead. Due up in the top of the ninth for St. Louis: light-hitting reserve outfielder Shane Robinson, Carpenter and then probably Daniel Descalso as a pinch-hitter.

7:28 p.m. I don’t think it’s possible for me to jinx an already-struggling Brandon League, but it occurs to me that if he gets the save, he will get cheered on a night that Kemp got booed. Bizarro world.

7:30 p.m. Punto reaches base for the fourth time today with a hard single to right.

7:32 p.m. After Mark Ellis fails on a bunt attempt, he hits a grounder to short slow enough to allow him to avoid a double play. Gonzalez now bats with two out and a pinch-hitter on deck against Mitchell Boggs.

7:30 p.m. Punto reaches base for the fourth time today with a hard single to right.

7:32 p.m. After failing on a bunt attempt, Mark Ellis hits a grounder to short that’s slow enough for him to avoid the double play. Gonzalez now comes to the plate, with Uribe on deck to hit for Jansen.

7:35 p.m. One of the more predictable walks of the season is issued to Gonzalez. Here comes Uribear!

7:36 p.m. Uribear!  A hard shot off the glove of Freese and down the line, an RBI double.

It’s come to this. Dodger fans are excited to see Uribe bat instead of Kemp, and are rewarded.

Uribe raises his 2013 on-base percentage to .371 and OPS to .727.

7:38 p.m. Ethier is walked intentionally, loading the bases for Schumaker.

7:39 p.m. Schumaker hits a weird chopper just over Mitchell Boggs that Carpenter is able to flag near second base and convert into a double play.

We’re heading for the ninth, League tasked with protecting a 5-3 lead.

7:42 p.m. League starts with a first-pitch strike to Robinson, clocked at 94 mph, then follows with an 87 mph called strike two. After a ball, it’s 95 mph for a swinging strike three.

7:44 p.m. Punto’s diving stop in the sixth inning is Fox’s play of the game.

7:45 p.m. Carpenter grounds to Gordon, and the Dodgers are one out away from victory. Ty Winnington is the batter.

7:46 p.m. It’s a grounder to Punto, and just like that, the Dodgers win. Man, how they had to scratch and claw, but they won.

It’s a story of redemption … for Punto, who made the first-inning error that got the Dodgers off to a stumbling start, then did everything right after that … and for Lilly, who showed he can still contribute as a major-league starter. Keep that in mind as we await other redemption songs.

Thanks for reading – good night!

May 19

Dodgers in a race to the upside down

Sure, OK, we can start with the bullpen. It’s hardly the only thing going on with the Dodgers, but it’s something. Oh yes, it’s something.

You need good relief to win, but you can’t plan for good relief. 

This comes up every year, so it’s tedious to point out, but it doesn’t seem to go without saying.

I’m going to ask take my years-old research into this on faith; whether you choose to do so is up to you. But what you find is that there is virtually no consistency year-to-year among relief pitchers. The best might give you two or three consecutive good years. The very best.

The reasons for this should be clear. You don’t become a reliever unless you are flawed in some way that prevents you from being a starter. That obviously doesn’t mean you can’t be a fantastic reliever in a given year, but for the most part, relievers are pitchers who aren’t designed to be great over the long haul. They typically have a limited number of pitches, which leaves them vulnerable to being figured out over time. The good ones end up getting overworked, or maybe they were never that good in the first place, instead merely a triumph of small sample size. We could go on, but let’s sum it up this way: Mariano Rivera is not reality.

The 2003 Dodger bullpen was incredible. It was also, in many significant ways, an accident.

Staffing a bullpen has always, fascinatingly, been Ned Colletti’s simultaneous strength and weakness. Colletti has had a knack for finding capable non-roster talent (Takashi Saito, Ronald Belisario) over the same years that he has invested multiyear deals in such inconsistent arms as Matt Guerrier and Brandon League. There is no correlation in the Colletti tenure between salary and performance, yet the expensive signings continue.

The point is that you can never feel good about your bullpen entering a season – never. I really believe that. You can’t feel anything at all. The best thing you can do is assemble a number of arms before Spring Training, a combination of youth and experience and promise and reclamation, and then hope for the best.

The peril of having someone with a long-term contract is that you feel obligated to keep him past the point of effectiveness. That’s the boat the Dodgers are in with League and Guerrier, even with a new ownership that doesn’t much worry about player salaries these days.

The Dodger bullpen is leaky through and through. Almost nothing is working right now. Just as you were gaining supreme confidence in Paco Rodriguez and Kenley Jansen, they found growing pains that left them struggling like the more experienced J.P Howell, League, Guerrier and, if you will, Belisario and Javy Guerra.

Fans tend to have unreasonable expectations of bullpens – you see outrage anytime any relief pitcher gives up a run, let alone a lead. I’m not sure where fans get the idea that every reliever on their team should have a 0.00 ERA, but there it is. Every Dodger relief pitcher since the heyday of Eric Gagne and Saito has been attacked for his failings, however momentary, however good that pitcher has been overall.  So when a bullpen is collectively struggling as much as the Dodger bullpen is, it’s frogs and locusts time.

Don Mattingly’s instinct has been correct in general to try to play matchups with his relievers. You can debate the specifics of all his choices – I don’t agree with them all – but the bottom line is, there’s little he can do when no one is reliable.

Mattingly’s bullpen Sunday faced 18 batters and got nine outs. When Jansen entered Saturday’s game in relief of Chris Capuano, he had thrown only 21 pitches in his previous 72 hours. Capuano had pitched well that night, but he was past the 90-pitch mark and going on a balky calf.

But when things are bad, things are bad.

Tim Federowicz is not a martyr.

This morning brought the news that Tim Federowicz, and not Luis Cruz or Ramon Hernandez, had been displaced from the active roster to make room for the return of Mark Ellis from the disabled list. Federowicz is more valuable than Cruz or Hernandez, but the hysteria this caused was rather remarkable.

When I called out this freakout on Twitter, several people lectured me, as if I didn’t know, that it wasn’t just about Federowicz, but that it was symptomatic of the Colletti Dodgers’ larger mismanagement in general or obsession with experience over youth in particular. As if I needed to be told that Colletti values experience, sometimes to the franchise’s detriment.

I’ve spent a lot of time on how to phrase this next section, because I don’t want to give the impression that you shouldn’t try to maximize every advantage you can. Federowicz can’t help the Dodgers that much right now, but sure, I’d rather see him get five at-bats a week over Hernandez, because an on-base percentage over .500 in Albuquerque and above-average defense suggest a better skill set than Hernandez currently offers. Scott Van Slyke’s callup was overdue, not because he was guaranteed to hit two homers in a game, but because he was on a hot streak in the minors that made it clear there was no better time to try him out.

But just as there is with the bullpen, there’s a level of knee-jerk fan reaction with the bench that is out of proportion. When a player is a single game away from having better stats than his competition, as Hernandez is compared with Federowicz (3 for 17 with one walk and no extra-base hits as a major-leaguer in 2013), and neither is projected to be a starter, and the alternatives to Hernandez as backup if A.J. Ellis gets hurt are Jesus Flores, Matt Wallach and Gorman Erickson, the uproar should not be Defcon Anything.

Yeah, Cruz stinks right now, and no one in their right mind would keep him over Juan Uribe – just like no one in their right mind would have argued to keep Uribe over Cruz last summer.

See what I’m getting at?

If you’re not frustrated with the Dodgers right now, you’re either not a Dodger fan or very zen. You’re not wrong if you’re unhappy with Federowicz’s demotion. But if you’re angry over Federowicz being sent down, you’re overreacting. It’s not symptomatic of the Dodgers’ larger problems. You’re not going to plug in Federowicz, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Alex Castellanos into the Dodger bench and as a result see things turn around.

And May 19 is too soon to give up, if only because of one person.

Matt Kemp.

Until Kemp starts hitting, nothing is going to happen with this team. Nothing. The Dodgers cannot win without his bat. And again, it’s not something anger will solve. The effort is there – if anything, he’s trying too hard to get things going. But it is up to Kemp.

It would help if Andre Ethier hit more, but the difference between what Ethier is doing compared to what is expected of him is not what it is with Kemp.

I’m sure Kemp has had all the advice in the world, from Mattingly, Mark McGwire and any number of coaches or people he meets on the street. But no one else can synthesize the good from the bad and put it into action.

You can start firing managers or coaches or trainers. Kemp still needs to hit.

The bullpen can start putting out fires. Kemp still needs to hit.

The defense can stop making two errors a game. Kemp still needs to hit.

But what if he does?

Let me tell you one more thing.  I would love to give up on the 2013 Dodgers. It will be a relief if and when I can. I spent part of my Sunday writing this 1,500-word piece that probably isn’t worth a damn, especially for a team barely winning 40 percent of its games.

And the season might be over, except for this. For all their problems, Los Angeles is still somehow only seven games out of first place. The Giants, in case you haven’t noticed, have their own cauldron of concerns. And Arizona and Colorado … I just don’t know. I can’t see them not hitting their own skid. I can’t see it.

The National League West looks like an 85-win division. That’s still within the Dodgers’ abilities.

The team gets healthier. The bullpen stops being a disaster. Matt Kemp starts to hit. And then …

Honestly, that’s as far as I can go. The team does look awful right now. It looks nothing like a winning team. It’s creaky and crumbly. Race to the bottom or race to the top – I truly can’t decide.

May 10

A new Don Mattingly brush fire

This excerpt from Barry M. Bloom’s interview of Dodger manager Don Mattingly for MLB.com could fan the flames of Mattingly’s detractors.

MLB.com: You’re a guy who constantly analyzes himself. How do you evaluate the job you’ve done this year?

Mattingly: Here’s how at look at it: Are we losing because I’m making mistakes? I look at the baseball side of it. Sure, I’ve made some mistakes, but I’m not sitting here crushing us every day, costing us games. Then I look at it from the standpoint of, am I not getting my message through to the guys? Are we not playing the game the way I want it to be played? Are we not playing with the energy and urgency? I don’t go about it asking myself how I’m doing. I know my club is not playing well. But I feel like I’m doing fine the way I’m handling it.

Mattingly isn’t single-handedly costing the Dodgers games, but he might be downplaying the impact of some of his decisions. But in Mattingly’s defense, no, he’s not crushing the Dodgers.

There’s no mistaking that the discussion around Mattingly’s future has turned into a firestorm.

Joe Sheehan voiced this thought in a podcast appearance with Will Leitch of Sports on Earth recently, and I’m not sure I disagree with it. Baseball managers are really middle management. They have a role, but the buck just doesn’t stop with them. There’s no dismissing the responsibility of the front office to deliver the right players and for the players to deliver the right results.

Sheehan suggested that the time has really come to divide the manager’s job where necessary, to ensure that you have someone who can inspire and teach players and someone who can effectively execute in-game strategy and tactics. It’s the same notion that finds the head coach leading the team on the field but the offensive and/or defensive coordinators calling plays. In baseball, the bench coach could evolve to be more than, as Sheehan put it, “a drinking buddy.”

Previously on Dodger Thoughts: Will Don Mattingly make it back to Yankee Stadium as Dodger manager?

* * *

Scott Van Slyke has been put on the Dodger roster, with Elian Herrera returning to Albuquerque and Chad Billingsley going to the 60-day disabled list.

* * *

Marlins at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.

May 08

Will Don Mattingly make it back to Yankee Stadium as Dodger manager?

Seven thoughts about Don Mattingly, 13-19 this season, 181-174 in his career:

1) Setting up a homecoming for the longtime Yankee great, the Dodgers are scheduled to make their first regular-season visit ever to Yankee Stadium on June 18. However, if the Dodgers continue to flounder – this is the earliest they have had two six-game losing streaks since, of all things, the sinking of the Titanic, notes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com – you can expect to see a rising chorus calling for Mattingly to attend that game only as a fan.

2) At the outset, let’s stipulate that there are reasons to fire Mattingly and reasons not to – just as there are reasons one might expect the Dodgers to and reasons not to.

3) Mattingly has always made some confounding things decisions as manager, from bullpen management to strategic choices on offense. That distinguishes him from … practically no one. Few managers in history have ever been immune from fans thinking they could do better. That doesn’t mean you can’t do better, but until the Dodgers are ready to hire one of those fans, there’s probably not a huge potential for improvement here.

4) Mattingly deserves at least something of a mulligan for the state of his roster. For all the talk about how the Dodgers had more pitching than they could handle at the start of the season, the facts are these. He has only had 2 1/2 effective starting pitchers (Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and the four starts provided by Chad Billingsley and Zack Greinke). On top of that, he has had only 4 1/2 effective position players: Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, A.J. Ellis and Mark Ellis, with Nick Punto off the bench.

I suppose one could blame Mattingly for the underperformance of the other 18 of 25 slots on the squad – and it’s not like any manager gets great work from his entire team – but this seems like way too much to lay at Mattingly’s door. You can’t win with seven good players. You certainly can’t win with half a starting rotation.

Digression: At a minimum, Ned Colletti, who last year received the contract extension that has avoided Mattingly, holds some responsibility for the effectiveness of the Dodgers, good or bad.

5) From Day 1 … from before Day 1 … Mattingly’s relationship with his players has been considered one of his virtues. It’s neither clear how much true value there was to that relationship in previous seasons, nor clear now much there is now. The idea, of course, is that those intangibles are the thing that will make a bad team good and a good team great, and there’s no better time like the present to prove that. But looking at the Dodgers’ roster, you can argue that you should get more than a third of the season to find out.

6) Mattingly’s postgame comments this past weekend in San Francisco, in which he went out of his way to find the positive amid a sweep at the hands of the Giants, seemed like they might be a turning point in his fate, a “Remain calm, all is well” in the face of the Deathmobile. At the same time, Mattingly hasn’t been afraid to point out when his team has been truly playing badly, as was the case Monday against Arizona. Some losses are worse than others. Mattingly shouldn’t be punished for knowing the difference, even if the comments didn’t play well.

7) What will the Dodgers do? There are tea leaves for every vision. You have a squad for which expectations are high and for which, if you pay attention to Magic Johnson, failure is not an option. You have a team president, Stan Kasten, who has espoused a long-term vision for the future of the Dodgers. You have the mixed signals of the team not extending Mattingly’s contract but Kasten calling that fact meaningless. In general, you have a management team that has been unafraid to make bold – even radical – moves, while preaching the virtues of stability.

It’s hard to deny that the value of a manager is one of the most difficult things to judge in baseball. If it’s true the Dodgers can do better with their manager, it’s also true that it won’t matter, at all, if they don’t get better performances from virtually everyone else.

Aug 09

Uribe is home free

Jerry Sands’ latest stay in Los Angeles has turned out to be ever-so-brief, as the Dodgers have sent him back to Albuquerque — where he will meet up with Tony Gwynn Jr., who cleared waivers and accepted a minor-league assignment — to make room on the Dodger roster for Adam Kennedy coming off the disabled list.

The moves mean that with 23 days to go until MLB active rosters can expand to 40, Juan Uribe is probably going to defy Damocles’ dagger and remain a Dodger though the end of next season and, presumably, on into 2013. This is the case even though Uribe has only three plate appearances in the past 17 days.

One position-player move that remains for the Dodgers to make is the potential activation of Dee Gordon from the disabled list if he’s ready before September 1, but at this point, I expect the Dodgers would send Gordon or Luis Cruz to the minors for a brief time and then recall the player when rosters widen (or just keep Gordon on the DL until then).  As far as I can tell, the breaking point with Uribe for 2012 has come and gone.

Cruz, by the way, is in a 3-for-22 slump with one walk, lowering his 2012 on-base percentage to .286 (nearly identical to Gordon’s .280) and his slugging percentage to .385. According to Baseball Prospectus’ True Average statistic, which factors in baserunning, Cruz is at .245 compared to Gordon’s .224. Cruz, four years older, might be a better player than Gordon right now, but I still am interested in seeing how Gordon can develop, even if the next opportunity doesn’t come until next year.

* * *

  • Bobby Abreu has also cleared waivers, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com. He can accept a minor-league assignment like Gwynn, or become a free agent.
  • Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. got a great shoutout from T.J. Simers of the Times.

    … MATTINGLY LIKES to joke that truebluela.com’s Eric Stephen knows more about the Dodgers than anyone else in the media.

    “Go ahead, Eric,” I tell him after Mattingly speaks highly of Stephen again, “ask him about some minor leaguer.”

    “All right, I’ll ask about Juan Rivera,” says Stephen …

  • In his review of the Dodgers’ second 54 games of the 2012 season, Stephen highlights how severe the team’s offensive dropoff was, player by player.
  • James Loney should really, seriously, consider converting to pitching, argues Evan Bladh of Opinion of Kingman’s Performance.
  • Bluetopia, the 2009 movie about the Dodgers and their fans in which I had a brief appearance, will be screened August 16 at the Craft and Folk Art Museum, which has an ongoing baseball exhibition this summer. A Q&A with director Tim Marx follows.
  • One of my favorite baseball articles of the season comes from Russell A. Carleton of Baseball Prospectus, for which he dramatizes how much more difficult the job of baseball manager is than we typically comprehend.
Sep 21

Don’t make Kenley Jansen the closer — he’s too good for the job


Kirby Lee/US PresswireKenley Jansen has allowed two runs since June, while stranding all nine runners he has inherited.

Keeping this as concise as possible in the interest of time:

  • Kenley Jansen has struck out 25 of his past 40 batters.
  • Kenley Jansen has gotten 25 of his past 31 outs via the strikeout.
  • Kenley Jansen is so overwhelming right now, a Giants blog, Bay City Ball, rhapsodized about him.
  • Kenley Jansen has a WHIP of 0.671 since coming off the disabled list in June, allowing eight singles, a double and 10 walks in 28 1/3 innings.
  • Kenley Jansen has allowed a .098 batting average, .192 on-base percentage and .109 slugging percentage in that time.
  • Kenley Jansen is the Dodgers’ most dominant reliever, the reliever you’d most trust to get an out when you need it.

It is for these reasons that I hope the Dodgers do not make Kenley Jansen a closer next season.

Tuesday’s victory illustrated why. If Jansen were the closer, Dodger manager Don Mattingly would have held him back until the ninth inning, rather than having him come put out the fire when Clayton Kershaw gave up a home run and two walks in the eighth inning.

It’s far better that Jansen be available at the game’s biggest crisis point, whatever inning that comes.

My hope is that if Mattingly feels he must have a regular closer in 2012, he is seduced by Guerra’s 19 saves in 20 opportunities and keeps him in that slot. Nothing against Guerra, who has been one of the season’s most pleasant surprises, but he is not a smokejumper like Jansen, who looks more capable of putting out the toughest fires than any other Dodger reliever.

* * *

  • With Colorado’s loss to San Diego today, the Dodgers’ clinched no worse than a third-place finish in the National League West.
  • Matt Kemp could be the first NL player to finish in the top two in home runs and steals since Hank Aaron in 1963, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.
  • From the Dodger press notes: “Since Aug. 1, James Loney leads the National League with a .359 batting average (51-for-142) and ranks among the league leaders in doubles (15, T-1st), on-base percentage (.425, 4th) and slugging percentage (.627, 2nd).”
  • Kenny Shulsen of Lasorda’s Lair predicted Jerry Sands’ home run off Tim Lincecum on Tuesday — a home run, I believe that will be remembered when debating Sands’ potential this offseason.
  • Tuesday was the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers’ final regular season game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, notes Keith Thursby at the Daily Mirror, which also features a Jim Murray column commemorating the event. Sandy Koufax struck out 15 in a 13-inning complete-game victory. If Baseball-Reference.com is accurate, Koufax threw 213 pitches in the game.
Jun 19

Mattingly deserves mulligan for Dodger collapse


Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireDon Mattingly

I’ve noticed on different parts of the World Wide Internet that frustration about the Dodgers has started being directed toward manager Don Mattingly, something that I suppose is predictable and unexpected all at once.

It’s predictable because frustration about losing always falls at some point in the manager’s lap, as we can see by the end today of Edwin Rodriguez’s 163-game tenure skippering the Florida Marlins. But at the same time, I’m taken aback by the idea of Mattingly as whipping boy, because I don’t know how people can expect Mattingly to do much more about the situation than he already has. And I say this as someone who was repeatedly skeptical about his being hired in the first place.

If anything, as Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com notes, Mattingly has every right to share in the current frustration, rather than be a target of it.

Starting pitching: Not much to say here. The relative strength of the team, it has faltered in recent days, but as we’ve seen by his recent comments about Chad Billingsley, Mattingly is if nothing else trying to do something about it.

Bullpen: Working without Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Vicente Padilla, Blake Hawksworth, Kenley Jansen and Ronald Belisario for long stretches this season – in case you hadn’t noticed, that’s pretty much an entire bullpen right there – Mattingly has actually managed better in this area than I would expect from a protege of Joe Torre. He hasn’t overworked any pitchers, and he has not let a player’s lack of experience get in the way of using him if he’s the best option. Mattingly’s a bit more infatuated with inherited runner-squanderer Mike MacDougal than I would like, but again, when a non-roster invitee is the only member of your expected Opening Day bullpen not to end up on the disabled or restricted list, you’re not always going to have the ideal man out there.

There are always going to be moments where a manager makes a pitching change that you disagree with, but I don’t know how you can say that Mattingly has been below-average here.

Starting lineup: Mattingly hasn’t been afraid to start sitting the slumping James Loney or even acknowledge Andre Ethier’s struggles against lefties. I think he’d be even less afraid if he had alternatives. Except on occasional days, he has recognized that Jamey Carroll, on pace for 603 plate appearances this year, is about the best option he has in the infield.  Kids such as Jerry Sands and Dee Gordon have gotten trials – in Sands’ case, 144 plate appearances in under two months. The Dodgers don’t have an answer for the left-field question, but is that Mattingly’s fault? Juan Uribe has been terrible, but is that Mattingly’s fault? Casey Blake is aging and fragile, Rafael Furcal has disappeared … you get the idea. As with the bullpen, there’s stuff to quibble about, but I don’t know of any manager who could make this offense work.

One of the next tests for Mattingly will be how much he plays A.J. Ellis while Rod Barajas is out. But regardless of how well he does, does anyone think Ellis will be a difference-maker?

Motivation: Jackson reports that Mattingly held a team meeting after Saturday’s loss, the Dodgers’ fifth straight, all at home. Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. writes that with that defeat, the 2011 Dodgers have matched the 1992 team for the worst 72-game start in Los Angeles Dodger history. All I can say is that one of the main arguments in Mattingly’s favor as manager was his ability to relate to players. What’s happening on the field isn’t pretty, but I’m not sure why we’d pick this moment, 2 1/2 months into his career, to decide that Mattingly is hopeless to motivate his players.

I’m sure there are some of you who will still be wondering where this piece is coming from, that see the Dodgers’ problems originating, as I do, from the people wearing the suits and sport coats, not the uniforms and caps. But all I can say is that there are those who have already lost patience with Mattingly. Perhaps someday we’ll find, as I considered a year ago, that he isn’t the best man for the job, but there’s no way you can base that decision on what’s happened in 2011.

* * *

Crazy one in Albuquerque on Saturday: Christopher Jackson of Albuquerque Baseball Examiner writes that the Isotopes had 13 consecutive batters reach base in the 11-run second inning of their 13-10 victory over Iowa, a game in which all 23 runs had scored by the middle of the fourth inning.

John Lindsey survived being hit by pitches twice in the single inning, only to leave the game after reaggravating a calf injury in the third.

Trayvon Robinson went 3 for 3 with two walks and has now reached base in eight consecutive plate appearances. Robinson has a .500 on-base percentage and .705 slugging percentage in June. Though he’s still averaging more than one strikeout per game, perhaps Robinson will be the next kid for Mattingly to play with.

Apr 09

The lowest moment of James Loney’s career?

Tie game, 11th inning, Juan Uribe on second with none out. A single gives you the lead. No double-play threat. Right-handed pitcher on the mound.

And Don Mattingly has James Loney bunt.

So much for Mr. RBI. If that’s not the lowest moment of Loney’s playing career, it’s the lowest moment of Mattingly’s managing career.

Loney took three pitches, fouled off a bunt, hit another foul swinging away, then popped out.

Feb 19

Now batting, Don Mattingly


Morry Gash/APDon Mattingly: Five-tool manager?

The most fun and interesting detail to come out of Camelback Ranch today was the tidbit that Dodger manager Don Mattingly will stand in the batters box during bullpen sessions for his pitchers. From Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

In Mattingly’s first spring as the team’s manager, he already has employed at least one unconventional tactic. Often, when a pitcher is throwing in the bullpen, Mattingly will grab a bat, step into the left-handed batter’s box and get into the familiar stance he employed for so many years as a six-time All-Star first baseman for the New York Yankees.

“It gives me a better look at a guy’s stuff,” Mattingly said. “[By standing there], I can tell if what a guy is throwing can get somebody out or it can’t.”

Mattingly conceded that some of his pitchers — especially those who will spend the spring fighting for a roster spot — might be a bit unnerved by firing a baseball in the general direction of the boss’s body. In deference to that, he said he steps out of the box when it comes time for a pitcher to throw to the inside part of the plate.

Ken Gurnick of MLB.com has more.

… Mattingly’s participation in the bullpen sessions had the players talking.

“First time I ever saw that,” said catcher Dioner Navarro. “Caught me off guard. I did a double take. You know, you don’t want to drill him. But you can see he wants to be involved in everything, to know everything. It’s like he’s back to being a player. He knows what it takes. It brings confidence to the team to see that. It’s exciting.”

Mattingly, 49, said he no longer gets the urge to actually hit, having retired after the 1995 season. And he only steps in to his natural left-handed side, because he said he might not know how to get out of the way from the right-hander’s box.

Among the pitchers he “faced” Saturday were veterans Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla. Mattingly said he’d think twice if he saw a pitcher was having control problems.

“Managers do that in Japan and it’s considered an honor,” said Kuroda. “They do it for top young prospects and established veterans. And in the middle of Spring Training you have a session when you throw 200 to 300 pitches to establish endurance, and the manager steps in then, so you don’t slack off.” …

* * *

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles DodgersMatt Kemp works out at Camelback Ranch today.

Davey Lopes baserunning tutorials are in full swing. From Jackson:

… Lopes has been giving these tutorials every morning this spring, and after a few minutes on Saturday, (Matt) Kemp was joined by outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr., shortstop Rafael Furcal, highly touted prospects Dee Gordon and Trayvon Robinson and non-roster outfielder Trent Oeltjen. Not one of those players is required to be in camp until Monday, but several of the team’s position players chose to report early.

Lopes’ group spent the entire session taking leads off first, crouching and breaking toward second base, though they weren’t running at anything close to full speed and they stopped about halfway there.

“Right now, I’m just trying to get an idea of what they do and what they attempt to do and see if there is something we can try to adjust to make it a little better fit for them,” Lopes said. “Basically, we’re just breaking down their movements.” …

* * *

Hiroki Kuroda is working on adding a curveball to his repertoire. Dylan Hernandez of the Times has more:

Last spring, Kuroda tried to add a changeup to his arsenal, but the project was abandoned early in camp. Kuroda said he’s more optimistic about his curveball.

“I’ll throw it during the exhibition season and see how it feels,” he said.

Kuroda said he has received tips from Clayton Kershaw, but that he learned the curveball grip over the winter by watching videos.

* * *

Steve Henson of Yahoo! Sports writes about the importance to Rafael Furcal of the fire truck recently donated to his hometown in the Dominican Republic:

“I’ll sleep better knowing people will be safe,” Furcal said. “I’m the only guy who made it. It’s like a responsibility to me.”

His love of firefighting was noticed by Dodgers public relations director Josh Rawitch, who mentioned it to general manager Ned Colletti during Furcal’s contract negotiations after the 2008 season. Colletti included the truck in discussions with Furcal’s agent, Paul Kinzer. Furcal was torn between signing with the Braves – the team that first signed him in 1996 and for whom he played his first six years in the majors – or returning to the Dodgers.

The fire truck was the ideal perk. It spoke to something close to his heart. And it convinced him the Dodgers cared about him as a person, and about his hometown.


* * *

Farewell, Ollie Matson.

Oct 29

Explaining the Don Mattingly non-incident

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has caught some undeserved grief in the past 24 hours or so because his Phoenix Desert Dogs team in the Arizona Fall League ran out of pitchers and couldn’t finish the nine-inning game, as Scott Merkin of MLB.com reported.

As someone who wishes the next Dodger manager had more experience, I nevertheless found this to be completely unremarkable. Some people have been using it to launch more snark at Mattingly, but that snark betrays a lack of understanding of what the AFL is – a series of games designed to provide a limited number of players with practice in a (pseudo-)competitive setting.

The math is simple: Mattingly was given five pitchers to work with Thursday (two others were injured), and was expected to get them all in the game while adhering to strict pitch-count limits. Over the first six innings he used three hurlers, none of whom pitched all that well, leaving him with two for the final three.

The real trouble began with Dodger prospect Steven Ames, a 17th-round pick in 2009, couldn’t retire any of the seven batters he faced in the seventh inning. The next pitcher, Marlins prospect Steve Cishek, fared little better, retiring only two of the next seven batters, using 36 pitches in the process.

That forced Mattingly to use a sixth pitcher, Braves prospect Cory Gearrin, who was supposed to pitch today, in order to complete the seventh inning Thursday.

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles spoke to Mattingly today and sent along these quotes:

“You only have so many guys, and we have two starters down (with injuries),” Mattingly told Jackson. “Each organization dictates how much you can use their guys and how much they can pitch. Ames just got here, and he was only supposed to go one inning or 30 pitches. And then Cishek, he could only go 40 pitches or two innings. And then I had to bring in Gearrin, and he only had 14 pitches left.’

“This had nothing to do with managing a game. I would do it every day exactly the way we did it, because I’m not going to send somebody out there and get them hurt, either somebody from our organization or from another organization. And you’re not about to send another (position) player out there (to pitch) and risk getting them hurt just to get through one inning. … We saw this coming for three or four days. We’d send a guy out there and cross our fingers and just hope he could give us an inning or get a double play or whatever, just to get us through. But it finally caught up with us.”

It’s happened before, and it’s happened again. Save the grievances about Mattingly for when they actually matter …

Sep 25

Did you see Jackie Robinson bunt that ball?


Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty ImagesJackie Robinson

While poking around the Dodgers’ all-time seasonal sacrifice hit leaders Friday to come up with the tidbit on Clayton Kershaw, I noticed that Jackie Robinson had the bold-face total of 28 in his rookie year, 1947. (I mentioned this in the comments section, but felt it trivially interesting enough for a separate post.)

Times were different then, obviously, but I still found it rather stunning. This was a year in which Robinson hit .297 with 74 walks and 48 extra-base hits and led the National League in stolen bases. He grounded into five double plays in 590 at-bats. There probably weren’t many hitters for whom the sacrifice was more of a waste than Robinson. Yet there he was, squaring up more than anyone around.

In fact, in a 15-game stretch from August 10-23, during which Robinson OPSed .998, someone thought it’d be a good idea for him to sacrifice bunt eight times. My way of putting that in perspective: Robinson had more sacrifice hits in those two weeks than Rickey Henderson had in 1,746 games from 1981-93.

It was a long time ago, but I wonder if there was anyone who noticed Robinson was red-hot at the plate and wondered when they were going to stop making him give himself up.

* * *

My favorite part of Arash Markazi’s ESPNLosAngeles.com column on Manny Ramirez’s return to Southern California:

Dodgers organist Nancy Bea Hefley and her husband, Bill, drove down to Anaheim to catch up with Ramirez and (Juan) Pierre, before leaving for their home in northern Nevada prior to the opening pitch.

“When Manny arrived, the team wasn’t doing anything and he just brought a spark,” said Hefley, who gave Ramirez and Pierre a big hug each in the visitor’s dugout. “He brought a spark to the team in the dugout and on the field and made it very exciting.” …

* * *

Shades of Randy Wolf: Ted Lilly should clearly be offered salary arbitration after this season, though he will probably turn said offer down, writes Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.

Petriello also passes along this note from Mark Whicker of the Register that outfield prospect Jerry Sands will experiment at third base in the Arizona Fall League. Whicker’s main point in his column is that the Dodgers shouldn’t give up on their homegrown core, despite this year’s frustrations.

Sep 17

Dodgers take leap of faith with Don Mattingly


Dustin Bradford/Icon SMIDon Mattingly will be the Dodgers’ seventh manager since 1996.

The Tim Wallach bandwagon seemed to be gaining steam in recent weeks, but in the end it was as everyone foretold: The Dodgers have officially announced that Don Mattingly will manage the team in 2011, succeeding Joe Torre.

With any first-time manager, you don’t really know how it’s going to go until it goes (that’s my poor imitation of Joni Mitchell). Wallach was something of a sweetheart candidate, partly with his echoes of Mike Scioscia (even though Wallach mainly spent his career in Montreal), but more because he just seemed to have earned the job more than Mattingly had. Player reports were glowing. But unless you’ve been hanging with the Isotopes, you didn’t really see how he managed a team, and even if you were in Albuquerque, you don’t know how his strategy might change with winning a priority over player development.

Of course, Mattingly is an even bigger mystery. The Dodgers are betting that his understanding of the game and Torre’s tutelage trumps any need for having done this before, and that managing in the Arizona Fall League will seal the deal.  I wasn’t convinced all year that this was a good bet, and I’m not convinced now. I poured my thoughts out on this in June, and my take on this remains what it was:

… I don’t know of anyone, even his stanuchest supporters, who touts Torre as a brilliant tactical manager. He has had moments of strategic inspiration, but they seem more than undermined by his justifiably maligned use of his pitching staff and other odd lineup and bench moves. Some of the criticism of Torre is overblown, but there’s a layer of truth to it that dates back to his Yankee days.  …

Obviously, Mattingly’s baseball knowledge is not limited to his time by Torre’s side, but surely his tactics are going to be heavily influenced by Torre. And that, while not being the worst thing in the world, is not anything to be excited about.

Then you have to ask yourself, is Mattingly the type of person who can nurture a clubhouse, who can make a team better when the game isn’t going on?

I don’t know Mattingly at all, so I’m not qualified to answer that question. But my concern is that Mattingly is being handed this job not because of any actual qualifications, but because he’s perceived (hoped) to be Torre II. He’ll continue Torre’s winning ways just by having soaked up his innate Torreness.

If it were that simple, I don’t think Lakers fans would be concerned about Phil Jackson leaving.

As a counter-example, Tim Wallach has both coached on the major league level and managed on the minor league level for the Dodgers. He was named Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year in 2009. This season, he has been doing a barefoot walk across the coals, because the Dodgers’ pitching problems have absolutely burned their top affiliate in Albuquerque. In this season alone, Wallach has had to use 17 starting pitchers this season in 74 games. He has very little in the way of top-rated Triple-A prospects right now. He has had to work without the safety net of a Joe Torre and then some.

This resume doesn’t prove that Wallach will be a successful major league manager. But I can’t see how it isn’t a better resume than Mattingly’s, whose entire managerial C.V. consists of, “He’s Don Mattingly, Yankees legend and student of Joe Torre.”

As the Dodgers prepare to bid farewell to Torre, this year, next year or whenever, they have some responsibilities, some explicit, some implicit. For one thing, Major League Baseball requires the Dodgers to interview at least one minority candidate for the position. Whether you believe in this rule or not, I’d argue that the Dodgers should not make this interview a token activity, but rather at least one of a number of serious interviews, a wider exploration into whether anyone is better than Mattingly for the job. Clearly, Mattingly has impressed people in the organization, but has he done so in ways that really matter? If they pause and step back, are there not potential managers out there who would be more compelling?

By writing this piece, I risk giving this decision more importance than it deserves. The talent on the field is still more important than the talent in the dugout, and a hire of Mattingly isn’t going to ruin the Dodgers. Mattingly is not Torre, and given what happened Sunday, some might say that’s a good thing. But the Dodgers should ask themselves whether a Mattingly hire would bring continuity in all the wrong places.

I really do think the Dodgers or MLB need to answer why the minority interview requirement for the Dodgers is being bypassed for the second time in a row.

In the end, Mattingly may turn out to be the real deal as a manager, just as he was as a player. Just like Torre, in fact. Keep in mind, though, that Torre (who took over the Mets as a novice manager while still on the active playing roster) didn’t have a winning season until his seventh season.

So maybe the way to look at this is you’re giving a young prospect with great potential a quick route to the big leagues, just like, say, Clayton Kershaw. Or Matt Kemp.  Or Joel Guzman. You know, one of those.

Jul 24

Torre concedes error in 6-1 loss

Joe Torre told Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com that he made a mistake Friday having Ronnie Beliiard pinch-hit with two out in the bottom of the seventh for Vicente Padilla, who had allowed one run on 77 pitches through seven innings.

If the Dodgers had been scoring more, Torre wouldn’t have been faced with that choice. But with rare exceptions like Bizarro Tim Lincecum night, the Dodger offense hasn’t been doing much lately, and facing the Mets’ Johan Santana didn’t help.

Jeff Weaver compounded Torre’s ill-fated decision. Weaver, who had walked seven batters in his first 28 games this season (through the end of June) and never more than one in a game, walked the first two batters he faced in the eighth – giving him eight walks in 7 2/3 innings in July.

It all went downhill from there.

* * *

Andre Ethier is in a 1-for-24 slump, though he has walked seven times and homered. His batting average (.302), on-base percentage (.367) are at their lowest marks since the second game of the season.

* * *

John Ely had his Friday start for Albuquerque was postponed. Christopher Jackson of Albuquerque Baseball Examiner said Ely was struck by a batting practice ball.

* * *

Here’s a preview of my brother’s latest producing effort, “Young Justice,” which will premiere on Cartoon Network next year with 26 episodes. I have written two and will be writing two more.

Jul 20

Macho men fall down: Dodgers collapse, 7-5


Gus Ruelas/APUmpire Adrian Johnson walks alongside Matt Kemp after the Dodger outfielder was hit by a Tim Lincecum pitch in the fifth inning.

Where to begin?

Tim Lincecum getting hammered, allowing three runs in the first inning and two more in the third? Giving up a homer to Andre Ethier and 11 baserunners in 4 1/3 innings while striking out two?

Xavier Paul getting two runs, two doubles, a single and an RBI – and still nearly costing the Dodgers the game with a dropped fly ball?

Clayton Kershaw cruising, retiring 11 in a row at one point, in his first career matchup with Lincecum?

No, we can’t start there.

In the most memorable game of a season the Dodgers are desperately hoping won’t be forgettable, Lincecum-Kershaw I devolved into a B-grade beanball war and D-grade display of intelligence, one that showed the Dodgers’ fighting spirit but also highlighted their shortsightedness – and even stupidity.

If you thought the collapse against the Yankees was a nightmare, if Sunday’s meltdown at St. Louis brought you to your knees, those games have nothing on tonight’s 7-5 loss.

The unraveling took root in the fifth inning, with the Dodgers leading 5-1, when Lincecum, who had hit one batter with a pitch this year, threw consecutive knockdown pitches at Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, the second one hitting him. Kemp was angry, but there was no incident. Nevertheless, home plate umpire Adrian Johnson issued a warning to both benches that no other beanball shenanigans would be tolerated. This infuriated Dodger coach Bob Schaefer (the Dodger coach that Kemp reportedly clashed with last month), who had lots of words with Johnson.

Lincecum left the game one batter later. In top of the sixth, Kershaw gave up three hits and three runs, two of them unearned because Paul dropped a long fly ball by San Francisco’s Pat Burrell (one, admittedly, that looked at first like it might leave the park). In the bottom of the inning, Giants reliever Denny Bautista knocked Russell Martin down with a pitch, and Schaefer went ballistic, drawing an ejection from Johnson.

Gus Ruelas/AP
Joe Torre and Adrian Johnson go through the motions and emotions after Clayton Kershaw’s ejection.

Kershaw was the next batter, which was a bit surprising considering his rough top of the sixth and the fact that he had thrown 103 pitches. What was really bizarre, however, was that the fragile Hong-Chih Kuo was warming up in the bullpen while Kershaw was batting.

Soon, we found out why.

Kershaw came out in the top of the seventh and with his first pitch, drilled Aaron Rowand of the Giants. Johnson immediately ejected Kershaw, who might also draw a suspension. And while some might have thought it improbable that the Dodgers would intentionally put the tying run on base in a game they so wanted to win, it seems clear that they did.

Further explaining what happened, a Twitter user pointed out that pinch-hitter Garret Anderson was the on-deck hitter when Martin was knocked down. After Schaefer was ejected, Anderson sat down, and Kershaw remained in the game to do his dirty work.

Kershaw scored points with everyone who thinks that pride depends on revenge, who thinks that all of the Dodgers’ problems stem from Chad Billingsley not knocking down a Phillie two years ago, but in the meantime, the action risked putting the Dodgers in the very humbling position of losing a game that was very much worth winning. Rowand made it all the way to third base with two outs, before Kuo got Freddie Sanchez on a broken-bat liner to end the inning.

So the extra baserunner didn’t cost the Dodgers the game. But ultimately, we were still reminded that pride doesn’t mean victories.

Jonathan Broxton, forced into the game after Kuo threw two innings, allowed a 60-foot infield single to start the ninth, then issued an ill-advised walk to Edgar Renteria. Rowand sacrificed, and the Dodgers decided to have Broxton walk Aubrey Huff intentionally to load the bases with one out.

And then – and this is saying something – the most bizarre thing happened.

Joe Torre’s heir apparent, Don Mattingly, helming the Dodgers because Torre was automatically ejected once his pitcher hit a batter after the benches were warned, visited the mound to have a conference with Broxton and the infield. He finished, walked off the mound, and then James Loney called out a question to him. Mattingly turned and took three steps back toward Loney – a step that put both Mattingly’s feet onto the mound. Giants manager Bruce Bochy immediately came out to contend that this constituted two trips to the mound, and successfully got Broxton removed from the game.

And thus, we had trying to save the game, with almost no warmup, one George Friderich Sherrill.

Irony was not in supply. Sherrill did not defy expectations. His second pitch was hit for a two-run double, giving San Francisco its first lead of the game. Travis Schlichting came in, and one out later, allowed a single for another run.

Forced to rally for the first time tonight, the Dodgers came out in the bottom of the ninth against Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt, who no doubt entered the game with one eye on Ethier in the dugout, due up fourth in the inning. Jamey Carroll was thrown out by a hair at first base. The ever-lovin’ Rafael Furcal then lined one to left field, sliding into second base with a close double. Ronnie Belliard, pinch-hitting for Paul against the lefty, struck out feebly.

And for the second night in a row with the game on the line, Affeldt got Ethier, this time ending the contest with a strikeout.

And so yes, the Dodgers can pat themselves on the back, knowing that they were man enough to fight back against the Giants. But when they’re done with that, their next move will be to scratch their heads, wondering why that manliness feels so hollow.

It’s because it’s not about who’s mas macho. It’s about who has scored the most runs at the end of the day. Anyone who planned to point to this tough-guy act and say this was the key to the Dodgers’ season was just dreaming.

Update: Some postgame quotes from Torre …

“(Mattingly) didn’t really know where he was. He thought he was still on the mound when James called him back.

“They didn’t look upon (the brushback of Martin) as on purpose. It’s a very gray area that seems to have some flaws in it, and I don’t know how you fix it.

“I think it’s more just (Broxton) is out of sync right now, more so than anything physical to worry about. He’s pretty honest with Honeycutt as far as when he feels good.

“We’ve had some strange things happen. This is a test, and you have to bounce back and reestablish what kind of club you are.”

Update 2: Quotes from Mattingly …

“I turned to walk away, and James said something and I just kind of turned around. He asked me the depth that I wanted him, didn’t even realize that I was off the dirt, and obviously I was.

“I kind of had a little bit of a feeling, because Adrian (Johnson) was yelling, ‘No no no, you can’t go back!’ as I turned to talk to James, so I had a little bit of a feeling at that point.

“I’m aware of the rule, but again felt I had just kind of turned and turned back around, but obviously I guess I didn’t.

“That’s what I asked (crew chief) Tim McClelland. I said, ‘Can he warm up?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I won’t do that to him. I’m not gonna take a chance on letting a guy get hurt. So at that point (I’m) talking to (pitching coach Rick Honeycutt), not realizing how many throws he’s getting.

“I’m not quite sure of (why they cut Sherrill off at eight warmup tosses). Again, Honey and I talked, and pretty much turned around and George is ready to go, so I figure he’s ready to go. At that point I didn’t realize they cut him off at eight.”