Mar 28

Clayton Kershaw: The ‘Enemy’ is our friend


Paul Connors/AP
Clayton Kershaw

It was only two Marches ago that Clayton Kershaw emerged from the theoretical to the tangible with his “Public Enemy No. 1″ to strike out Sean Casey in an otherwise forgettable Spring Training game. Just two years.

Now, Kershaw is a ripe old 22 years old, and most of the debate about him is whether he’ll be great or merely good. And so today, as Kershaw cruises through six innings of his final March outing, striking out seven and walking just one while allowing one run on 99 pitches, Dodger fans don’t need to marvel. They just nod and smile. “Yeah, we know.”

In two blink-of-an-eye years, Spring Training is no longer a proving ground for Kershaw. It’s merely a workout room, a waystation for bigger and hopefully better things.

Update: The latest on Kershaw’s improved repertoire, from Dylan Hernandez of the Times:

Clayton Kershaw couldn’t throw his curveball for strikes in the first couple of innings Sunday, something that would have spelled trouble at an earlier stage of his career.

But his fastball was working. So was his slider. And changeup.

According to a chart kept by pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, Kershaw threw seven of eight changeups for strikes and recorded three outs with the pitch. Seven of his nine sliders were thrown for strikes.

Relying on the two relatively new weapons in his arsenal, Kershaw was able to bide time until his curveball started dropping into strike zone. He exited his final Cactus League start having held the Cincinnati Reds to one run, six hits and one walk over six innings. …

* * *

  • There’s a little tiff brewing, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, between the Dodgers and Doug Mientkiewicz, who wants the team to release him before their Friday deadline so that he can have a better shot at getting a spot with another team. The Irony Committee has issued an approval on the fact that the reason the Dodgers want to hang on to Mientkiewicz as long as they can relates to the possibility of their first-choice lefty pinch hitter, Garret Anderson, suffering a major injury like Mientkiewicz incurred last April. He provided the example of the need to not grant his wish.
  • Working on his second consecutive day, Ramon Ortiz struck out two of the three batters he faced, passing probably the last test (other than waking up healthy Monday) for him to make the team.
  • Chad Gaudin signed with the A’s, ending speculation the Dodgers might go for him.
Mar 28

Look who’s talking

  • Ronald Belisario said he did nothing wrong to cause his visa delays, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. Dubious – and even if it’s true, his communication with the Dodgers still should have been better. I still wonder if something more was going on. Anyway, expect the Dodgers to activate him by April 25 at the latest.
  • Russell Martin is scheduled to catch seven innings and bat seven times against the Indians’ AAA team today, according to the Dodger press notes.
  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Daily News has a nice piece today describing the dog days of Spring Training.
  • The first of a two-part interview with Logan White has been posted by David Laurila of Baseball Prospectus. Some really good stuff in there. Sample:

    “Another thing I do is keep a private log of certain types of arm actions – the success rates of them. Certain types of deliveries – their success and failure rates. The same with hitters. There are certain things that we will either like or stay away from based on our own statistics of how those have been working over the past 10 or 15 years. I’ve kept these since I was an area scout. Let’s say for example that a guy is a slinger or he has a bad wrist wrap. How many guys have that who have been drafted and signed, that I’ve seen, and have actually made it? And how far? Things like that. I’ve kept pretty good records and I haven’t publicized them, not even to my own staff, but I do utilize that kind of stuff.”

  • How much playing time do you think each Dodger will get this year? Submit your predictions with Tangotiger.
Mar 27

Never fear, Ronald Belisario is here

Tony Jackson chronicles Ronald Belisario finally arriving at Camelback Ranch.

…Dodgers assistant general manager Kim Ng said Belisario can be kept on the restricted list for up to 30 days after being placed there on Friday, meaning he has to be either activated or waived — he is out of minor league options — by April 25.

Belisario is expected to dress in the major league clubhouse until the team breaks camp on Wednesday, but his activity will take place in minor league camp.

“We have to see what kind of shape he is in,” Ng said. “After determining that, then he will probably be on the other side.”

Other than saying hello to a couple of reporters in the parking lot, Belisario declined to speak with reporters until Sunday morning. …

Colletti was asked minutes before Belisario’s arrival whether the pitcher’s strange behavior might signify a deeper problem.

“It certainly makes you wonder,” he said. “But he is obviously a talent.” …

* * *

  • Following up on the tea leaves, which I posted on the fly from my cellphone and couldn’t comment on: It sure seemed as if Joe Torre was hinting at the possibility that Blake DeWitt would go to the minors for roster reasons. (And no, I wouldn’t agree with any decision that would send DeWitt down to preserve Nick Green.)  I wouldn’t assume DeWitt won’t start at second base, but I wouldn’t quite lock it in, either.
  • And, when Charlie Haeger and Florida (site of the Dodgers’ fifth-starter debut) were mentioned in the same sentence, you got the feeling that Torre was liking the idea of Haeger in the rotation, and today’s 5 1/3 shutout innings probably made him like it just a little more. Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness arrived at Camelback this weekend and posted a first-hand account of Haeger today.
  • Dodger Thoughts commenter BHSportsGuy wrote a worthy piece for True Blue L.A. about the effect of the divorce litigation on the Dodgers.
  • UCLA baseball is now a mesmerizing 20-0.
  • A few months before his 60-homer 1927 season began, Babe Ruth was arrested in Long Beach – and Steve Harvey of the Times tells the story.
Mar 27

Big and low tea leaves

Joe Torre quotes to reporters this morning:

“Blake and Ethier are going to Las Vegas. Ellis and DeWitt will both be there too. We’ll make a statement on second base in a few days. DeWitt couldn’t have done anymore that is within his control, he’s done everything he possibly could have done and come through with high marks.

“Physically guys are ready, mentally it’s tough to remind yourself these games are important. We still have decisions to make not just at second base but the pitching staff as well.

“Haeger could go five or six today, we’re not concerned about building up his endurance. He’s done a good job and handled everything we’ve thrown at him. He can dominate a game when that thing’s working. He talked with Charlie Hough about how to pitch in certain environments. Florida should be fine, he said he enjoys pitching indoors too.

“We’ve got to figure out our starters and figure it out from there. You have Sherrill, Broxton, and Troncoso. Kuo is a question mark, he probably won’t be ready for the season. We’ve got a lot of options.  Sherrill is looking at some video for those who are wondering. They thought he was doing some mechanical stuff that he doesn’t normally do.

“I had a talk with Doug Mientkiewicz yesterday and told him it doesn’t look like he’ll make the team with Anderson around. I told him I’d love to have him around, but he’ll take a day to think about his options. He was understanding of the decision, he likes being here but he wants to be in the big leagues.”

Mar 27

A bitter end

Coming shortly after the struggle was chronicled on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, here’s a very detailed article on Mike Penner/Christine Daniels by Christopher Goffard of the Times.

* * *

At Baseball Analysts, Stan Opdyke (Dodger Thoughts commenter Stan from Tacoma) tells the story of Pat Rispole, who preserved a multitude of old radio baseball broadcasts. Opdyke also provides highlights from some of those games.

Mar 26

Hong-Chih Kuo closer to the disabled list


Mark Duncan/AP
Hong-Chih Kuo, shown here March 2, last pitched in a game for the Dodgers on March 19.

Another spot in the bullpen is on the verge of opening with the news from Dodger manager Joe Torre that reliever Hong-Chih Kuo has been shut down and likely will be on the disabled list when Opening Day comes, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

With Ronald Belisario AWOL, that leaves a core of four starters (Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla) and three relievers (Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Ramon Troncoso) and either four or five open spots on the pitching staff. If nothing else, Carlos Monasterios is pretty much a lock at this point to make the team.

* * *

Russell Martin will rest Saturday after a busy Friday in which he caught six innings, batted six times and scored from first on a double (in a minor-league game).

* * *

Giants pitcherum Tim Lincecum is also playing catchup, writes Chris Haft of MLB.com.

… Lincecum allowed only one run in four innings in the Giants’ 5-3 Cactus League victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Friday, but allowed six hits and walked two — though he did strike out seven.

The Giants ace said afterward that he’s “85 percent sure with my body of what I’m doing out there and confidence-wise. Hopefully that last tuneup job will help.” He admitted that he’s progressing “a little slower than I wanted to.”

Lincecum’s final exhibition outing before he starts the April 5 regular-season opener at Houston won’t be a high-profile appearance. Though his next scheduled turn would arrive next Wednesday, when the Giants play their Cactus League finale against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he’s virtually certain to pitch a Minor League exhibition or intrasquad game instead.

This would serve a dual purpose. It would prevent the Dodgers from getting a studied look at Lincecum before the regular season, and it would enable the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner to address his pitching flaws in a relaxed atmosphere. …

* * *

On weekends, my 5-year-old son sleeps in a sleeping bag on the floor of my 7-year-old daughter’s room. Tonight, my daughter wanted to switch. Because of the way they were behaving before bedtime, I declined her request.

Later, my daughter went up to my son:
D: “I envy you.”
S: “What does that spell?”
D: “I envy you.”
S: “WHAT DOES THAT SPELL?!”

Mar 26

Ronald Belisario: What happened?


Kirby Lee/US Presswire
Ronald Belisario pitching in Game 2 of the 2009 National League Championship Series.

Ronald Belisario has been ruled out for the Opening Day roster by Joe Torre, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Most of what I read about Belisario chides him for blowing this opportunity and letting down the Dodgers and their fans. But absent a rational explanation for what has happened, I still can’t help thinking that the bigger issue is a serious problem that we should be concerned with instead of critical of.

That might make me sound soft, and if he’s being a flake just to be a flake, I’ll adjust my reaction accordingly. But I’m just having trouble imagining why Belisario would willfully self-sabotage. Right now, I’m still in the position of hoping Belisario makes it back, mentally as well as internationally.

* * *

  • I’m scheduled to be a guest on KSPN 710 AM at 1:40 p.m., interviewed by Andrew Siciliano and Mychal Thompson. (That link will also take you to Molly Knight’s interview with the pair from Thursday.
  • In case you missed it, Ronnie Belliard made weight and is now an official 2010 Dodger, reports Dylan Hernandez of the Times.
  • Ben Badler of Baseball America joins the groundswell of praise for prospect Allen Webster, a fave of Dodger Thoughts and Maple Street Press Annual prospect expert CanuckDodger.
  • Steven Goldman, writing at ESPN’s TMI blog, wonders if the failure of Joba Chamberlain to make the Yankee starting rotation will represent a tipping point for over-protecting young arms.
  • Forty years ago today: “Next Stop for Steve Garvey Is Third Base at Dodger Stadium” (via the Daily Mirror).
  • The Pawnee Parks and Recreation Summer Catalog is a must-peruse.
Mar 26

Russ Ortiz might shine briefly but won’t endure


Mark Duncan/AP
Russ Ortiz

Last year, Russ Ortiz had as many as four consecutive good starts. When he’s hot, he’s hot. When he’s not … well, that’s most of the time.

Here’s a chart of every start he has made since 2005.

Date IP ER   Date IP ER   Date IP ER
4/5/05 6 3   9/11/05 3 5   8/10/07 5 2
4/10/05 5 1   9/18/05 5 2   8/15/07 5 3
4/16/05 6 4   9/24/05 4 5   8/20/07 4 4
4/21/05 7 2   4/7/06 6 3   4/16/09 4 2/3 3
4/26/05 6 2   4/13/06 4 1/3 4   4/21/09 5 3
5/2/05 3 2/3 7   4/18/06 2 1/3 0   4/26/09 5 2
5/7/05 4 1/3 3   4/23/06 1 2/3 4   5/7/09 2 1/3 3
5/12/05 6 2   6/6/06 5 3   6/11/09 5 1/3 0
5/18/05 5 1/3 4   6/11/06 3 1/3 7   6/17/09 6 3
5/24/05 6 4   7/1/06 4 1/3 3   6/23/09 7 2
5/29/05 3 1/3 5   7/6/06 5 6   6/28/09 7 1/3 2
6/4/05 7 4   7/18/06 2 2/3 3   7/4/09 5 2/3 8
6/10/05 7 3   7/21/06 0 6   7/9/09 3 4
6/15/05 5 1/3 7   8/7/06 3 6   7/19/09 6 2
8/13/05 6 5   4/7/07 5 3   7/25/09 4 1/3 6
8/19/05 2 2/3 6   4/13/07 8 2/3 5   7/30/09 2 1/3 9
8/24/05 4 8   4/20/07 7 2        
8/29/05 5 2/3 3   4/26/07 5 1/3 3   Total 260 210
9/4/05 6 2/3 3   5/1/07 3 1/3 8   Average 4.8 3.9
Mar 25

Who will shock the world (or at least Dodger fans)?


Mark Duncan/AP
Could Justin Miller make a surprise appearance on the Opening Day roster?

Here are 25 remaining Opening Day roster variables, in no particular order …

1) Hong-Chih Kuo: Arm is dangerous?
2) Russell Martin: All work leads to no play?
3) Ronald Belisario: Seeking writ of habeas corpus?
4) Eric Stults: Stays or goes?
5) Ramon Troncoso: Soft spring portends hard times?
6) Carlos Monasterios: Does he pass Go and collect $400,000?
7) Charlie Haeger: Knuckling under or over?
8) Justin Miller: Inky dinky do?
9) Blake DeWitt: Options work against him?
10) Luis Ayala: You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here?
11) Russ Ortiz: Still at the end of every hard-earned day people find some reason to believe?
12) Ramon Ortiz: First among Ortizii?
13) Josh Towers: From Taiwan, With Love?
14) Nick Green: I got well for this?
15) Brad Ausmus: Too old and infirm? “My body lies over the notion.”
16) Chin-Lung Hu: Good enough to ride your bench?
17) A.J. Ellis: Waiting for Guh! D’oh!
18) Doug Mientkiewicz: Am I still a Torre fave?
19) Garret Anderson: Better late than never, or worse?
20) Chad Gaudin: Outside looking in?
21) Josh Lindblom: Young gun?
22) Ronnie Belliard: Weight, weight, don’t tell me?
23) Jeff Weaver: What, last year wasn’t good enough?
24) Vicente Padilla: Forearm stiffness?
25) Field: Will all the other roster locks stay healthy?

Mar 25

Vicente Padilla named Dodgers’ Opening Day starter


Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Vicente Padilla

It doesn’t matter much, and I’m sure there’s a reason for it, but I find it bizarre that the Dodgers have chosen Vicente Padilla to start on Opening Day April 5.

It’s not needed to set up Clayton Kershaw to start the home opener eight days later. And in all my years watching baseball, I can’t think of a rationale that would make Padilla the choice over Hiroki Kuroda or Chad Billingsley, both of whom have been with the team longer, contributed more to the team in the past year and have their own sentimental reasons for getting the nod. In particular, I would have thought Kuroda’s comeback from a frightening injury would have given him the honor.

A one-month hot stretch by Padilla shouldn’t trump those factors. Frankly, it’s a decision that cries out to be mocked, despite its insignificance in the grand scheme of things. And heaven knows, lots of people enjoy new reasons to mock the Dodgers.

That doesn’t mean Padilla won’t go out and throw shutout ball — after all, that’s what he did for six innings in his last appearance in Pittsburgh, nearly five years ago. But it still just doesn’t feel right to me. Whatever reasons there were to choose Padilla, there were better reasons not to.

Mar 24

Russell Martin and the Dodgers tempt fate

Mark Duncan/APRussell Martin played his only exhibition game of 2010 on March 5.

Ignoring my counsel – peanut gallery as it might be – the Dodgers aren’t hesitating to get Russell Martin back into action. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports that Martin will catch in a minor-league game Thursday, and that Opening Day is now a real possibility for him.

The only reason this sounds plausible to me is that I am willing to believe A.J. Ellis just can’t get a break. But we’ll see how Martin fares.

  • Jackson also reports that an MRI on Hong-Chih Kuo showed no new damage. (I guess the old damage was still there.) Kuo played soft toss after the MRI.
  • Hiroki Kuroda faced 19 Oakland A’s batters tonight and got 16 of them out in a shutout performance.
  • Between his contract still not being official and his fairly unimpressive Spring Training (certainly less impressive than Blake DeWitt or Jamey Carroll), I’m still not quite ready to consider Ronnie Belliard a roster lock yet. Odds are still in his favor, as the memory of his late-season hotitude still lingers. But when you have an aging player who didn’t do much for most of 2009, and a plethora of second basemen, there’s still room for release.
  • Pablo Torre of SI.com posted a story about the Dodgers that questioned their rotation depth (“arguably the thinnest in the division”) while making all positive assumptions about NL West rival pitchers Jeff Francis, Chris Young and Brandon Webb, and ignoring all the other teams’ problems in the back of their rotations. Just check out what’s going on in Arizona, for example. It’s not going to be all golden for the Dodgers, but can we not use the same standard evaluating them as the other teams?
  • Lenny Harris was released from the hospital today, five days after his emergency bypass surgery, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • Robert Culp, you will always be so cool in my eyes.
Mar 24

Starting pitching: Working down the list


AP/Getty Images
Jose Lima fared well as a surprise starting pitcher in 2004; Scott Erickson was a Spring Training hit in 2005 (2.10 ERA) but fell out of the starting rotation before the end of May.

The chart below shows how quickly the Dodgers went beyond their first five starting pitchers, in each of the past six seasons. In parentheses next to each name is the game number of their first start that year.

No season was created equally. For example, Hiroki Kuroda was injured before his second start of 2009, meaning that the Dodgers had six starters in their first six games. Chad Billingsley was delayed in 2008 only because Joe Torre didn’t want to send him out on a rainy April night. The year before, of course, was the beginning of the Jason Schmidt saga. In 2005, Elmer Dessens and Scott Erickson each got starts before Brad Penny did. Dessens, memorably, got the start in Game No. 161 of 2004.

In the past six years, the latest the Dodgers have gone to a sixth starting pitcher was their 32nd game of the season. In the past five years, the Dodgers have used eight starting pitchers before the season was half over.

It’s interesting that the Dodgers used fewer starting pitchers in the woebegone 2005 campaign than they did in the next four seasons. But my favorite tidbit of this chart is that in 2006, the Dodgers didn’t use a starting pitcher with more than five letters in his last name until the 66th game of the season.

Who’s your favorite name from this group? Jason Johnson? Derek Thompson? Any members of the Jae Seo Marching and Chowder Society, speak up now!

2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004
1 Kuroda (1) Penny (1) Lowe (1) Lowe (1) Lowe (1) Nomo (1)
2 Wolf (2) Lowe (2) Wolf (2) Penny (2) Perez (2) Perez (2)
3 Billingsley (3) Kuo (3) Schmidt (3) Perez (3) Weaver (3) Weaver (3)
4 Kershaw (4) Kuroda (4) Penny (4) Tomko (4) Dessens (4) Ishii (4)
5 McDonald (5) Loaiza (7) Tomko (8) Seo (8) Erickson (5) Lima (11)
6 Stults (6) Billingsley (8) Hendrickson (16) Sele (32) Penny (18) Alvarez (28)
7 Weaver (28) Park (42) Kuo (55) Billingsley (66) Alvarez (45) Jackson (51)
8 Milton (38) Kershaw (49) Billingsley (73) Hendrickson (80) Thompson (48) Penny (105)
9 Schmidt (103) Stults (72) Stults (99) Maddux (108) Houlton (55) Dessens (161)
10 Haeger (119) Johnson (106) Wells (130) Kuo (141) Jackson (124)
11 Padilla (128) Maddux (128) Loaiza (137) Stults (143)
12 Garland (135)
Mar 23

Another day on the Hong-Chih Kuoller coaster

Hong-Chih Kuo hasn’t thrown since Friday and received treatment today, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. Hopefully, it’s just precautionary …

Chad Billingsley became more and more pleased with his mechanics in an 84-pitch, six-inning outing in a minor league game. Gurnick and The Associated Press have details. And Gurnick has a vow from James McDonald to come back strong from his demotion to the minors.

Your top story tonight, however, is this feature on Dodger photographer Jon SooHoo by Chris and Alex Volk at DodgerFan.net.

Mar 23

Bad news: Dodgers cut their best blogger

For months now, Dodger minor leaguer Brian Akin has been delighting us with his Dear (Tommy) John Letters blog. Sadly, Akin now passes along word that the Dodgers have released him.

… Considering all of the factors, I can’t say that I am all that surprised by the decision. Unfortunately it doesn’t make it any easier. The most difficult part of the situation is the fact that my arm feels great. I only threw twice this spring, but I pitched well in both outings. For the first time since 2007, I felt like I was in control of the game. You know when you’re playing Monopoly and everyone decides to quit right when you get that hotel on Boardwalk? That’s kind of what this feels like.

There is one very big positive that comes with my new found unemployment. I get to be home with my wife. If my playing days are indeed over, I’ll really miss baseball – but I’m excited about missing baseball from home rather than missing my wife from the road.

Though I know it’s disappointing, I can add one other positive. Based on his writing, I’d say that Akin has a bright future in whatever he does. Brian, somehow I’m thinking your cup is half-full.

Mar 23

Our cups runneth under


This metaphor comes with the Dodger logo and will cost you only $11.95, plus shipping.

Most cups and glasses (at least of the non-mug variety) are wider at the top than down low. You can take a big first gulp, and when you look down, it still feels like you’ve got plenty left. It might feel practically bottomless.

Then, when you’re not quite ready or prepared for it, there’s a figurative tipping point. The relative slimness of the cup becomes problematic. Not only do you have less left to drink, but each sip lowers down the level of what you have at an accelerated pace. The less you have left, the faster it seems to go.

So many of us forget to savor, or maybe we don’t know how. That’s why cups should be wider at the bottom. And if cups aren’t, then at the very least, life should be.