Jul 09

Will the Dodgers finally conquer St. Lose-us?

When I noticed the Dodgers opened their post-All Star Game schedule next week with four games at St. Louis, I thought, “Not again.” It seemed like every year the Dodgers were going to the sweltering summer heat right after the midseason break for a strength-sapping sweep by St. Louis.

That doesn’t happen to be the case, but it’s true that the Dodgers really haven’t had much success there. The team hasn’t won a road series in St. Louis since July 9-10, 2003, and hasn’t won a road series there after the All-Star break since September 15-16, 1997. Roughly, the Dodgers have won about 25 percent of the games they have played in St. Louis since that two-game sweep.

Thank goodness for last year’s National League Division Series. With the Dodgers’ Game 3 victory there, Los Angeles has won a whopping two games in a row in the Cardinals’ home park.

Jul 08

The magnificent heaven: Samurai Kershaw, Furcal shine in 3-2 victory


Mark J. Terrill/APClayton Kershaw has walked eight batters in his past 41 2/3 innings, two in his past 20 2/3.

Boo hoo! Dodger pitchers never pitch complete games!  Waaah!  Why can’t they ever go the distance?  When is Clayton Kershaw going to step up and be an ace!  Waaaaaaaaah!

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system …

Magnificent.

That’s the word to describe Clayton Kershaw tonight. Eight innings, two runs, 12 strikeouts, 97 pitches, no walks

And then, Dodger manager Joe Torre, who has had no trouble letting the precious 22-year-old phenom throw over 100 pitches in fewer innings, decided to pull Kershaw before potentially recording his first complete game in the majors. And it wasn’t necessarily the wrong decision – Jonathan Broxton is warming up no matter what, and no doubt fresher at this point of the game – but wow …

Anyway, Broxton came in, retired the first two batters in the ninth, got two strikes on the third before allowing a single, then made sure none of us would spontaneously combust by inducing a harmless fly out from Kosuke Fukudome to complete the Dodgers’ 3-2 victory over Chicago.

Remember this post, after Kershaw was charged with seven runs in 1 1/3 innings against Milwaukee?

The last time Clayton Kershaw started but failed to get past the third inning – June 10, 2009 – this is what happened the rest of the season: 107 innings, 122 baserunners, 123 strikeouts, 1.77 ERA.

Well, this is what Kershaw has done since failing to get past the second inning on May 4, 2010: 81 2/3 innings, 85 baserunners, 92 strikeouts, 2.20 ERA.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Rafael Furcal puts the Dodgers in the lead.

Magnificent.

And yet this could have been an incredibly frustrating 2-1 loss for the Dodgers, were it not for the heroics of Rafael Furcal. Two innings after Matt Kemp just missed hitting a three-run home run, Russell Martin led off the bottom of the seventh with a single. One out later, Kershaw sacrificed him to second base, and then Furcal curled a game-changing home run just inside the right-field foul pole. Furcal ended the night a triple shy of hitting for the cycle.

Kershaw, who now has a lower WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) and higher K/9 than Tim Lincecum wasn’t perfect. He forfeited the Dodgers’ 1-0 first-inning lead, allowing a long home run to Alfonso Soriano in the second and a pair of hits for a run in the fourth.

He wasn’t perfect. He was just … you know.

Jul 08

Kershaw LXIX: Kershallow Grave

Joe Torre told reporters today …

  • He had no news on Ronald Belisario.
  • Manny Ramirez is scheduled for a rehab game with Inland Empire on Saturday and remains on target for a July 15 return to the Dodgers.
  • AA reliever Kenley Jansen has entered the Dodgers’ major-league conversation, and it won’t be a surprise to see him in Los Angeles this year, though perhaps not until rosters expand in September.

In other news …

  • Scott Elbert is back in Arizona, “playing catch,” according to Dodger coach Ken Howell. No date set for his return to action.
  • Brad Ausmus began his minor-league rehab assignment Wednesday with Inland Empire. Expect to see his back back in a Dodger uniform by August.
  • Roy Oswalt bumped up the trade-valueometer today with a one-hitter against Pittsburgh. Oswalt, who walked two and struck out eight, needs to get one victory to tie Joe Niekro and two to pass him for Houston’s all-time lead in pitching victories.
  • Former Angel (and perhaps surprisingly, not current Dodger) Darin Erstad has returned to his Nebraska alma mater, as a hitting coach, according to The Associated Press.
  • The notion of taking a flyer on injured former star pitchers with upside has taken a beating this year, writes Dave Cameron at Fangraphs.
  • Matt Stairs on Wednesday tied the all-time record for pinch-hit home runs, writes Greg Rosenstein of MLB.com (via Aaron Gleeman at Hardball Talk). Not counting the postseason, in case you were wondering.
  • Yes, Mike Stanton’s killer three-run homer Thursday really was caught by a Dodger glove, as David Brown of Big League Stew points out. And yes, you need to watch Garret Anderson’s reaction on the clip linked from there.
  • My favorite piece of trivia today: The all-time leader in Emmy nominations is now camera operator Hector Ramirez. I talked to Ramirez this morning for the Variety On the Air TV blog.
  • I hated Shallow Grave, by the way …
Jul 07

Eight zeroes for Florida, nine for the Dodgers

Four runs, four hits in the second inning. No runs, two hits in his other six innings. Hiroki Kuroda put whatever was wrong with him in the past, but not in time to prevent a 4-0 loss to Florida and National League ERA leader Josh Johnson.

Rafael Furcal went hitless and runless, with the Dodgers striking out 10 times in all.

Jul 07

Agent: Belisario might have to go to Venezuela

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has quotes from Ronald Belisario’s agent, Paul Kinzer:

“It’s just some personal problems, and he’s got some things he’s got to work through,” Kinzer said. “It’s just a lot of anxiety, and that is about all I want to say right now.”

Pressed on what he meant by the word “anxiety,” Kinzer declined to offer details. …

Players placed on the restricted list are removed from a team’s 40-man roster, but they can be kept there for a maximum of 30 days. Kinzer said it was too early to tell whether Belisario’s absence would be short term or long term.

“We aren’t sure at this point,” he said. “We’ll just have to see how things go.”

Kinzer also said that Belisario was still in Los Angeles, but indicated the pitcher might be heading home to Venezuela at some point.

“Right now, he is [still in town], but we will have to see how things work out later,” Kinzer said. “Obviously, his family is in Venezuela. But we haven’t set up [any travel].”

Jul 07

July 7 game chat

As of 6 p.m., here’s all we know about the Ronald Belisario situation. From The Associated Press:

“Let’s put it this way, I’m surprised by this,” said Dodgers manager Joe Torre, adding that he had no indication of how long Belisario will be away from the club. “Ned [general manager Ned Colletti] told me last night after the game and gave me a heads-up that there would be something going on with him. That was the extent of it. That’s all I know.

“He’s one of my players, and I’d like to feel that I’m close with all my players. But I had no hint of this and had no conversation about this with him,” Torre said. “Obviously, it takes a big chunk out of the bullpen and who we rely on — especially because of the fact that he’s a seventh-, eighth-, ninth-inning guy.”

Belisario, who had a 2.04 ERA in 70 2/3 innings as a rookie last season, was arrested in Pasadena, Calif., last June 27 on suspicion of DUI and pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor drunken driving a month later without appearing in court. The case was resolved in March when he was fined $1,000 on a reduced charge of reckless driving.

But it reportedly created visa problems in his native Venezuela, and Belisario didn’t report to spring training until late March — prompting the Dodgers to put him on the restricted list without pay instead of suspending him. He was activated April 21 and has appeared in 35 games this season with a 1-1 record and 3.79 ERA.

“He hasn’t been an issue. There’s no disciplinary stuff that’s gone on. He’s been here for us every day,” Torre said. “I haven’t had a problem with him — aside from a high slider here and there.” …

Jul 07

And Rafael Furcal plays on …


Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireRafael Furcal has reached base 35 times in his last 15 games.

At the start of this season, I had practically given up on Rafael Furcal.

Last year was limp, and his brief fireworks in 2008 looked like the death throes of a player just before his back was hijacked by the devil. He seemed, to adapt one of the most malleable and miserable of baseball cliches, an old 32.

Maybe in an honest attempt to be objective, maybe in an attempt to be too clever, I picked Furcal as the Dodgers’ hidden weak link. While everyone else was worried about the starting pitching or Manny Ramirez, I was the one who so smartly pointed out that the Dodgers had a fizzler as the backbone of their infield.

Turns out, that fizzler has been the most valuable shortstop in major league baseball – All-Star snub be damned – according to Fangraphs.

That Furcal has made me look so wrong is wonderful. That he has done it in a year of personal tragedy is wondrous. How did he go back to work so quickly after his father died? And how did he go back so well?

Furcal is a player of tremendous ability – he quite possibly will leave the Dodgers at the end of 2011 as the greatest-hitting shortstop in their long history – and, if it may still be said, somewhat maddening inconsistency. At times like these, with a .443 on-base percentage and .667 slugging percentage since June 4, he is arguably the best player in the game, punctuated by the spring in his defensive step. But even this year, Furcal has had his struggles. Thanks to more injuries and more ill production, Furcal reached base only 13 times compared with 11 strikeouts over a six-week span from April 22 through June 3. To put it in the best possible light, Furcal has an uncanny ability to remind you that he is all too human.

He’s one of us. Until he’s not.

Furcal will cool off again, maybe starting tonight. And one of these days, months or years, he won’t heat back up again. After all, he’s an old 32, right?  But someday, after it’s all over, I hope I remember these inspiring weeks, when Furcal not only found life worth living in a dark hour, he made it that much more rewarding for the rest of us.

Jul 06

Padilla stays on track in Dodgers’ 7-3 victory


Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesVicente Padilla

Two starts ago, Vicente Padilla allowed two runs in seven innings. Last start, Padilla allowed one run in seven innings. But with a shutout through 6 2/3 innings tonight, Padilla lost a chance to keep that progression going and create a lot of anticipation among mathematicians and physicists for his next start.

Nevertheless, it’s been a real hot streak for the enigmatic righty.

Padilla left after those 6 2/3 innings in the Dodgers’ 7-3 victory over Florida, allowing five hits and no walks while striking out nine before surrendering a two-run home run on a 1-2 curve to Marlins’ rookie Mike Stanton. With the exception of a 12-pitch at-bat by Cody Ross with two runners on base to end the fourth inning, it was a breezy outing for Padilla, who allowed two runners to reach second base and none to reach third before Stanton’s homer.

Matt Kemp (2 for 5 with two of the Dodgers’ five season-high steals) followed Rafael Furcal’s two-run single in the second inning with a monster homer to left field – Kemp’s fourth homer in his past six games and 16th of the year – to give the Dodgers a 4-0 lead. Furcal tied Gil Hodges’ 57-year-old franchise record by scoring a run in his 12th consecutive game. (Correction: Furcal is the first to do this since Hodges, but Hodges does not hold the franchise record.)

Casey Blake and Andre Ethier each later hit solo home runs, while Kemp almost topped off his night with a near-three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth that was caught at the wall. Furcal bookended his evening with an RBI single in the eighth.

Blake DeWitt had a single, two walks and his first two steals of the season.

Jonathan Broxton warmed up in the bullpen with the Dodgers leading by four runs in the eighth inning, sat down after the lead went up to five, then warmed up again and entered the game once Travis Schlichting gave up three hits and his first run of the season in the ninth. With visions of the Yankee game from nine days ago and Colorado scoring nine in the ninth to beat St. Louis, 12-9 tonight, Broxton retired both batters he faced to get the save.

Jul 06

Cultivating a new generation of Dodger fans isn’t easy …

… when the Dodgers lose the last 10 games I have taken my children to. Seven Webkinz games last year, and now three games this year with Monday’s Fireworks Night flail. And that doesn’t count the Freeway Series loss to the Angels.

Anyway, we’re all staying home tonight, so things should be looking up for the home team …

Update: Via Sports by Brooks, “The Greatest American Hero” at Dodger Stadium. And it only gets better …

William Katt: “I’m gonna be on ‘The Mike Douglas Show?’”
Markie Post: “Can you take a bit of advice from a girl who lived in Mandeville Canyon and used to grow organic vegetables?”

Jul 06

Furcal named player of the week … and other notes

Rafael Furcal was named National League Player of the Week. According to the Dodger press notes, Furcal has scored in 11 straight games, tying Davey Lopes (1979) and Shawn Green (2002) for the Los Angeles Dodger record. The franchise record of 12 was set by Gil Hodges in 1953.

* * *

Minor-league news: John Lindsey activated from the disabled list after missing a month of games, James Adkins sent to AA Chattanooga, Timo Perez released.

* * *

James McDonald is pitching now in the first game of a doubleheader for the Isotopes, who play another twin-bill Friday. McDonald started his night with two perfect innings. Three pitchers currently with Albuquerque – Carlos Monasterios (well, technically he’s not on the roster), Ramon Troncoso and McDonald — all might be with the Dodgers inside of a couple of weeks, given the ongoing roster shuffling.

Update: McDonald took a no-hitter into the fifth inning. He pitched six innings of two-hit, no-walk shutout ball, striking out five batters in a six-batter stretch at one point, and was two outs away from a shutout in the scheduled seven-inning game before getting charged with four runs in the seventh inning. (Three of those came in when Kiko Calero allowed a two-out, bases-loaded double.) Until that final frame, McDonald was working on a streak of 16 consecutive scoreless innings.

Jul 06

Dodgers, Ely cede middle ground in 6-5 loss


Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesRafael Furcal shows how close John Ely was to a good night Monday.

During one of Stanford’s unexceptional football seasons when I was there, the offense had become so frustratingly predictable that the student section began yelling out “Volpe up the middle” on first and second down before the plays were run. Almost invariably, we were right. Not surprisingly, defenses adjusted quickly. It wasn’t exactly sabotage on our part – we were just trying to encourage change. They told us during freshman orientation to question authority, after all.

Anyway, that all came unpleasantly back to mind Monday at Dodger Stadium, when Florida relentlessly went up the middle on the John Ely, knocking him out in the third inning of a 6-5 victory over the Dodgers. If you look at the game’s hit chart (click on “Field Controls” and then “Away Hits”), you’ll see that eight of the Marlins’ 10 hits went between the 385 and 395 markers, five to straightaway center. A potential inning-ending double-play ball in the first went off Ely himself, leading to the second run of the opening frame. Then in the third inning, the first four Florida batters all singled up the middle, three of them scoring to boost the Marlins’ lead to 6-1. A diving Rafael Furcal stopped one of the balls and almost turned an amazing double play that inning as well, but it was not to be. Ely’s night ended when he allowed a single to opposing pitcher Nate Robertson … to center field.

This is not to completely exonerate Ely for his performance, but I came away feeling the rookie righthander mostly did what he was supposed to do. He threw strikes (25 balls to 18 batters), walked only one and struck out three in his 2 2/3 innings. Clearly, Florida was able to hit the ball hard enough to cause problems, but a small amount of luck would have made a big difference. You’d rather have a pitcher that didn’t need luck to win, but I still feel encouraged that the Dodgers have a guy in Ely who at least will take advantage of it.

“It’s still not going to keep him from pressing,” Dodger manager Joe Torre told Brian Kamenetzky of ESPNLosAngeles.com. “He’s still young, and it’s still new to him. He may not be able to restore order as quickly as someone who has been down that road a time or two, but that’s how you gain your experience. Trial and error.”

More tangibly, the Dodgers had just enough good performances in this one to turn what might have been a rout into a heartbreaker. Jeff Weaver and Ronald Belisario were fairly remarkable in relief of Ely, combining for 6 1/3 innings of one-hit, one-walk shutout ball (with Weaver stranding two runners inherited from Ely). Weaver threw 50 pitches in his 3 1/3 innings, while Belisario completed his career-high three innings in only 26 pitches.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers rallied, scoring a run in the third before the running-out-of-words-to-describe-how-hot-he-is Furcal hit a two-run homer to cut the deficit to 6-4. A double by James Loney to drive in Andre Ethier (2 for 3 with a walk) in the eighth drew the Dodgers within a run. However, the team went down in order in the ninth, with Garret Anderson missing a potential leadoff double as a pinch-hitter because Florida was guarding the lines. You should’ve gone up the middle, Garret – that was the winning strategy Monday.

* * *

Manny Mota was interviewed by David Laurila of Baseball Prospectus. Much of it is focused on Mota’s arrival in the States and the beginning of his career.

Jul 05

An intentional post about intentional walks

Twice-former Dodger reliever Guillermo Mota, now with the Giants, walked four batters intentionally Sunday, the most by a pitcher in a game since 1998.

Baseball-Reference.com lists 49 pitchers with at least four IBB in a game, dating back to approximately 1952. Their teams are 3-45-1 in those games.

Another Giant, Mike McCormick, in the year he became the first to win the National League Cy Young Award after Sandy Koufax retired, apparently holds the record for most intentional walks in a game with six. Two came in the first inning, and two came in the 11th.

Don Drysdale, Ron Perranoski and Larry Sherry each walked four batters intentionally in a game for the Dodgers, all in the 1960s, all in losses, all before Walter Alston basically abandoned the intentional walk.

The last Dodger to walk three batters intentionally in a game was Derek Lowe in 2008. They were his only walks of the game, and Lowe didn’t allow any runs. But the Dodgers lost in 11 innings, 1-0.

Jul 04

Hong-Chih Kuo: a heartstopping six strikeouts in Dodger victory


Rick Scuteri/APLeft-handed batters are now 0 for 30 with 16 strikeouts against Hong-Chih Kuo this season.

Hong-Chih Kuo is an equal-opportunity heart-attack giver – to his fans and his opponents.

Joe Torre let Kuo throw two innings today, his most since September 1, 2008, and 32 pitches, his most since July 21 of that year. And as his pitch count rose, I felt a tingling in my left arm as I thought of Kuo’s fragile elbow.

But what an elbow. Kuo struck out six batters in those two innings, making a statement to those who didn’t support him for this year’s All-Star team and serving as the linchpin on the mound for the Dodgers in their 3-1 victory today over Arizona.

Kuo’s mastery was part of a closeout by the Dodger pitchers today, which struck out eight of the final 10 batters they faced.

Starting pitcher Chad Billingsley did what the Dodgers have asked him to do. He threw strikes and toughened up with runners on base. Billingsley allowed one run over six innings, striking out eight, and had only 35 balls called among the 26 batters he faced. His pitch count ran up to 111 in six innings because Arizona did walk twice and rap six hits off him, including a booming RBI triple by Mark Reynolds that gave the Diamondbacks a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning. But Billingsley struck out the next three batters and slammed the door on Arizona thereafter.

That meant the Dodgers were able to tie things up on Rafael Furcal’s double and Andre Ethier’s single in the sixth inning, and then take the lead on Matt Kemp’s two-run homer with Furcal aboard in the eighth. Kemp has an OPS of over 1.000 and four home runs in his past 12 games.

Jonathan Broxton got the Dodgers’ 15th and 16th strikeouts in his perfect ninth inning, his first save opportunity since June 9.