Aug 11

Joe Torre’s fate a baseball story, not a Los Angeles story


Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireJoe Torre will soon announce his decision about his future with the Dodgers.

As the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2010 season lurches between dramatic recovery and drab disappointment, time will soon run out for Joe Torre to make the decision on his managerial future — or, to announce the decision he has already made in his heart.

If Torre, whose contract with the Dodgers expires this year, chooses retirement, the national media will stir into a hurricane of coverage. And in that hurricane, Los Angeles will be the eye, the shrug amid the storm. The local press will certainly cover the story, but Dodgers fans will be looking ahead (perhaps with fear) at what’s to come, and not back at the man who has left.

Nearly three seasons into his post-Yankees tenure on the West Coast, Torre remains more a baseball manager than a Dodgers manager, more an ambassador and icon than an integral part of the City of Angels.

This is reflective of two things, neither of them particularly damning toward Torre. In certain respects, Torre has been a welcome relief in Los Angeles, steering the Dodgers to the most success since the Tommy Lasorda days, leading with a combination of class, calm and clarity not witnessed since Walter Alston. More than two decades since the team’s last World Series title, more than one decade since the organization was last thought of as noble, these are not qualities to be taken for granted.

But presuming the Dodgers don’t rally from third place in the National League West today into the World Series two months from now, the aftershocks of a Torre departure will be felt in Los Angeles far more modestly than in the baseball community at large.

For one thing, Torre, unsurprisingly, proved human. He has given plenty of ammunition to anyone inclined to second-guess the manager — a big group of people, to say the least — no matter what they believe to be the right move. His lineups, his in-game strategy and above all his bullpen management have found criticism on a daily basis. Jaded Yankees fans warned Los Angeles about Torre throughout the winter after he was hired (in a mild precursor of the intensity with which jaded Red Sox fans warned the city about Manny Ramirez the next summer). Torre is no less immune to this second-guessing than the average manager, but up close, the halo grew a little hazy.

“To me,” one Dodger Thoughts commenter said, “a manager or head coach puts players in positions to succeed, helping them grow as athletes and becoming better so they can help the team. I don’t see that with Torre. Be it bringing [Jonathan] Broxton in non-save situations only to need him the next game after he threw 20 to 25 pitches the night before, making [Chad] Billingsley go out for a seventh inning after throwing 115 pitches one day after pulling [Clayton] Kershaw after eight when he only threw 95 pitches, I can go on and on with this.”

On a grander scale, if you leave Los Angeles without winning a championship, it means you leave without a parade, literally or figuratively. Anything but the passive bunch they are made out to be, most sports fans in Los Angeles are harsh on those who fall short of the ultimate prize. Lakers coach Phil Jackson sets the local standard for excellence today, and even he must constantly prove himself — to the point that until the final moments of Game 7 in his latest NBA Finals, it was not clear whether he would be welcomed back for one more season.

This, after all, is a city that just mourned the passing of its greatest coach, John Wooden. Compared to that, a Torre departure following a disappointing season figures to raise barely a ripple.

There’s also the fact that Torre has always felt like something of a visiting professor here. There was a ticking clock –partly self-imposed by Torre — from the moment he hastily replaced Grady Little in the fall of 2007. Torre has been liked by many and loved by some — but he hasn’t penetrated the hearts of Los Angeles’ baseball community in a meaningful way. His ties to New York’s string of World Series titles can’t be broken by a couple of NLCS runs. It took Jackson several NBA crowns before Lakers fans could begin to feel that the former Chicago Bulls coaching legend was really theirs. Torre is never going to reach that level in Los Angeles, and the people here intuitively know this. It’s noteworthy that the single act Torre might be most remembered for as Dodgers manager could be coaxing the greatest Los Angeles Dodger of them all, Sandy Koufax, into a rare public conversation earlier this year.

Lasorda, who hasn’t managed the Dodgers in nearly 15 years, who barely won half his games and no pennants in his final 7 1/2 seasons, who is more than a figurehead with the organization today but not much more, and who remains a more complicated, polarizing figure than his “Baseball Bunch” persona would suggest, will be an exponentially bigger story in Los Angeles when he bids farewell to the Dodgers organization (or when they pry the organization from his tightly gripped hands). Lasorda, for all his faults, won his two World Series and bled the blue. And then there’s Vin Scully, too overwhelming to even talk about. Today, legendary KTLA TV reporter Stan Chambers bids farewell to the station after 63 years on the air. By that measure, Torre is agate, type locally.

Things might have been different if the Dodgers had been able to take advantage of their chances to even the 2008 and 2009 NLCS at two games apiece. But Torre’s magic couldn’t save Los Angeles those years, and now the odds are against him doing any more.

“My feeling is that Torre won in New York because of an unlimited payroll, though he couldn’t do it every year,” another Dodger Thoughts commenter said. “That’s not necessarily to say he’s bad under a more financially constrained regime, but I consider him replaceable in every aspect except his celebrity (which he owes to his time in New York City). I would not miss him, but I’d like to see him go out with a World Series championship – which, however, would probably bring a clamor for him to stay.”

Anything can happen over the final eight weeks of the 2010 regular season. But if Torre retires, something tells me that while the national baseball media is spending time reflecting on the void Torre leaves behind, Los Angeles will be much more preoccupied about who’s filling it.

Aug 10

Gibbons a new hero as Dodgers romp, 15-9


Barbara Johnston/US PresswireJay Gibbons hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning to give the Dodgers an 11-5 lead.

Newest Dodger (at least for one more day) Jay Gibbons became the Dodgers’ all-time leader in OPS – minimum five career plate appearances with the team – going 3 for 4 with a home run in the Dodgers’ unusually bloated 15-9 victory over Philadelphia tonight.

Gibbons’ OPS of 2.200 (three singles and a homer in five trips to the plate) breaks the record of 1.467 previously held by Pat Diesel of the 1902 Brooklyn squad and Orlando Mercado, who had two singles and a double in five at-bats at the end of the 1987 season, which I never knew about because I was traveling through Europe. Ah, those were the days.

Well, to quote Natalie Merchant, these are days, as well. Andre Ethier had three singles, a double, a walk and was hit by a pitch tonight, becoming the first Dodger to reach base six times in a game since Russell Martin on April 25, 2008. Before that, the last Dodger to do it was Shawn Green during his four-homer game in 2002. The feat has been achieved 22 times in Los Angeles Dodger history.

Casey Blake also homered as the Dodgers reached base 25 times in all, scoring a season-high in runs and giving them 23 in their past two games. Perhaps we can say they emerged from their slump: The Dodgers have broken the five-run barrier four times in their past eight games. On the other hand, tonight’s pitching …. we won’t get into that.

* * *

Rafael Furcal, already sidelined for eight days with back issues, finally submitted to spending at least the next week on the disabled list, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. Juan Castro is expected to be Wednesday’s newest Dodger – his third sojourn with the team.

Aug 10

Matt Kemp on bench as Dodgers return to Philadelphia

It’s bugging me that Scott Podsednik is playing today and Matt Kemp is not. Joe Torre told reporters today that Kemp is “reaching — he has no patience at the plate.” Maybe so, but what can you say of Podsednik, whose offense  and defense have been no better?

There’s no denying that Kemp has had his good days and bad days this season, but his good days are worth holding out for. Unless there’s yet another hidden disciplinary reason for Kemp’s benching, this is the time to go all-in with him. Believe in your best players.

* * *

Torre also told reporters today that Rafael Furcal is available to pinch-hit today, with an eye toward easing him back into the lineup. There are no plans to place him on the disabled list.

* * *

Ronald Belisario is officially back on the team. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.

… Throughout an interview that lasted about seven minutes, Belisario offered little in the way of additional insight.

Asked if he was in the U.S. throughout his absence — his home is in Venezuela — he declined to answer. Asked if there was any aspect of the situation that might result either in another absence later this season or a late arrival to spring training for the third consecutive year, Belisario said he didn’t think so.

“I think I’ll be here for the rest of the season,” he said. “I think everything will be all right for next year.”

Belisario said he was throwing throughout his absence and that he felt normal during a two-game rehabilitation stint at high Class A Inland Empire over the weekend.

Belisario said he didn’t think he would formally address his teammates about his absence or the reason for it. He did say he recognized that the Dodgers have missed him in their bullpen — the team was 12-17 while he was gone — and that he regretted that.

“[But] I feel like things happen for a reason,” Belisario said. “Everything that happened happened. I can’t get too worried about it. I just have to keep moving forward.”

* * *

  • David Young of True Blue L.A. looked at the Dodgers’ East Coast struggles.
  • Ernest Reyes of Blue Heaven has pictures from Sandy Koufax’s high school yearbook.
  • USC fired former Dodger catcher Chad Kreuter as its head baseball coach Monday.
  • Longtime Bronx Banter blogger and former Baseball Toaster colleague Cliff Corcoran has taken a job with YESnetwork.com. Best of luck, Cliff.
Aug 09

Ramon Troncoso optioned … for Ronald Belisario?

The Dodgers announced today that they have sent Ramon Troncoso back to Albuquerque:

Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Ramon Troncoso was optioned to Albuquerque today, creating an opening for fellow reliever Ronald Belisario to return to the active roster from the restricted list Tuesday.

Troncoso pitched 2 1/3 shutout innings over two games since being recalled from Triple A on Aug. 3, when Jeff Weaver was placed on the disabled list. Troncoso — like Belisario, a mainstay of the Dodgers’ bullpen in 2009 — has a 4.85 ERA in 39 innings this season.

The Dodgers, who were off Monday, did not immediately confirm that Belisario would be activated before Tuesday’s game in Philadelphia. However, Dodger manager Joe Torre said over the weekend that Belisario, who made rehabilitation appearances for Class-A Inland Empire on Saturday and Sunday, was close to a return.

Belisario has not pitched for the Dodgers since July 5. He was placed on MLB’s restricted list effective two days later, for reasons still not publicly disclosed. Belisario, who resumed workouts two weeks ago, has a 3.79 ERA in 35 2/3 innings for the Dodgers.

Belisario’s 2010 season also began on the restricted list, after visa problems delayed his spring training arrival. Belisario had a 2.04 ERA in 70 2/3 innings last season.

What’s interesting to me is that the Dodger bullpen suddenly seems so deep that it could part with Troncoso even though he had not been scored upon since his return — and that’s with Weaver still sidelined. The offense, certainly, remains a different story.

* * *

After Brandon Morrow threw a 17-strikeout one-hitter Sunday, Stat of the Day made a list of all the pitchers under age 26 since 1920 who had thrown one-hitters while striking out at least 10, within their first 160 career games.

Two Dodgers are on this quirky list. Sandy Koufax is one. If you can guess the other without looking, I’ll be really impressed. Name the non-Koufax Dodger under the age of 26 who struck out at least 10 batters in a one-hitter. It came in the pitcher’s 22nd career game.

Aug 09

Dodger Cogs and Dogs: Edition 11


Danny Moloshok/APHong-Chih Kuo reaches the top five.

Well, the Dodgers just keep on adding players, and the Dodgers Cogs and Dogs machine keeps on churning. After using 45 players in 2007, 46 in 2008 and 47 in 2009, the Dodgers are already up to 44 now with an eye on 48 – or even 50, the total from 2005.

Remember that the rankings are partly subjective, and encompass value for the entire 2010 season.

           
8/9 7/26 7/12 High Low Player Comment
1 1 1 1 20 Clayton Kershaw Holds top spot despite Nationals’ double Dunn.
2 2 2 2 14 Rafael Furcal Started only 72 of Dodgers’ first 112 games this season.
3 3 5 1 5 Hiroki Kuroda Retired last 17 batters Saturday.
4 4 3 1 11 Andre Ethier Off to good start in August, despite 0 for 3 Sunday.
5 7 8 7 18 Hong-Chih Kuo Dunn on Saturday was only fourth batter in ’10 Kuo has had to face with bases loaded.
6 10 10 6 12 Chad Billingsley Has allowed 0.5 HR/9 this season.
7 5 6 5 24 James Loney Two homers, one steal away from first career 10-10 season.
8 12 17 12 25 Vicente Padilla Leads NL in second-half ERA (1.04).
9 9 7 4 13 Jonathan Broxton If he struggles as games grow more meaningless, that won’t help his rep, will it?
10 8 9 1 11 Matt Kemp I’m already anticipating the 2011 Spring Training “Kemp is serious” stories.
11 6 4 3 12 Manny Ramirez You can’t tell me he isn’t missed in the lineup.
12 11 11 6 16 Casey Blake Averaging more than a strikeout a game in second half.
13 14 15 2 15 Russell Martin In first 20 career starts, in 2006, Dodgers went 17-3.
14 15 13 12 15 Blake DeWitt Homered off a lefty (Chris Capuano) in first week as a Cub.
15 16 14 13 21 Jamey Carroll Most steals (seven) by a Dodger without being caught in 2010 – until Sunday.
16 17 21 7 21 Carlos Monasterios Third on team in HR allowed with 10.
17 13 12 5 26 John Ely Season falling apart? Has allowed 16 runs in past 4 2/3 minor-league innings.
18 19 18 17 25 Ronald Belisario So, too early for him to start working on his 2011 visa paperwork now?
19 18 16 15 22 Jeff Weaver July torpedoed his season – might be back to non-roster status in Spring Training ’11.
20 20 19 8 20 Reed Johnson His next HBP will be 100th of his career.
21 21 22 21 24 Travis Schlichting With Belisario and Weaver awaiting returns, probably won’t see him until September.
22 22 23 15 23 Xavier Paul Michael Restovich (.854 OPS) was released when Paul went down, then resigned when Jay Gibbons went up.
23 24 24 9 24 Ramon Troncoso He and Belisario combined for 142 games in ’09, might not get 100 this year.
24 23 20 7 23 Ronnie Belliard Five HR in 24 games with Dodgers last year, two in 68 this year.
25 NR NR NR NR Ted Lilly Eleven strikeouts, no walks in first two Dodger starts? Not Ely, Lilly.
26 26 NR 26 26 Kenley Jansen No, even with Martin out, his catching career is done.
27 25 25 23 25 Justin Miller Returned to Isotopes with three shutout appearances, lowering AAA ERA to 1.93.
28 NR NR NR NR Ryan Theriot Carroll has won me over enough that I want him to stay in lineup over Theriot.
29 27 26 19 27 A.J. Ellis Second extra-base hit in 55 at-bats arrived Sunday.
30 28 27 25 29 Jon Link Wouldn’t be surprised to see him spend bulk of 2011 in majors.
31 29 28 23 29 Brad Ausmus 4 for 20 with a double at the plate this season – just like Padilla.
32 NR NR NR NR Octavio Dotel Dotel is one of those guys who came to the Dodgers about 5-10 years after first rumors.
33 NR NR NR NR Jay Gibbons Today marks third anniversary of last major-league hit before Sunday.
34 NR NR NR NR Scott Podsednik .536 OPS, two errors, one inside-the-park homer allowed in first 11 games as Dodger.
35 30 29 29 30 Chin-Lung Hu About to complete his sixth week on minor-league DL.
36 35 36 26 36 George Sherrill Believe it or not, second on team in games pitched behind Broxton.
37 31 30 17 31 Ramon Ortiz Pitched complete-game two-hitter for Buffalo on July 30; 0.93 ERA in past four starts.
38 32 31 27 32 Nick Green Signing with Padres in July not enough to keep San Diego from pursuing Miguel Tejada.
39 33 33 3 36 Charlie Haeger Now has better minor-league ERA this season than Ely.
40 37 NR 37 37 James McDonald Had career 2.78 ERA, 8.0 K/9, .684 OPS as reliever when traded for a reliever.
41 34 34 16 34 Garret Anderson As pinch-hitter, 12 for 50. Otherwise, 16 for 104.
42 36 35 22 36 Russ Ortiz This space for rent.
43 38 32 32 38 Scott Elbert Can’t remember the last time a significant L.A. prospect took a leave of absence like this.
44 39 NR 39 39 Jack Taschner Five years from now, I’m going to quiz you on the Jack Taschner Era.
Aug 08

It’s the most wonderful summertime post-All Star break Sunday of the year


Jae C. Hong/APJamey Carroll slides home with the Dodgers’ eighth run in the eighth inning on the eighth day of the eighth month.

Three hits and a walk for Jamey Carroll? Two hits and three runs for Ronnie Belliard? An RBI single from the newest Dodger, Jay Gibbons? Four runs in the first inning, on the way to a five-run, 8-3 victory?

It’s time to see how today’s Dodger victory measures up on … The Laugher Scale!

August Laughers: No. 2, behind Wednesday’s 9-0 win over San Diego!

Post All-Star Laughers: Also No. 2!

Summertime Laughers: No. 5! Behind Dodgers 14, Diamondbacks 1 (July 3), Dodgers 7, Cubs 0 (July 11), Dodgers 8, Giants 2 (June 30), but ahead of Dodgers 9, Yankees 4 (June 26, laughs chilled by use of Jonathan Broxton with a big lead).

Putting That 8-14 Start Behind Us Laughers:  A fine No. 9, behind Dodgers 12, Reds 0 (June 15), Dodgers 12, Cardinals 4 (June 7), Dodgers 13, Diamondbacks 3 (May 11), Dodgers 9, Pirates 3 (May 2).

2010: A Laugher Odyssey: Almost heaven at No. 11, behind Dodgers 14, Reds 6 (April 21), Dodgers 10, Pirates 2 (April 8)!

Home Laughers: No. 5!

Sunday Laughers: No. 3!

Sunday Summertime Laughers: No. 2!

Sunday Summertime Post-All-Star Laughters: No. 1! No. 1! No. 1! Celebrate good times, come on!

Aug 08

Dodgers replace Garret Anderson with Jay Gibbons

Twenty-three days before rosters can expand Sept. 1, the Dodgers have decided they can’t wait on Garret Anderson anymore. Jay Gibbons, with a .969 OPS in Albuquerque this season, had his contract purchased by the team, which designated Anderson for assignment.

Don’t expect miracles. The 33-year-old Gibbons had a .621 OPS with Baltimore in 2007, the last time he was in the majors.

Aug 07

Loney wins JV game for Dodgers in 10 innings, 3-2

Given the lack of action throughout most of tonight’s Dodger game, my attention diverted to Albuquerque, where the Isotopes fell behind 10-0 in the third and 12-1 in the sixth before rallying to send the game into extra innings, tied at 12.

Nevertheless, it would be remiss of me to ignore Hiroki Kuroda retiring 17 in a row shortly after an early two-run homer, a Matt Kemp sacrifice fly (nearly a grand slam) that ended up plating two runs, a woolly three innings of shutout relief from Hong-Chih Kuo and Jonathan Broxton, and finally James Loney’s walkoff single to win it for the Dodgers in 10 innings, 3-2.

Tonight was the first time the Dodgers gained ground on San Diego, San Francisco and Colorado on the same night since June 24.

And now, back to Albuquerque

Aug 07

Enough rope to hang yourself with

I wrote a post this morning, then held back publishing it because it just seemed as if there were way too many words being spent to talk about Garret Anderson, relative to his importance on the team. After mulling it over, I’ve decided to run it, but with this disclaimer: There are way too many words being spent to talk about Garret Anderson, relative to his importance on the team.

The reason I’m running it is because in the end, I do want to make this point: This semi-tradition the Dodgers have of saving a roster spot for an over-the-hill bat, just because he’s a veteran, is not a good tradition.

I made a similar point in March.

Anyway, here’s the post:

* * *

George Sherrill struck out the only batter he faced in the Dodgers’ 6-3 loss to Washington on Friday. In his past six games, Sherrill has faced 16 batters and given up only three singles and no walks. It’s his best stretch of the season since April.

Sherrill used a lot of rope to climb back to this brief stretch of effectiveness. From May 2 to July 19, according to Baseball-Reference.com, Sherrill allowed a 1.043 OPS and an ERA of 8.10, with 12 of 20 inherited runners scoring against him.

The Dodgers gave Sherrill and Garret Anderson the entire season to solve their problems, a decision based largely upon the fact that they had had past success, along with the fact that they couldn’t go to the minors. You could say largely the same for Ronnie Belliard, who started the season 11 for 26 (.423) through April 23 but is 18 for 108 with 16 walks (.513 OPS) since.

Younger players, generally, did not get the same leeway. Xavier Paul certainly didn’t do well in the majors this year, with a .591 OPS (.455 after the All-Star break), but he also didn’t get as many opportunities as Anderson and was sent back to Albuquerque three different times, the last after the Dodgers traded two minor leaguers to acquire Scott Podsednik to replace him as Manny Ramirez’s understudy.

The rationale for Paul is that he (and in turn, the Dodgers) would benefit more with him playing every day in Albuquerque than sitting on the bench in Los Angeles. It’s not a crazy rationale, though there’s a counter-argument that Paul has learned everything he can in the minors, and that what would benefit him most is major-league time, even if he’s not playing every day. Is Paul going to overcome what stymied him over the past month by playing in Triple-A?

The Dodgers were even more impatient with some of their young pitchers. John Ely, who as recently as two months ago could be credited with saving the Dodgers’ season, had five poor starts in seven tries and was not heard from again. Carlos Monasterios was yanked in and out of the rotation. While Ramon Ortiz got 30 innings to prove himself, James McDonald didn’t even get 10. While Russ Ortiz got six games, Scott Elbert got one.

You can’t say the Dodgers gave no younger players a chance, but you can say that struggling older players generally got the benefit of the doubt over struggling younger players. You can also say that benefit of the doubt was largely a waste of time, Sherrill’s recent 16 batters notwithstanding.

I’m not suggesting the Dodgers should ban old players from their clubhouse, of course – I hope that’s clear. And I understand that many of these guys weren’t here for no reason. Sherrill was outstanding in 2009. Belliard certainly hit at the end of the 2009 season. The Ortizes were mainly a product of crazy roster problems in the bullpen at the end of spring training. Extenuating circumstances abound.

But at a certain point, with some of these players, enough is enough.

There was really no excuse for Anderson to hang around this long. And maybe in 2011, the Dodgers should think twice before dedicating a roster spot to that veteran off the bench based on a track record that is no longer relevant. Maybe, just maybe, the Dodgers should try giving that last roster spot to a younger player, promise they’ll stick him through thick and thin (the way they did with Anderson), and see what happens. Give that spot to a player who, even if he doesn’t hit, can bring some speed or defense to the game. Just as an experiment.

Aug 06

Kershaw LXXIV: Kershasta McNasty

This was to have been the Clayton Kershaw-Stephen Strasburg showcase showdown. But you can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you find you get what you need. But sometimes not. Sometimes, you get what you get and you don’t get upset. Unless you do get upset. But don’t worry, be happy.

* * *

The lack of improvement on Manny Ramirez’s calf prompted another MRI exam, Joe Torre told reporters today. We’re waiting to hear the results.

This weekend, Jamey Carroll should pass Russell Martin to move into fourth place on the team in games played this season. The reserve infielder has played in all but 14 games in 2010.

The Dodgers will have at most five players who reach the 130-game mark this season. I thought it might have been a long time since that happened, but in 2008, the team had only four players reach that plateau. Last year, eight players made it.

Aug 05

Nomentum: Padres 5, Dodgers 0

Bullets from a 5-0 loss:

  • The Dodgers now have 12 shutouts this season. The Los Angeles team record is 23 in 1968; next after that is 17 in 1966 and 1989.
  • The Dodgers have been held to two runs or fewer in 11 of their past 15 games.
  • James Loney batted with two runners on in the fourth, sixth and eighth innings, but the Dodgers’ RBI king came up empty each time. The killer was a towering blast to right field that went to the wall before being caught.
  • Chad Billingsley extended his scoreless inning streak to 24 2/3 innings before getting touched up for three runs in the fourth inning. Five of the 10 baserunners he allowed came in the fourth, the only inning in which the Padres scored. Billinglsey left for a pinch-hitter after six innings, three runs and 90 pitches.
  • With a ninth-inning double-switch, Andre Ethier made his first career appearance at first base.
  • Ethier and Ryan Theriot each reached based three times.
  • Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has precise details about Russell Martin’s season-ending injury.
  • James McDonald struck out a career-high eight (including six of his first seven batters) while pitching six shutout innings in his Pirates debut.
  • The man McDonald was traded for, Octavio Dotel, was victimized by an almost inexplicable inside-the-park homer in the ninth inning tonight by San Diego’s Chris Denofria.
  • Ronald Belisario threw off the mound this afternoon; Joe Torre said he would probably start a rehab assignment Saturday.
  • Don Hawkins, a church group leader, collapsed on the field at Dodger Stadium before tonight’s game and passed away. All my condolences to his family and friends.
Aug 05

Why Russell Martin won’t be so easy to replace


Kirby Lee/US PresswireRussell Martin

You won’t have trouble finding people who think Russell Martin’s potential season-ending hip injury is no big deal. “He wasn’t hitting anyway, so who cares?”

Here’s why it’s a big deal, to both Martin and the Dodgers.

For all the decline Martin has had since his All-Star days not so long ago, the 27-year-old still brings a healthy on-base percentage to the table. This year, for example, Martin’s OBP is .347. He’s no Ted Williams, but that places him in the top 12 of major-league catchers with at least 150 plate appearances this year and fifth among catchers with at least 300 plate appearances. In other words, barely a handful of teams in the majors could match the Dodgers for catcher OBP.

With the Dodgers, Martin is sixth in OBP if you include semi-regulars Manny Ramirez and Jamey Carroll and the departed Blake DeWitt. Without that trio, Martin jumps up to third, behind Andre Ethier and Rafael Furcal – and of course, Furcal’s status today is at least a bit uncertain. On a team struggling to piece together runs, Martin helped keep an inning alive more than most. And he was always there, until now.

The tandem of Brad Ausmus and A.J. Ellis probably can’t match Martin’s on-base production. Ausmus’ .343 OBP in limited duty last season was his highest since 2005 in Houston. Ellis can do better than the .246 OBP he has had in his short major-league career – he has hung consistently over .400 in the minors – but it’s a leap to suggest that he can jump to one of the highest catcher OBPs in baseball.

If that’s a drop-off, the decline of power in Martin’s absence might be more of a dive. Yes, Martin’s power has disappeared, his slugging percentage falling from .469 in 2007 to .330 in 2009-10. But that’s still higher than the .311 slugging Ausmus has had since turning 34 seven years ago. Meanwhile, Ellis has had a sub-.400 slugging percentage with zero homers in 100 games at Albuquerque over the past two seasons – so forget about him showing any power in Los Angeles. Whatever you think of Martin’s power, these guys are worse.

Some might be prepared to give Ausmus and Ellis points for defense, and maybe they’re right. But Martin, who was ripped for his work behind the plate in 2009, showed something closer to his Gold Glove form this year in my subjective opinion, including a much-improved throwing arm. He has thrown out a career-high 39 percent of runners trying to steal. The Dodgers are tied for 11th in baseball in fewest stolen bases allowed, with 10 of the 55 coming on Ellis’ watch in only 133 2/3 innings behind the plat (one every 13.3 innings) compared to 43 in 791 1/3 for Martin (one every 17 innings).

The chances of the Dodgers finding someone outside the organization to replace Martin this season are slim to none considering the available options – which, keep in mind, would come at a cost – and frankly, it’s not like it will get easy in the offseason.

All that being said, you really do have to wonder whether Martin will be back with the Dodgers in 2011. Despite what is perceived to be a poor 2010 season that has now been marred by health concerns, the arbitration-eligible Martin can expect a raise to about $6.5 million in salary for next year. (If that seems unfair to you, remember that he got paid $1,187,500 for 2006-08 combined.) Even a hale and hearty Dodger front office might balk at that figure for a catcher with Martin’s productivity concerns.

Now, the Dodgers might look at the options and negotiate a deal with Martin – the team rarely takes cases to arbitration, after all. But it’s very possible that Martin and the Dodgers will be going their separate ways to fend for themselves.

What a sad, unexpected ending that would be. Inside of two years ago, Martin was so important to the Dodgers in my mind that he was the only active player to get a separate chapter in my book – a great catcher, and a great Dodger. Even though he hasn’t been the same the past two years, this might be the end of an era, and it shouldn’t pass without notice.

Aug 04

Near no-no still a yes-yes for Vicente Padilla and Dodgers: 9-0


Jae C. Hong/APVicente Padilla

Vicente Padilla’s extraordinary run of starts since returning from the disabled list in June nearly peaked with a no-hitter tonight at Dodger Stadium.

Padilla came within eight outs of the gem before allowing a line shot off the glove of a diving James Loney by Ryan Ludwick. Padilla gave up one other hit over his 105 pitches, settling for the fourth shutout of his career and second of the two-hit variety, and the Dodgers defeated the Padres, 9-0.

With the Dodgers seemingly losing a player a day, Padilla let everyone take their minds off their troubles. After walking two batters (one intentionally) in the second inning, Padilla retired 14 in a row before the Ludwick single. Since June 19, Padilla has pitched 60 innings and allowed 12 earned runs for a 1.80 ERA. His nine strikeouts tonight give him 52 in that time. He has not allowed more than two runs in his past eight starts.

The Dodgers, who have won consecutive games following their six-game losing streak, scored three runs in the second inning, the crowning blow a two-RBI dunker by Scott Podsednik. Ronnie Belliard added an RBI double in the third, and then Padilla – left to bat for himself in the bottom of the eighth following much suspense – drove in a run with his second hit of the night.

That kicked off a five-run inning for the Dodgers – their biggest output since a six-run inning July 3 – capped by a two-run homer by Andre Ethier. Ethier also had two doubles, while Casey Blake and Jamey Carroll added two hits for the Dodgers.

Dodger pitchers have held San Diego to a single run on five hits over the past two games combined. Since the All-Star Game, Dodger starting pitchers have allowed 35 earned runs in 123 innings for a 2.56 ERA.

If not a turnaround, tonight might amount to a false positive for a crumbling Dodger team, but temporary relief is better than none.

Aug 04

Russell Martin has torn labrum in right hip

The Dodgers placed Russell Martin on the disabled list for the first time in his career, because of a torn labrum in his right hip. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.

Reed Johnson was activated from the disabled list. A.J. Ellis and Brad Ausmus will share catching duties.

Update: I asked baseball injury expert Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus about this. His response: “If the acetabular labrum is torn, this is devastating for the Dodgers. In the short term, Martin would be done for the season. We don’t really have good comparables for this – as far as I know, no catchers have had the procedures. Most have been very successful – Chase Utley, Alex Rodriguez, Brett Myers and more, just in baseball. The long term prognosis should be good, but the taxing nature of the catching position adds an element of uncertainty. If he has the FAIL surgery (femoral-acetabular impingement/labrum) he’d be out for approximately three to four months, which would have him back in time for spring training.”

Given the millions Martin could expect to earn if the Dodgers retain him for next season, I’m wondering if Martin has played his last game in a Dodger uniform.