Jul 09

Between a laugher and a tear: Dodgers hold on, 9-7


Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireRussell Martin goes boom, finally.

Well, it’s really starting to get interesting now. It might not happen this quickly, but there is the possibility that when baseball takes its midsummer break, there will be a three-way tie for first place in the National League West between Los Angeles, Colorado and San Diego.

Nothing’s decided in July, but certainly the Dodgers are happy (and relieved) to gain another game on the Padres with a 9-7 victory tonight over the Cubs. Los Angeles also kept pace with the charging Rockies, who rallied from a large and late deficit for the third night in a row, this time defeating San Diego, 10-8. Colorado has won five straight, and both the Dodgers and Rockies are two games back of San Diego with two games left before All-Star time.

After the Dodgers fell behind 1-0 in the second inning, Russell Martin hit his first home run in 60 days – a smash with two men aboard in the bottom of the second – to give the Dodgers the lead they would keep for the rest of the night. I had hoped it would be the kickoff to a long overdue laugher of a night for Martin, but he was retired in his next three plate appearances. After getting two hits June 29, Martin has had exactly one hit in each of his past eight games.

In any case, the Dodgers had a few nice chuckles of their own tonight, leading 9-3 after six innings (with Andre Ethier and James Loney each reaching base three times), but Jonathan Broxton once again found his way into the game after the Cubs (along with George Sherrill and Justin Miller) made Dodger manager Joe Torre sweat.

It was a down-and-up night for Chad Billingsley, who allowed seven baserunners in the second and third innings but kept the damage to a run in each. Billingsley then allowed only two more hits and a walk before being pulled following a leadoff single in the eighth inning. (Torre, who is becoming a regular Agatha Christie the way he is authoring such mysterious use of his pitching staff, had Billingsley start the eighth with 115 pitches already thrown in the game, a move that perplexed everyone from me to Vin Scully.) For those who keep track of such things, Torre’s decision cost Billingsley one of them so-called quality starts by letting a fourth run be charged to him, that run coming home on an 0-2 wild pitch by Miller after Sherrill gave up a double. Another run followed, cutting the Dodgers’ lead to four and meaning that the one pitch Sherrill threw boosted his ERA from 6.86 to 7.32.

Miller had a chance to close out the game in the ninth, but was pulled for Broxton after allowing a leadoff single in the ninth. Aramis Ramirez tripled in the Cubs’ sixth run when Ethier flailed in a diving attempt to make a catch he should have made, and then Marlon Byrd’s seventh hit in two nights added the seventh run. Tyler Colvin batted as the tying run, echoes of the Dodgers’ collapse against the Yankees in June in everyone’s mind. But Colvin struck out, the Cubs’ 26th strikeout against the Dodgers in two games.

Scully summed up: “The Dodgers stagger, but hold on to win.”

I think it’s safe to say that by next week, this Dodger middle relief will not stand. Changes must be coming.

* * *

Seattle asked the Dodgers for Billingsley or Loney in a trade for Cliff Lee, according to an anonymous source in this story by Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. The Dodgers offered several minor leaguers, the source said, but wouldn’t give in on the major-leaguers.

* * *

Three days after returning from a long stay on the disabled list, John Lindsey doubled and homered three times for Albuquerque in a doubleheader today. Ramon Troncoso gave up a game-winning home run in his second appearance since being sent to the Isotopes. (The winning pitcher in that game? Matt Herges.)

Jun 28

Joe Torre and the future of Dodger managing


Jeff Chiu/AP
Don Mattingly and Joe Torre

Joe Torre’s primary skill set is at most one thing: He nurtures the clubhouse.

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.

When Torre finally lost his temper on Wednesday after the Dodgers’ ninth-inning baserunner follies and criticized some of the players for their decision-making, I understood, but I also felt it was the pot calling out the kettle. So much of Torre’s job is decision-making, and so often it goes wrong. Sometimes he makes a good choice that goes bad, but other times his choices are simply indefensible. How many times has Torre not seemed mentally prepared for the game at hand? Does a collapse like Sunday’s not lay in large part at Torre’s feet, most notably in his overuse of Jonathan Broxton? It’s not as simple as “his players didn’t do their jobs.”

And I say all this with no particular axe to grind. This is not a “Fire Joe Torre” post. I generally like Torre as a person. I don’t happen to think that Torre is much worse at game strategy than your garden-variety manager. But let’s face it: With Torre, you’re betting that the force of his even-keeled personality outweighs his flaws. He ‘s a bright man, but you’re not thinking he’s going to take you to the top because he’s a grandmaster chess player.

Torre’s contract ends after this season. This past weekend, he told reporters that he would decide in September whether he wants to come back for more with the Dodgers, although even then, there’s a question of how much the McCourt ownership will want to pay him for the privilege — or whether anyone up top will even be able to focus on the question. The McCourt divorce trial is currently scheduled to begin August 30. What kind of negotiations are there going to be with Torre during that time? If the Dodgers are in fourth place, will there be any negotiations at all? Or is it all in general manager Ned Colletti’s hands?

It’s possible that the Dodgers will take decide that, with all their other concerns heading into 2011, they’d like stability in the managerial chair and will quickly give Torre what he wants to stay. If the Dodgers bounce back to the top of the division, I’d almost be willing to bet on it.

The only other possibility on the horizon is that Don Mattingly will be the Dodger manager next season. It has been spelled out in no uncertain terms that Mattingly is the heir apparent, and if the Dodgers fall out of the race, Mattingly could be named the 2011 Dodger manager before the 2010 season ends.

This, my friends, gives me the willies.

Mattingly is Joe Torre without Joe Torre’s personality or experience. Mattingly has never managed a regular season baseball game and has never coached for anyone except Torre. 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 Laker 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 AAA 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, Yankee 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.

Jun 20

Just make Saturday’s game a bullpen game


Chris Williams/Icon SMI
Opponents have a .282 on-base percentage and .321 slugging percentage against Jeff Weaver this season. Since returning to the Dodgers in 2009, his home ERA is 2.68.

The Dodger rotation after today’s game in Boston:

Monday: off
Tuesday: Clayton Kershaw
Wednesday: John Ely
Thursday: Vicente Padilla
Friday: Hiroki Kuroda
Saturday: ???

Those question marks shouldn’t be filled by a pitcher who isn’t major-league ready, just because he’s a “starting pitcher.”

Right now, the best solution for the Dodgers might just be to start Jeff Weaver even if he can only go for two or three innings, and then follow him with a bevy of relievers. And then make a roster move the following day to help rebuild the bullpen if necessary.

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 11

The Angels brought on Chad Billingsley’s demons in 2009

When the Angels last faced Chad Billingsley at Dodger Stadium, on May 24, 2009, they ended Billingsley’s streak of consecutive quality starts at nine, scoring three runs in the sixth inning to take a 5-4 lead. When Billingsley faced the Angels again on June 19, at Anaheim, he had a 4-1 lead before giving up three runs in the sixth inning again.

Billingsley gave up three runs in the sixth inning of his next start, against the Chicago White Sox on June 25, and suddenly, a pitcher who was on his way to the All-Star Game began to have a reputation as a pitcher who would melt down in the sixth inning — even though, as you can see from his game log, it was hardly a regular occurrence even in the second half of 2009.

Fortunately, Billingsley has done a lot in 2010 to repair his reputation. The skeptics will no doubt return should Billingsley falter again, even once, but it’s just a reminder to keep the big picture in sight when evaluating a player. Nearly 70 percent of Billingsley’s starts in 2009 were quality starts, yet people wanted to give up on him.

I don’t know if he’ll make it past the sixth inning against the Angels today, but I sure look forward to seeing him try.

* * *

In his afternoon media session, Joe Torre made a comment to reporters about the Dodgers’ recent streak of one-run victories to the effect of “the bulk of those have been at home, where the main ingredient is that you can use your closer in tie games.”

Someone needs to remind Torre that you actually can use your closer in tie games on the road — and that you’re better off doing so than using a lesser pitcher to try to keep you in the game.

I don’t know why it’s so hard for managers to grasp that it’s easier to protect a one-run lead than a zero-run lead, but such is life.

* * *

While comments remain welcome here, of course, you can also join me and ESPNLosAngeles beat writers Tony Jackson (Dodgers) and Mark Saxon (Angels) for a Cover It Live chat during tonight’s game. They’ll be chatting live from Dodger Stadium, I’ll be chatting live while putting the kids to bed.

Editors at ESPNLosAngeles.com also picked their all-Los Angeles-named-baseball-team stars. You can make your own picks here.

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 12

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


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

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

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

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

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

Ross D. Franklin/AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 10

As Dodgers cruise in Arizona, questions about Billingsley ease


Matt Kartozian/US Presswire
Chad Billingsley zeroed in on 14 first-pitch strikes out of 23 batters faced tonight.

It was just about a wire-to-wire victory for the Dodgers tonight, who never trailed in defeating Arizona, 7-3. The amazing Andre Ethier had three more hits – part of the 17 men that reached base for Los Angeles.

In fact, it was such a good night that the most controversial moment of the game was merely this: Was a victorious Chad Billingsley taken out too soon?

Billinglsey, of course, has the millstone of not having pitched in the seventh inning of a game since July. But in his past three starts entering tonight, he had completed six innings in under 100 pitches. Even after he got hammered by Milwaukee in the first inning last week, he followed up with five shutout innings and was only at 90 pitches after six. Nevertheless, each of those past three starts Billingsley was removed from the game, either for a pinch-hitter and/or because Dodger manager Joe Torre felt he had had enough.

This, by the way, also happened during Billingsley’s maligned second half of 2009: On six occasions after the All-Star Break, Billingsley pitched six innings in under 100 pitches while allowing three earned runs or fewer. It’s not as if Billingsley hasn’t struggled since last July, but this idea that he always melts down by the sixth inning is in some ways a joke.

So anyway, Billingsley was just about cruising tonight in Arizona: five innings, 81 pitches, two hits, three walks, seven strikeouts. In the sixth, with the Dodgers leading 4-1, he allowed a walk and a double to put runners on second and third with one out. Chris Young, who accounted for the Diamondbacks’ only run with a second-inning solo homer, was up. And Torre went straight to the bullpen.

This isn’t the worst decision Torre is going to make in 2010, but it was one of the least inspiring. Billingsley, who now has a 3.47 ERA in his past four starts with 19 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings, had earned the right to try to get out of the jam with only 90 pitches under his belt.

The scenario was not unlike what Billingsley faced September 23 at Washington, during the Dodgers’ pennant drive. Billingsley had a no-hitter for 5 2/3 innings and a three-run lead with only 84 pitches thrown, then allowed a game-tying home run to Ryan Zimmerman. So yeah, it wasn’t like bad things couldn’t have happened tonight, things that would have haunted our conversations for days. But if you expect this guy to be a mainstay of your staff, you’d think you’d be a little less fearful of what could go wrong and instead more hopeful about what could go right – especially when he’s been pitching well.

In any case, if people want to get up in arms about Billingsley and the seventh inning, they’d better at least throw an angry glance in Torre’s direction.

But I will offer this as a counterpoint. If Torre made the decision to pull Billingsley in order to protect his arm for the long haul – similar to his choice to give Billingsley and other Dodger starters an extra day of rest this week by starting Ramon Ortiz on Friday – I might be able to get behind it. Torre was almost relentless in his use of Billingsley in the first half of last season, when the righthander threw at least 105 pitches in 12 consecutive games and 17 out of 19, racking up the most pitches thrown in all of baseball for the first half of ’09. It’s been my theory that Billingsley, who was only 24 at the time with one full season as a starting pitcher in the majors under his belt, simply wore down by the second half (and then had his leg injuries complicate matters). I can’t prove it, but it’s more plausible than other theories I’ve heard.

I think it’s possible that Torre, while also perhaps being a bit nervous regarding Billingsley and his reputation for suddenly allowing big innings, might also be thinking that Billingsley needs to be paced, and is actively looking for ways to limit his use in the early going. And if that’s the case, despite my being upset at Billingsley being pulled from tonight’s game, I’m all for it.  And I’m confident that if Billingsley keeps giving Torre good innings, we won’t be talking about this subject much longer.

For what it’s worth, Ramon Troncoso, who is the focus of a lot of burnout fears, has had his workload eased a bit this month. He had one outing of 27 pitches between last Wednesday and tonight’s 13-pitch ninth inning. In four appearances (none in consecutive games) over the first 10 days of May, Troncoso has thrown 71 pitches.

Apr 11

Relief disbelief: Same old song with a few new lines


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apr 09

Is indecision a problem in managing a team? I don’t know …


Kyle Terada/US Presswire
Joe Torre

As much as I might procrastinate, I never turn in work late. But when it comes to difficult decisions, sometimes I’ll take those past the expiration date — in other words, by the time I make the decision, it won’t matter what I’ve decided.

Simple example: There’s a sale on something I might want to buy, but by the time I decide to go for it, the sale is over. Or there’s a story I might want to write, but by the time I commit to requesting interviews, someone else has gotten there first.

I got to wondering how much major-league managers (or for that matter, general managers) share this trait. We talk a lot about in-game strategy when it comes to managing; I’ve still got a diatribe at the ready about Joe Torre’s use of Jonathan Broxton in Pittsburgh this week. But today I’m thinking out loud about how many wins might come from decisiveness, how many losses might result from the lack of it.

Should the Dodgers be more decisive by this point about whether James McDonald is a starting pitcher or a relief pitcher? Should they have been less decisive a few years back about turning Jonathan Broxton into a reliever instead of a starter?

If you’re unsure about a roster decision, do you just put it off? To paraphrase Branch Rickey, is it better to get rid of a player a month too soon than a month too late?

Blake DeWitt (a subject of discussion in this morning’s comments) –went back-and-forth between the majors and minors last year, is it time to commit to him staying in the majors in 2010?

I’m not attempting to answer these questions today. Perhaps some of these kinds of decisions should be made sooner, others later. It’s obviously important to make the right decision, but how important is when you make that decision? Is timing an underrated skill in management?

As a postscript, Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy points to one decision Torre has been putting off — how long to stay with the Dodgers — and wonders if Torre has any inclination to flee the McCourt mess for the Mets mess.

* * *

Eri Yoshida, the 18-year-old female knuckleballer from Japan, is coming to California to pitch:

(Yoshida) signed with the Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League. The team said she will report to spring training next month. …

Yoshida will be the first female to pitch for a pro team in the United States since Ila Borders retired more than 10 years ago, the team said. …

“We are really looking forward to having Eri as a member of the Chico Outlaws this season,” team president Mike Marshall said. …

Yes, that’s former Dodger outfielder Mike Marshall speaking.

The 5-foot, 114-pound Yoshida became Japan’s first female pro baseball player last year when she pitched for the Kobe Cruise 9 in the Kansai Independent League.

She was 0-2 in 11 appearances with a 4.03 ERA, giving up seven runs in 10 2-3 innings. …

The Outlaws open on the road on May 21 in Tijuana and return for their home opener on May 26th.

* * *

Josh Wilker of Cardboard Gods can be heard in an NPR interview Saturday.

Apr 07

This game’ll make you feel a hundred years old


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good thoughts, everyone …

* * *

  • Forbes values the Dodgers at $727 million, the fourth-highest figure in baseball – details in this story from The Associated Press.
  • Manny Ramirez told T.J. Simers of the Times that he likes Jamie McCourt more than Frank.
    Update: Man, I really, really zoned out while reading Simers late Thursday. Sheesh. Anyway, disregard the sentence above.
Apr 06

Retreads in middle relief not a sign of the apocalypse


US Presswire
Jeff Weaver (left) is exactly the kind of pitcher major-league teams typically have in the back of their bullpen. James McDonald deserves to be on the Dodgers, but his front-line potential might explain why he’s in Albuquerque today.

There’s a difference between having junk in your front yard and having junk in your back.

By that I mean, it doesn’t bother me as much that the Dodgers have retreads in their bullpen, as long as they stay out of the starting rotation.

People lose sight of it because of the recent success the Dodgers have had in relief, but bullpens are largely made up of retreads.  We know for a fact that there isn’t enough quality starting pitching in baseball to come close to filling 30 major-league rotations, so why would the bullpens be bursting with star quality from top to bottom? It makes sense that they’d be comprised of pitchers who aren’t even good enough to be mediocre starters.

In the bullpen, you’re looking for guys who can put together for one or two innings what they can’t hack over five to seven. And so it’s not crazy to try your luck with a Jeff Weaver or Ramon Ortiz — or for that matter a newbie like Carlos Monasterios. Maybe with limited innings, they can excel. It might end up a failed experiment, but it’s not a senseless one — as Weaver showed us last year.

That Weaver, Monasterios and the law firm of Ortiz & Ortiz pitched for the Dodgers on Opening Day was, I’m sorry to say, not a reflection of a franchise in divorce-induced disarray. It was nothing more than a reflection of major-league standard operating procedure when you’re starting pitcher is knocked out early — especially when three of your top relievers — Hong-Chih Kuo, Ramon Troncoso and Ronald Belisario — were unavailable for circumstances beyond the Dodgers control.

In case that point needs underscoring, the World Payroll Champion New York Yankees used Chan Ho Park to try to protect a 7-5 seventh-inning lead on Opening Night in Fenway Park.

The one thing you might say the Dodgers should have done Monday was use Jonathan Broxton in the pivotal moment of the game — when Vicente Padilla was nearing his end with two runners on base and one out in the fifth inning of a one-run contest. But I won’t hold my breath waiting for a Dodger manager to be that bold.

On the other hand, in the one Spring Training decision regarding the starting rotation that did require boldness, you can’t say Joe Torre didn’t deliver. Rather than go with a retread, Torre chose Charlie Haeger, whose major-league resume is shaky but comes with an upside that Weaver and the Ortizes no longer have.

Haeger, keep in mind, is only a year older than James McDonald and four years younger than Eric Stults. And what’s interesting is that Torre seemed to have this idea in mind regardless of Spring Training performance — Torre was signaling his inclination for Haeger even before the knuckleballer started to turn in some good exhibition innings. With several over-30 options available, Torre went, relatively speaking, with a kid.

If Haeger fails — and who knows how much rope he has before failure is declared — we’ll see if the choice to replace him is a retread or a younger player like McDonald or Scott Elbert. If I were in charge of the Dodgers, McDonald would be on the major-league roster today. He proved in 2009 that he could perform well as a major-league pitcher, with a 2.72 ERA as a reliever in 41 games as a reliever. Sending him down to the minors because he didn’t pitch well in mid-March made little sense — unless it was part of a broader plan to make him the No. 1 option to replace Haeger by giving him some fine-tuning in the Albuquerque rotation.

I don’t have much long-term confidence in Padilla, though he will have better days than he had Monday. I’m not going to sit here and say that the Dodger starting rotation couldn’t be better. But I know this much: You don’t judge a team by the back of its bullpen. And if you do, the Dodgers have little to apologize for in theirs.

Apr 01

Blake DeWitt, Charlie Haeger officially win starting jobs


Mark Duncan/AP, Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images
Blake DeWitt and Charlie Haeger combined to appear in 37 games for the 2009 Dodgers.

The Dodgers just broke bottles of champagne on the broadsides of Blake DeWitt and Charlie Haeger, with Joe Torre officially announcing they have been named the team’s starting second baseman and No. 5 starting pitcher.

“Blake DeWitt is our second baseman,” Torre told reporters before tonight’s exhibition. “Over the long haul, DeWitt needs to play everyday. Belliard and Carroll can play against left-handers … so we have flexibility. If someone gets hot, we’ll find a spot for them.

“We initially pulled the April Fools’ Day prank on Blake. We told him he was going down, but we didn’t keep him there long. He was joyed, relieved. That’s as emotional as I’ve seen him in a long time.

“Haeger will be our fifth starter. He can pitch out of the bullpen before that. His versatility is a plus. We’ll give him a shot.”

The Dodgers sent Josh Towers to Albuquerque, but as of this writing didn’t confirm what the back of the bullpen will look like.

The question is, did Torre and the Dodgers wait until today to give DeWitt the job just so they could do the April Fools’ Day gag? Maybe the Jamey Carroll and Ronnie Belliard signings were done just to beef up the joke!

Mar 25

Vicente Padilla named Dodgers’ Opening Day starter


Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Vicente Padilla

It doesn’t matter much, and I’m sure there’s a reason for it, but I find it bizarre that the Dodgers have chosen Vicente Padilla to start on Opening Day April 5.

It’s not needed to set up Clayton Kershaw to start the home opener eight days later. And in all my years watching baseball, I can’t think of a rationale that would make Padilla the choice over Hiroki Kuroda or Chad Billingsley, both of whom have been with the team longer, contributed more to the team in the past year and have their own sentimental reasons for getting the nod. In particular, I would have thought Kuroda’s comeback from a frightening injury would have given him the honor.

A one-month hot stretch by Padilla shouldn’t trump those factors. Frankly, it’s a decision that cries out to be mocked, despite its insignificance in the grand scheme of things. And heaven knows, lots of people enjoy new reasons to mock the Dodgers.

That doesn’t mean Padilla won’t go out and throw shutout ball — after all, that’s what he did for six innings in his last appearance in Pittsburgh, nearly five years ago. But it still just doesn’t feel right to me. Whatever reasons there were to choose Padilla, there were better reasons not to.

Mar 11

Why Don Mattingly and not Tim Wallach?

Steve Dilbeck questions the Dodgers’ fascination with coach Don Mattingly over Albuquerque manager Tim Wallach at Dodgers Blog, and I can’t say I don’t share it — only I might frame as “Why Don Mattingly and no one else?”

The answer is that Mattingly would theoretically carry forward the success that Joe Torre has had, but should we really feel so certain that Mattingly, for better or worse, is Torre II?

Writes Dilbeck:

… Mattingly has never managed. Wallach, who led Albuquerque to the playoffs last season and was named the Pacific Coast League manager of the year, will return to the helm of the Isotopes this season.

Does any of this sound familiar? Echoes of Mike Scioscia, perhaps?

When Tommy Lasorda finally stepped down, the Dodgers named coach Bill Russell to succeed him in 1997. Scioscia was a bench coach. When Russell was ousted in the middle of the ’98 season, Glenn Hoffman was named manager. When Hoffman was fired at the end of the season, Davey Johnson took over.

Scioscia, who in 1999 managed at Albuquerque, was passed over one time too many, resigned and then went onto become one of baseball’s finest managers for the Angels. …

… Wallach also said he sees no problem with Mattingly’s inexperience as a manager.

“He’s a baseball guy,” Wallach said. “He’s been Torre’s bench coach. I mean, I can’t even imagine how much he’s learned being with Joe all these years. If that’s how it works, I got … he’s a baseball guy. I think he’ll be fantastic.

“I’m getting experience to someday hopefully manage (in the majors). I would love it to be here, but if it’s not here, I appreciate the opportunity. I love the Dodgers. I always come back to the Dodgers. But they’re giving me an opportunity and I’m very happy with the opportunity.”

* * *

Heralded Cuban import Aroldis Chapman is scheduled to pitch for the Reds against the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch on Friday.

Update: Brian Giles has retired. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.