Jun 09

Controversy remains over Dodger draft

The controversy over the Dodgers’ top draft choice continued Tuesday.

Dodger assistant general manager Logan White insists that the Dodgers think they can sign Zach Lee, writes Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com, despite speculation that the Dodgers purposely chose a player whose salary demands would be unreachable, in order to save money.

Louisiana State football coach Les Miles said Tuesday that he met with Lee and his parents and that Lee intends to go to college to play football and baseball. White addressed that statement directly.

“He might go to school,” White said. “That is always a possibility. We certainly knew that was a possibility when we drafted him.”

Even so, White adamantly denied that the Dodgers would ever draft a player knowing they couldn’t sign him.

“I can understand why people might think that,” he said. “But that is one of those things where people create what they want to create, and it is just so far from the truth. I certainly want to sign Zach Lee, as much as any player I have ever drafted.”

White also dismissed a suggestion that he was under orders from McCourt to tank this year’s first-round pick.

A similar (though perhaps less intense) drama brewed around the Dodgers’ sixth-round pick, pitcher Kevin Gausman, who is also an LSU recruit. Writes Evan Drellich of MLB.com:

Gausman told The Denver Post he too was leaning toward going to college.

“Because of the amount of money that I want, they are going to follow me and see if I’m actually worth that,” Gausman told The Post.

“Being drafted in the sixth round, I think I have a chance to next year come out and really be a big influence at LSU and maybe even be their No. 1 guy on the mound,” Gausman said. “As of right now, I’m set on [LSU].”

White called Gausman’s statement “a normal part of the process.”

“He would’ve been a potential late first-round sandwich pick, but he’s got significant signing demands as well,” White said. “And he may not sign. We’ll see what happens.”

If Lee doesn’t sign with the Dodgers, the team will get a compensatory pick in the 2011 draft. Some believe this might be a smart move, because that draft is expected to be deeper in talent – so that even if the Dodgers acknowledge (to themselves, if no one else) that Lee isn’t coming, it doesn’t mean that they are avoiding paying amateur talent. We’ll see.

On a brighter note, Drellich writes that second-round pick Ralston Cash said he is interested in signing with the Dodgers despite having a scholarship to Georgia. Cash flew out last weekend for a last-minute workout with the Dodgers, and he and White bonded.

* * *

  • Vicente Padilla went 4 2/3 innings with one run allowed in a rehab start for Inland Empire on Tuesday. Padilla gave up three hits, walked one and struck out four.
  • Kyle Russell singled and tripled in his AA debut for Chattanooga on Tuesday, while Chris Withrow threw seven innings without allowing an earned run, striking out six.
  • Elisaul Pimentel allowed one run over six innings in Great Lakes’ victory. Brian Cavazos-Galvez had three hits.

* * *

Stat of the Day has a fun list of pitchers who have thrown at least five consecutive starts of eight innings or more, without allowing more than one run – fun because the list of course includes the Orel Hershiser and Don Drysdale scoreless inning streaks, as well as Fernando Valenzuela’s beginning to the 1981 season. You’ll also find Don Sutton and Don Newcombe there.

Jun 08

Broxton and crew boost Dodgers to best record in NL, 1-0

The thing is, Albert Pujols in the ninth inning is scary. But Jonathan Broxton just might be scarier.

No offense to Pujols, who does it all day, all year long. But Broxton is a force unto his own in the ninth, and tonight he bested Pujols and the Cardinals to preserve a 1-0 victory over St. Louis, in the teams’ first meeting since the 2009 National League Division Series.

Broxton has now faced Pujols 13 times in their careers and has allowed a single and two walks while getting him out the other 10 times. (Pujols was also 1 for 3 against Broxton in the 2009 postseason.)

The victory – the Dodgers’ second consecutive 1-0 Tuesday victory at home and third in eight days – vaults the Dodgers into first place in the National League West, with the best record in the entire league for the first time in 2010. The Dodgers have won 27 of their past 37 games to complete their worst-to-first (for now) journey.

The game was scoreless headed into the eighth. Hiroki Kuroda and Chris Carpenter dueled for seven shutout innings apiece, Kuroda allowing four hits and a walk while striking out six, Carpenter allowing six hits and a walk while striking out five. Things changed in the bottom of the eighth, when Rafael Furcal (2 for 4) led off with a single and one out later went to second on Andre Ethier’s third hit.

Manny Ramirez, 0 for 3 to that point, was up.  Ramirez had a .438 on-base percentage with runners in scoring position this season going into tonight’s game, but I’ll forgive you if it felt like he was overdue. Sure enough, Ramirez then launched one into the right-field corner for a double to drive in Furcal.

After an intentional walk to James Loney, Casey Blake and Blake DeWitt struck out to leave the bases loaded and keep the pressure on Broxton, who had to face Pujols, Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick in the ninth.

Pujols fouled off seven consecutive pitches in an 11-pitch at-bat before striking out for the third time tonight (10th time in his career that happened, according to Vin Scully), but Holliday, in his first ninth inning in Los Angeles since his enormous playoff error, singled to center. However, Broxton struck out Ludwick, then got an 0-2 broken-bat comebacker from Skip Schumaker for the final out.

Broxton’s 2010 numbers: 27 1/3 innings, 21 hits, three walks, 42 strikeouts, 0.99 ERA.

* * *

With two off days between now and Vicente Padilla’s expected activation from the disabled list June 18, Carlos Monasterios might be headed back to the bullpen, writes Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.

Jun 08

Casey Blake returns to action

Casey Blake returns to the Dodger starting lineup after missing four games with back spasms. Trainer Stan Conte gave the go-ahead.

* * *

Memories of Kevin Malone has information on the Dodger draft picks that came after the third round:

* * *

Scott Elbert had to miss his start for Albuquerque today because of a family matter. Bobby Blevins and his 5.80 ERA for Class A Inland Empire took his place and allowed one run in five innings. Last week’s Dodger hero, Travis Schlichting, gave up two runs in a 9-6 Isotopes loss.

* * *

Former Dodgers Andy LaRoche and Delwyn Young had the first hit and home run, respectively, off Steven Strasburg during his otherwise impressive major-league debut. Strasburg struck out six in his first three innings for Washington before giving up the two-run homer to Young in the fourth, and was still losing 2-1 in the sixth despite having 11 strikeouts and no walks.

But back-to-back homers by Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham in the bottom of the sixth put Strasburg in position to get the victory.

Stat of the Day places Strasburg’s debut in historic context. Through six innings, he had the most strikeouts without a walk in a major-league debut ever.

* * *

Jerry Stephenson, the former Dodger scout and major-league pitcher, passed away from cancer at age 66. Ken Gurnick of MLB.com writes about Stephenson.

Jun 08

Dodgers activate George Sherrill

As expected, the Dodgers activated George Sherrill from the disabled list and vaulted Jon Link back to Albuquerque. Both have restored some credibility in recent days: Link threw two shutout innings Monday, while Sherrill had two shutout rehab outings this weekend.

The Dodgers also officially announced the promotion of minor leaguer Kyle Russell from Class A Inland Empire to AA Chattanooga.

In other minor league news, 21-year-old Great Lakes pitcher Elisaul Pimentel was named Midwest League Pitcher of the Week after his six shutout innings Wednesday (with nine strikeouts) extended his scoreless string to 18.

Jun 08

And the Dodgers’ second-round pick is …

… Ralston Cash, a 19-year-old, 6-foot-1, 197-pound right-handed pitcher from Lakeview Academy in Gainesville, Georgia. Here’s video on Cash from MLB.com. Cash will go to the University of Georgia if the Dodgers don’t sign him.

  • This article by Bill Murphy of the Gainesville Times describes the hardships in Cash’s life after a single-car accident took the life of his mother when he was 3 1/2 years old.
  • Andy Seiler of MLB Bonus Baby filed this long report on Cash in March.

    … My overall impression of Cash was quite positive. He displayed the solid natural stuff that I expected, though his command wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. He consistently left pitches up in the zone, though the Commerce hitters lacked the strength and bat speed to catch up to the ball. His curveball needs some work, and like I said above, I’d change him to a slider based on his arm speed and angle. The pitch even looked like a slider at times, so I wouldn’t see a tough transition. There’s a good bit of upside here, and I came away still seeing him as a solid 3rd-5th round prospect. He had a bad defense behind him, and every scout that evaluates him will have to completely ignore his final line and actual results on batted balls, but the approach is there for a pro pitcher. He’ll need to learn to adjust to having a competent defense behind him, and he’s going to be a flyball pitcher in the long run, but I’m glad I got to see Cash throw a pretty solid outing.

  • In 2010, Cash had a 2.68 ERA and 79 strikeouts, writes Murphy. In 2009, Cash had a 0.97 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 57.2 innings, according to Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • Here’s a short writeup from BaseballScoutz.com.

* * *

In the third round, the Dodgers picked Leon Landry, a 20-year-old, 5-11, 195-pound outfielder from Louisiana State (the Dodgers are determined to get themselves someone from there.) Here’s the MLB.com video.

  • Keith Law of ESPN.com ranked Landry 82nd overall on his prospect list.
  • Here’s his official Louisiana State bio. Landry had a .418 on-base percentage and .513 slugging percentage this season, with 16 steals in 20 attempts.
  • Friend of Dodger Thoughts John Klima provides this detailed writeup on Landry at Baseball Beginnings.
  • Check out this catch Landry made in a 2008 postseson game:

Jun 08

Blakey stick around

Blake DeWitt doesn’t need to worry about being sent to the minors anymore – and that was true before Monday’s five-RBI explosion – writes Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. “I finally had to call him in at one point and tell him, ‘No, you’re not going (to the minor leagues),”‘ Dodger manager Joe Torre told Jackson. “And then I said, ‘We’re going to make another move this weekend, and it’s not going to be you then, either.”‘

* * *

  • The Dodgers begin the day with the second-best record in the National League (half a game behind San Diego) and fourth-best in the majors (3 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay).
  • A 3-year-old girl is expected to recover after a batting practice line drive from Russell Martin fractured her skull, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. My sincerest best wishes to her and her family.
  • While the Dodger starting rotation has stabilized for the time being, Albuquerque still has a makeshift bunch. Brent Leach continues to be pressed into starting duty, and Monday he allowed seven runs in 1 2/3 innings – then was ejected for hitting a batter with a pitch – in what became a 20-7 Isotopes defeat. Ivan DeJesus, Jr. went 3 for 3 with a walk.
  • Tim Sexton struck out 10 in six shutout innings, giving up four hits and walking none, for Chattanooga in a 3-0 victory. Sexton, who turns 23 Thursday, has a 4.22 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 49 innings this season against 69 baserunners.
  • Revenue for Southern California college and pro sports dropped 18 percent from 2007 to 2009, according to a study conducted by graduate students from the UCLA Anderson School of Management and reported in the Times.
  • The MLB draft continues today with the second round starting at 9 a.m.
Jun 07

Monahysteria spreads while DeWitt drives home five in 12-4 victory

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire
Blake DeWitt drove in five runs, three on this, his first home run of the year.

On a night that Blake DeWitt drove in a career-high five runs, one of the mesmo men was at it again.

Carlos Monasterios pitched a two-hitter for six innings despite striking out nary a batter. Even after giving up Ryan Ludwick’s second solo homer of the night and a Randy Winn single to start the seventh inning, Monasterios can go to sleep tonight with his ERA still at 2.27 for the season and, thanks to an efficient Dodger offense capped by DeWitt’s first home run of the season, a 12-4 Dodger victory Monday over St. Louis.

Monasterios needed only 41 pitches to get through four innings, then got into a two-walk, none-out jam in the fifth but escaped with a double play and a fly out. He cruised into the seventh inning even though, according to Vin Scully, there was only one swing and miss against Monasterios all night. But as has been the case most of the year with Monasterios and John Ely, the contact wasn’t enough to do major damage.

After taking a 2-0 lead in the first inning and then seeing it halved in the next frame by Ludwick’s first home run, the Dodgers scored four runs in both the fourth and fifth innings, with pretty much everyone getting into the act. Manny Ramirez started things off with a double, and after a Ronnie Belliard walk, scored on a DeWitt single. A.J. Ellis squeezed home Belliard, and after Monasterios sacrificed, Rafael Furcal hit a ground-rule double to right to make the score 6-1.

In the fifth, walks to Andre Ethier and James Loney were followed by a Belliard RBI single, and then DeWitt hit one off the right-field foul-pole screen to make it 10-1.

Every Dodger starting position player (plus pinch-hitter Garret Anderson) had a hit except Loney, who walked three times. And every Dodger starter scored in this emphatic end to the streak of winning games by one run.

* * *

Congrats to the family of Dodger PR veep Josh Rawitch, who not only became the father of his second child today, but had the birth announced on the air by Scully.

Jun 07

And the Dodgers’ first-round pick is …

… Zach Lee, 6-foot-4, 195-pound right handed high school pitcher from McKinney, Texas.

He’s a high-school quarterback committed to Louisiana State, so there are immediate signability issues. This draft choice sets up a new referendum on the McCourt ownership.

Here’s a scouting report with video from MLB.com. An excerpt:

Summary: With above-average to plus stuff across the board — fastball, slider, changeup — good command and tremendous athleticsm, Lee should be one of the high school arms being mentioned up close to the top of the Draft, or at least on a short list of top high school arms. If he’s not, it’s largely because of one thing: signability. As a quarterback recruit, he’s committed to play two sports at LSU next year, and many think he’s unsignable as a result. That said, there’s bound to be a team with deep pockets that will take a shot at luring him away from the gridiron and life as a collegiate athlete.

Here’s what Marc Hulet of Fangraphs has to say:

A top quarterback prospect from Texas, it will clearly take a lot ($$$) to sway Lee away from his commitment to Louisiana State University. A team drafting Lee in the first round will have to have a pretty good feel on his signability. Lee has a three pitch repertoire that includes a low-90s fastball, slider, and change-up. His arm slot tends to wander at times. Thanks to his focus on the football field, the right-hander is still raw but he does display solid control for his age.

From ESPN.com:

Lee is a star quarterback who has committed to LSU to play both football and baseball, but if he put word out tomorrow that he was willing to sign and focus exclusively on the world’s greatest sport, he’d go off the board in the top 50 picks next month.

Lee will show three pitches, with the changeup already flashing plus, and his fastball velocity is likely to increase as he fills out and if he dedicates himself to baseball.

He has a really bright future if and when he chooses baseball, but if he’s not interested in a pro career now, doesn’t that say something about the kid’s commitment to football and/or school? Buying him out of LSU isn’t the solution, and I think he’ll be a top-20 guy in 2013.

From Baseball America:

Lee’s status as one of the best quarterback recruits in the nation and a top student will make him one of the most difficult signing decisions in this draft. The perception among area scouts is that Lee might require as much as $3 million—and even that might not be enough to steer him away from playing two sports at Louisiana State. He passed for 2,565 yards and 31 touchdowns last fall, and his arm is just as potent on the mound. He already has a 90-93 mph fastball with room for more projection in his 6-foot-4, 195-pound frame. He also throws a sharp slider and a changeup that needs work but shows promise. Unlike many two-sport stars, he has a lot of polish. Lee has a clean delivery that he repeats, enabling him to throw strikes with ease.

Here’s some video of Lee playing football at YouTube. And here he is on the mound last summer at the Area Code Games.

Jim Callis of Baseball America called the Dodgers “the last team” he expected to go after Lee.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that football is leverage, rather than the top priority for Lee. And it’s not as if the Dodgers have no draft budget – they could always have made a conservative pick that would sign relatively inexpensively. But hardcore fans will be watching carefully to see if the Dodgers punted this pick, or if they will complete the Hail Mary. Certainly, there is going to be tons of skepticism.

The draft continues Tuesday.

Update: From Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:

“People can think what they want, he was the best talent available and I want to sign him, absolutely,” said Logan White, assistant general manager of scouting. “I didn’t take Zach to not sign him. You’ll see as the summer goes along we’ll make every effort to sign him, and I want to sign him. I know it won’t be easy, but hopefully we’ll get it done.” …

“If he focuses on baseball, I think he can move quickly, like Kershaw and Billingsley,” said White. “A lot will be made of the two sports, but as a pitcher, he has a real good arm and delivery, a plus breaking ball, he has a feel for a changeup, and when I saw him he was 90-92 [mph] with the fastball and up to 95. The ball comes out of his hand easily.

“The guy’s a competitor, he’s smart. Put it all together and we really couldn’t pass him up. He’s worth the risk of not signing. I like him that much.”

Unlike many recent Dodgers top picks, the club did not hold a special workout for Lee. According to White, Lee was surprised to get the call.

“He certainly was surprised,” White said. “They didn’t have a feel for what we were going to do. It’s part of the gamesmanship of the Draft.”

Update 2: From Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

“These are unusual circumstances,” White said. “I can only say that I am optimistic we will sign him. … [But] I can’t sit here and tell you that we’re going to sign him. It will really be Zach’s decision and his family’s decision. But we feel confident that once he and his family are able to get a good look at what this organization is all about, we’ll have a good chance to get him.”

White said Lee’s fastball has been clocked anywhere between 89-95 mph and routinely hits 93 and that he already has a plus changeup and curveball to go with it.

“One thing I will tell you is that he is quite an athlete,” White said. “One thing we liked was his athleticism, his size and his strength. He is tall and has a very good delivery, just easy, easy arm action. He is a strike thrower, and he knows how to change speeds. He has a great feel for pitching. He doesn’t just try to blow it by everybody, even though he has that ability. It’s a chess game for him because he is very competitive.”

White said Lee plans to follow through with his plans to participate in LSU’s summer football workouts, so an agreement with the Dodgers probably isn’t imminent. White wouldn’t rule out an agreement that would allow Lee to play football at LSU while playing baseball professionally in the Dodgers’ system, but it also didn’t sound like the kind of agreement White is eager to enter into.

“I wouldn’t rule anything out, but I just feel like if we can get him into our organization, he is going to be [in the majors] pretty fast,” White said.

Jun 07

Torre thinks Blake will avoid disabled list, Martin rests again

Casey Blake, who hasn’t played since Thursday’s 14-inning game, might be available to pinch-hit tonight, Joe Torre told reporters today. Torre now believes Blake will avoid a trip to the disabled list.

A.J. Ellis is starting for the second consecutive day in place of Russell Martin. Torre said Martin was ready to play, but Torre felt that he could use the extra rest. This is the first time since June 30-July 1, 2009 that Martin has missed consecutive starts.

Jun 07

Dodgers making one-run history

The Dodgers’ past seven victories have been by one run, the longest such streak in baseball since Cleveland did the same from July 22-August 5, 1998. If the Dodgers’ next victory is by one run, it will tie the franchise record of eight last matched by the 1961 Dodgers from May 17-May 29.

Since 1900, the major-league record for consecutive victories by one run was set by the 1942 Phillies, from May 10 to June 3. Philadelphia went 42-109 that season.

Thanks to the Elias Sports Bureau for researching this for me.

Jun 07

Ellis joins the one-run fun bunch

Kirby Lee/US PresswireAyyyyyyyy, Jayyyyyyyy!

A.J. Ellis’ 11th-inning single to left gave the Dodgers’ their Dodgers’ sixth win in their past eight games – all by one run, four by walkoff hit and three in extra innings. In going 6-2, the Dodgers have been outscored by one run.

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com recaps Ellis’ heroic finish, which came after a long day.

Ellis has only six hits on the season, five singles and a double, but also has seven RBI.

* * *

  • John Ely’s homerless streak to start his career ended at 196 batters, and his second homerless streak ended at two batters, as the Braves touched him for nine hits in addition to two walks. “I threw some fastballs that came back over the plate,” Ely told Jackson. “Good hitters don’t miss pitches over the plate. I can’t be missing over the plate that much, and today, I missed a couple of times.”
  • Casey Blake showed some improvement, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Times, and might avoid the disabled list. Nick Green cleared waivers and is back in Albuquerque in case the Dodgers want him to return.
  • Russell Martin, who scored the winning run after pinch-walking Sunday, almost ended up back at third base earlier in the game. Blake DeWitt had to be checked out after seeming to hurt himself on a slide, and the Dodgers had already used Ronnie Belliard as a pinch-hitter. With Blake out, that left Martin as the remaining infielder. But DeWitt stayed in the game and ultimately sacrificed Martin into scoring position in the 11th.
  • Here’s video of Jose Lima, Jr. throwing out the honorary first pitch on the day they honored his late father. Miguel A. Melendez has more details in the Daily News.
  • The Dodgers expect to activate George Sherrill from the disabled list Tuesday. Sherrill had back-to-back scoreless relief appearances this weekend. It would seem to me that Charlie Haeger is on a thinner bubble to stay on the team than Justin Miller, who has thrown 6 1/3 shutout innings since joining the team with two hits, one walk … and three hit batters. I’d also imagine it’s going to be a lot easier for Haeger to clear waivers at this point. There’s always the possibility of someone taking a trip to the disabled list, of course.
  • The enigma that is Ramon Troncoso is examined by Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness. And frankly, Petriello doesn’t see much of an enigma, but rather a pitcher who was due for a decline only in part because of Joe Torre’s frequent use of him.
  • There was a rogue fan at Dodger Stadium causing serious problems for Tim Hudson, writes The Associated Press.

    The two-time All-Star was about to make his third pitch of the eighth inning to Matt Kemp when he was distracted by someone in the crowd who had an object that was reflecting the sun right into his eyes.

    “One was a purse handle, one was a mirror, and some of the people up there were playing games up there,” (Braves manager Bobby) Cox said. “And these seats, the way they’re painted, you can’t see the ball off the bat in a day game at times. So that’s dangerous enough — along with somebody messing with mirrors to try to reflect light into your eyes.”

    The game was held up about 5 minutes until stadium security could identify the fan in question, and Kemp singled on Hudson’s next delivery. At that point, Eric O’Flaherty relieved. Kemp advanced to third on Garret Anderson’s bunt and DeWitt’s grounder, but Ellis was robbed of a bloop single on a diving catch by center fielder Melky Cabrera.

    “It kind of stinks that [the fan] screwed with the flow of the game, but you’re going to have occasions where people are idiots,” Hudson said. “I was probably just out there for one hitter, anyway, because we had O’Flaherty warming up. We were at the point of the game where we had to start going with matchups, because one run was probably going to win or lose the game.”

  • Since I wrote about them going 5 for 95 to start their season, Dodger pitchers went 3 for 7 this weekend. Ely’s 30-foot single Sunday was his first as a pro.
  • While my favorite baseball movie is “The Bad News Bears,” Josh Wilker of Cardboard Gods today describes the greatness he sees in “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training.”
  • Kyle Russell didn’t play for Inland Empire on Sunday, and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus thinks it might be because he’s getting promoted to AA Chattanooga. Russell has a 1.140 OPS and 16 homers in 198 at-bats.
  • After getting more than halfway to Orel Hershiser’s 59 consecutive scoreless innings, Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez gave up a two-run homer in the eighth inning Sunday to reset his clock. Well, there’s always Bob Gibson – Jimenez’s ERA remains an unbelievable 0.93.
  • For those of you following the Dodgers’ playoff rivals in the East, Crashburn Alley and Phillies Nation are discussing whether the Phillies should release Raul Ibanez.
  • Another Phillies note, but much more fun: From Stat of the Day, Jamie Moyer has faced 20 players already in the Hall of Fame, and counting.
  • The Major League Baseball draft starts today – but in its new format, not until 4 p.m. and only with the first round and mini-supplemental round, before continuing Tuesday and Wednesday. The Dodgers’ first pick is 28th overall.
Jun 06

Whither Casey Blake?

The Dodgers might announce a move to the disabled list for Casey Blake before today’s game. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com had the latest after Saturday’s 9-3 loss to Atlanta.

* * *

  • A.J. Ellis would have pitched the ninth inning for the Dodgers had they had an opportunity to pinch-hit for Charlie Haeger, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. Haeger didn’t pitch all that well, but he would have had two shutout innings had Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier not let a Martin Prado fly ball fall between them for a hit.
  • Josh Wilker of Cardboard Gods is scheduled to be the guest of Ken Levine and Josh Suchon on KABC AM 790 at 6:05 p.m. tonight.
Jun 06

When Los Angeles met John Ely

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire
In seven starts, John Ely has walked eight batters, throwing nearly two-thirds of his pitches for strikes.

In Hollywood, they call it a “meet cute.” Like when Harry met Sally. The circumstances are more oddball than auspicious. A and B are thrown together, often in chaos, might not even like each other at first.

But from such quirky beginnings, love can bloom.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and John Ely met cute April 28, sharing a mostly unfulfilling cab ride in New York. Thanks to injuries and inadequacies, the Dodgers were stuck with this nobody, this fix-up date dressed in a cheap fastball – tell us someone has a “good changeup,” and you might as well be trying to sell us on a “good personality” – instead of someone more desirable, whether that was Vicente Padilla, Randy Wolf, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay or Sandy Koufax. The Dodgers deserved better, right?

As for Ely, he mostly was happy to be there, but this wasn’t exactly the team of his dreams, the team he’d written love poems to in his diary. That dream team was where he grew up, Chicago’s South Side, and in his late-night fantasies would have had a better record than the 8-12 Dodgers, losers of three in a row and practically the worst squad in the National League.

Expectations were low on that first date, and initially they weren’t exceeded. In just the second inning, Ely came undone, allowing four runs on a combination of poor pitching and a fielding mistake that made dinner conversation awkward to say the least. After another run in the third … well, not that Ely wasn’t a nice guy or good to his mother, not that the Dodgers didn’t pick up the check, but both were eying the door.

And then, as they lingered, a spark.

Adam Davis/Icon SMI
He’s Elyful, he’s elicious, he’s elovely.

Just about the time Ely should have been heading for a cold shower, he retired 10 of the last 11 he faced in New York. The Dodgers and Ely didn’t see each other again for another week, but they did arrange for a second date. And on that May 6 evening, with the 11-16 Dodgers still down in the dumps (after hard losses incurred by Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley) and starting to feel pretty sorry for themselves, this unassuming specimen stepped up and kept them from drowning their sorrows in ice cream or bourbon. Ely threw 6 2/3 innings before finally allowing a run, retiring 16 batters in a row at one point and overall giving up four hits, striking out seven and walking none. For a second date, it sure was better than a hole in the head.

Even so, the Dodgers continued to play hard to get. They optioned Ely back to Albuquerque. Oh, maybe they planned on a third date all along – this other fella they had been dallying with, Charlie Haeger, was looking so lame that no one objected when he was placed on the disabled list – but it wasn’t like the Dodgers and Ely were quite going steady yet.

Then came May 11, the third date. And you know what they say about third dates.

Once again, Ely made it into the seventh inning before allowing a run. Once again, he walked no one. And this time, there was no mistaking it – the Dodgers, whose 13-3 victory over Arizona gave them eight wins in their most recent 11 games, and John Ely, who had allowed no walks or extra-base hits to has most recent 48 batters – were definitely clicking. The Dodgers stopped being aloof – they wanted to keep seeing this guy with shades of Matthew McConaughey’s looks and Mark Fidrych’s personality, this guy who mesmerizes batters with his ability to mix speeds.

And so they entered that blissful time of the courtship where every night just seems more and more magical. May 17: Ely extends his streak without allowing a walk or extra-base hit to 84 batters. May 22: Ely shows his human side by allowing two runs on two doubles, a single and a walk in the first inning against Detroit, but then just becomes even more alluring by shutting the Tigers down for the next five innings. May 27: A two-hit shutout through seven innings before allowing a single run in the eighth. June 1: C’mon, now. A no-hitter into the fifth inning, another two-hit shutout through seven.

Is this heaven? I’ll tell you one thing – it ain’t Iowa.

This afternoon, Ely and the Dodgers go on Date No. 8, and it’s safe to say that their relationship has gone deeper than anyone would have thought that first time in New York 5 1/2 weeks ago. Ely has a 2.54 ERA in 46 innings with 37 strikeouts, allowing only 44 baserunners and still not a single home run. He has gone at least six innings in every appearance, averaging 15.1 pitches per inning. And not coincidentally, since his arrival, the sun has shone brighter on Los Angeles, the grass has smelled sweeter, and the wins have come easier. The Dodgers are 24-12 since Ely first went to the mound for the team, and while he doesn’t deserve all the credit, it’s not so absurd to think that on some level, he completes them.

There are no wedding bells yet; the Dodgers have not committed to Ely until retirement do them part. But let’s just say they find Ely rather engaging. “Meet cute,” indeed. At this point, this is one they’re going to try to make work for the long haul, so they’re going to put up with the occasional flaw, the occasional sour day, because like Mama said, who doesn’t have days like these? And because Ma, this one looks like a keeper.