Apr 11

Don’t fall prey to the RISP bogeyman

Doug Benc/Getty Images
Matt Kemp is feeling bad tonight after making an error on this play and striking out with the tying run on third in the ninth inning, but he still had a good first week.

No Dodger fan likes the team flunking with runners in scoring position. But just because it’s frustrating doesn’t mean the Dodgers should succeed all the time. It’s not as if your odds for winning the lottery increase the more you want to win.

Okay, not the greatest analogy, but it gets us headed in the right direction. Whenever a team wastes scoring opportunities, you start to see people toss around tidbits like batting average with runners in scoring position. This is a stat that gives stats a bad name.  Batting average is a stat of very limited value, and tacking it on to runners in scoring position doesn’t make it any more useful.

Batting average with RISP doesn’t take into account sacrifice flies, run-producing groundouts or walks. It doesn’t take into account the fact that often, an RISP at-bat comes against a pitcher brought in for a particular matchup to defuse that situation. It doesn’t reward you for getting a runner home from first base (or from home plate). Most of all, it give you any indication of how often a team has those situations.  Exaggerating to make a point, if the Dodgers had 30 at-bats in nine innings with RISP, succeeding in only six of them wouldn’t mean the offense was unproductive.

The idea of a clutch hitter is a dubious measurement to begin with, because clutch hitting tends to fluctuate from season to season. Looking for clutch hitting in a team is an even less useful activity. Batting average with RISP doesn’t come with enough context to have hardly any meaning.

In their first six games of the season, the Dodgers are batting .260 with RISP. That’s not going to light anyone’s pants afire, though it’s respectable. But then you see that the Dodgers have had 95 RISP plate appearances, an average of 15.8 per game – that’s more than one per inning. In those 95 plate appearances, the team has reached base 29 times while also delivering five sacrifice flies and four sacrifices – achieving the goal of an RISP at-bat at a .400 rate, even before you starting talking about productive outs.

Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
Even after today’s strikeout, Kemp has a .308 batting average plus a sacrifice fly with RISP and has seven RBI in six games.

Through Saturday’s games, the Dodgers were second in the National League in RISP plate appearances and second in RISP runs and RBI (before adding three more RISP runs today). Matt Kemp struck out with the tying run on third and one out in the ninth inning today in what was a bad-looking at-bat, but how much should we get on his case when, for the season, he is batting .308 with a sacrifice fly in RISP situations? How much better is he supposed to be? The Dodgers are  tied for third in the NL in runs scored – averaging 6.0 runs per game with at least five runs in every game but Wednesday’s – how much better are they supposed to be?

When you lose three one-run games on a six-game road trip, it’s natural to look at the what-might-have beens – and the Dodgers’ outs with RISP provide many. But to be fair, there is only one loss this season for which the offense can reasonably be blamed. The Dodgers might have some issues to upset their catnaps on their flight home from Florida, but RISP is just not one of them.

There are some people who decry the excess of esoteric stats that populate the game today, but my guess is that a lot of them think batting average with RISP as a good one. However, this is honestly a case where simplicity is for the best. You want to know how your offense is doing, you really are better off trashing batting average with RISP, and just looking at runs scored.

* * *

  • More on the rarity of a knuckleballer striking out 12 batters in a game from ESPN’s TMI blog. This isn’t confirmed, but it appears Charlie Haeger came within one strikeout of tying Phil Niekro and Charlie Hough for the most by a knuckleballer in a game in at least the past 40 years.
  • The ever-awesome Vin Scully Is My Homeboy posted a great Sport Magazine cover shot of a young Maury Wills.
  • Hugh Bernreuter of the Saginaw News (via Baseball Think Factory) writes about Dodger prospect Brian Cavazos-Galvez’s lost relationship with his father, former Dodger minor leaguer Balvino Galvez. Cavazos-Galvez hasn’t let it derail him, and when he’s not playing baseball, he volunteers for Special Olympics and Challenger Little League. “My uncle (Timmy Cavazos) has Down’s Syndrome, so I have experience being around those kids,” Cavazos-Galvez said. “Other guys are kind of scared to be around those kids or don’t know how to act. I love it.”
  • Former Dodger pitcher Edwin Jackson hit his first career home run in Arizona’s team-record 13-run fourth inning. Jackson allowed four runs over seven innings and 98 pitches to get credit for a 15-6 victory.
  • Marvin Bernard admits to steroid use? Marvin Bernard? Something tells me this one won’t be analyzed to death by the pundits.
  • Top MLB prospects Steven Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman each impressed in their U.S. professional debuts, writes Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com.
  • John Lindsey went 3 for 4 today, with his first homer of the year, to raise his 2010 Albuquerque on-base percentage to .632 and slugging percentage to .941.
Apr 11

Dodgers surrender another lead to end 2-4 road trip

“Slacks” did his part.

In a performance best seen to be appreciated, Charlie Haeger knucklestruck 12 batters in six innings, walked four and had as many hits allowed as wild pitches (three). He gave up a three-run homer to Jorge Cantu in the fourth after walking two batters with a 4-0 Dodger lead, but that inning was the only one when he really struggled, and he overall pitched well enough to win. Rob Neyer of ESPN.com pointed out that in his fifth career start, the 26-year-old Haeger equaled the career strikeout high of 43-year-old Tim Wakefield.

But a bobbled-and-dropped fly ball by an on-the-run Matt Kemp opened the door for the Marlins to cut the Dodgers’ lead to 5-4 in the bottom of the sixth, and then Jeff Weaver, pitching for the fifth time in six games, picked the wrong time to allow his first runs of the season, giving up a two-run double to Cantu that Florida didn’t waste, with the Marlins holding on for a 6-5 victory.

The Dodgers put runners on first and third in both the eighth and ninth innings, but pinch-hitter Andre Ethier grounded out to end the eighth, and Kemp struck out before James Loney grounded out to end the ninth. Kemp and Loney were both 2 for 5 on the day.

Ronnie Belliard had another three-hit start for the Dodgers and also made two outstanding plays at third base. A.J. Ellis made his first start of 2010 for the Dodgers and produced a boxscore line of 0 0 0 2, thanks to a squeeze bunt, walk and sacrifice fly.

And so the Dodgers head home after a 2-4 season-opening road trip in which they gave up the winning run in the seventh, ninth and 10th innings – all three games that Jonathan Broxton missed. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reported that Hong-Chih Kuo threw a side session today and could be activated during the Dodgers’ upcoming homestand, after at least one minor-league rehab assignment. The Dodgers, averaging 6.0 runs per game despite Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez combining for six starts this year, could use some good news out of that bullpen.

Apr 11

Relief disbelief: Same old song with a few new lines


Keith Srakocic/AP
George Sherrill’s bad outing against Pittsburgh on Opening Day was mere prelude to Saturday’s Florida fright night.

George Sherrill should be able to get three outs before he gives up three runs. And inevitably, there was going to be a do-or-die situation this season when he would need to do that. Just as Vicente Padilla shouldn’t give up four runs on nine baserunners in 4 1/3 innings, Sherrill needs to do better if the Dodgers are going avoid trouble.

But Padilla and Sherrill’s failings are basically heat-of-the-battle failings, whereas Joe Torre’s use of Jonathan Broxton this week is the equivalent of filling the bubbles in your SAT exam with Crayola burnt orange. (Assuming they still use bubbles.)

We’ve said it before and we hate to say it again – so this is going to be brief. If you can’t afford to allow a run – as was the case when the Dodgers played extra innings in Pittsburgh on Wednesday – you use the pitcher least likely to allow a run. Only after that pitcher has been used do you turn to others. And certainly, you don’t worry about saving your best pitcher for a situation in which you can allow a run and still win.

On one level, it was coincidental that Torre’s use of Broxton this week led to us talking about his absence from Saturday’s game. It required a specific flow of events from Opening Day on. On the other hand, we do see this from Dodger managers, including Torre’s recent predecessors, all too often. If Sherrill had been used Saturday after a proper use of Broxton in previous days, people would have been talking about Sherrill overnight a lot more than Torre.

Do not save your best reliever for a save situation in an extra-inning game on the road.

  • One other oddity regarding Saturday and the bullpen: Torre told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com that Ramon Troncoso, who was pitched a perfect eighth inning but was pulled after giving up a leadoff single in the ninth, “is basically a one-inning guy.” I realize that bullpen roles have changed with Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario out, but especially when he hadn’t pitched the day before and with Broxton out, since when is Troncoso a one-inning guy? The guy made his reputation with his ability to go multiple frames. Troncoso needed only seven pitches to get out of the eighth inning, then had thrown six pitches in the ninth when he came out of the game.
  • The botched squeeze in the second inning Saturday (that resulted in a bases-loaded, one-out situation imploding) was even crazier than it appeared. As many surmised, Vicente Padilla missed the suicide squeeze sign that resulted in Casey Blake getting tagged out between third and home. But from what Torre told reporters this morning, it appears that Torre himself wanted to take the squeeze off after having initially called for it – but that he gave the second sign too late for third-base coach Larry Bowa to see. So Bowa and Blake incorrectly, though understandably, thought the squeeze was still on – while Padilla, apparently, was oblivious to all of this. Torre indicated that he puts signs on and takes them off all the time.
  • Manny Ramirez had his 2,500th career hit Saturday, while Rafael Furcal had his 1,500th. Furcal has a .480 on-base percentage this season and is tied for the major-league lead in doubles.
  • Ian Kennedy is the scheduled starter for Arizona against Clayton Kershaw in Tuesday’s home opener, followed by Rodrigo Lopez against Chad Billingsley on Wednesday and Dan Haren against Hiroki Kuroda on Thursday.
  • LeeAnn Rimes will sing the national anthem Tuesday.
  • Josh Lindblom was hit hard in his first 2010 start for Albuquerque – needing 77 pitches to get through three innings that saw him give up eight hits, two walks and three runs while striking out one.
  • John Lindsey, the 33-year-old minor-league lifer still looking for his first major-league action, is 7 for 13 with three doubles in his first three games for the Isotopes. Lindsey would need a few injuries to right-handed hitting Dodgers before he’d have a shot at a cup of coffee.
  • James Adkins, a 2007 first-round pick, allowed five runs in three innings of relief in his first 2010 outing for AA Chattanooga.
  • Ethan Martin’s Inland Empire season debut was a different story: five innings, no runs, three singles, no walks, one hit batter, nine strikeouts.
  • Allen Webster allowed one run over five innings (six baserunners, four strikeouts) in his ’10 Great Lakes debut.
  • Dixie Walker, the Brooklyn Dodger long remembered for starting a petition against Jackie Robinson joining the team, is revisited today by Harvey Araton of the New York Times (via Inside the Dodgers). The article’s main point seems to be that Walker was remorseful and not the racist he’s been accused of being:

    … Though (Maury) Allen and Susan Walker suggest in the book that her father did not initiate the anti-Robinson petition, Roger Kahn, in his 2002 book, “The Era,” wrote that Walker told him in 1976 that he had.

    Kahn quoted Walker saying: “I organized that petition in 1947, not because I had anything against Robinson personally or against Negroes generally. I had a wholesale business in Birmingham and people told me I’d lose my business if I played ball with a black man.”

    In a telephone interview, Kahn said his conversation with Walker took place when Walker was the hitting coach for the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

    “He invited me out for a glass of wine — somewhat shocking in that Budweiser world,” Kahn said. “We talked for a while, and then he got to the point: the petition and his letter to Rickey. He called it the stupidest thing he’d ever done and if I ever had a chance to please write that he was very sorry.”

    Calling the Walker he met “a lovely, courtly man,” Kahn said that the assumption should not be made that all early opposition to Robinson was based on core discrimination and not confusion or fear.

    “Ballplayers depended on off-season work back then,” he said. “When I was covering the Dodgers, Gil Hodges sold Buicks on Flatbush Avenue. Now, if you’re Derek Jeter and you have a wholesale hardware business, you can say, ‘So what?’ ”

    Rachel Robinson’s response in the same article: “If you’re asking about forgiveness based on the context of the time, I can’t say I worry about the view of them at this time. Maybe they learned better or changed, but at the time, they had a chance to move forward from segregation and chose the opposite. They had an impact.”

Apr 10

A.J. Ellis replaces injured Brad Ausmus on roster


Keith Srakocic/AP
Brad Ausmus

Russell Martin’s unexpectedly quick recovery from Spring Training injury kept the Dodgers from having a catching tandem tonight of A.J. Ellis and Lucas May or J.D. Closser.

Ellis, who turned 29 Friday, has been recalled from Albuquerque to join the 25-man roster in place of Brad Ausmus, who has gone on the disabled list for the first time in his career with a pinched nerve in his back. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details:

… Ausmus said that while the injury originates in his back, it presents itself in the form of numbness all the way down his left leg, from his hip to his foot. The injury isn’t related to a chronic lower-back problem Ausmus has experienced sporadically during his career, an issue that flared up again during spring training and caused him to be shut down for a week.

“The other day, when I was catching in Pittsburgh, about the eighth inning my hip started giving me some problems,” he said. “I was hoping it was just a case of not having caught that much after missing a week of spring training. But over the next 18 hours, during any prolonged sitting or lying down, I would get a shooting pain down my left leg.”

Ausmus said he had trouble sitting on the team bus to the airport after Thursday’s game and on the charter flight to Fort Lauderdale, then had trouble sleeping that night. He woke up Friday morning feeling what he described as “pins and needles” in his foot.

The decision to place Ausmus on the DL actually was made before Friday night’s game, but it was kept quiet so the Florida Marlins wouldn’t know that Russell Martin was the Dodgers’ only catcher. Ellis was scratched from Albuquerque’s game at Oklahoma City during batting practice, but he wasn’t able to get a flight until the following morning.

Ausmus, who will turn 41 on Wednesday, said he was disappointed that he didn’t finish his career without a DL stint, but that he understood why it had to happen now.

“I’m pretty much at, or really close to, the end of my career, although who knows when it’s going to end?” he said. “I was hoping to avoid it my entire career, but this time, there wasn’t much chance of that. [Trainer] Stan [Conte] and [manager] Joe [Torre] knew there was too much risk involved in putting me into a game and that they would have to have somebody else here. The only way to do that was to put me on the DL.’” …

Joe Torre told reporters this afternoon that Ellis would start Sunday’s day game – the fourth start of his career and the second that has ever come before the month of September. Ellis will be catching knuckleballer Charlie Haeger, whom he caught in Albuquerque about nine times last season (if my quick scan of the minor-league game logs of Fangraphs is correct.)

Torre also said that Andre Ethier (a ripe old 28 years old today) won’t start this weekend but might come off the bench, and that he is a possibility for the starting lineup at Tuesday’s home opener. Manny Ramirez also will be held out of the starting lineup Sunday.

* * *

  • Josh Lindblom gets his first start for Albuquerque at 5:05 p.m.
  • Tim Wallach’s son Brett threw five no-hit innings Friday in his first start for Great Lakes, while 2009 first-round pick Aaron Miller struck out 10 in his five innings for Inland Empire.
  • Blue Heaven posted some fun Dodger-related videos from this year and yesteryear.
  • Pedro!
Apr 09

Dodgers, Kuroda win despite ongoing defensive concerns


Doug Benc/Getty Images
Hiroki Kuroda didn’t allow an earned run over eight innings in his first start of the season.

Stuck in a shutout duel for five innings and looking like he might be a hard-luck loser after six, Hiroki Kuroda emerged triumphant and then some.

Kuroda went eight innings in his first start of the season without allowing an earned run, by far the star in the Dodgers’ 7-3 victory that evened their season record at 2-2.

Doug Penc/Getty Images

John Baker’s blooper fell for a double after Blake DeWitt nearly collided with Reed Johnson in the second inning Friday. Hiroki Kuroda struck out two of the next three batters to get out of the inning.

The 35-year-old righthander, whose 2009 season ended mired in injuries, allowed four singles, a bloop double and a walk (intentional) while striking out seven. Kuroda tallied his eight innings in 100 pitches, and with better defense behind him might easily have pitched a shutout.

The near-collision in the second inning between Reed Johnson and Blake DeWitt that led to the only extra-base hit off Kuroda, the error by Casey Blake in the fifth and the throwing error by Russell Martin (leading to an unearned run) were among the defensive lapses that kept Kuroda from an even more efficent outing. The mistakes could be said to be just three of those things that happen at a baseball game. But as much as people have focused on DeWitt as a defensive worry, it’s pretty easy to point to half the eight defensive positions – second, third, left and right – and say the Dodgers have limited range there, compounded by the sometimes erratic play by Rafael Furcal at short and Martin behind the plate.

Even the best make mistakes. Gold Glove winner Matt Kemp and first-base artist James Loney aren’t perfect, and perfection isn’t expected. But the Dodgers are going to have to outscore or outpitch their defense a lot this year.

Fortunately for them tonight, they were up to the task, thanks to Kuroda and an offense that scored seven times in the final three innings. Furcal was 3 for 4 with a walk tonight and had two of the Dodgers’ five doubles.

The night ended after Jonathan Broxton made sure Russ Ortiz’s ERA didn’t go unpunished after Ortiz loaded the bases on a single and two walks in the bottom of the ninth. Broxton gave up a two-run double to Wes Helms before striking out the final two batters of the game.

* * *

Notes from Tony Jackson:

  • Andre Ethier remains day-to-day with a sore ankle, and figures to pinch-hit before he returns to the starting lineup.
  • Hong-Chih Kuo has a bullpen session scheduled for Sunday, which hopefully will greenlight his return from the disabled list within the next week.
  • Dodger Thoughts hero Pedro Guerrero visited the clubhouse and former teammates Rick Monday, Rick Honeycutt and Mariano Duncan today.

* * *

Scott Elbert had a whale of a first start tonight for Albuquerque. He pitched six shutout innings, allowing two hits, walking five and striking out 10 –  somehow needing only 96 pitches to do all that. Elbert, who twice pitched out of one-out jams with runners on second and third, left with a 1-0 lead, but Brent Leach couldn’t hold it and the Isotopes lost, 4-3.

Apr 09

April 9 game chat + Superhuman pretzel update

With the Dodgers’ home opener only a few days away, here’s a link to the latest Dodger Stadium food news. Apparently USC and UCLA fans both like pastrami. Also …

  • Victory Knot: A new item is the Victory Knot, an extreme take on the traditional soft pretzel. Enough to feed about four hungry fans, this giant pretzel is made with two pounds of dough, topped with sea salt and served with three dipping sauces – chipotle honey mustard, sweet cinnamon crème and beer cheese – in a full-size pizza box. The Victory Knot is available at California Pizza Kitchen stands
  • Fan Favorites – Back by Popular Demand: Due to overwhelming fan demand, including a Facebook group dedicated to the subject, the spicy Picante Dog will be reintroduced to the menu throughout Dodger Stadium. California Pizza Kitchen has also returned as the pizza sponsor and Dippin’ Dots will be available at portable carts on the Field and Reserve levels. The fish tacos at the Camacho’s stands, made with beer-battered cod served with shredded cabbage, chili lime crema, pico de gallo and a fresh lime wedge, were first introduced last season and will also return in 2010
  • Kaiser Permanente Healthy Plate Carts: Levy Restaurants continues to offer lighter, nutritious options for fans at the three Kaiser Permanente Healthy Plate Carts. The menus are expanding this year to include new items like the Curried Chicken Lettuce Wraps served with radish, cucumber, cottage cheese and cherry tomatoes; Spicy Shrimp Cocktail, a refreshing gazpacho-like dish; Fresh Fruit Salad using only fruits that are in season; Greek Salad made with basil, feta cheese, tomatoes and red onions with low-fat balsamic vinaigrette; assorted sushi including California rolls, spicy tuna rolls and cucumber rolls; and a turkey sandwich served on whole wheat with avocado. Gluten-free beer and snacks will also be available at the Kaiser Permanente Healthy Plate Carts
Apr 09

Is indecision a problem in managing a team? I don’t know …


Kyle Terada/US Presswire
Joe Torre

As much as I might procrastinate, I never turn in work late. But when it comes to difficult decisions, sometimes I’ll take those past the expiration date — in other words, by the time I make the decision, it won’t matter what I’ve decided.

Simple example: There’s a sale on something I might want to buy, but by the time I decide to go for it, the sale is over. Or there’s a story I might want to write, but by the time I commit to requesting interviews, someone else has gotten there first.

I got to wondering how much major-league managers (or for that matter, general managers) share this trait. We talk a lot about in-game strategy when it comes to managing; I’ve still got a diatribe at the ready about Joe Torre’s use of Jonathan Broxton in Pittsburgh this week. But today I’m thinking out loud about how many wins might come from decisiveness, how many losses might result from the lack of it.

Should the Dodgers be more decisive by this point about whether James McDonald is a starting pitcher or a relief pitcher? Should they have been less decisive a few years back about turning Jonathan Broxton into a reliever instead of a starter?

If you’re unsure about a roster decision, do you just put it off? To paraphrase Branch Rickey, is it better to get rid of a player a month too soon than a month too late?

Blake DeWitt (a subject of discussion in this morning’s comments) –went back-and-forth between the majors and minors last year, is it time to commit to him staying in the majors in 2010?

I’m not attempting to answer these questions today. Perhaps some of these kinds of decisions should be made sooner, others later. It’s obviously important to make the right decision, but how important is when you make that decision? Is timing an underrated skill in management?

As a postscript, Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy points to one decision Torre has been putting off — how long to stay with the Dodgers — and wonders if Torre has any inclination to flee the McCourt mess for the Mets mess.

* * *

Eri Yoshida, the 18-year-old female knuckleballer from Japan, is coming to California to pitch:

(Yoshida) signed with the Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League. The team said she will report to spring training next month. …

Yoshida will be the first female to pitch for a pro team in the United States since Ila Borders retired more than 10 years ago, the team said. …

“We are really looking forward to having Eri as a member of the Chico Outlaws this season,” team president Mike Marshall said. …

Yes, that’s former Dodger outfielder Mike Marshall speaking.

The 5-foot, 114-pound Yoshida became Japan’s first female pro baseball player last year when she pitched for the Kobe Cruise 9 in the Kansai Independent League.

She was 0-2 in 11 appearances with a 4.03 ERA, giving up seven runs in 10 2-3 innings. …

The Outlaws open on the road on May 21 in Tijuana and return for their home opener on May 26th.

* * *

Josh Wilker of Cardboard Gods can be heard in an NPR interview Saturday.

Apr 08

You don’t have to duck and cover anymore: Dodgers win first in ’10


Keith Srakocic/AP
Already down an outfielder with Andre Ethier nursing a sore ankle, the Dodgers nearly lost two more when Matt Kemp and Reed Johnson tangled in the sixth inning of their 10-2 victory.

Tony Jackson’s game recap and notebook.

The Chad Billingsley that half of us love and the other half forgot about came out firing today, with a first-pitch out and seven strikeouts among 24 batters. The Chad Billingsley that half of us think is temporary and the other half hate also came out, walking four batters and failing to make it through the sixth inning.

So Billingsley’s 5 1/3-inning, one-run outing in the Dodgers’ 10-2 victory didn’t resolve the Billingsley debate one way or another – not that one game could. But it turned the page on the second half of 2009, allowing people to begin looking forward instead of back.

On the radio, Dodger announcers Charley Steiner and Rick Monday so persistently hammered home a point that Billingsley’s fate depended on where he planted his foot on his follow-through, that you could be excused for forgetting that Billingsley’s mental toughness had ever been questioned. This was a pure mechanics issue – if the brain was involved, it was only out of the need to provide consistency, not courage.  I don’t quite believe that the solution to Billingsley’s problems is that simple – I’m not saying that Steiner and Monday believe that either –  but it does remind you that there’s a lot more going on with Billingsley than what’s between the ears. (Steiner and Monday also commented that Billingsley reduced his pregame warmup time compared to last year.)

Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ misanthropic five-reserve lineup turned expectations upside down by just hammering the ball, with the top six hitters in the batting order – three of them reserves – each reaching base at least two times, and Ronnie Belliard coming within a single of hitting for the cycle 360 days after Orlando Hudson did. More monkeys were kicked off more backs today than in Curious George’s worst nightmare.

Footnote: Carlos Monasterios gave up the first run of his two-inning major-league career, while Jonathan Broxton’s first outing of the season came in garbage time.

* * *

  • Takuya Kimura, a 37-year-old former Hiroshima teammate of Hiroki Kuroda, collapsed and died last week, and Dylan Hernandez of the Times talked to Kuroda about it.
  • Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com has a feature on how Jared Weaver has coped with the death of friend and teammate Nick Adenhart over the past year.
  • James McDonald allowed one run on seven baserunners over five innings, striking out three, in Albuquerque’s season-opening 6-3, 13-inning victory. McDonald threw 83 pitches. Jamie Hoffmann, Russ Mitchell, Xavier Paul, John Lindsey, Prentice Redman, Michael Restovich, Ivan DeJesus, A.J. Ellis and Chin-Lung Hu were in the starting batting order.
  • Chris Withrow allowed two runs on four baserunners over six innings, striking out four, in AA Chattanooga’s 4-2 kickoff victory.
  • Carlos Santana homered twice in his 4-for-5 AAA International League debut tonight.
Apr 08

Dodgers enter series finale with much reserve-ation


Lili von Schtupp – “I’m Tired”

J. Rho | MySpace Video

Rest for the weary … or for the worry?

In case you’re wondering why Chad Billingsley’s first start of the season is being backed with five backups, Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. did a quick rundown: “Manny and Blake were a given, day game after a night game. Ethier has the foot thing; I can see them being cautious. DeWitt sitting against a LHP. Martin has still basically only played for two weeks, so I can see them easing him back.”

And so we come to this …

Apr 07

This game’ll make you feel a hundred years old


Gene J. Puskar/AP
Russell Martin is the glum in an emotional contrast sandwich.

I mean, my grandmother could have walked the pitcher twice.

I promised myself at the birthday dinner tonight that I wasn’t going to let anything Dodger-related interfere with my enjoyment of the night, but that came after Clayton Kershaw (who had already walked the leadoff man before giving up a three-run home run to Pirates outfielder Wilver Jones) free-passed Pittsburgh pitcher Russ Ohlendorf in two consecutive at-bats.

Just to give you some insight into my offline personality, I really let Kershaw have it when Ball 8 came to Ohlendorf as I pulled into my driveway to grab my family for dinner. I spare you folks the rage – just not my steering wheel, which bore the brunt of my shouts.

It was the 33rd time in 53 seasons since the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles that an opposing pitcher drew at least two walks. Kershaw was the culprit the last time it happened – July 1 against Jason Hammel of Colorado (in a 1-0 Dodger victory).

Hey, it’s an old gripe for me. My third post ever on Dodger Thoughts was frustration about a ridiculous walk. But throwing strikes just isn’t automatic yet for Kershaw. We’ll keep waiting, but all that talk about Kershaw being the completely together pitcher and Chad Billingsley being the mental dyspeptic seems a bit silly now, at least until Thursday morning.

Conversely, Joe Torre’s decision to leave his best reliever in the bullpen during a game that was tied from the fifth until the 10th inning – that’s also an old gripe for me, for which there are no excuses unless the guy is physically unavailable  – but it came after Grandma Sue’s dinner started, so I can’t comment about it. And I didn’t even see Blake DeWitt’s error in the 10th inning, which came around the time we were blowing out the candles on the 100 cake.

In fact, there was lots about this game that was just crappy, but I saw Russell Martin’s homer and I heard my grandmother say she was excited about her birthday, so that wins.  Some things are just more important. (New dad Ramon Troncoso understands. “I want to be with her every second,” Troncoso told Dylan Hernandez of the Times.)

So for now, you just get the photo of Martin above. And if you want more details about tonight’s game, Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has lots of them – really a thorough report. But I promise that if the Dodgers go down Thursday, I’ll hit you with something gripy. Not doomsdayish, but certainly enough to commemorate an opening three-game sweep by the Pirates.

Good thoughts, everyone …

* * *

  • Forbes values the Dodgers at $727 million, the fourth-highest figure in baseball – details in this story from The Associated Press.
  • Manny Ramirez told T.J. Simers of the Times that he likes Jamie McCourt more than Frank.
    Update: Man, I really, really zoned out while reading Simers late Thursday. Sheesh. Anyway, disregard the sentence above.
Apr 07

Kershaw LII: There’s no business like Kershaw business

In case you missed it, check out Tony Jackson’s feature on tonight’s starter, Clayton Kershaw, for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

After Chad Billingsley starts Thursday morning in Pittsburgh (with Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake likely on the bench, according to Dodger manager Joe Torre), the Dodgers will go with Hiroki Kuroda, Vicente Padilla and Charlie Haeger (in that order) over the weekend in Florida.

Torre also told reporters that Matt Kemp will generally bat second against right-handed pitchers, that Blake DeWitt would continue to start against some lefties (depending on their type), that Ronald Belisario will practice game pitching on back-to-back days next week, and that Hong-Chih Kuo is on track to go out on a rehab assignment “soon.”

Other notes …

  • Believe it or not, the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants have each notched final scores on three games since the final out of the Dodgers’ Opening Day loss. Colorado surrendered a lead today in Milwaukee to fall to 1-2 on the season, while the Giants countered a three-run, seventh-inning, game-tying rally by Houston with six runs in the final two innings to sweep the Astros. Later tonight, San Diego and Arizona will stage a battle for second place in the National League West.
  • Jason Repko has signed with the Twins organization and will start there with AAA Rochester, the team’s official blog confirms. According to the site, Repko is the Twins’ first true centerfielder on their depth chart behind Denard Span.
  • “Among the eight starting position players on Opening Day 2009, only third baseman Andy LaRoche went on to start at least 100 games for the Pirates,” writes Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Over the past eight years, stats guru Bill James has tracked the number of games started by each team’s Opening Day starters. The Pirates amassed 665 games last year — the lowest single-season total James has ever recorded.”
  • I’m always a sucker for a good Danny Goodman story. Here’s a find on the Dodgers’ original marketing maven, from Keith Thursby of the Daily Mirror. Goodman called Los Angeles “the greatest gimmick town in America.”

    And 1960′s hit-seller?
    “I expect it’ll be the transistor radio. Blame that on Vince Scully,” smiled Danny. “He started the vogue. Why? People wanted to hear him at the game, so they started carrying radios.
    “Score one for Scully!”

Apr 07

Happy 100th birthday, Grandma Sue!


Aaron and Sue Weisman

I’m in such awe that I don’t feel I can convey it sufficiently, so I’m left with starting this post with the basics.

Sue Weisman, my grandmother, born on April 7, 1910, is 100 years old today.

The last thing you expect is for someone to live to be 100, but if anyone were going to do it, it was Grandma Sue, a straight-shooting, take-life-as-it-comes woman. Her early childhood years – the sixth of eight children of Minsk immigrants – came during World War I: “I used to be scared that those horrible helmets would be walking down the street. During the night I used to think about that. … The spiked helmets scared the hell out of me.” Grandma heard about the end of the war from a phone call to the family business: Hers was the first family she knew to have a telephone. “There was a false Armistice, and we thought we’d get a day off from school. So, instead of us going to school — and of course, we were penalized, and we had to stay after school, so I never forgot that. And then about two weeks later, there was a real Armistice.

Her parents owned a restaurant. “They were originally in the saloon business until … Prohibition came. My father was a Beau Brummel, a gay blade, who wore something on his mustache when he went to bed and kept his hat in a leather case and loved all the nice things. My mother worked like a dog.”

My favorite story about her is from her New York/Lower East Side childhood, when in between ice skating and baseball and football with her friends of both genders, this little Jewish girl was dressed as if she were being driven to church, all so that he could be a decoy for liquor to be smuggled undetected during Prohibition. Married and moving to Chicago at age 20, her next decade brought her a husband, Aaron, who found work during the Depression working as an accountant for Ralph Capone, Al’s brother – years living in terror underscored by Aaron’s uncle Sol being “taken for a ride” and never returning. “Honey, the stuff I had to take in that crappy apartment, oh God. Every hoodlum in the world was up there.“  The first year they were married, Aaron met her outside their apartment one night and told her he was nearly tossed out the 10th floor window.

And then there was her live-in mother-in-law, Aaron’s mother Ida, who once held a butcher’s knife to her and was so remorselessly unpleasant that when she passed away in 1961, my father says he went down to the hospital “to make sure she was dead.”

Sue has three children – Jerry, my father Wally (75 next month) and my aunt Elinor – eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. It’s both fact and appropriate metaphor that Sue did all the driving in the family. Aaron, who never got behind a steering wheel in my lifetime, retired relatively young from a liquor distribution business and led a sedentary life, but Sue was constantly out and about. Papa Aaron taught me poker; Grandma Sue played catch with me in my backyard well into her 60s.  A fanatic about books, art and culture, Grandma Sue was an original volunteer at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art when it opened in the 1960s and, long after my grandfather died in 1994 at age 86, continued there past age 95. No doubt, soon after we celebrate her birthday tonight and this weekend, she’ll be escorted to a play or the opera. Physically, she isn’t what once was, but her mental acuity has barely dimmed at all.

My sister Robyn – whose video interview with my grandmother from years back provided the quotes above – offers the following:

In 1928, Grandma Sue took the New York State Regents Exam in English. She scored 90 on the exam, with a perfect 50 on the essay portion. Not only was it the highest score in the five boroughs of New York City, it was so unheard of that 20 years later, Grandma’s younger sister Mickey, by then an English teacher herself, mentioned this to an older colleague, and he said, “Your sister was the one who scored that 50?” with the sort of awe that’s typically reserved for Hank Aaron’s 715th home run or Sandy Koufax’s perfect game.

“I don’t know what the hell I did! I wrote something very naturally, and I never had a grammatical error,” Grandma told me a few years ago. When I asked her what the topic was, she said she wrote about a young man who came from lowly surroundings and built himself into a well-dressed and well-educated boy who wore a suit and a real hat when other boys his age were still wearing caps or going bareheaded.

“So it was a creative essay?” I said.

“No, I couldn’t write about Tom, Dick and Harry. I couldn’t write a story,” she said. I didn’t argue with her because her hearing is so bad and shouting and enunciating is something I try to avoid unless it’s really necessary. If a (then) 96-year-old woman wants to claim she isn’t a storyteller, I guess I can nod with the condescension the middle-aged too often show the elderly and think, “Right, this coming from the woman who changed her name from Sarah to Sue around the time ‘The Great Gatsby’ had its first printing because it sounded more modern.”

But just know that Jon can’t help it that he writes about baseball with such depth, humor and lyricism. It’s in his genes. He descends from a woman who tells a story with such craft that it feels tossed off, which it may well be. It’s an intuitive sense that she has, like her perfect grammar.

I’d love to recount some of her recollections from the days when our grandfather worked for the Capone mob, among so many other stories. Instead I’ll tell one she told offhandedly to Jon, me and a few other relatives the day of Jon’s youngest son’s bris because it’s an example of her offhand approach to storytelling.

We were waiting in Jon’s living room while Jon’s wife and the baby were in a guest bedroom with the mohel, and everyone was nervous. Then Grandma piped up. “After Jerry was born, my father came to Chicago for the bris, and when he saw how the mohel was holding the knife, he grabbed it out of his hand — because from running the restaurant, he knew how to use one — and he said, ‘I didn’t come all the way from Manhattan to see you castrate my first-born grandchild!’ And he did it himself. It was a real worry back then, you know.”

She was 98 when she told that story. She’s 100 today. Happy birthday, Grandma. We wouldn’t be here without you (obviously), and you shaped us into who we are. And for my part, I’m grateful to you for it.

Yes, happy birthday Grandma. I have never been the greatest grandson, but I am so proud of you and to know you, and do love you.

Apr 06

Retreads in middle relief not a sign of the apocalypse


US Presswire
Jeff Weaver (left) is exactly the kind of pitcher major-league teams typically have in the back of their bullpen. James McDonald deserves to be on the Dodgers, but his front-line potential might explain why he’s in Albuquerque today.

There’s a difference between having junk in your front yard and having junk in your back.

By that I mean, it doesn’t bother me as much that the Dodgers have retreads in their bullpen, as long as they stay out of the starting rotation.

People lose sight of it because of the recent success the Dodgers have had in relief, but bullpens are largely made up of retreads.  We know for a fact that there isn’t enough quality starting pitching in baseball to come close to filling 30 major-league rotations, so why would the bullpens be bursting with star quality from top to bottom? It makes sense that they’d be comprised of pitchers who aren’t even good enough to be mediocre starters.

In the bullpen, you’re looking for guys who can put together for one or two innings what they can’t hack over five to seven. And so it’s not crazy to try your luck with a Jeff Weaver or Ramon Ortiz — or for that matter a newbie like Carlos Monasterios. Maybe with limited innings, they can excel. It might end up a failed experiment, but it’s not a senseless one — as Weaver showed us last year.

That Weaver, Monasterios and the law firm of Ortiz & Ortiz pitched for the Dodgers on Opening Day was, I’m sorry to say, not a reflection of a franchise in divorce-induced disarray. It was nothing more than a reflection of major-league standard operating procedure when you’re starting pitcher is knocked out early — especially when three of your top relievers — Hong-Chih Kuo, Ramon Troncoso and Ronald Belisario — were unavailable for circumstances beyond the Dodgers control.

In case that point needs underscoring, the World Payroll Champion New York Yankees used Chan Ho Park to try to protect a 7-5 seventh-inning lead on Opening Night in Fenway Park.

The one thing you might say the Dodgers should have done Monday was use Jonathan Broxton in the pivotal moment of the game — when Vicente Padilla was nearing his end with two runners on base and one out in the fifth inning of a one-run contest. But I won’t hold my breath waiting for a Dodger manager to be that bold.

On the other hand, in the one Spring Training decision regarding the starting rotation that did require boldness, you can’t say Joe Torre didn’t deliver. Rather than go with a retread, Torre chose Charlie Haeger, whose major-league resume is shaky but comes with an upside that Weaver and the Ortizes no longer have.

Haeger, keep in mind, is only a year older than James McDonald and four years younger than Eric Stults. And what’s interesting is that Torre seemed to have this idea in mind regardless of Spring Training performance — Torre was signaling his inclination for Haeger even before the knuckleballer started to turn in some good exhibition innings. With several over-30 options available, Torre went, relatively speaking, with a kid.

If Haeger fails — and who knows how much rope he has before failure is declared — we’ll see if the choice to replace him is a retread or a younger player like McDonald or Scott Elbert. If I were in charge of the Dodgers, McDonald would be on the major-league roster today. He proved in 2009 that he could perform well as a major-league pitcher, with a 2.72 ERA as a reliever in 41 games as a reliever. Sending him down to the minors because he didn’t pitch well in mid-March made little sense — unless it was part of a broader plan to make him the No. 1 option to replace Haeger by giving him some fine-tuning in the Albuquerque rotation.

I don’t have much long-term confidence in Padilla, though he will have better days than he had Monday. I’m not going to sit here and say that the Dodger starting rotation couldn’t be better. But I know this much: You don’t judge a team by the back of its bullpen. And if you do, the Dodgers have little to apologize for in theirs.

Apr 05

Palate cleanser: Hit leaders who wore the Dodger uniform

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
Hall of Famer Eddie Murray had 483 hits as a Dodger, 184 in 1990 when he led the majors in batting average.

Most major-league hits by anyone who has ever played for the Dodgers in a major-league game:

3,255 Eddie Murray
3,152 Paul Waner
3,055 Rickey Henderson
2,943 Frank Robinson
2,884 Zack Wheat
2,715 Bill Buckner
2,689 Gary Sheffield
2,665 Max Carey
2,605 Rabbit Maranville
2,599 Steve Garvey
2,591 Luis Gonzalez
2,561 Willie Davis
2,524 Heine Manush
2,502 Garret Anderson
2,496 Manny Ramirez
2,490 Fred McGriff
2,471 Joe Medwick
2,461 Jeff Kent
2,428 Kenny Lofton
2,375 Brett Butler

Garret Anderson has sneaked ahead of Manny Ramirez, however briefly.

Apr 05

That’s a Padillaing: Dodgers fall in opener, 11-5


Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Vicente Padilla allowed 11 of 24 batters he faced to reach base Monday.

The last time the Dodgers played a game that counted, Vicente Padilla started for Los Angeles in Pennsylvania and got pounded before the Dodgers tried to rally from a six-run deficit in the seventh inning — and almost made you think they would succeed.

In Philadelphia for Game 5 of the 2009 National League Championship Series, the Dodgers were down, 9-3, but scored a run and loaded the bases in the eighth inning with none away before James Loney, Russell Martin and Casey Blake made outs. Today in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles halved their 8-2 deficit and had the tying run on deck in the seventh — and at the plate in the eighth — before faltering and ultimately tumbling, 11-5, in their 2010 season opener.

Fortunately for the Dodgers, Wednesday’s second game of the regular season should, if nothing else, break the Paddle Padilla Pattern.

The cup of Dodger offense was more than half-full today, pouring five runs on 14 baserunners but, unfortunately for them, stranding 10. Every Dodger starter reached base except Loney, who had an RBI groundout in the seventh on an 0-for-5 day. Rafael Furcal had a couple poor at-bats with runners on base before recovering with a single and walk late, and in general the Dodgers’ missed some golden opportunities to score more, but it’s not as if you could lay this loss on the hitters. Matt Kemp and Manny Ramirez each had a single and a double, Blakes Casey and DeWitt each had two hits, and Martin reached base three times.

Keith Srakocic/AP
Pirates outfielder Garrett Jones homered to right field and left field in his first two at-bats of the season.

But it was Padilla who from the beginning looked very much like the castoff that he had been when the Dodgers signed him, rather than the savior who earned playoff and Opening Day starts. Granted a 2-0 first-inning lead on Matt Kemp’s two-run single, Padilla walked the leadoff batter and then gave up a prodigious Allegheny River-splasher to Garrett Jones that tied the game. (I’ll try not to belabor this point beyond today, but if Chad Billingsley had performed similarly in the first inning with a lead, there would have been calls from the usual suspects to institutionalize him.)

Padilla allowed at least two baserunners in each of the first three innings — escaping a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the second with the aid of a 1-2-3 double play, before giving up another homer to Jones in the third. He then settled down, relatively speaking, to get out of the fourth with just a single.

This being early April, you could make an argument to be made that the Dodgers should have cut their losses and gone to the bullpen before the fifth inning rather than extend Padilla farther, given the off days yesterday and tomorrow, but instead Joe Torre went by the book and stuck with Padilla into the fifth. (I’m not saying Torre did anything controversial — just that it wasn’t likely that Padilla was going to do much better this day.)

In fact, Padilla was rousted in the fifth — HBP, walk, double — and with new reliever Ramon Ortiz unable to minimize the damage, the Dodgers fell behind, 8-2.

Carlos Monasterios had a 1-2-3 sixth in his major-league debut and Russ Ortiz struck out former Dodger Delwyn Young to end a Pirate threat in the seventh after the Dodgers scored three, but then after Andre Ethier’s bid to tie the game in the eighth with two on base went awry, George Sherrill came out and gave Dodger fans even more to worry about, allowing a double, walk and then a three-run homer to Ryan Doumit. (Remember, Sherrill only allowed one homer as a Dodger last year, before the playoffs.)

It’s just one game, and Dodger fans can calm themselves with the notion that by getting  Padilla out of the way, they should have matchup advantages on the mound for the rest of this series.  But Opening Day 2010 was certainly a reminder of Closing Day 2009 in all the wrong ways.

* * *

Ronald Belisario is making rapid progress in his efforts to rejoin the active roster, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Belisario is scheduled to throw to hitters for the first time this spring on Tuesday, a significant move in his effort to rejoin the big league club. Belisario arrived five weeks late to spring training because of lingering visa issues in his native Venezuela, but club officials don’t think he will need the full six-week equivalent of spring training in order to be ready. One Dodgers source said Monday that Belisario could be ready in as few as “15 or 20 days.”