Jan 26

Mid-day dabblings


The clip above is brought to you by Celebuzz via Franklin Avenue.

  • The Dodgers rank 22nd among organizations in minor-league propsects, according to Keith Law of ESPN.com.
  • Tom Hawthorn of the Toronto Globe & Mail writes about Allan Simpson and the story of how Baseball America was founded.
  • True Blue L.A. offers a guide to visiting Camelback Ranch.
  • Teenage Angels outfielder Mike Trout was named the top minor-league prospect in baseball by MLB.com.
  • John Sickels looks back at the top 50 hitting prospects of 2006 at Minor League Ball. Shed a tear for Joel Guzman.
  • Pitcher and used-car salesman Brandon Webb will take that old clunker off your hands, he tells the Dallas Morning News (link via Baseball Musings).
  • Webb’s former Arizona teammate, Micah Owings, has returned to the Diamondbacks, who might use him as a true two-way player, according to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic.
  • Rob Neyer of ESPN.com questions whether, after decades, he is still a Royals fan.
Jan 18

Not much room at the inn

Kirby Lee/US PresswireJay Gibbons will be among several Dodgers vying for playing time in left field.

Can’t recall when so many spots on the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster seemed locked up by Martin Luther King Day:

Starting pitchers (5): Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Ted Lilly, Jon Garland

Relief pitchers (7): Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Vicente Padilla, Kenley Jansen, Blake Hawksworth, Ronald Belisario, Scott Elbert*

Starting lineup (8): Rod Barajas, James Loney, Juan Uribe, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Jay Gibbons**

Bench (5): Jamey Carroll, Tony Gwynn Jr., Marcus Thames, Dioner Navarro or A.J. Ellis, Juan Castro***

* The last bullpen job is up for grabs. In fact, I wouldn’t necessarily call Hawksworth or Belisario locks, but they have the great advantage of not having any remaining options. Or instead of going to a seventh reliever, because of the deep starting rotation, they go with a sixth position player reserve like Xavier Paul.

** Gibbons is listed as a starter because someone had to be.

*** Castro or some other infielder.  Maybe the still-unsigned Eric Chavez, or maybe Justin Sellers or another nonroster player sneaks in, or a longshot like Ivan De Jesus, Jr.

But overall, I would say that barring injury or trade, 22 of the 25 spots seem taken, with the 23rd going to the backup catcher, potentially leaving as few as two spots to battle for in Spring Training.

Update: I completely forgot about Matt Guerrier. That takes Elbert’s theoretical spot, and tightens the noose on the roster even more. Thanks to Dodger Thoughts commenter BLUE4life MK27 for the reminder.

Jan 15

Non-roster invitees to Spring Training

Here’s the up-to-date list of non-roster invitees to major-league Spring Training for the Dodgers … a mix of not-yets, has-beens and never-weres. It doesn’t mean that we won’t see other minor-leaguers in exhibition games for the Dodgers, but from a procedural standpoint, these are the players not on the 40-man roster who are next in line from the get-go:

Juan Castro
JD Closser
Roman Colon
Rubby De La Rosa
Wilkin De La Rosa
Damaso Espino
Dana Eveland
Dee Gordon
Jon Huber
Trent Oeltjen
Tim Redding
Jerry Sands
Justin Sellers
Eugenio Velez
Oscar Villareal

Dec 23

The 33 theses revisited

A year ago, I posted these 33 theses on the doors of Dodger Thoughts.  Let’s see how they have held up …

Thesis Result Comment
1) Frank McCourt will prevail in the courts against Jamie McCourt and retain ownership of the Dodgers. No Failed to anticipate the Great Adverb Dispute.
2) Rather then sell the team, McCourt will take on a minority partner to improve his cash flow. TBD It might not be quite that simple.
3) The incentive for the minority partner will be the Dodgers’ ability to make a profit, with potential for greater revenue from development of the Dodger Stadium property. TBD This plus the TV contract.
4) The project to turn the area behind center field into a gathering place of restaurants, shops and a Dodger museum will begin by 2015. TBD I sure was looking ahead, wasn’t I?
5) The Dodgers will earn enough money over the coming decade to remain competitive, though they will never spend like the Yankees or Red Sox. TBD Fans are probably pessimistic about this one, but we’ll see.
6) The Dodgers will sign a veteran with an unexciting name to take the No. 4 spot in the 2010 starting rotation, completing their offseason in much the same manner they would have even if the McCourts weren’t divorcing. Yes Hello, Vicente Padilla.
7) Observers will decry the state of Dodger starting pitching entering the season, even though it will probably match up well with every team in the National League West except San Francisco. (Arizona’s No. 4 starter: Ian Kennedy?) No San Diego ruined this prediction for me.
8) The focus will be on what the Dodgers didn’t do, ignoring how thin the pitching market was and how little their division rivals have improved themselves. Yes This was a safe one.
9) Spring training will come as a relief, as the conversation returns to baseball and, despite all that has happened, the sight of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw roaming the field becomes too intoxicating to resist. Yes Spring Training was relatively enjoyable this year.
10) Exhibition performances will excessively color people’s views of the coming season, even though Val Pascucci’s .429 batting average in March 2009 failed to carry over into the regular season. Yes This at least applied to the Dodgers themselves, vis a vis Les Ortizables.
11) Sportswriters will blast the Dodgers for not acquiring a big name, then criticize every move Manny Ramirez makes while knocking the Dodgers for all the money spilling out to Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre and Jason Schmidt. Kind of Not all sportswriters, but certainly some I can think of.
12) People will be intrigued with how Russell Martin explains that this will be the season everything will be OK for him. No “Intrigued” seems strong in retrospect, plus Martin got hurt in March.
13) Chad Billingsley will gamely turn the other cheek as reporters and fans insultingly question his manhood. Then he’ll go out and throw bullets. Yes He wasn’t red-hot to start the season, but ultimately this came true.
14) The Dodgers will not get off to as hot a start in 2010 as they did in 2009, when they were 10-3 and 21-8. Yes To say the least …
15) The Dodger community will be on edge, as it becomes clear to all that 2010, like most years, will be a season-long challenge. Yes To say the least …
16) Jokes about portable concession stands will grow old fast, yet continue to be told. No This died down more quickly than I expected.
17) Lines at Dodger Stadium food stands will remain long anyway. Yes No change here.
18) Nevertheless, the Dodgers will remain in the thick of the National League West race into May, when the McCourt case launches in the courts. Yes/no Dodgers had the best record in the NL at one point, but the trial was delayed.
19) The free-for-all between the McCourts’ lawyers will be annoying beyond belief. Yes All those fun revelations and accusations …
20) Kershaw, Kemp or Andre Ethier will suffer a setback, while Martin, James Loney or Rafael Furcal will experience a rebirth. Yes Setback for Kemp, rebirth for Furcal (until he got hurt, but I’m counting it).
21) Ramirez will have his ups and downs but will regain some of the fans he lost in the final months of 2009. No I could probably prove this true on a technicality, but I won’t try to push this one through.
22) There won’t be as much Dodger walk-off magic in 2010 as there was in 2009. Yes There was some moments early on, but they didn’t carry on.
23) Forced to rely on the farm system for pitching depth, the Dodgers will benefit from some precocious performances. Yes John Ely, Carlos Monasterios and Kenley Jansen, among others, did some good for the team.
24) “Don’t Stop Believin’” will be gone, but “God Bless America” will return. No/yes Oh well.
25) With the dust from the courtroom settled, the Dodgers will make a trading deadline deal. No/yes Deals came while dust was still swirling.
26) The biggest moment of the year will be when Vin Scully announces his plans for 2011. Yes You can argue with me, but I’m counting this one.
27) With almost nowhere to go but down after two National League Championship Series appearances, 2010 will almost surely end as a disappointment for the Dodgers. Yes This had a chance to be wrong in summertime, but in the end it was right.
28) The Phillies will not win the NL title, because it looks too much like they should. Yes That’s the way it goes …
29) The Dodgers will have more reason to be nervous after the 2010 season, when the team has to replace Ramirez and Hiroki Kuroda while giving even bigger pay raises to the homegrown talent — even those who had subpar years. Yes Even though Kuroda and others are back, if we’re talking about how most people felt at the end of the 2010 season, there was more nervousness and pessimism than 2009.
30) Minor league pitchers Aaron Miller, Chris Withrow and John Ely will come to the rescue, sooner or later, either by becoming major-league ready or major-league trading chips. No Given the way Ely ended the season, it’s hard to tally this one in the Yes column.
31) The Dodgers will have enough talent to stay competitive, but not enough to make them prohibitive favorites. Yes I’ll probably get some heckles on this one, but if the 2010 Giants could win, I’m not ruling out the 2011 Dodgers.
32) The Dodgers will continue to be good enough to keep all but the most reactionary fans hooked, yet weak enough to keep all but the most tolerant fans unsatisfied. Yes Accurate, no?
33) Fans will start to pay attention to the ticking clock that is the end of the 2012 season, when Martin, Loney, Kemp, Ethier and Billingsley are scheduled to become eligible for free agency. No I’m not sure enough people are worried about this.
Total 19-7-7 What does this mean? I have no idea.
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.

Apr 03

Dodgers’ Opening Day roster almost set

With Jeff Weaver, Ramon Ortiz and Garret Anderson added to the Opening Day roster Friday, the Dodgers have 23 of their 25.

Starting pitchers (5): Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, Vicente Padilla, Charlie Haeger

Relief pitchers (5): Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Ramon Troncoso, Jeff Weaver, Ramon Ortiz

Starting lineup (8): Russell Martin, James Loney, Blake DeWitt, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier

Bench (5): Jamey Carroll, Ronnie Belliard, Brad Ausmus, Reed Johnson, Garret Anderson

Carlos Monasterios is all but a lock for a sixth bullpen spot, bringing the team to 24.

A.J. Ellis would sub in for either Martin or Ausmus should a last-minute health issue flare up, but otherwise is headed to Albuquerque, where Chin-Lung Hu (who made an ugly error to allow the winning run to score in Friday’s 4-3 loss to the Angels) and Xavier Paul will be among his teammates.

Luis Ayala and Justin Miller were sent to the minors Friday.

Barring a last-minute recovery by Hong-Chih Kuo, that leaves pitcher Russ Ortiz and infielder-turned-utility man Nick Green contending for the title of Mr. Irrevelant – the 25th man that no one actually wants to see in a game. (I’d be pretty happy to see Kuo on the roster, even if he’s only pitching once every week to 10 days, over Ortiz or Green.)

Normally, you’d expect a Joe Torre-managed Dodger team to go with at least 12 pitchers. But Torre seems curious about the possibility of knuckleballer Haeger serving as the seventh reliever in between starts, so it’s plausible that Ortiz would start the season in the minors. The Dodgers would then go with 11 pitchers until Ronald Belisario or Kuo were ready to be activated.

On the other hand, today’s start of Carroll at shortstop indicates that Torre is still entertaining the possibility of him being Rafael Furcal’s backup at that position.

In any case, I think we have to face up to the fact that Ortiz will be in a Dodger uniform at some point this season. I had predicted that he would be this year’s Shawn Estes, but he’s looking more like this year’s Weaver or Eric Milton.

For comparison, here are the changes (that we can be reasonably sure of) from the 2009 Opening Day roster:

Starting pitchers: Padilla and Haeger replace Randy Wolf and James McDonald.

Relief pitchers: Sherrill, Weaver, Ramon Ortiz and Monasterios replace Kuo, Guillermo Mota, Will Ohman and Cory Wade.

Starting lineup: DeWitt replaces Orlando Hudson.

Bench: Johnson, Anderson, Carroll and Belliard replace Juan Pierre, Mark Loretta, Doug Mientkiewicz and DeWitt.

Two members of the 2009 Opening Day bullpen, Wade and Ohman, ended up being non-factors for 2010 before April was done.

Mar 29

Torre: Dodgers likely to start season with 11 pitchers

Joe Torre told reporters today that the Dodgers would probably start the season with 11 pitchers and then go to 12. That would allow the team to keep Blake DeWitt as a starting second baseman and Nick Green as backup shortstop.

“I’ll let you know the fifth starter in L.A.,” Torre said. “It’s not because I’m unsure, but because we’ve got work to do with the other guys. We’re looking at 11 pitchers now to start. I think we’re still determining who the 11 will be. I think 12 will be the number for most of the year. We’re going to need a fifth starter four times in April.”

As I’ve written before, I don’t agree with the need to keep Green but I’m far from surprised by it, because the Dodgers essentially did the same thing last year in saving a spot for Juan Castro almost the entire season.

I also suspect that the decision to go with 11  pitchers is a response to the probability of both Ronald Belsiario and Hong-Chih Kuo missing Opening Day. The competition for the bullpen isn’t quite as tight.

At this point, I would bet heavily on these 10 pitchers being on the Opening Day roster: Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, Vicente Padilla, Charlie Haeger, Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Ramon Troncoso, Carlos Monasterios and Ramon Ortiz. The remaining competition, I believe, is for the 11th spot.

* * *

  • Hiroki Kuroda had a breezy seven innings in a minor-league game today, allowing one run (a solo homer) on two hits with no walks and seven strikeouts in 91 pitches. Russell Martin, looking more and more like the Opening Day catcher, caught all seven innings.
  • Josh Lindblom won the 2010 Jim and Dearie Mulvey Award for being the top rookie at Spring Training.
  • It’s a Dodger Divorce day, with Josh Fisher providing numerous updates on today’s spousal support hearing.
  • Mike Petriello has a fun wrap-up of his trip to Camelback Ranch at Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.
  • Of the 19 pitchers in baseball last year who had RBIs after the seventh inning, according to Stat of the Day, four were Dodgers. Can you name them?
  • If you haven’t already, be sure to make your 2010 Dodgers prediction in the thread below.
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.
Mar 28

Look who’s talking

  • Ronald Belisario said he did nothing wrong to cause his visa delays, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. Dubious – and even if it’s true, his communication with the Dodgers still should have been better. I still wonder if something more was going on. Anyway, expect the Dodgers to activate him by April 25 at the latest.
  • Russell Martin is scheduled to catch seven innings and bat seven times against the Indians’ AAA team today, according to the Dodger press notes.
  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Daily News has a nice piece today describing the dog days of Spring Training.
  • The first of a two-part interview with Logan White has been posted by David Laurila of Baseball Prospectus. Some really good stuff in there. Sample:

    “Another thing I do is keep a private log of certain types of arm actions – the success rates of them. Certain types of deliveries – their success and failure rates. The same with hitters. There are certain things that we will either like or stay away from based on our own statistics of how those have been working over the past 10 or 15 years. I’ve kept these since I was an area scout. Let’s say for example that a guy is a slinger or he has a bad wrist wrap. How many guys have that who have been drafted and signed, that I’ve seen, and have actually made it? And how far? Things like that. I’ve kept pretty good records and I haven’t publicized them, not even to my own staff, but I do utilize that kind of stuff.”

  • How much playing time do you think each Dodger will get this year? Submit your predictions with Tangotiger.
Mar 27

Never fear, Ronald Belisario is here

Tony Jackson chronicles Ronald Belisario finally arriving at Camelback Ranch.

…Dodgers assistant general manager Kim Ng said Belisario can be kept on the restricted list for up to 30 days after being placed there on Friday, meaning he has to be either activated or waived — he is out of minor league options — by April 25.

Belisario is expected to dress in the major league clubhouse until the team breaks camp on Wednesday, but his activity will take place in minor league camp.

“We have to see what kind of shape he is in,” Ng said. “After determining that, then he will probably be on the other side.”

Other than saying hello to a couple of reporters in the parking lot, Belisario declined to speak with reporters until Sunday morning. …

Colletti was asked minutes before Belisario’s arrival whether the pitcher’s strange behavior might signify a deeper problem.

“It certainly makes you wonder,” he said. “But he is obviously a talent.” …

* * *

  • Following up on the tea leaves, which I posted on the fly from my cellphone and couldn’t comment on: It sure seemed as if Joe Torre was hinting at the possibility that Blake DeWitt would go to the minors for roster reasons. (And no, I wouldn’t agree with any decision that would send DeWitt down to preserve Nick Green.)  I wouldn’t assume DeWitt won’t start at second base, but I wouldn’t quite lock it in, either.
  • And, when Charlie Haeger and Florida (site of the Dodgers’ fifth-starter debut) were mentioned in the same sentence, you got the feeling that Torre was liking the idea of Haeger in the rotation, and today’s 5 1/3 shutout innings probably made him like it just a little more. Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness arrived at Camelback this weekend and posted a first-hand account of Haeger today.
  • Dodger Thoughts commenter BHSportsGuy wrote a worthy piece for True Blue L.A. about the effect of the divorce litigation on the Dodgers.
  • UCLA baseball is now a mesmerizing 20-0.
  • A few months before his 60-homer 1927 season began, Babe Ruth was arrested in Long Beach – and Steve Harvey of the Times tells the story.
Mar 27

Big and low tea leaves

Joe Torre quotes to reporters this morning:

“Blake and Ethier are going to Las Vegas. Ellis and DeWitt will both be there too. We’ll make a statement on second base in a few days. DeWitt couldn’t have done anymore that is within his control, he’s done everything he possibly could have done and come through with high marks.

“Physically guys are ready, mentally it’s tough to remind yourself these games are important. We still have decisions to make not just at second base but the pitching staff as well.

“Haeger could go five or six today, we’re not concerned about building up his endurance. He’s done a good job and handled everything we’ve thrown at him. He can dominate a game when that thing’s working. He talked with Charlie Hough about how to pitch in certain environments. Florida should be fine, he said he enjoys pitching indoors too.

“We’ve got to figure out our starters and figure it out from there. You have Sherrill, Broxton, and Troncoso. Kuo is a question mark, he probably won’t be ready for the season. We’ve got a lot of options.  Sherrill is looking at some video for those who are wondering. They thought he was doing some mechanical stuff that he doesn’t normally do.

“I had a talk with Doug Mientkiewicz yesterday and told him it doesn’t look like he’ll make the team with Anderson around. I told him I’d love to have him around, but he’ll take a day to think about his options. He was understanding of the decision, he likes being here but he wants to be in the big leagues.”

Mar 25

Who will shock the world (or at least Dodger fans)?


Mark Duncan/AP
Could Justin Miller make a surprise appearance on the Opening Day roster?

Here are 25 remaining Opening Day roster variables, in no particular order …

1) Hong-Chih Kuo: Arm is dangerous?
2) Russell Martin: All work leads to no play?
3) Ronald Belisario: Seeking writ of habeas corpus?
4) Eric Stults: Stays or goes?
5) Ramon Troncoso: Soft spring portends hard times?
6) Carlos Monasterios: Does he pass Go and collect $400,000?
7) Charlie Haeger: Knuckling under or over?
8) Justin Miller: Inky dinky do?
9) Blake DeWitt: Options work against him?
10) Luis Ayala: You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here?
11) Russ Ortiz: Still at the end of every hard-earned day people find some reason to believe?
12) Ramon Ortiz: First among Ortizii?
13) Josh Towers: From Taiwan, With Love?
14) Nick Green: I got well for this?
15) Brad Ausmus: Too old and infirm? “My body lies over the notion.”
16) Chin-Lung Hu: Good enough to ride your bench?
17) A.J. Ellis: Waiting for Guh! D’oh!
18) Doug Mientkiewicz: Am I still a Torre fave?
19) Garret Anderson: Better late than never, or worse?
20) Chad Gaudin: Outside looking in?
21) Josh Lindblom: Young gun?
22) Ronnie Belliard: Weight, weight, don’t tell me?
23) Jeff Weaver: What, last year wasn’t good enough?
24) Vicente Padilla: Forearm stiffness?
25) Field: Will all the other roster locks stay healthy?

Mar 24

Starting pitching: Working down the list


AP/Getty Images
Jose Lima fared well as a surprise starting pitcher in 2004; Scott Erickson was a Spring Training hit in 2005 (2.10 ERA) but fell out of the starting rotation before the end of May.

The chart below shows how quickly the Dodgers went beyond their first five starting pitchers, in each of the past six seasons. In parentheses next to each name is the game number of their first start that year.

No season was created equally. For example, Hiroki Kuroda was injured before his second start of 2009, meaning that the Dodgers had six starters in their first six games. Chad Billingsley was delayed in 2008 only because Joe Torre didn’t want to send him out on a rainy April night. The year before, of course, was the beginning of the Jason Schmidt saga. In 2005, Elmer Dessens and Scott Erickson each got starts before Brad Penny did. Dessens, memorably, got the start in Game No. 161 of 2004.

In the past six years, the latest the Dodgers have gone to a sixth starting pitcher was their 32nd game of the season. In the past five years, the Dodgers have used eight starting pitchers before the season was half over.

It’s interesting that the Dodgers used fewer starting pitchers in the woebegone 2005 campaign than they did in the next four seasons. But my favorite tidbit of this chart is that in 2006, the Dodgers didn’t use a starting pitcher with more than five letters in his last name until the 66th game of the season.

Who’s your favorite name from this group? Jason Johnson? Derek Thompson? Any members of the Jae Seo Marching and Chowder Society, speak up now!

2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004
1 Kuroda (1) Penny (1) Lowe (1) Lowe (1) Lowe (1) Nomo (1)
2 Wolf (2) Lowe (2) Wolf (2) Penny (2) Perez (2) Perez (2)
3 Billingsley (3) Kuo (3) Schmidt (3) Perez (3) Weaver (3) Weaver (3)
4 Kershaw (4) Kuroda (4) Penny (4) Tomko (4) Dessens (4) Ishii (4)
5 McDonald (5) Loaiza (7) Tomko (8) Seo (8) Erickson (5) Lima (11)
6 Stults (6) Billingsley (8) Hendrickson (16) Sele (32) Penny (18) Alvarez (28)
7 Weaver (28) Park (42) Kuo (55) Billingsley (66) Alvarez (45) Jackson (51)
8 Milton (38) Kershaw (49) Billingsley (73) Hendrickson (80) Thompson (48) Penny (105)
9 Schmidt (103) Stults (72) Stults (99) Maddux (108) Houlton (55) Dessens (161)
10 Haeger (119) Johnson (106) Wells (130) Kuo (141) Jackson (124)
11 Padilla (128) Maddux (128) Loaiza (137) Stults (143)
12 Garland (135)
Mar 23

Another day on the Hong-Chih Kuoller coaster

Hong-Chih Kuo hasn’t thrown since Friday and received treatment today, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. Hopefully, it’s just precautionary …

Chad Billingsley became more and more pleased with his mechanics in an 84-pitch, six-inning outing in a minor league game. Gurnick and The Associated Press have details. And Gurnick has a vow from James McDonald to come back strong from his demotion to the minors.

Your top story tonight, however, is this feature on Dodger photographer Jon SooHoo by Chris and Alex Volk at DodgerFan.net.

Mar 22

Russ Ortiz continues to vex with his good spring

Goodness, could it really be Russ Ortiz?

The name that is anathema to a rational choice for the Dodgers’ pitching staff, Ortiz produced the coveted four-inning save today in the Dodgers’ 8-4 split-squad victory over Milwaukee, allowing one run on four baserunners while striking out three.

He did so on a day that Carlos Monasterios faltered, giving up three runs in the first two of his four innings today in the other split-squad game, a 4-2 loss to the Angels.

Paul Connors/AP
Clayton being Clayton: Kershaw had the same number of hits allowed and wild pitches Monday.

Monasterios still doesn’t look like a pitcher the Dodgers want to let go of, but Ortiz again asserted himself in a battle for a roster spot. And since Monasterios is much more likely to be a reliever than a starter, it remains possible that Ortiz could be in the rotation despite his poor performance in recent years.

The contenders for the final three or four spots on the Dodger pitching staff: Monasterios, Ramon Ortiz, Russ Ortiz, Eric Stults, Charlie Haeger, Jeff Weaver and Josh Towers. Monasterios, Stults and Haeger are the three who cannot be sent to the minors, meaning that the others are probably battling for a single slot.

Meanwhile, poor fielding helped sabotage Clayton Kershaw’s first inning against Milwaukee, but the young lefty ended up going a solid five innings, striking out six while allowing one earned run.

For the first time since July 18, there was a W next to Kershaw’s name in a boxscore. And an S (not to be confused with Superman’s) emblazoned on Ortiz.

Jamey Carroll went 3 for 4 with a walk, raising his Spring Training on-base percentage to .474.

* * *

If you are having commenting problems on Dodger Thoughts, please e-mail me with as many details as possible, including the nature of the problem, what kind of computer and browser you are using and when this was happening. Please type the words “Commenting problems” in the subject header of your e-mail.