Mar 06

More than a game …

Lots of emotional moments going on …

White Sox at Dodgers,
12:05 p.m.

Today’s Lineup
Rafael Furcal, SS
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Manny Ramirez, DH
James Loney, 1B
Casey Blake, 3B
Ronnie Belliard, 2B
Xavier Paul, LF
Brad Ausmus, C
(Eric Stults, P)
  • The Make-a-Wish foundation brought 17-year-old San Bruno resident Chris Ramirez, who has an inoperable brain tumor, to Camelback Ranch for a special day. Ken Gurnick of MLB.com has the story.
  • Cardinals reliever Trever Miller – ever so briefly a Dodger 10 years ago – ran a 10K Friday morning before Spring Training workouts began in honor of his 5-year-old daughter, Grace, who was born “born prematurely with an extremely rare chromosomal disorder that left her with two holes in her heart and numerous developmental problems,” writes Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
  • Tonight is the Ante Up for Autism fundraiser in Arizona, hosted by Matt Kemp and his agent, former Dodger Dave Stewart.
  • Approximately 1,500 people attended the funeral of Mater Dei High School softball star Brianne Matthews, who committed suicide Feb. 25. Melissa Rohlin of the Times writes about it.
  • Friday in the Angels clubhouse, bronze statues were presented to pitcher Jered Weaver and Rookie League manager Tom Kotchman, winners of the first annual Nick Adenhart pitcher of the year and Preston Gomez minor-league manager of the year awards, writes Mike DiGiovanna of the Times.

Elsewhere …

  • Good reports from the keystone: Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com on Blake DeWitt; Dylan Hernandez of the Times on Rafael Furcal.
  • It doesn’t look like fans will have to worry about Kemp batting eighth again. Joe Torre told The Associated Press that he thinks Kemp can thrive in the No. 2 spot. “I think that second spot has changed its personality a lot,” Torre said. “Years ago when you had Pee Wee Reese hitting second, his job was to move the runner and stuff. Now you want to move the runner all the way around to score.”
Mar 04

Notes for a Spring Training afternoon

In inscrutable order …

  • I’m continuing to follow the rehab progress of Arizona pitcher Brandon Webb closely, partly because he’s on a division rival, partly because I imagined a scenario where Webb might have become a Dodger. Anyway, Webb described himself as “stagnant,” according to The Associated Press, but it’s better for him than having an actual setback.
  • One contender made it through this year’s version of Dodger Idol. Ricky Rivas of El Paso Texas, who pitched for El Paso in independent ball last year, was signed to a minor-league contract after showing his skills at the Dodgers’ annual open tryout. Tommy Lasorda, Logan White and DeJon Watson were among those judging.
  • To encourage carpooling, the Dodgers’ AAA affiliate in Albuquerque grants free parking to cars containing at least four people. Fees of $5 for other cars — which apparently is an increase — will go “directly toward improvements to the entire Sports Complex area … “
  • Buried in this story by Ken Gurnick of MLB.com about Garret Anderson’s impact on the bench is a note that backup shortstop candidate Nick Green is playing “without limitations” despite offseason back surgery.
  • While Brian Giles looks increasingly retirement-bound, Doug Mientkiewicz reasserted that he thinks his shoulder problems shouldn’t prevent him from playing, according to Gurnick.
  • Orel Hershiser has joined ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball broadcast team, working with Jon Miller and Joe Morgan.
  • Speaking of Dodger greats: Ramon Martinez — the beloved one — is at Camelback Ranch as an instructor. See for yourself.
  • This Baseball Prospectus piece by Shawn Hoffman corroborates my view that the nasty payroll projections contained in a recent court filing by Jamie McCourt are nothing to be concerned about. “Unless they’re all on some kind of psychoactive drug cocktail, or possibly preparing for the next round of MLB collusion, there’s no way those projections are anything but a sales tool, pitching an investor on what they think he’ll want to hear,” Hoffman writes.
  • Chad Moriyama of Memories of Kevin Malone looks at minor league prospects with high strikeout totals and doesn’t find much that would make one feel good about the future of Dodger farmhand Kyle Russell.
  • Fifty years ago today, according to the Daily Mirror, the Dodgers were all excited about pitching prospect Phil Ortega (Filimeno Coronado Ortega for long).
Mar 03

Ronald Belisario trouble: Much ado about almost nothing

It bothers me that the Dodgers seem more upset about relief pitcher Ronald Belisario’s current visa problems than they were about his arrest for driving under the influence last summer.

I understand that with the DUI still awaiting adjudication, there’s a presumption of innocence for Belisario, who pleaded not guilty. So my point is not that the Dodgers should have immediately disciplined Belisario for the arrest.

Rather, it seems to me if you’re going to cut the guy some slack for something that serious, you should do the same for his visa issues.

Yeah, Belisario messed up with his paperwork – for the second year in a row.  It stinks. But it happened. Yet, even as manager Joe Torre tells Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com that the situation is now out of Belisario’s hands and at the mercy of the U.S. government, general manager Ned Colletti is still in a snit.

“While he is sitting in Venezuela, other people are here trying to make the club,” Colletti said. “Maybe one of them will take food off his table.”

Forgive me for thinking Colletti is sounding a little like Inspector Javert.

Meanwhile, all this talk about the Dodgers losing Belisario to waivers continues to be overblown, as I suggested a week ago. Jackson reports that the Dodgers can “suspend Belisario without pay and require him to stay behind in extended spring training.” So Belisario can be punished more than amply for his sins, without the Dodgers losing him forever.

Odds remain that Belisario won’t miss any more regular season time because of his visa problems in 2010 than he missed when he went on the disabled list in 2009 – for an injury that some would argue happened because of the Dodgers’ irresponsibility in their use of him. The Dodgers, as Colletti suggests, have plenty of candidates to replace Belisario in the short-term – it’s not as if his visa problems will make or break their season.

The attention to this issue, it seems to me, is the result of having not enough things to complain about. The McCourts aren’t a presence in Arizona right now, and the silly furor over Manny Ramirez last week has died down. It’s almost like people are having too good a time – so by all means, let’s make an example of Belisario.

And I know I’m asking too much, but I just wish the attention were centered on an issue that might actually mean something.

Mar 03

Ready to greet the day

(Expanding on a previous thought.)

Each Dodger season that ends shy of a World Series title brings disappointment. And then, relief.

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted by the end of the baseball season. I welcome the break. I welcome having my nights and weekends back for other things.

Deep into winter, I start to wonder whether the next year of baseball will bring the same passion for me as the previous one. I find I’m not missing the game all that much. And when I start to think about how much time I spend devoted to the game, I sort of shake my head. The McCourt soap opera didn’t exactly help in this respect.

But the thing that has happened for me every other year happened again. Something clicked. I started thinking about sunny days and green grass and my favorite players roaming before me. Baseball started to feel right again.

The fatigue and frustration from the end of the 2009 season have peeled away from me like a layer of skin. There are still reminders, but I’m not sitting with head in hands over Jonathan Broxton’s last pitch to Jimmy Rollins. I’m ready to take the bad with the good.

But I couldn’t do it without that break. Waking up from the break is like waking up from a good night’s sleep. And man, do I appreciate a good night’s sleep.

Mar 02

The B Sharps: Dodgers to play baseball game with umpires and rules and stuff

In the decidedly unofficial but welcome opener of Spring Training, the Dodgers take on the White Sox in a seven-inning scrimmage.

Dodgers vs. White Sox, 10 a.m.
Trayvon Robinson, CF
Ivan DeJesus, Jr. SS
Russ Mitchell, 3B
Michael Restovich, DH
John Lindsey, 1B
Brian Barton, RF
Prentice Redman, LF
Chin-Lung Hu, 2B
Lucas May, C
(Eric Stults, P)

No expected Opening Day starters are in today’s lineup, but it’s still baseball. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com is tweeting from Camelback Ranch.

To get you in the right spirit, here’s this: Dodger minor leaguer Brian Akin writes a great post about being a lowly minor-leaguer in a big-league Spring Training game at Dear (Tommy) John Letters.

But wait, there’s more:

  • Burt Hooton’s wife Ginger told Dodger Thoughts commenter Hollywood Joe in an e-mail that Hooton has a clean bill of health after battling lymphoma.
  • Fifty years ago today, the talk at Spring Training was about whether Gil Hodges would move to third base to make room for Frank Howard at first base, notes Keith Thursby of the Daily Mirror. (That, and the fact that Elvis Presley was coming home from the Army and resuming his relationship with 16-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu.) Hodges started five games at third and 41 at first in 1960 — but Howard spent the majority of the year in right field, and Norm Larker was the most frequent first baseman.
  • “Eric (Stults) knows he’s certainly capable of pitching at this level,” Dodgers manager Joe Torre told Steve Dilbeck of Dodgers Blog. “He’s pitched playoff games for this ball club, he’s done well for us. The only thing is the consistency of it, and I think that’s what he’s trying to corral right now. … We’re certainly taking a long look at what he has to offer.”
  • Despite beginning the year with 15 of their first 21 games on the road, the Dodgers have one of the easiest schedules to open the season, writes Buster Olney of ESPN.com, thanks to 10 games against the Pirates and Nationals. I think I’d argue that for the Dodgers to have all those road games in April — all on the East Coast — still makes it a challenging opening month for the team.
  • Hong-Chih Kuo is profiled at the Times by Dylan Hernandez, who focuses on the latest of Kuo’s many comebacks.  A really nice piece.
  • Clayton Kershaw is analyzed by guest poster Tripon at True Blue L.A. using a relatively new statistic, true Earned Run Average.
  • Although you’d think it goes without saying that it wasn’t all about offense when it comes to steroid use, this post by Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk reminds us that pitchers used steroids too. Former Dodger Matt Herges talks about how he thinks steroids helped him.
  • Davey Lopes’ effect as a coach on team baserunning is explored by Bill Baer in a guest column for Baseball Prospectus.
  • Catcher Ronny Paulino, whose ejection prompted the argument that led to former Dodger Jose Offerman’s lifetime ban from the Dominican Winter League, told his version of what happened to Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post (via Baseball Think Factory).
  • Something for both Cal and Stanford fans: Mike Montgomery is the first men’s basketball coach to win Pac-10 titles with two different schools, writes Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News. Wilner suggests that Montgomery is the fourth-greatest coach in the conference (and its predecessors) since the 1950s, behind John Wooden, Pete Newell and Lute Olson.
Mar 02

Manny is (theoretically) going to Taiwan

This morning, the Dodgers announced their “expected roster” for their March 10 trip to Taiwan, and Manny Ramirez is on it. The caveat is that the roster still might change in the next several days.

Hong-Chih Kuo, Charlie Haeger, Eric Stults, Josh Lindblom, Ronnie Belliard, James Loney and Xavier Paul are also making a go of it.

Pitchers (15): RHP Mario Alvarez, LHP Alberto Bastardo, RHP Robert Boothe, RHP Jesus Castillo, RHP Hyang-Nam Choi, RHP John Ely, RHP Francisco Felix, RHP Charlie Haeger, RHP Kenley Jansen, LHP Hong-Chih Kuo, RHP Josh Lindblom, RHP Jon Link, LHP Juan Perez, LHP Eric Stults and RHP Josh Towers.

Catchers (4): J.D. Closser, Gabriel Gutierrez, Lucas May, Jesse Mier

Infielders (8): Ronnie Belliard, Angel Berroa, Jamey Carroll, Chin-lung Hu, John Lindsey, James Loney, Russ Mitchell and Ramon Nivar

Outfielders (6): Brian Barton, Xavier Paul, Manny Ramirez, Prentice Redman, Michael Restovich, Trayvon Robinson

Coaches: Manager Joe Torre, first base coach John Shoemaker, third base coach Lorenzo Bundy, pitching coach Jim Slaton, hitting coach/bench coach Tim Wallach and bullpen catcher Mike Borzello.

The Dodgers are scheduled for three games in Taiwan, March 12-14, with the trip ending three weeks before Opening Day. In 2008, the Asia trip ended two weeks before Opening Day.

Feb 26

Charging toward peace of mind over Ronald Belisario

Wherein I discover the master card to deal with Ronald Belisario’s visa problems that have kept him from joining the diners’ club on the American express …

There are tremors emanating from Camelback Ranch that Belisario’s career as a Dodger might be in jeopardy, because his inability to secure a visa has kept him from reporting to Spring Training on time. The fear is that he won’t be ready for the season opener, and with no minor-league options remaining, the Dodgers would risk losing their great find from 2009.

The concern seems a bit overwrought. First of all, it’s not as if Belisario had a full Spring Training last season. Visa problems delayed him a year ago as well, and once he arrived, he spent most of his time in minor-league camp facing low-caliber competition, throwing only five innings with the big-leaguers all spring.  We’re not talking about needing to get someone ready to throw six innings on Opening Day. He just needs to be able to get a few guys out at a time when the season begins.

But if for some reason Belisario just doesn’t seem prepared to face regular-season hitters by April 5, there’s always the disabled list. Though there are rules against stashing healthy players on baseball’s injured reserve, I can’t imagine that it will be a tough sell that a pitcher with a shortened spring and a history of arm trouble has come down with soreness.  If other major-league teams were to challenge this, it might be the first time ever. And for all we know, the soreness might well be real. He is a pitcher with a shortened spring and a history of arm trouble, after all.

The Dodgers can worry whether Belisario’s 2009 performance was a fluke, but I doubt they need to worry that their prized set-up man will get away from them against their will. The main thing is to treat him carefully once he arrives, and make sure he doesn’t rush himself into an ugly year like Will Ohman or Cory Wade had in 2009.

Feb 25

Giles, Mientkiewicz have chronic ailments

Considered leading contenders for the Dodger bench because of their previous major-league success, both Brian Giles and Doug Mientkiewicz have arrived at Spring Training with health concerns that aren’t going to go away.

As Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reports:

He went on the disabled list on June 19 and never came off, diagnosed with what was called a bone contusion, which can be a nice way of saying it’s bone rubbing on bone. In that case, all the rehab in the world is meaningless, as the pain will return as soon as he starts running.

“I feel healthy, but you don’t know until you start pounding on it,” he said of his knee, which underwent micro-fracture surgery in 2007. “I’ve always said, if it’s too hard or I can’t play well, I’ll walk away myself. I did regular offseason workouts and they went well.” …

… Giles’ most obvious rival for the bench role is Doug Mientkiewicz, who has physical problems of his own, with chronic pain in his throwing shoulder and, for the second year, must make the club on a Minor League contract. …

Left-handed hitting Xavier Paul would be the most obvious potential beneficiary if Giles and Mientkiewicz can’t make it for the long haul.

* * *

  • Vicente Padilla will start the official March 5 Spring Training opener, Gurnick reports, though this is not an indication he will be the Opening Day starter in April. Gurnick also notes that the Dodgers actually have a B game three days earlier — this coming Tuesday.
  • Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com had lots of good tidbits in his lunchtime chat today. Among other things: Ivan DeJesus, Jr. is still experiencing soreness from his broken leg. Also, he tells us not to forget about Cory Wade, whom he thinks is capable of a comeback.
  • At Dodgers Blog, Steve Dilbeck tells his story of being at his first Spring Training and meeting Sandy Koufax — and experience first-hand his predictive powers regarding Vero Beach weather and earth.
  • Memories of Kevin Malone analyzes the past, present and future of Dodger pitching prospect Chris Withrow.
  • Recovering Arizona pitcher Brandon Webb had a clean 45-pitch throwing session today.
  • I’ve talked in the past about always wanting to chronicle the seasons of those who proclaim at Spring Training that they’re in the best shape of their lives. Fangraphs is taking on the project head on, with posts by Dave Cameron and Joe Pawlikowski.
  • Meanwhile, proving once again that his reputation as a softie is off-target, former Dodger J.D. Drew played in pain throughout 2009, reports Daniel Barbarisi of the Providence Journal (via Hardball Talk).
  • Kicking off a series of interviews with the most important people on this planet, DodgerFan.net has “Five Tweets with … Jon Weisman of ESPN/LA’s Dodger Thoughts.”
Feb 23

Potential postponement of McCourt trial further clouds 2010

When you get right down to it, I just want baseball to be about baseball.

And so the news today from Bill Shaikin of the Times that the McCourt divorce trial will quite possibly be delayed past its scheduled May 24 start, that it won’t necessarily be resolved before season’s end, is depressing.

My inclination would be just to shut it out — wake me up when the trial ends — but doing what I do, I can’t shut it out. The stature of the story is so large that it just takes over. Matt Kemp could hit three home runs in a game this summer, but if there’s another divorce court revelation, that becomes the news, because it affects The Fate of the Franchise.

Last year, we were blindsided by Manny Ramirez’s suspension. Thank goodness we didn’t know it was coming, because we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the team’s hot start otherwise. But no matter how well things go this year for the Dodgers, we know that dreary news about the ownership is lurking. And if things go poorly for the Dodgers, forget about it. It’s going to be a very grumpy year. Cloudy with a chance of screwballs.

Dodger fans are an impatient lot in general these days, waiting for another World Series title like prisoners in an LAX flight delay. The McCourt saga takes those fans and sticks a smelly seatmate next to them who won’t stop talking. Everything that’s bad will be made worse; everything that’s good will be temporary.

I can picture the thrilling moments; I can picture myself enjoying them. But then, around the corner, I see the latest McCourt news, and people getting twisted in knots over it.

All I can say is, don’t go looking for reasons to be cynical or bitter about the Dodgers. They’ll find you. No matter how low the McCourts go, try to let yourself enjoy the games. Whoever owns the Dodgers, don’t let them own you. It’s baseball.

* * *

Ken Gurnick’s preseason feature for MLB.com on Clayton Kershaw is a good one. There are the requisite Spring Training bromides from Kershaw — in addition to an announcement of his engagement to Texas A&M senior Ellen Melson — but also some nuts-and-bolts talk from the young lefty as well as pitching coach Rick Honeycutt.

… For his part, Kershaw knows that he’s fully responsible for his high pitch counts.

“What I want to do is learn how to minimize my pitches. The way to do that is by fastball command, that’s huge for me,” he said. “I worked on that a lot this offseason by making my bullpen [sessions] as game-like as possible. Last year my bullpens were just practice, to make sure my arm felt right.

“This year the focus is on game situations so my fastball command is something I can always rely on when my other pitches aren’t going great. I need to throw breaking pitches over for strikes. Even though I’m not a master of the changeup by any means, that pitch can really get you out of there with as few pitches as possible. If I minimize my pitches, there won’t be a focus on how many pitches I’ve thrown.” …

The article indicates that some of the pitch count restriction on Kershaw will be loosened this year. That’s fine to an extent, but the thing to keep in mind is that despite an additional year under his belt, he’s still only going to be 22 in the 2010 season. His arm is still too young to leave completely unprotected.

“That came up in the staff meeting,” pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. “I’m not saying we’ll take the gloves off, but at the same time, we feel much better about how he bounced back and stayed strong and consistent through last season. We’re in a situation where we feel we can loosen the reins a little bit and slowly increase him.”

A year ago, by the way, Kershaw hosted a baseball camp that helped raise funds for a trip by his fiancee and her family to help Zambian orphans.

* * *

  • Every member of the Dodgers’ 40-man roster has reported early except for the three Rs: Ronald Belisario, Rafael Furcal and Ronnie Belliard, according to Gurnick.
  • The Dodgers will play three March exhibition games in Taiwan instead of two, Gurnick confirmed.
  • Congrats to Jeff Weaver, who will miss some training camp for new dad duty (and dooty). Dylan Hernandez of the Times adds that Weaver said he will opt out of his contract with the Dodgers rather than accept a minor-league assignment.
  • Some fun promotions are on tap for the coming season, including a Vin Scully poster. The younger generation of Dodgers is also featured prominently in several giveaways.
  • I’ve been meaning to talk about the ticket sales news from Monday, but in case I don’t get to it, here’s a link to the official release.
  • From 50 years ago today, here’s a snapshot of pitchers including Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax kicking off Spring Training, offered by Keith Thursby of the Daily Mirror.
  • A slideshow of the key players in the McCourt divorce drama was provided by Lawrence Delevingne of Business Insider Law Review (link via Rob McMillin’s 6-4-2).
  • Finally, I just wanted to pass along this Variety blog post of no significance: “Series I dream about: George Costanza on ‘Big Love.’”
Feb 20

It’s the first day of the rest of your Spring Training

On your mark, get set … go!

  • Eric Gagne is slimmer, regretful and realistic on the first day of Spring Training, according to Tony Jackson of ESPN.com/LA. Gagne told T.J. Simers of the Times that he used human growth hormone during “part” of his dominant stretch with the Dodgers.
  • Jackson also has continued discussion of Joe Torre’s plan to return as Dodger manager in 2011, although from what I can tell there were no new news developments on an official level. We did learn that Don Mattingly will manage the Dodgers who stay in Arizona when part of the team goes to Taiwan. Sorry, Tommy.
  • Gagne has borrowed his old No. 38 back from Ramon Troncoso, at least for the exhibition run. “He made that number for the Dodgers,” Troncoso told Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports. Sorry, Lance Rautzhan.
  • Ronald Belisario had a season so nice after arriving late to Spring Training because of visa problems, he’s trying it twice.
  • Why did Casey Blake shave his beard? The same reason all men do – because of a bad duck hunt.
  • The Dodgers are marketing the June 25-27 series against the Yankees as “The Rivalry Renewed,” and Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy, who saw 10 billboards in one Sunset Blvd. mile, doesn’t approve.
  • Jordan Hershiser, the 6-foot-8! USC sophomore pitcher who was born during Dad’s record consecutive shutout innings streak, is the subject of another VSIMH post.
  • Matt Kemp’s 1,072.4% salary raise from 2009 to 2010 was second only to Tim Lincecum, notes The Associated Press.
  • On first glance, I thought this McCourt organizational flow chart at Dodger Divorce was a parody, but apparently it’s the real deal, at least in the eyes of Jamie McCourt’s legal team.
  • Russell Martin is definitely trying a bulk solution to his hitting problems, adding 25 pounds to his own backstop, writes Dylan Hernandez of the Times.
  • Arte Moreno believes that the Angels’ name migration from Anaheim to Los Angeles has fulfilled his hopes for increased revenue, writes Mike DiGiovanna of The Times.
Feb 18

October sky

“Pitchers and catchers report” is when I ease into a new baseball season with the comfort of a towel laid out in the sunny grass. It’s my arms-behind-my-head, feel-the-first-rays, first-inning stretch.

But circumstances tonight allowed me to watch a recording of the end of the Nutter Butter Peanut Blunder game – Game 2 of the 2009 National League Division Series. And instantly, I’m catapulted from my winter slumber and past my lazy pre-spring bloom. It’s fall, and I’m revved up. I remember exactly what I’m in this for.

The roar of the horsehide, the edge of my seat. The deep inhale. The fever.

It’s time.