Jul 13

Count it for Broxton and the NL: 3-1


Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireJonathan Broxton and Brian McCann shake on it.

Coast to coast, Jonathan Broxton naysayers revved their engines as he came out to save for the National League against the American League in tonight’s All-Star game.

And coast to coast Broxton silenced them, at least until the fall.

Whether Broxton truly stripped away any of the cynics’ ammunition in preserving the NL’s 3-1 victory – the NL’s first victory since 1996 – is doubtful. If the Dodgers are fortunate enough to play in October, the doubters will surely return, because past success has never slowed the cynics before.

But considering the alternative, Team Broxton will take it.

“It felt awesome,” a smiling Broxton told Fox’s Eric Karros after the game.

Employed as closer by the manager who profited from Broxton’s twin NLCS disappointments, Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel, Broxton raised the stakes with his first pitch, lined to right field by David Ortiz. That brought up former Dodger Adrian Beltre, in his first All-Star game. Broxton blew Beltre away on three fastballs between 97 and 99 miles per hour.

Broxton then started John Buck off with three balls that missed, followed by two fastballs for strikes. Buck hit the next pitch as a blooper to right, and it looked like the NL would be victimized by their maligned outfield defense. But Marlon Byrd fielded the ball on a bounce and quickly and alertly fired to Rafael Furcal covering second base for a 9-6 forceout – a huge play that wiped out what would have been an unlucky hit.

Ian Kinsler then hit a high fly to center field, which Chris Young of Arizona gloved for the final out. And Broxton could wear the All-Star S across his big chest.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Hong-Chih Kuo

Short of a blown save for Broxton, a Kuworst-case scenario seemed to be ripening for Dodger fans midgame, when Hong-Chih Kuo walked the leadoff American League batter in the fifth inning, made a throwing error that put runners at first and third and then surrendered a deep sacrifice fly that scored the game’s first run.

But Brian McCann provided the relief (if sadly reminding us that we used to think Russell Martin was a better-hitting catcher not too long ago) with a bases-clearing double in the seventh inning, taking Kuo off the hook.

McCann also relieved himself, if you will, from an earlier disappointment. In the top of the fifth, Dodger outfielder Andre Ethier (1 for 2) had a chance to be a hero when he lined a single to right field with David Wright on second base. But the ball was hit too hard for Wright to be sent home. Corey Hart struck out, and McCann then flied out to strand the two runners.

Kuo faced four batters and retired two, throwing 18 pitches. Furcal walked in his only plate appearance, before getting in position to complete the key play of the game in the ninth.

Jul 13

Andre Ethier and the proving ground


Kirby Lee/US PresswireAndre Ethier has earned the right to smile.

I think Andre Ethier has some of me in him.

I have high expectations of myself. I have a sense of pride in my abilities, but at the same time, frustration when I am not equal to the task before me. I get angry when I fail, and then the questioning of my self-worth revives.

I want people to know that I know that my failings are unacceptable, and sometimes there isn’t a graceful way to do that. If I know that I’m making my best effort, if I know I’m capable of better, and if the people around me know these things, then this shouldn’t be a problem.

But sometimes, I just feel like I have to keep proving myself — to myself and to others. And that’s when the frustration comes out for everyone to see.

I’m glad that Ethier is having his moment in the sun today — and surely hope that it isn’t clouded by playing out of position in center field. I hope that he can revel in this honor, because the next proving ground is just around the corner.

Congratulations, Andre.

* * *

National League at American League, 5:00 p.m.

Jul 13

Dodgers to sell some Field Level seats at $5 for kids

The Dodgers announced today that for remaining home games this season, fans can buy Loge and Field Level seats for kids 14-and-under for $5 with each adult ticket purchase. (The fine print is this: Availability begins two hours prior to game time, maximum of two $5 tickets per customer.)

So, if you time it right, you can pay $130 for your Field Level MVP seat or $35 for your garden-variety Loge seat and then $5 for your kid’s seat. More details here.

Jul 13

Another Yankee titan passes

Farewell, George Steinbrenner. Friday at Yankee Stadium, they’ll be mourning both Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard. That’s going to be quite a night.

The great Alex Belth has a remembrance of George Steinbrenner at SI.com.

* * *

  • Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has the fun story of Hong-Chih Kuo interviewing All-Star Dodgers about Hong-Chih Kuo.
  • Manny Ramirez went 0 for 9 with five strikeouts in three rehab games with Inland Empire, but hey …
  • Joe Torre on Matt Kemp, to John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus: “Everyone thought I was punishing Matt, but it was just clear to me that he was pressing and needed to take a few days to clear his head and get his confidence back. There are no statistics to tell you how a guy is feeling on the inside, but I don’t think there was any question that Matt wasn’t in the right frame of mind. We all want to be perfect, and sometimes Matt has a hard time coming to grips with the fact that nobody is perfect. He holds everything inside and always tells you everything is all right, but it can’t always be all right and it wasn’t all right with him. However, I see him being back to the old Matt Kemp now. He’s playing with confidence again and that’s only going to make us an even better team for the second half of the season.”
  • The trade market for starting pitching gets a thorough analysis from Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness. The options probably won’t bowl you over. Meanwhile, I contributed a very short, on-the-fly comment about Ted Lilly to View From the Bleachers, saying that I wouldn’t want the Dodgers to give up much for him.
  • Baseball-Reference.com looks at the Hall of Fame case for Kevin Brown. The ultimate conclusion seems to be “no,” but the “yes” case might surprise you.

Update: Meant to mention this above: Alex Rodriguez has an acting role in the upcoming Mila Kunis-Justin Timberlake film, “Friends With Benefits,” reports Tatiana Siegel of Variety. My understanding is that he’s not playing himself.

Jul 12

Dodger Cog and Dogs: All-Star Break Edition 9


Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireClayton Kershaw leads the National League in strikeouts per nine innings. His 2.96 ERA is ninth in the NL.

He didn’t make the National League All-Star team, but Clayton Kershaw is the Dodger Thoughts top cog for the first half of the 2010 season.

Andre Ethier, Rafael Furcal and Hiroki Kuroda each had hot streaks, but Kershaw was consistently strong for almost the entire season to date. In 2010, he has thrown 12 quality starts in 18 tries (most of those better than the six-inning, three-run variety) and allowed a maximum of two runs over at least five innings in three others. In only two starts this season has he failed to keep the Dodgers in the game.

After walking 24 batters in his first 30 2/3 innings, Kershaw has even gone a long way toward solving his biggest weakness, walking 26 in his last 81 1/3 innings. It has just been a very impressive first half, and the Dodgers are lucky to have him.

                   
7/12 7/1 6/21 6/10 5/24 5/13 5/3 4/19 4/12 Player Comment
1 1 1 2 3 5 6 10 20 Clayton Kershaw In 18 starts this year, allowed more than three earned runs only twice.
2 3 4 10 14 9 7 8 4 Rafael Furcal Reminding me of Magic Johnson lately. He’s the playmaker.
3 4 3 1 1 1 1 2 11 Andre Ethier Back in the swing of it with OPS over 1.000 in July.
4 5 5 12 5 3 4 4 9 Manny Ramirez Team-high 155 adjusted OPS (.937 OPS).
5 2 2 3 2 2 2 3 1 Hiroki Kuroda Disappointing to see him struggle after such a strong first three months.
6 8 8 13 10 6 8 9 24 James Loney He can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan.
7 6 6 4 11 10 5 6 13 Jonathan Broxton Broxton in the St. Louis heat next weekend: Bring some towels.
8 7 7 8 16 18 NR NR NR Hong-Chih Kuo The All-Star stranded two runners Sunday to lower ERA to 0.99.
9 11 9 9 4 4 3 1 5 Matt Kemp Frequent newsmaker leads team in HR, R, SB, CS, SO.
10 10 10 6 8 11 12 12 10 Chad Billingsley Allowed three HR to first eight batters May 31, none in 37 1/3 IP since.
11 12 12 11 9 16 11 7 6 Casey Blake Keep wanting to drop him because he’s really not hitting, but this is where he goes.
12 9 11 5 7 8 26 NR NR John Ely No one has forgotten what he meant to this team when the chips were down.
13 14 13 14 12 12 15 14 14 Blake DeWitt So far, OPS has improved for four consecutive months: .856 in July.
14 13 15 16 13 17 18 21 18 Jamey Carroll Pitching is hard: Carroll has seven extra-base hits, 31 walks.
15 15 14 15 6 7 10 5 2 Russell Martin Offense is hard to watch, but seems like he’s throwing his best in a few years.
16 16 16 18 21 22 21 17 15 Jeff Weaver Fourth on the team in wins.
17 22 25 25 22 23 20 15 25 Vicente Padilla Well, isn’t this a pleasant development: 10 walks, 54 strikeouts in 2010.
18 17 17 17 25 24 NR NR NR Ronald Belisario Really seemed like he had been finding a groove.
19 19 20 20 20 20 17 20 8 Reed Johnson You’re no Jamey Carroll, Reed – it’s okay if you hit a homer this year.
20 18 19 21 19 13 14 13 7 Ronnie Belliard Since June 28, 0 for 17 with four walks.
21 20 18 7 18 14 16 18 21 Carlos Monasterios 45 more games to September 1, and he’s a Dodger for keeps.
22 24 23 24 NR NR NR NR NR Travis Schlichting Hershiser’s record safe for now.
23 21 21 22 15 19 19 NR NR Xavier Paul 57 plate appearances since his last extra-base hit
24 23 22 19 17 15 9 11 12 Ramon Troncoso Not expecting his demotion to last long.
25 25 24 23 NR NR NR NR NR Justin Miller Pitching with a lead: opponents 10 for 24. Otherwise, opponents 11 for 63.
26 26 26 26 23 25 22 19 19 A.J. Ellis So little power, so little time.
27 27 27 27 29 29 28 25 NR Jon Link Unscored upon in past 10 1/3 innings with Isotopes.
28 28 28 28 24 26 24 23 23 Brad Ausmus Has as many doubles as Ellis this year.
29 29 29 NR NR NR NR NR NR Chin-Lung Hu He will not be Taiwan’s first to play in MLB All-Star Game.
30 30 31 29 26 21 23 24 17 Ramon Ortiz Continues to struggle in Buffalo worse than he had been with Dodgers.
31 31 32 30 27 27 NR NR NR Nick Green Eighteen doubles last year, none this year.
32 32 33 35 NR NR NR NR NR Scott Elbert For arguably the team’s No. 1 pitching prospect to have this kind of year is something else.
33 34 36 34 31 31 25 16 3 Charlie Haeger Don’t think we’ll see him back this season.
34 33 30 33 32 32 30 22 16 Garret Anderson Jay Gibbons OPSed .621 in last major-league season three years ago.
35 36 35 32 30 30 29 27 22 Russ Ortiz Gave up one double and no homers this year.
36 35 34 31 28 28 27 26 26 George Sherrill Has recorded one out this month.
Jul 11

Looking at Lack-of-Longball Loney

The question of whether James Loney will ever develop home run power gets a long look from Brian Kamenetzky of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

The swing has always been there.

The bat control and the ability to hit to all fields, too.

But into the fifth year of his major league career, we’re still waiting for James Loney to display consistent home run power. After hitting 15 in only 344 at-bats as a 23-year-old in 2007, Loney put only 26 balls over the wall in 1,302 plate appearances over his next two seasons. This year he’s fallen behind that already modest pace, with only five homers in 361 trips to the plate.

James Loney has just five home runs in more than 325 at-bats this season.

Not that the Blue have abandoned hope. “As he continues to mature as a hitter and continues to learn his swing I think he’ll start to hit 20 to 25 home runs,” says Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti. “Once he starts to pull. Because he has great pull power, it’s just that his approach is typically [to hit] the other way.”

Colletti’s hope isn’t without historical precedent. Over his first 2,031 at-bats, Rafael Palmeiro had 47 homers. Jeff Bagwell had 53 in 1,675, Steve Garvey 46 in 1,606. Loney has 50 in 1,943. Power can develop later in a player’s career.

But what if it doesn’t? …

Bagwell was named the Astros’ hitting coach today, by the way.

Chad Moriyama of Memories of Kevin Malone would have parted with Loney if it meant acquiring Cliff Lee.

Jul 11

Starting over: John Ely goes to Albuquerque

The Dodgers announced today that they have optioned John Ely to Albuquerque and recalled Jon Link in time for tonight’s game.

Ely’s next scheduled start for the Dodgers was July 19, so unless he is replacing an injured player, he cannot be recalled in time for that start. But of course, there’s always the chance the Dodgers will have an injured player for him to replace.

Sending Ely to Albuquerque presumably allows him to work on some things in game action, rather than being sidelined for nine days.

Nevertheless, by the sounds of Joe Torre’s media session today, it doesn’t look like the Dodgers are eying Ely for that next start. Torre said that he and Ned Colletti decided that Ely needs to get back on track, and that James McDonald, Carlos Monasterios and Claudio Vargas are currently candidates for the July 19 start against the Giants. That’s assuming the Dodgers don’t make a trade.

McDonald extended his recent relatively hot streak today, allowing a run in 6 1/3 innings for the Isotopes, though he walked four and struck out only two. McDonald has a 2.08 ERA in his past four appearances, with no home runs allowed.

Jul 11

Farewell, Bob Sheppard

The Yankee Stadium legend, who became the ballpark’s public address announcer in 1951, the year after Vin Scully joined the Dodgers, and stayed until 2008, passed away this morning at age 99. The New York Times has an obituary, and Keith Olbermann has this remembrance.

… His sense of humor was nearly as legendary as his enunciation and the meticulousness of his preparation. He had joined the Yankees so long ago – 1951 – that it was a point of perverse pride that the team had no record of who preceded him, and said so in its media guide. When I picked up the gauntlet of research I went first to Mr. Sheppard himself and asked him if, by chance, he knew but just hadn’t been asked. “Yes,” he intoned, pausing just as he did while behind the microphone. “Methusaleh,” he said with a laugh, referencing a biblical figure who lasted into quadruple figures. It turned out Bob had actually been hired by Red Patterson, the Yankees’ public relations director of the time.

In the ’40s and ’50s, public address announcing at Yankee Stadium – and elsewhere – was an afterthought. Patterson did it in between bon mots with the writers. He and other Yankee officials attended a football game played by the old Yankees of the All American Football Conference and were struck by the professionalism and thoroughness of the PA announcer there. They approached him as early as 1948 about doing baseball, but Sheppard could not fit the team’s weekday schedule into his full-time life as a speech professor at St. John’s University. Bob was more of a football guy anyway – he had quarterbacked St. John’s in the ’30s – and once confessed to me with a laugh that he had never attended a baseball game at Yankee Stadium until the team hired him during what would be Mickey Mantle’s first year (and Joe DiMaggio’s last).

In the new job, Sheppard essentially invented the process with which we are familiar today. Before him, stadium announcers rarely provided any information to the audience. Line-ups would be announced, and then each batter’s first plate appearance as we, but often thereafter the fan was on his own. The idea of the dramatic announcement in the ninth inning of a tie in the Bronx: “Now batting for the Yankees, number seven, Mickey Mantle,” was Sheppard’s. It truly changed not just the fans’ experience at the game, but the game itself. …

Jul 10

John Ely tells us the oldest tale in the book

The story was that John Ely not only came up challenging hitters, but that he convinced the tentative Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw to do the same. Ely the golden child, Ely the student as master.

It’s all so simple, right? Just throw strikes.

Maybe Ely gave his two teammates something to think about. Maybe. But the real story is that throwing strikes isn’t a matter of simply choosing to do so.

Pitchers don’t will themselves to have command. Command comes from something far more nebulous, a combination of ability, mechanics, faith and fortune. And if just one piece of that puzzle is missing, the whole thing falls apart.

No one issues a four-pitch walk to start the second inning because they think it’s a good idea. It happens because pitching is hard. Just because you can throw strikes one day doesn’t mean you’ll throw them the next.

Ely seemed like he might have a preternatural or even supernatural ability to harness those mysterious forces. Now, we find he’s just like everyone else – except that, as we knew before, he has a thinner margin for error than everyone else.

Ely might bounce back. We’ll see. We’ll hope. If he isn’t as good as he was at the outset of his career, he’s not as bad as he was today.

But just remember this the next time you see a pitcher struggle with control. Don’t be that guy that asks, “How could he walk the pitcher?” Don’t be the one asking, “Why doesn’t he just throw strikes?” Don’t be that person. Because if you’ve ever watched baseball, you know the answer.

Pitching is hard.

Jul 09

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

Jul 09

Yawn – Cliff Lee traded again

Cliff Lee’s baseball uniform fashion show now features the clothing stylings of the Texas Rangers.

Seattle traded Lee, Mark Lowe and $2.25 million to Texas for first baseman Justin Smoak and minor leaguers Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matthew Lawson. The Rangers have been waiting a long time to get back in the playoffs, but the online consensus seem to be that Seattle did well with the deal.

The New York Yankees will wait another few months before making Lee theirs.

* * *

Strasburg Watch, from The Associated Press: “Rookie Stephen Strasburg will start the Washington Nationals’ first game after the All-Star break, on July 16 at the Florida Marlins, and then stick to a regular turn in the rotation until exhausting his 160-innings limit for the season. … Strasburg will pitch regularly on four days’ rest — or five, if there happens to be a day off that falls between his turns.”

According to the Nationals’ schedule, that would mean after starts on July 21, July 27 and August 1, Strasburg would be on tap to start at Dodger Stadium on August 6.

Strasburg is facing the Giants today in Washington.

By the way, Clayton Kershaw has also been chosen by Joe Torre to start the Dodgers’ first game after the All-Star break, but right now it doesn’t appear he’ll end up matching up with Strasburg. That could change, of course. Hiroki Kuroda, Chad Billingsley, Vicente Padilla and John Ely will follow Kershaw.