Jun 28

Joe Torre and the future of Dodger managing


Jeff Chiu/AP
Don Mattingly and Joe Torre

Joe Torre’s primary skill set is at most one thing: He nurtures the clubhouse.

I don’t know of anyone, even his stanuchest supporters, who touts Torre as a brilliant tactical manager. He has had moments of strategic inspiration, but they seem more than undermined by his justifiably maligned use of his pitching staff and other odd lineup and bench moves. Some of the criticism of Torre is overblown, but there’s a layer of truth to it that dates back to his Yankee days.

When Torre finally lost his temper on Wednesday after the Dodgers’ ninth-inning baserunner follies and criticized some of the players for their decision-making, I understood, but I also felt it was the pot calling out the kettle. So much of Torre’s job is decision-making, and so often it goes wrong. Sometimes he makes a good choice that goes bad, but other times his choices are simply indefensible. How many times has Torre not seemed mentally prepared for the game at hand? Does a collapse like Sunday’s not lay in large part at Torre’s feet, most notably in his overuse of Jonathan Broxton? It’s not as simple as “his players didn’t do their jobs.”

And I say all this with no particular axe to grind. This is not a “Fire Joe Torre” post. I generally like Torre as a person. I don’t happen to think that Torre is much worse at game strategy than your garden-variety manager. But let’s face it: With Torre, you’re betting that the force of his even-keeled personality outweighs his flaws. He ‘s a bright man, but you’re not thinking he’s going to take you to the top because he’s a grandmaster chess player.

Torre’s contract ends after this season. This past weekend, he told reporters that he would decide in September whether he wants to come back for more with the Dodgers, although even then, there’s a question of how much the McCourt ownership will want to pay him for the privilege — or whether anyone up top will even be able to focus on the question. The McCourt divorce trial is currently scheduled to begin August 30. What kind of negotiations are there going to be with Torre during that time? If the Dodgers are in fourth place, will there be any negotiations at all? Or is it all in general manager Ned Colletti’s hands?

It’s possible that the Dodgers will take decide that, with all their other concerns heading into 2011, they’d like stability in the managerial chair and will quickly give Torre what he wants to stay. If the Dodgers bounce back to the top of the division, I’d almost be willing to bet on it.

The only other possibility on the horizon is that Don Mattingly will be the Dodger manager next season. It has been spelled out in no uncertain terms that Mattingly is the heir apparent, and if the Dodgers fall out of the race, Mattingly could be named the 2011 Dodger manager before the 2010 season ends.

This, my friends, gives me the willies.

Mattingly is Joe Torre without Joe Torre’s personality or experience. Mattingly has never managed a regular season baseball game and has never coached for anyone except Torre. Obviously, Mattingly’s baseball knowledge is not limited to his time by Torre’s side, but surely his tactics are going to be heavily influenced by Torre. And that, while not being the worst thing in the world, is not anything to be excited about.

Then you have to ask yourself, is Mattingly the type of person who can nurture a clubhouse, who can make a team better when the game isn’t going on?

I don’t know Mattingly at all, so I’m not qualified to answer that question. But my concern is that Mattingly is being handed this job not because of any actual qualifications, but because he’s perceived (hoped) to be Torre II. He’ll continue Torre’s winning ways just by having soaked up his innate Torreness.

If it were that simple, I don’t think Laker fans would be concerned about Phil Jackson leaving.

As a counter-example, Tim Wallach has both coached on the major-league level and managed on the minor-league level for the Dodgers. He was named Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year in 2009. This season, he has been doing a barefoot walk across the coals, because the Dodgers’ pitching problems have absolutely burned their top affiliate in Albuquerque. In this season alone, Wallach has had to use 17 starting pitchers this season in 74 games. He has very little in the way of top-rated AAA prospects right now. He has had to work without the safety net of a Joe Torre and then some.

This resume doesn’t prove that Wallach will be a successful major-league manager. But I can’t see how it isn’t a better resume than Mattingly’s, whose entire managerial C.V. consists of, “He’s Don Mattingly, Yankee legend and student of Joe Torre.”

As the Dodgers prepare to bid farewell to Torre, this year, next year or whenever, they have some responsibilities, some explicit, some implicit. For one thing, Major League Baseball requires the Dodgers to interview at least one minority candidate for the position. Whether you believe in this rule or not, I’d argue that the Dodgers should not make this interview a token activity, but rather at least one of a number of serious interviews, a wider exploration into whether anyone is better than Mattingly for the job. Clearly, Mattingly has impressed people in the organization, but has he done so in ways that really matter? If they pause and step back, are there not potential managers out there who would be more compelling?

By writing this piece, I risk giving this decision more importance than it deserves. The talent on the field is still more important than the talent in the dugout, and a hire of Mattingly isn’t going to ruin the Dodgers. Mattingly is not Torre, and given what happened Sunday, some might say that’s a good thing. But the Dodgers should ask themselves whether a Mattingly hire would bring continuity in all the wrong places.

Jun 28

Oh, you Broxton haters


Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire
Jonathan Broxton, shown here Saturday when he was preserving a Dodger victory over the defending World Series champions on national television.

I have to admit that thankfully, the tirade that comes from so many Dodger fans during the rare collapse by Jonathan Broxton has reached the point of amusing me more than upsetting me.

Prior to Sunday’s game, Broxton had allowed one earned run in his previous 23 games (0.39 ERA) with no blown saves. In 33 games this season, he had allowed three earned runs and three inherited runs to score. He had surrendered two leads all year. He had over 50 percent more strikeouts than baserunners allowed.

But then the people come out and say none of this matters, because Broxton can’t perform on the national stage when it counts. Even though he had performed on the national stage in an identical situation one night before.

The people come out and say none of this matters, because Broxton can’t perform in the postseason. Even though he has in all but two games. Even though six of the other seven 2009 playoff teams saw their closer give up a lead in last year’s postseason. Yep – every closer but Mariano Rivera blew a postseason game last year. (Rivera got his out of the way in earlier years.)

Really, you just have to laugh. People say I’m too quick to defend Broxton, but really, it’s just so easy to do it. Where are all these other closers who never have a bad game? Where are they? Name one closer in baseball besides Rivera who is better than Broxton.

Jun 27

Simply at a loss: Dodgers collapse at finish line, 8-6


Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Curtis Granderson scores the tying run ahead of Russell Martin’s tag in the ninth inning tonight.

“An evening of Yankee screwups completely shot to hell.”

That line comes courtesy of Dodger Thoughts commenter BHSportsGuy, and that’s tonight’s 8-6 Dodger loss.

The Dodgers, who for eight innings had answered so many of the snickers about their recent peformance, who were three outs away from two convincing victories over the Yankees after a narrow loss, find once again that the joke’s on them.

The headline was going to be, “Dodgers’ triumph over Yankees draped in bunting.” The team hit the motherload with three successful bunts in a three-run third inning, two of which were thrown away by Yankees starter Andy Pettitte. (The Dodgers tied a team record tonight with six combined sacrifice hits and sacrifice flies.) Two more runs followed in the fourth, while Clayton Kershaw looked in complete control on the mound, walking no batters for the first time in his career and allowing what seemed to be a meaningless two-run homer by Alex Rodriguez in the sixth inning.

Eight innings in which the Dodgers executed flawlessly – capped by an adrenalin-rushing 3-6 double play started by James Loney –  eight innings in which the Yankees looked like the pretenders, all gone as the leader of the Dodger bullpen, Jonathan Broxton, couldn’t protect a four-run lead in the ninth.

I think even most of Broxton’s detractors would agree that tonight’s career-high 48-pitch outing, in which he allowed more earned runs than he had all season, was more about his lack of stuff than anything else. Coming off a four-out appearance Saturday, Broxton just didn’t have it, and the Yankees just ate him up like vultures. It certainly wasn’t that Broxton couldn’t do the job against an American League team on national television, considering that he had done so 25 hours earlier.

But it surely was an agonizing demise, painful to endure, good times bleeding into excruciation.

The 10th inning then completed George Sherrill’s utter fall from grace, as he was brought in specifically to face left-handed Robinson Cano (who it should be noted entered the game slugging .596 against lefties) and gave up a two-out, two-run home run for the Yankees’ first lead.

If you’re angry, you’re not alone. The Dodgers have boiled over, with mild-mannered Garret Anderson and frustrated Russell Martin both ejected – the team’s fourth ejections in the past four games, two by Martin. (Anderson must have said something interesting, because he was about 30 feet away from home-plate umpire Chris Guccione and running toward the dugout when he was tossed).

So more than one question has been answered this week: The Dodgers do care. They also aren’t, by any stretch, the only team capable of looking bad in the field. They can play this game. They have heart, and they have talent.

But this question remains: When are they going to get some wins?

Jun 27

Kershaw LXVII: O Kershaw, Curtain, Lights


Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire
Andre Ethier has as many home runs with at least two runners on base in 2010 as the rest of the Dodgers combined.

You know what I look forward to seeing? The Dodgers breaking open a close game or rallying with a three-run home run.

But in 74 games this year, the Dodgers have only eight three-run homers, along with two grand slams by Andre Ethier. That total comes in 443 plate appearances with at least two runners on base.

The Dodgers were on a pretty good pace until shortly before Ethier’s pinkie injury. In nearly seven weeks since May 11, the Dodgers have two three-run home runs.

Manny Ramirez is 16 for 31 (.516) with three doubles and six walks with at least two runners on base, but doesn’t have a homer this year in those situations.

James Loney, who broke the 50 RBI barrier Saturday, is second on the team with two three-run homers. He is 21 for 53 (.396) with four doubles, two homers and four walks with at least two runners on base.

Here are the 10 three- or four-run home runs.

  • April 13: Andre Ethier, ahead 6-2 in the sixth.
  • April 16: Andre Ethier (grand slam), ahead 3-0 in the second.
  • April 20: Matt Kemp, down 9-6 in the eighth.
  • April 30: James Loney, ahead 2-1 in the third.
  • May 1: Andre Ethier, down 1-0 in the third.
  • May 4: James Loney, down 11-3 in the eighth.
  • May 6: Andre Ethier (grand slam), tied 3-3 in the ninth.
  • May 11: Russell Martin, ahead 4-3 in the eighth.
  • June 7: Blake DeWitt, ahead 7-1 in the fifth.
  • June 16: Andre Ethier, ahead 2-0 in the sixth.

The Dodgers are actually pretty decent at keeping rallies going. But sometimes, you just want to see them hit the heights.

Jun 26

Fun for the whole family: Dodgers 9, Yankees 4


Mark J. Terrill/AP
Rafael Furcal had three hits, three runs and a dazzler at shortstop.

On a night they had 11 hits and drew 10 walks, there were many moments of pleasure for the Dodgers in tonight’s 9-4 victory. For example, the Dodgers took a haymaker in the top of the first inning when Hiroki Kuroda struggled with control and gave up two walks and a home run to the first three batters, but Rafael Furcal got the Dodgers off the mat. It was just a simple single to left, but it started to take the sting out right away.

Furcal also ended the night with an exclamation point, making a full-flung diving stop of Robinson Cano’s grounder up the middle, bouncing to his feet and firing to first in time to end the game.

In between, Manny Ramirez reached base four times, and James Loney drove in four runs.

But when I think of everything that happened tonight, what gave me the most pleasure was Hong-Chih Kuo. With the tying runs on base and one out in the top of the sixth inning, Kuo blew away Derek Jeter on strikes and then got Jorge Posada to fly out. Then in the seventh, Kuo came back and retired Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Cano. Five Yankees, 18 pitches, no contest. Kuo showed the nation how great his stuff is, and it felt sweet.

The Dodgers have evened it up with the Yankees, and go for bragging rights Sunday with Clayton Kershaw.

* * *

Message to Fox: There’s a line between an acceptable amount of in-game interviews and an excessive amount. And it’s not a fine line. It’s a line that can be seen from Saturn. You guys crossed it. This is not a latenight talk show – it’s a baseball game.

* * *

From Vin Scully at John Wooden’s public memorial today:

“The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives. The triumph of life is to live hopefully, kindly, cheerful, reverent and to keep the heart unwrinkled. The coach kept his heart unwrinkled. He was truly triumphant.”

Jun 26

This is … whose town, now?

After Matt Kemp made a long run to catch a fly ball during Friday’s game, I saw the oddest sight on the Dodger Stadium scoreboard. It was a “This Is My Town” ad with Dusty Baker’s image.

Just a hunch, but I don’t think Reds manager Baker, who departed the Dodgers as a player under bitter circumstances, was consulted on this. I’m guessing someone just got carried away with nostalgia.

Anyway, let’s see if one of the current Dodgers can make this his town tonight.

* * *

My wife and I had to leave Friday’s game after eight innings in order to meet our babysitter deadline. That’s the way it goes, but I hated giving the Yankee fan sitting behind me in the stands that to crow about. For the record, there were Yankee fans leaving early, too.

  • The extra rest that Edwin Jackson is getting after his 149-pitch no-hitter will push his attempt to go Johnny Vander Meer to Friday against the Dodgers, according to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com (via Hardball Talk).
  • Dodger prospect Jerry Sands is 5 for 8 with two homers and three strikeouts since moving up to AA Chattanooga. He has yet to hit into an out.
  • Cliff Corcoran of Bronx Banter fears Hiroki Kuroda.
Jun 25

Cruel duel leaves Dodgers blue, 2-1

In his not-so-graceful way, Vicente Padilla kind of dazzled tonight with his combination of 95 mph fastballs and 55 mph blooper curves. He kind of shone, really. He turned a Fear Factor matchup for the Dodgers against CC Sabathia and the Yankees into a “Hey, this could be kind of cool” kind of game.

But he let Alex Rodriguez get the best of one pitch in the sixth inning, and with the Dodger offense unable to muster anything after Manny Ramirez’s first-inning RBI single, Los Angeles was done for, losing 2-1 tonight.

After Sabathia completed eight innings with just the one run charged against him, 40-year-old Mariano Rivera struck out the side in the ninth on 13 pitches (the final one blowing the lid off James Loney, making as angry as perhaps we’ve ever seen him). A tough loss for the Dodgers, if perhaps a better tough loss than some of the ugly ones during the six-game losing streak.

The offense was simply smothered, unable to get a runner past first base in the final seven innings. Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp each struck out three times. Kemp at least looked better in center field. I plan to write more about his recent struggles, but probably not until after seeing him through this series.

Good atmosphere tonight. Maybe the crowd at Saturday’s game will be rewarded with a Dodger victory.

* * *

The Dodgers designated Charlie Haeger for assignment before tonight’s game and called up Jon Link.

Congrats to former Dodger Edwin Jackson on his no-hitter for Arizona! Jackson threw 149 pitches, but as long as he gets plenty of rest afterward, I’m hoping it was okay as a one-time thing. Jackson, you’ll recall, has twice exceeded 120 pitches facing the Dodgers this year.

Jun 25

Dodgers might be unprepared for this left turn


Getty Images/AP
When James Loney faces CC Sabathia, you can throw out the records! Right?

In 629 at-bats against lefty starters this year, the Dodgers have a .682 OPS, with 41 doubles but only eight home runs. They also have one stolen base with a lefty starter on the mound.

Not too surprisingly, right-handed hitting Jamey Carroll is getting the start over left-handed hitting Blake DeWitt at second base against left-handed pitcher CC Sabathia. Perhaps surprisingly, this is a mistake by small-sample 2010 standards. DeWitt is OPSing .923 against lefty starters this year, Carroll .499.

For his career, DeWitt has an .809 OPS against lefty pitching and .699 against righties.

* * *

A nice treat: Fernando Valenzuela recalls his underrated complete game victory in the 1981 World Series to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. I had never really heard Valenzuela talk about the game before.

* * *

Here’s a preview from the Yankee perspective from our good friends at Bronx Banter.

Jun 25

Flashback to 2004: ‘Yankees Suck’ is a figure of speech

The last time the Yankees came to Dodger Stadium, six flip-floppin’ years ago, I had one child (with another on the way), a job at LACMA, and under two years of baseball blogging under my belt. I had recently joined up with All-Baseball.com, a precursor of sorts to Baseball Toaster, and we picked the final of the three Dodger-Yankee games to do the Rashomon project, in which a bunch of us covered the game from different angles.

Here’s my piece: “‘Yankees Suck’ is a figure of speech”

Continue reading

Jun 25

Minor leaguer Redman suspended for 50 games

Prentice Redman, a 31-year-old career minor leaguer who has a .401 on-base percentage and .551 slugging percentage for Albuquerque this season, will sit out the next 50 games after testing positive for amphetamine usage.

Redman’s only major-league appearances came in 2003 with the Mets. The Dodgers announced that Matt Kemp will be sent to Albuquerque to replace Redman. Just kidding.

Xavier Paul (.392/.594), Jamie Hoffmann (.358/.441) and Michael Restovich (.367/.556) are the other primary outfielders on the Isotopes, with Timo Perez and Jay Gibbons also seeing time on the grass.

The news of Redman’s suspension comes on the day that Dodger prospect Andrew Lambo returns to the field for AA Chattanooga after serving his own 50-gamer.

Lambo is joined by the recently promoted Jerry Sands and Aaron Miller.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Twins called up Jason Repko. Repko has a .780 OPS in AAA this season, batting mostly against righties. His numbers are better against righties for a change, but BABIP (batting average on balls in play) explains that.

Jun 25

How Reggie Jackson might have led the Dodgers over the Yankees in the World Series


AP
Reggie Jackson played in five consecutive All-Star Games from 1971-75 and 14 in his career.

In 1973, Reggie Jackson won the American League Most Valuable Player Award. In 1974, he finished fourth in the voting (in a year he had a .391 on-base percentage, .514 slugging percentage and a league high 20 intentional walks and 166 adjusted OPS).

In 1975, two years before he would begin tormenting Los Angeles in consecutive World Series, Reggie Jackson almost became a Dodger.

That’s the tale that comes out of Dayn Perry’s new book, “Reggie Jackson.” In the winter before the ’75 season, the future Yankee by way of Baltimore first tried to engineer a deal to Los Angeles.

… Finley presented Reggie with a contract for 1975 that would pay him precisely what he made in 1974. Reggie told the media that his contract offer was “too depressing” to discuss.

He called Finley and asked to be traded. “If I can sell yhou for two million dollars,” Finley said, “I might not give you some of the money, but I’d at least send you a box of candy.”

Reggie, stunned that Finley might trade him, went to Hawaii to fulfill his duties as host of the “Team Superstars” television show. There he met with Dodgers executive Al Campanis. Reggie told him he could be a Dodger if they met Finley’s asking price of $2 million. Campanis said it was a posssibility. Reggie then phoned Finley and told him the Dodgers were interested. “I can’t play money,” the owner said. “He explained to Reggie that unless he received a king’s ransom in talent, he couldn’t trade his best player and still manage to sell tickets. Parting with one of baseball’s biggest tars in a cash grab simply wouldn’t play with the fans. Reggie knew that, but he also knew what Finley had told him earlier. Reggie called him a liar and hung up. …

Then the story that Reggie had attempted to engineer a trade to the Dodgers made the rounds in the Oakland press. Finley confirmed the rumor and said that he’d been shocked by Reggie’s actions. He didn’t mention that he had given Reggie permission to seek out a deal, and he didn’t mention that he had discussed trading Reggie to the Philllies, Indians, Yankees, and Orioles, among other teams. When Reggie learned of Finley’s lies, he called the Oakland beat writers and told them that Finley was willing to sell him for $2 million. They went back and confronted Finley with Reggie’s version of events. He laughed it off. “The Oakland fans would run me out on a rail,” Finley said.

Shortly thereafter, Finley defeated Reggie in their arbitration hearing in Los Angeles. Reggie had oped to make $200,000 for 1975, but the arbitrator chose Finley’s figure of $140,000. Freshly embittered, Reggie went back to Arizona for Spring Training.

Having not come up with the ability to complete the trade, the Dodgers went with Willie Crawford in right field in 1975, then acquired Reggie Smith in place of Joe Ferguson and others in June 1976.

In 1975, Jackson’s final season with Oakland, he led the league with 36 home runs, in what was otherwise an off year for him. He left as a free agent, while Finley would later run afoul of baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn by trying to sell other star players like Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers and Vida Blue.

Two seasons later, Jackson was a Yankee, and you know what happened next. Seven home runs in the 1977-78 World Series, three in one game, along with one stray hip.

But the Dodgers did have that one moment of pure wonderfulness against Jackson. Here’s how I described it in “100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die”:

Perhaps even more than the pitch, people remember the reaction: Reggie Jackson detorquing himself from a swing that almost corkscrewed him into the ground, grabbing his bat high on the barrel and violently thundering a furious curse.

David slew Goliath. Jack brought down the Giant. And Bob Welch, all 21 babyfaced years of him, struck out the Bronx Bomber on a 3-2 pitch in the ninth inning to save Game 2 of the 1978 World Series and bring on a deafening roar at Dodger Stadium.

The day the Series opened, rumors were spreading that fireballing Dodger rookie Welch had an arm problem. Nonsense, insisted Tommy Lasorda. “Bob had a soreness in his side, down along his rib cage,” he told Scott Ostler of the Los Angeles Times. “Our trainer said he’s fine.”

AP
Steve Yeager raises his fist after Bob Welch strikes out Reggie Jackson with two runners on base to end Game 2 of the ’78 Series.

Apparently. Clinging to a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth, the Dodgers sent out Terry Forster for his third inning of work. Yankee playoff hero Bucky Dent opened the inning with a single to left field and moved to second on a groundout. A walk to Paul Blair put the go-ahead run on base, signaling that Forster had passed his expiration date.

Lasorda’s do-or-die replacement had 24 career appearances, 11 in relief. The two batters he needed to get out, Thurman Munson and Jackson, had 465 career home runs – three of them hit by Jackson in the last game of the previous year’s World Series. Dodger fans at the stadium and across the country waited for the roof to cave in.

Welch fed a strike in against Munson, who hit a sinking drive to right field that Reggie Smith caught at his knees.

It was Jackson time. This wasn’t just any slugger. This was the enemy personified, a man, though well-liked in his later years, considered perhaps the most egotistical, vilifiable ballplayer in the game.

Welch began by inducing Jackson to overswing and miss. With Drysdalesque flair, he then sent in a high, tight fastball that sent Jackson spinning into the dirt.

Jackson later told Earl Gustkey of the Times that he was expecting Welch to mix in some of his good offspeed pitches, but instead came three fastballs, each of which were fouled off. Then there was a waste fastball high and outside to even the count at 2-2.

After another foul ball, another high and outside fastball brought a full count. The runners would be moving. Short of another foul, this would be it.

As everyone inhaled, in came the heat. Amped up, Jackson swung for the fences – not the Dodger Stadium fences, but the fences all the way back in New York.

Only after Jackson missed the ball and nearly wrapped the bat around himself like a golf club, only through Jackson’s rage, could Dodger fans begin to comprehend what happened.

Jackson carried his fury into the dugout and clubhouse with him, pushing first a fan on his way to the dugout and then Yankee manager Bob Lemon once inside.

The only thing that could have made the event better for Dodger fans would have been for them to have had longer to enjoy it. The Dodgers didn’t win the World Series that year; they didn’t win another game. Welch himself was the losing pitcher in Game 4, allowing a two-out, 10th-inning run in his third inning of work, and gave up a homer to Jackson in Game 6. But for a moment, the Dodgers and their fans enjoyed one of the most triumphant and exhilarating victories over the Yankees ever imaginable.

If, after revisiting those World Series memories, the thought of Reggie Jackson as a Dodger is still unimaginable, consider the event that took place hours before the Welch-Jackson strikeout. Here’s an excerpt from my chapter on Jim Gilliam, the longtime Dodger who is the only member of the organization to have his number retired without reaching baseball’s Hall of Fame:

On the afternoon of October 11, with Game 2’s first pitch hours away, baseball paused and gathered at Trinity Baptist Church to pay their respects – 2,000 strong – at Gilliam’s funeral. A memorable photo from that day shows Dodger tormentor Reggie Jackson of the Yankees standing solemnly between Lopes and Tommy Lasorda. All three delivered eulogies.

Jun 25

Dodger bullpen status heading into Yankee series

Pitch counts for the Dodger bullpen since the team’s last off day:

Tues. Wed. Thurs.
Ronald Belisario 16    
Ramon Troncoso 12   19
Jonathan Broxton   24 8
Jeff Weaver     17
Hong-Chih Kuo     15
Justin Miller     18
George Sherrill     1

It’s not dire, but the use of the Dodger bullpen Thursday might compel the Dodgers to look for a reinforcement before tonight’s Yankee game. Ramon Troncoso, Hong-Chih Kuo and Jonathan Broxton are borderline at best for tonight.

Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. didn’t like Joe Torre’s use of Broxton with a four-run lead Thursday, and normally I wouldn’t have either, but I defended Torre in the comments:

That stopped being the night for working out struggles after Sherrill gave up the hit. It was worthwhile for the Dodgers just to put that game away rather than hang on. The only other option after Sherrill was Belisario. If he gives up one hit, it’s 10-7, the tying run is on deck and the whole world is asking for Broxton.

If Broxton can’t pitch three games in a row, then he has to miss one Yankee game no matter what. Why not the Padilla game?

I don’t think Sherrill could be trusted (on this night) to get three outs with a four-run lead and one guy on base. He’s on the team because the Dodgers aren’t ready to cut bait on him yet.

They could have brought in Belisario, though I’d say he lowers your 95.1% win expectancy too. And if Belisario gives up but two baserunners – and that’s with Hunter, Matsui and Napoli due up – your tying run is at the plate and you’ve burned both pitchers.

If you think Belisario can do a good job, then let him do that job for two innings Friday. Thursday’s game, if only for subjective reasons, was a special case.

Anyway, whether Stephen’s right or I’m right, we look ahead.

Though I’m ready to designate Charlie Haeger for assignment, sending him back to Albuquerque if he clears waivers or wishing him well if he doesn’t, the Dodgers might hold onto him at least until Chad Billingsley is activated Monday. If that’s the case, another option is to put the shaky Ramon Troncoso on the disabled list with a sore shoulder. This is purely a hunch, but it really seems like he could use the break. That would also allow the premature recall of Travis Schlichting inside the 10-day waiting period.

I thought Jon Link might be called up today, but he pitched 1 1/3 innings Thursday for the Isotopes. A bold move would be to take a look at Kenley Jansen, who in 17 1/3 AA innings has allowed nine hits and 12 walks while striking out 28.

Keep in mind that the Dodgers’ main use for a pitcher tonight is for long relief in case Vicente Padilla’s outing is short. That’s why a Troncoso-for-Schlichting exchange might be the best at this point. I think Schlichting could do Troncoso’s job for a couple weeks.

Jun 24

If you have a Dodger voodoo doll, throw it to the sky: 10-6


Gus Ruelas/AP
Charlie Haeger let the ball leave his hand 102 times Thursday, allowing five hits and four walks in 4 2/3 innings. And his team won.

By itself, the first inning of the Los Angeles-Los Angeles game tonight was enough to mock Dodger fan attempts at sanity. And there was more where that came from.

In that first inning:

  • The Angels’ first batter, Howie Kendrick, hit a soft chopper that lofted over skepticism-inducing starter Charlie Haeger’s head and then died before Rafael Furcal could reach it and throw Kendrick out.
  • A pitch that crossed up Russell Martin moved the fortunate Kendrick to second base, preventing him from being erased on a potential forceout or double play when No. 2 hitter Kevin Frandsen grounded to second base. Instead, Kendrick went to third base.
  • In a game that the Dodgers could have bet the farm they’d need a lot of runs to win, Joe Torre inexplicably decided to play the infield in with one out in the first and Bobby Abreu up. Abreu hit a grounder just past the drawn-in Furcal that went for an RBI single. Haeger, who could have had a 1-2-3 inning, was down 1-0.
  • Trying to steal on the knuckleballer, Abreu was thrown out by a Martin laser.
  • Torri Hunter hit a fly ball to the gap that the doghoused Matt Kemp reached but couldn’t corral. Hunter got a double.
  • Trying to steal on the knuckleballer, Hunter was thrown out by a Martin laser.

Three baserunners, one hard-hit ball, one run, thousands of discombobulated fans.

By the time the Dodgers left the bases loaded in the second inning without scoring, after Manny Ramirez only made it from first to third base for the second night in a row on a two-out double, most everyone were presumably back to assuming the worst.

Instead, more confounding ensued.

The Dodgers scored five runs in the top of the fourth and another run in the top of the fifth to take a 6-1 lead. And while that was happening, Haeger pitched … not horribly. Over his next three innings, he allowed three walks (none scoring) and a solo home run that made the score 6-2.

None of these things was supposed to happen to the team that couldn’t possibly win this game, the team that had came to the ballpark tonight with the odds so stacked against them that the only thing missing was Tommy Lasorda calling out Bob Costas.

Even the Dodgers’ latest blunder was miscast if you read the script. In the fourth inning, Jamey Carroll was safe at second on a grounder by Andre Ethier. But the usually cagey veteran, never accused of any baseball malfeasance, either failed to call time out or thought he had been called out, and simply walked off the base, allowing Brandon Wood to tag him out. An inning later, the Dodgers caught stealing of the night went to Casey Blake. (Carroll and Blake each had a three-hit night as consolation).

So much that was unexpected was happening that it got to the point where Haeger actually seemed to find a rhythm, actually seemed like he might have turned things around, when he struck out the first two batters in the bottom of the fifth.

But then someone gave the snowglobe another shake.

Haeger allowed a walk and single, and was pulled from the game. Ramon Troncoso, continuing recent disturbing relief trends, allowed both inherited runners to score on hits to cut the Dodger lead to 6-4.

In the bottom of the sixth, Jeff Weaver replaced Troncoso after a one-out walk to Reggie Willits and allowed the tying run to reach base on a single. How’d the Dodgers escape? After Kendrick flied to shallow center, with Hong-Chih Kuo warming up in the bullpen for a potential showdown with Abreu, Willits went down on a  slightly nervewracking 1-4-3-5-2-5 pickoff. The Angel team reportedly coached to perfection by Mike Scioscia and his ex-Dodger staff had a key runner on third base picked off for the second time in three nights.

Another shake. The Dodgers score two runs in the bottom of the seventh. And then a bank of lights go out, suspending play for 18 minutes. But instead of descending into the heart of darkness, the Dodgers came back after the delay to score another two runs in the eighth. They end up with 20 baserunners in all.

And then …

Justin Miller and George Sherrill, trying to protect what had become a blowout 10-4 ninth-inning lead, can’t. Three hits and two runs to lead off the bottom of the ninth require Jonathan Broxton, the team’s seventh reliever, to try to keep the team from falling yet another circle deeper into hell.

Broxton gets a strikeout – and then of all things, Abreu is thrown out trying to advance to third base on a potential wild pitch, with his team down by four runs. I mean, that says it all about trying to say it all, doesn’t it?

Finally, more than four hours after the first pitch, a final Broxton strikeout, and the Dodgers had a 10-6 victory that ended their six-game losing streak. With the Padres, Giants and Rockies (13-11 in 10 innings) losing, the Dodgers reversed field on all their National League West rivals.

And they also showed that judging players or a team at their worst isn’t the best way to judge them. No one’s going to take tonight’s game and suggest the Dodgers are unbeatable. But that’s why Wednesday’s game shouldn’t have been allowed to suggest such hopelessness.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it on the way to facing the mighty Yankees. Vicente Padilla against CC Sabathia? Ha ha – laugh at the danger.