May 12

Arizona’s acquisition of Edwin Jackson hasn’t paid off as hoped


Roy Dabner/AP
Has it really been almost seven years since Edwin Jackson’s thrilling debut against Arizona?

While the Dodgers were getting worked over by the press for not adding a premium starting pitcher during the 2009-10 offseason, the Arizona Diamondbacks were boldly going out to get 2009 American League All-Star Edwin Jackson (who starts tonight against the Los Angeles) for their rotation — trading, among others, one-time prized prospect Max Scherzer. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

My early reaction to the news that the Arizona Diamondbacks had traded away Max Scherzer was, “The Dodgers have the McCourts. What’s Arizona’s excuse?”

From what I could tell, almost all the thoughts about Tuesday’s trade, a three-way endeavor that included Arizona sending Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to Detroit in exchange for the Tigers’ Edwin Jackson and the Yankees’ Ian Kennedy, matched mine. Why was Arizona giving up a lower-paid pitcher with a higher ceiling?

I know I’m not alone among Dodger fans in retaining a soft spot for former boy in blue Jackson, who had his best season last year and is still only 26. But I’ve been hearing for quite some time splendiferous things about Scherzer, who is 25, struck out more than a batter an inning in 2009 with an adjusted ERA of 111 (4.12 ERA) and will make millions less than Jackson in 2010.

If the Dodgers had made this kind of trade — a prized young pitcher sent away for short-term gain — anger would have blasted through the roof and finger-pointing would have zoomed through the hole in the roof that anger had created. It would have been an ugly day, at least on this website. Even though the Dodgers would be taking on more salary for 2010, the trade would have been seen as a short-sighted mortgaging of the future, another sign of a crumbling empire. (A similar scenario: Imagine the Edwin Jackson for Lance Carter-Danys Baez trade happening now.)

Yes, some would have defended the trade, just as some are pointing out that Scherzer might not have the build or mechanics to truly blossom as a starter, or that Kennedy still has rotation potential, or that Jackson should do even better in migrating back to the National League. But considering how negative the overall reaction is toward Arizona making this move, you can only imagine, in the context of the Dodgers’ current dysfunction, how harsh things would have been if Los Angeles had done it. …

So how has it all worked out?  As you might expect, not as expected.

Scherzer has a 6.81 ERA in seven starts for Detroit — and that’s lower than Jackson’s 7.32 mark for Arizona. However, Kennedy, the lesser of the starting pitchers to come in the trade, has a 3.48 ERA despite allowing a National League-high eight home runs. (Among others involved in the trade, Phil Coke and Austin Jackson have also done well for Detroit, while Schlereth is in the minors.  Curtis Granderson is mired in a lousy year, making the Yankees the big loser in the deal to date.)

In September 2003, Jackson made his major-league debut on his 20th birthday against Randy Johnson and won, on a night dimensionally more thrilling than John Ely’s besting of Dan Haren Tuesday. Tonight on the same field, he’ll be trying again to recapture those good vibes, while the Dodgers, who were held to two runs over six innings the only other time they have faced him (while he had a 7.85 ERA with Tampa Bay at the time), will try again to avoid looking bad for ever letting Jackson go in the first place.

* * *

Two notes from Stat of the Day: 2009 Dodger Will Ohman, who spent most of the year on the disabled list, has a 0.00 ERA after 11 innings with Baltimore (allowing four of 13 inherited runners to score), and No. 8 hitters for the Giants have an Andre Ethier-like 1.194 OPS this season, led by Nate Schierholtz.

* * *

Joined by my colleague Stuart Levine, I’m doing another live chat about all things TV today for Variety at 2:30 p.m. As of this moment, you can click the link and start sending your questions …

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.

May 09

Colorado didn’t trade for an ace … they got dealt one


AP
Ubaldo Jimenez and Clayton Kershaw face off at Dodger Stadium today.

Colorado’s starting pitcher today is an ace. He’s 6-0 with an 0.87 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 41 1/13 innings against 43 baserunners.

But the Rockies didn’t trade for Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez came up through the Colorado farm system. He showed promise in half a season at age 23, was solid at age 24, excellent at age 25 and now, except for complete games, is putting up Fernando Valenzuela-like numbers at age 26.

Here are the stats for Jimenez and Dodger starters Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley at last year’s All-Star break:

Pitcher Innings per start ERA BR/9 K/9
Jimenez 6.4 3.81 12.3 7.9
Kershaw 5.5 3.16 11.6 8.9
Billingsley 6.6 3.38 11.5 8.5

Even allowing for the fact that Jimenez pitches half his games at Coors Field, could anyone have reasonably concluded that 10 months later, he would have an ERA more than 4.00 lower than Kershaw and Billingsley? That Billingsley wouldn’t be every bit as good as Jimenez or better, or that Kershaw wouldn’t be right on their tails?

While I understand – really, I do – why it’s expected that the Dodgers should use their resources to acquire more talent than their division rivals, right now the main difference between the front of the Colorado and Los Angeles starting rotations has nothing to do with that. The difference is that the 22-year-old Kershaw is still getting on track and the 25-year-old Billingsley got sidetracked, while at age 26, Jimenez has moved onto the fast track.

May 06

Dodgers can only wonder, ‘What next?’


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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter the First: A Rotation Off Its Axis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter the Second: The Blahpen

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

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

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

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

Chapter the Third: Defenestrate the defense

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter the Fourth: Yes, Everyone Gets Injuries

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

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

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

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

Chapter the Fifth: Five months to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 04

James McDonald tries to make the case for a callup

John Ely is expected to start Thursday for the Dodgers, but is James McDonald ready to reclaim his roster spot? McDonald, who entered the season as a potential member of the starting rotation, is back from his fingernail-induced hiatus and takes a 3.57 ERA into his start today for Albuquerque against Memphis at 5:05 p.m.

McDonald has 16 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings for the Isotopes, but has allowed 25 baserunners despite his five innings of no-hit ball last week. On the other hand, outside of the one-inning start that sent him to the DL, McDonald has allowed four runs and 20 baserunners in 16 2/3 innings (2.16 ERA). The 25-year-old’s career major-league ERA is 3.65.

Apr 16

Russell Martin deserves a hand, if not a nap


Chris Williams/Icon SMI
Back in the home opener, Russell Martin had no idea of how rough the middle of his week would get.

Last May, I wrote about Orlando Hudson in the midst of his hot start to 2009:

I’m not going to attempt to tell you how long Hudson can perform at an All-Star caliber level. Rather, my point in these giddy times for Dodger fans is to remind us that there was serious doubt whether Hudson, coming off a traumatic 2008 wrist injury, could play this well at any point in the remainder of his career — for a month, for a week, for even a day. That we now know he can is a revelation.

Things will go up and down, but just setting the ups this high is juicy. Right now, this is looking like a magical signing.

That Hudson didn’t finish the season in the starting lineup shows how a hot start doesn’t guarantee anything, but I do feel it’s worth making a similar point about Russell Martin.

In a year where expectations for Martin couldn’t have been lower – particularly after he missed most of Spring Training – the Dodger catcher leads the major leagues in on-base percentage and is 19th overall in OPS. Martin always has had a good eye, but he’s even slugging .591, compared to .329 last season and .256 last April.

Again, there are no assurances he won’t slump, especially if the Dodger pitchers keep wearing him out, but it’s nice to know that he can get this hot even for a little while.

* * *

Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness makes explicit what I implied in my last post: The Dodgers really only have Russ Ortiz, Carlos Monasterios and Ramon Troncoso available in relief of Vicente Padilla tonight, unless they make a more dramatic move. (Petriello includes Jeff Weaver among the available — Joe Torre included both Weaver and George Sherrill in his pregame conversation with reporters — but I can’t imagine the Dodgers want to go there tonight.)

If the Dodgers fall behind big early, then you pretty much can burn Ortiz and Monasterios to get through the game. But in a competitive game, the Dodgers figure to be at a huge bullpen disadvantage if Padilla has to leave before the eighth inning.

I’ve never been all that high on Padilla, but I kind of feel he’s due for a good outing. Just a gut thing I’m having.

* * *

Torre said that the day-after reports on Hong-Chih Kuo’s rehab outing showed no problems, and that he’s due to pitch again in a minor-league game Sunday. Torre pointed out that Ronald Belisario isn’t eligible to make rehab appearances, so that he will come straight to the Dodgers when his command is present.

Torre also said that he doesn’t consider carrying 13 or 11 pitchers on the staff to be an option at this time. Twelve it is.

* * *

One pitching bright spot: As a team, the Dodgers have struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings. Four pitchers are over the 9.0 mark, led not by Jonathan Broxton (15.4) but Charlie Haeger (16.7).

Apr 16

Might be time for some fresh blood …

Dodger pitch counts this season:

                       
  4/5 4/6 4/7 4/8 4/9 4/10 4/11 4/12 4/13 4/14 4/15 Total
Padilla 93         96           189
Kershaw     109           110     219
Billingsley       107           116   223
Kuroda         100           106 206
Haeger             116     20   136
Ra. Ortiz 18   25     23     29 4 6 105
Monasterios 8     23           19   50
Ru. Ortiz 23   24   19         36   102
Sherrill 24   15     19       12 23 93
Weaver 4   1 13   8 22   16   14 78
Troncoso     15 10   13 16   15 5   74
Broxton       11 14       12 13 15 65
Loney                       0
Total 170 0 189 164 133 159 154 0 182 225 164 1540
Apr 15

Dodger uniforms display ’42′ tonight in honor of Jackie Robinson, not team’s ERA


Getty Images
The Dodgers will lead Major League Baseball’s celebration of Jackie Robinson — otherwise known as Chapter 1 — tonight at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers have not made any personnel moves to address their struggling bullpen, Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles said in his live chat today. But that doesn’t mean Dodger manager Joe Torre isn’t concerned.

“I think he is very worried,” Jackson said, “and you can read between the lines of what he says after every game. Joe isn’t the type to rip on his players or his team, but he has a way of expressing when he’s not happy about something that leaves little doubt as to how he feels. Keep in mind that (Ronald) Belisario and (Hong-Chih) Kuo will be back soon, possibly by sometime next week. Once that happens, everybody can kind of settle into their usual roles. Until then, they have to try to stay afloat with these guys.

Joe Torre later told reporters that the pitching staff can’t continue to not get the job done, but the Dodgers feel they’re better than what they’ve done so far or else they wouldn’t have left Spring Training with this group.

In this blogger’s opinion, however, the Dodgers need to replace at least one of the white flags in their bullpen. They are being given more rope than the younger, more promising alternatives were, and it isn’t deserved.

* * *

More Torre tidbits:

1) He hopes to avoid using Jonathan Broxton tonight, with Broxton having pitched in two consecutive games, and also hopes to continue resting Jeff Weaver.

2) I thought Jamey Carroll was starting for defensive reasons to support Hiroki Kuroda, whom the Dodgers need to really stay in the game for a long time tonight. But Torre said that Blake DeWitt was being given a day off to regroup for offensive reasons – saying that his swing is getting long and he is fouling balls off that he should put in play.

3) Torre expects Ronnie Belliard to get two starts this weekend, one of them at first base in place of James Loney against Barry Zito .

4) Andre Ethier’s ankle is still bothering him, but he is ready to go tonight.

* * *

Arizona pitcher Dan Haren is making his third start of the season tonight. After allowing three baserunners and a run in seven innings against San Diego on Opening Day, Haren allowed five earned runs on 11 baserunners in 6 2/3 innings against Pittsburgh.

* * *

The Dodgers are last in the National League in first-pitch strikes, notes Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.

* * *

Dodgerama has an interesting chart showing how long it took each Dodger to reach the majors.

* * *

John Lindsey Watch: A homer and three doubles in Albuquerque’s 13-5 victory today. Lindsey is now on-basing .611 and slugging .969. Lindsey, Jay Gibbons and Prentice Redman, batting fourth, fifth and sixth, each had four hits. Gibbons had his second consecutive four-hit game.

Josh Lindblom struck out five but allowed four earned runs in five innings of his second start of the year, lowering his ERA to 7.88. Brent Leach pitched two shutout innings.

Apr 11

Relief disbelief: Same old song with a few new lines


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apr 09

Dodgers, Kuroda win despite ongoing defensive concerns


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

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

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

Doug Penc/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

Notes from Tony Jackson:

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

* * *

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

Apr 08

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


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

Tony Jackson’s game recap and notebook.

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

Mar 30

Dodgers expected to say ‘Sayonara’ to the underappreciated Eric Stults


Cary Edmondson/US Presswire
Eric Stults was banished from the Dodger starting rotation in 2008 despite a 3.18 ERA.

Whenever you think of players who were judged for what they weren’t instead of what they were, you can think of Eric Stults, whose eight years in the Dodger organization were poised to end today with an expected sale to a Japanese team. (Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more details).

Stults didn’t have overwhelming stuff, and he couldn’t put together a string of lengthy starts. In his 24-start major-league career, beginning with his first appearance in September 2006, Stults never had three consecutive appearances of at least six innings.

But in Stults’ defense, the Dodgers never gave him much time to develop any kind of consistency. Until 2009, the most major-league starts he ever made in a single month was three. The worst instance of this was in 2008, when a 28-year-old Stults came into Colorado with a 2.67 ERA over five starts, averaging six innings per start. But given an 11-0 lead, Stults couldn’t make it out of the fourth inning. In Colorado. With that one ill-fated game, Stults didn’t make another appearance in a Dodger uniform for more than two months. Does that make any sense at all?

Last year, Stults got his most consistent usage with the Dodgers, and he responded with a 3.82 ERA over seven consecutive starts, averaging 5 1/3 innings — more than adequate for the Dodger rotation at that point. But in that seventh start, he hurt his thumb diving on a fielding play. He and the Dodgers then made the mistake of having him pitch with his bad hand in Colorado, where he gave up four runs in 4 1/3 innings. Another bad outing followed, and Stults was moved to the disabled list. He only made one more appearance for the Dodgers the rest of the season.

Stults is replaceable. But it’s disheartening the way the Dodgers treated his good starts as a fluke while simultaneously praying for fluke good starts in others. None of the remaining candidates for the Dodgers’ fifth rotation spot have the credentials from recent years that Stults has.

In the second game of his career, Stults threw six innings of one-run ball at Shea Stadium in a key September game. He shut down the Rockies on two runs over seven innings while striking out nine in 2007. He shut out the White Sox in 2008 and the Giants in 2009. Whatever his shortcomings, that’s the guy I’ll remember.

Mar 28

Clayton Kershaw: The ‘Enemy’ is our friend


Paul Connors/AP
Clayton Kershaw

It was only two Marches ago that Clayton Kershaw emerged from the theoretical to the tangible with his “Public Enemy No. 1″ to strike out Sean Casey in an otherwise forgettable Spring Training game. Just two years.

Now, Kershaw is a ripe old 22 years old, and most of the debate about him is whether he’ll be great or merely good. And so today, as Kershaw cruises through six innings of his final March outing, striking out seven and walking just one while allowing one run on 99 pitches, Dodger fans don’t need to marvel. They just nod and smile. “Yeah, we know.”

In two blink-of-an-eye years, Spring Training is no longer a proving ground for Kershaw. It’s merely a workout room, a waystation for bigger and hopefully better things.

Update: The latest on Kershaw’s improved repertoire, from Dylan Hernandez of the Times:

Clayton Kershaw couldn’t throw his curveball for strikes in the first couple of innings Sunday, something that would have spelled trouble at an earlier stage of his career.

But his fastball was working. So was his slider. And changeup.

According to a chart kept by pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, Kershaw threw seven of eight changeups for strikes and recorded three outs with the pitch. Seven of his nine sliders were thrown for strikes.

Relying on the two relatively new weapons in his arsenal, Kershaw was able to bide time until his curveball started dropping into strike zone. He exited his final Cactus League start having held the Cincinnati Reds to one run, six hits and one walk over six innings. …

* * *

  • There’s a little tiff brewing, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, between the Dodgers and Doug Mientkiewicz, who wants the team to release him before their Friday deadline so that he can have a better shot at getting a spot with another team. The Irony Committee has issued an approval on the fact that the reason the Dodgers want to hang on to Mientkiewicz as long as they can relates to the possibility of their first-choice lefty pinch hitter, Garret Anderson, suffering a major injury like Mientkiewicz incurred last April. He provided the example of the need to not grant his wish.
  • Working on his second consecutive day, Ramon Ortiz struck out two of the three batters he faced, passing probably the last test (other than waking up healthy Monday) for him to make the team.
  • Chad Gaudin signed with the A’s, ending speculation the Dodgers might go for him.