Feb 02

Durocher Day

Dodger Thoughts commenter Bob Hendley passed along this photo of Leo Durocher and Laraine Day with his mother-in-law in Santo Domingo during Spring Training. 1948. Very cool.

Speaking of Durocher: Variety reported Wednesday that Christopher Meloni has been cast to play Durocher in “42,” the upcoming feature film starring Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey.

For more on Durocher, check out chapter 57 of 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die: “The Head-Spinning, Allegiance-Shifting, Authority-Defying Leo Durocher.”

Elsewhere …

  • Josh Wilker of Cardboard Gods: still writing, still wonderful.
  • Today in Jon SooHoo: Pitching in his first major-league game in Canada on May 17, 2001, Eric Gagne gets a standing ovation from fans in Montreal. In that game, Gagne allowed two solo homers in the first inning, then pitched two-hit, shutout ball over the next five innings, striking out seven and walking none — but the Dodgers lost, 3-1.
  • Steven Cohen, one of the well-funded Dodger bidders, is pursuing a minority share in the Mets for the time being, according to Bill Shaikin of the Times. If Cohen ended up winning on the Dodgers’ front, he would then sell that Mets share. Shaikin notes that “Cohen has cleared a Major League Baseball investigation, the people said, which could bode well for his chances in the Dodgers sweepstakes.”
  • “The Verducci Effect,” which states that young pitchers who have large increases in innings pitched will decline the following year, is built on faulty methodology, concludes Derek Carty of Baseball Prospectus.
  • Former Dodger pitcher Vicente Padilla is facing legal problems in Nicaragua over child support payments. That could prevent him from reporting to Spring Training on time, although the amount in question has been reported to be only $4,200.
  • Instant-replay reviews in sports aren’t as cut-and-dry as you might think, writes David Cohen in his column for Variety.
  • Here’s a cute follow-up from Volkswagen to last year’s awesome kiddie Darth Vader ad for the Super Bowl.
Nov 28

In starting rotation, sometimes questions beat answers


Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesFor 4 1/2 seasons, the Dodgers never knew what they were going to get in Odalis Perez.

In the wake of the Jon Garland signing, Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. looked at the most commonly used starting pitchers by the Dodgers since 2000, and in the process found that the Dodgers “have had five pitchers each start 30 games in a season just twice in their 127-year franchise history (1977 and 1993), and they have only had four pitchers start 30 games eight other times.”

Good stuff, but I was interested in something else, too. Given my surprise to find our starting rotation settled on paper before the end of November, I was curious how often in recent years the Dodgers had appeared to enter the season in better shape in their starting five than they’re in right now – and how they fared in those seasons.

Looking back at the 2000s (playoff teams in bold):

  • 2010: Charlie Haeger won a beleaguered fifth starter competition. The current 2011 rotation, with Garland as the fifth starter behind Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and Ted Lilly, looks better.
  • 2009: Rookies Kershaw and James McDonald looked promising on paper, but most people would probably take the 2011 quintet, with Kershaw two years older.
  • 2008: Brad Penny was coming off a 3.03 ERA in 2007, Chad Billingsley was rising and Derek Lowe in the final year of his contract, while Kuroda was untested in the U.S. and Kershaw hadn’t arrived. In fact, it was the rotating arms in the No. 5 spot (a shaky Esteban Loaiza, a green Hong-Chih Kuo) that helped hasten Kershaw’s debut.  The Dodger rotation heading into 2008 was probably better than the 2011 group – until Friday.
  • 2007: This was the year newcomers Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf (the first time around) were supposed to anchor the Dodger staff, joining Lowe, Penny and Billingsley. This was an exciting group – until Schmidt and Wolf combined for 24 starts and a 5.05 ERA.
  • 2006: Lowe, Penny … Odalis Perez (coming off a poor 2005) … Brett Tomko and Jae Seo.  A little bit of wishful thinking, here.
  • 2005: New free agent Lowe, Perez (coming off a strong 2004) and Jeff Weaver for the front three. The Dodgers knew they’d be dealing with filler at the No. 5 spot, and with Penny coming back late from his 2004 injury, they were duct-taping No. 4 as well, ultimately starting April with the likes of Elmer Dessens and Scott Erickson.
  • 2004: The Dodgers’ first playoff trip of the century began with Hideo Nomo, Perez, Weaver and Kaz Ishii – not a bad front four if you thought the 25-year-old Perez would regain his 2002 form. The other three had ERAs below 4.00 the year before. The fifth starter left in TBD status until the job was seized by Jose Lima, who had a memorable year through and into the playoffs (after having thrown 503 2/3 innings with a 6.18 ERA since 2000), while Ishii ended up struggling and Nomo fell apart.
  • 2003: Kevin Brown was coming off an injury-plagued 2002, but there was still hope for him (rightfully so) to lead a staff that also included a resurgent Nomo, Ishii and Perez (3.00 ERA in 2002). Darren Dreifort, attempting a comeback after going more than 20 months between games, got the first chance at the No. 5 start, but the Dodgers also had Andy Ashby (3.91 ERA in ’02) as a No. 6 starter. So there was depth, but also an understanding that the depth could be needed immediately.
  • 2002: Lots of new blood to join Brown and Ashby: Nomo (returning as a free agent from Boston), Perez (acquired with Brian Jordan in January’s Gary Sheffield trade) and Ishii (signing his first U.S. contract on February 28) – not to mention Omar Daal, another returning former Dodger who came in an offseason trade from Philadelphia but began the year in the bullpen. By the time Spring Training started, the staff was deep – one of the reasons second-year manager Jim Tracy experimented with converting a guy who had made 24 starts in 2001 into a reliever: Eric Gagne.
  • 2001: In his last year before becoming a free agent, Chan Ho Park was the Opening Day starter for the Dodgers, followed by Gagne, Dreifort, Ashby and – in place of Brown, who was limited by injuries – Luke Prokopec. Either Gagne or Prokopec were to be the No. 5 starters on paper, after making some waves in 2000. You might laugh now, but there was reason to think this could be a pretty decent starting rotation.
  • 2000: You had Brown, Park and Dreifort, all coming off solid 2000 seasons. Then you had Carlos Perez, who had a 7.43 ERA in 1999. And rounding out the fivesome, you had the last gasp of Orel Hershiser, who had a 4.58 ERA with the Mets at age 40 the year before. It did not go well for this rotation.

In terms of Dodger starting rotations that had proven talent in all five slots since 2000, you’d have to look at 2007 and 2002 as the leading lights, with honorable mention to 2003. Neither of these teams, of course, reached the playoffs (though the ’02 team won 92 games), while the Dodgers’ past four playoff teams all had question marks in at least one spot in the starting rotation entering the season.

Oct 16

October 16 playoff chat: Dodger Cy Young winners in the postseason

Rangers 7, Yankees 2, 6th inning

Giants at Phillies, 4:57 p.m.

To celebrate today’s matchup between Tim Lincecum of the Giants and Roy Halladay of the Phillies, here’s a look at how Cy Young winners for the Dodgers performed in their postseason careers:

  • Don Newcombe (1956): Newcombe famously lost a 1-0 start in Game 1 of the 1949 World Series on Tommy Henrich’s bottom-of-the-ninth home run despite allowing only five baserunners and striking out 11. Subsequent to that, Newcombe appeared in another 1949 World Series game, one in 1955 and two in 1956, and allowed 20 runs in 14 innings.
  • Don Drysdale (1962): After a two-inning relief appearance in 1956 at age 20, Drysdale made six postseason starts. Three he won in dominant fashion, including a three-hit, nine-strikeout shutout of the Yankees in 1963. He took a hard-luck, 1-0 loss in the final game of the ’66 sweep by Baltimore, and was hammered in two other starts, including the apochryphal “Why couldn’t you be Jewish too?” start on Yom Kippur, 1965.
  • Sandy Koufax (1963, 1965, 1966): The amazing Koufax allowed only six earned runs in 57 career postseason innings (0.95 ERA). In seven postseason starts, Koufax pitched two shutouts and four complete games. The only time he allowed a second earned run in a game, he struck out 15.
  • Mike Marshall (1974): Marshall pitched in two National League Championship Series games and all five World Series games for the Dodgers in 1974. Through the first six of those games, Marshall pitched nine shutout innings, allowing five baserunners and striking out seven, before being touched by a Joe Rudi home run in the middle of a three-inning outing in the final game. His career postseason ERA was 0.75, and he also stranded both inherited runners.
  • Fernando Valenzuela (1981): Valenzuela is most famous for his 147-pitch complete game against the Yankees in Game 3 of the 1981 World Series, in which he allowed four runs but won. In the four playoff starts he made before that game, Valenzuela went 31 2/3 innings with a 1.71 ERA. (He of course was also the winning pitcher, one out shy of a complete game, in the Dodgers’ decisive NLCS Game 5 triumph.) His postseason success continued with a victory in Game 2 of the 1983 NLCS and two strong outings against the Cardinals in 1985. Valenzuela wrapped up his postseason career in 1996 with a four-batter relief appearance for San Diego, leaving him with a career postseason ERA of 1.98.
  • Orel Hershiser (1988): His postseason career requires a separate post to give it justice. Well, so does Koufax’s too, I suppose, so forgive me.
  • Eric Gagne (2003): Gagne pitched shutout ball twice in 2004 playoff games for the Dodgers, who were trailing big in each game. His remaining seven playoff games came with Boston (five) and Milwaukee (two) and were mostly good, the main exception being his contributions to a seven-run 11th inning by the Indians against the Red Sox in Game 2 of the 2007 ALCS.
Mar 21

Eric Stults gives doubters an opening, Eric Gagne gives them closure

Eric Stults has pitched in nine innings this month (including Taiwan), if I’m not mistaken. Eight of those innings have been good; one of them has been bad. For his first three innings today, Stults was near-perfect.

Perhaps Stults isn’t meant to be the Dodgers’ No. 5 starter in April, and perhaps that’s justified. But if that’s the decision, I hope it’s not because of a single bad fourth inning on March 21. I hope the Dodgers have better reasons than that. Because it ain’t as if the next guy is gonna be perfect …

  • Game Over is truly over: Eric Gagne’s request for his unconditional release by the Dodgers has been granted. Adios, monsieur.
  • Joe Torre called off contract extension talks between himself and the Dodgers, citing a few reasons, including the idea that they were a “distraction,” according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. I can certainly understand his hesitancy to commit to work beyond the expiration of his contract at the end of this year, but I don’t see how the uncertainty concerning the Dodgers’ post-2010 managerial situation will be any less distracting, Don Mattingly or not.
  • The amazing UCLA baseball team is now 16-0. Eric Sondheimer of the Times notes that the Bruins outscored Oral Roberts 41-7 in a three-game sweep.
  • Sorry, folks, but Dodger Stadium simply won’t be ready for the 1961 season. “You gather that Florida is sufficiently far enough away from the scene of delayed action to keep (Walter) O’Malley from blowing his top,” wrote Times sports editor Paul Zimmerman, “but just barely.”
  • My advice regarding Russell Martin: When Martin and the Dodgers agree that he is absolutely, positively recovered enough from his injury to play in a game … tack on an extra week off right then.
Mar 15

Scott Elbert, Eric Gagne sent down

Scott Elbert and Eric Gagne are among the players the Dodgers have sent to minor-league camp, the team announced this morning.

Others, in case you hadn’t heard, are Kenley Jansen, John Lindsey, Michael Restovich and Scott Dohmann.

In addition, the Dodger career of Rule 5 draftee Armando Zerpa is over – he has been sent back to Boston.

Though nothing’s been decided yet, Joe Torre told reporters this morning that Ronald Belisario was “a longshot” to be on the Dodgers Opening Day roster.

Mar 06

Eric Gagne’s Dodger return: Welcome to the Enchanted Tiki Room

There were lots of tidbits from today’s Spring Training game, even though the Dodgers lost. But the one that might stick with people the most is Eric Gagne’s return in a Dodger uniform.

After all the reports I heard that Gagne looked starkly thinner – I was half-expecting Sally Struthers to make an appeal on his behalf – my view of him on TV was that the difference wasn’t so noticeable. Of course, when you’re dealing with baggy uniforms, who knows?

But although Gagne didn’t get hit hard, he did get hit. He didn’t have any strikeouts, and he allowed himself to get dinked and donked for two runs on three hits. None of this matters as far as what he’ll have in 2010 to offer the team or not. My only interest really was in recollecting the Gagne experience, and this certainly wasn’t it (not that I was expecting much).

And still, I was happy to see him, and happy for the reminders that floated through my head of his previous Dodger career.

Gagne told Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com that he was a “little off mechanically” but “felt really good physically.”

* * *

James McDonald and Jeff Weaver had frustrating spring debuts for the Dodgers, but Eric Stults and Russ Ortiz cruised in their two innings. Manny Ramirez had a single, double and walk to give him an .833 on-base percentage after two days. Blake DeWitt is 2 for 3 with two walks after a perfect two plate appearances today.

“Stults was good,” Dodger manager Joe Torre said. “I thought he mixed his pitches well. I thought he did a nice job, as did Russ Ortiz.

“(James McDonald) just wasn’t throwing strikes. Wasn’t throwing strikes with his offspeed pitch, and just didn’t look like he was locating. Even when he was throwing strikes, it didn’t look like he was throwing them in the place he wanted to throw them. He’s been fine. He’s been throwing the ball good; he’s been working on some stuff. As they say, we’ll see.”

The Dodgers are still looking for their first Spring Training triple or home run. And with rain in the forecast for Sunday’s game against the Cubs in Mesa, they might still be looking.

* * *

Who would have a copy handy of the 1966 Kansas City A’s media guide? Baseball Nerd Keith Olbermann would, and he uses it to render tall Rick Monday’s tale that he was given uniform No. 104 at Spring Training that year.

* * *

I wanted to point you to a feature I did for Variety on one of my favorite blogs – Earl Pomerantz: Just Thinking … if you haven’t been there yet, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Feb 20

It’s the first day of the rest of your Spring Training

On your mark, get set … go!

  • Eric Gagne is slimmer, regretful and realistic on the first day of Spring Training, according to Tony Jackson of ESPN.com/LA. Gagne told T.J. Simers of the Times that he used human growth hormone during “part” of his dominant stretch with the Dodgers.
  • Jackson also has continued discussion of Joe Torre’s plan to return as Dodger manager in 2011, although from what I can tell there were no new news developments on an official level. We did learn that Don Mattingly will manage the Dodgers who stay in Arizona when part of the team goes to Taiwan. Sorry, Tommy.
  • Gagne has borrowed his old No. 38 back from Ramon Troncoso, at least for the exhibition run. “He made that number for the Dodgers,” Troncoso told Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports. Sorry, Lance Rautzhan.
  • Ronald Belisario had a season so nice after arriving late to Spring Training because of visa problems, he’s trying it twice.
  • Why did Casey Blake shave his beard? The same reason all men do – because of a bad duck hunt.
  • The Dodgers are marketing the June 25-27 series against the Yankees as “The Rivalry Renewed,” and Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy, who saw 10 billboards in one Sunset Blvd. mile, doesn’t approve.
  • Jordan Hershiser, the 6-foot-8! USC sophomore pitcher who was born during Dad’s record consecutive shutout innings streak, is the subject of another VSIMH post.
  • Matt Kemp’s 1,072.4% salary raise from 2009 to 2010 was second only to Tim Lincecum, notes The Associated Press.
  • On first glance, I thought this McCourt organizational flow chart at Dodger Divorce was a parody, but apparently it’s the real deal, at least in the eyes of Jamie McCourt’s legal team.
  • Russell Martin is definitely trying a bulk solution to his hitting problems, adding 25 pounds to his own backstop, writes Dylan Hernandez of the Times.
  • Arte Moreno believes that the Angels’ name migration from Anaheim to Los Angeles has fulfilled his hopes for increased revenue, writes Mike DiGiovanna of The Times.
Feb 19

Logan White gave thumbs up to Eric Gagne signing

Dodger scouting guru Logan White told general manager Ned Colletti that he thought Eric Gagne would be “competitive” after watching Gagne throw this month, writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. Colletti added other thoughts about Gagne’s unlikely candidacy to make the Dodgers.

… Colletti said Gagne’s inclusion in the Mitchell Report was not a factor.

“He’s not the first player to sign a contract after being in the Mitchell Report and this also isn’t his first team since,” he said. …

Now, can Gagne go from Indy ball to make the cut for the Dodgers’ bullpen, one of the deepest in the league? Jonathan Broxton is the All-Star closer, former Orioles closer George Sherrill sets up, Ronald Belisario and Hong-Chih Kuo follow them with Ramon Troncoso now established in middle relief and Jeff Weaver the most likely swingman. That leaves maybe one spot up for grabs and about a dozen arms against which Gagne will compete. What are the chances?

“It’s too early to tell,” said Colletti. “But you don’t walk away from the opportunity to have somebody who has been really successful see where they’re at. It would be shortsighted if you don’t give people like that a chance. The bullpen is one of our stronger areas, but you have no idea what can happen over the next seven weeks, who gets hurt, who has lost it somewhere along the line. I’d rather have choices to make.”

* * *

Update: Russell Martin, “who focused on improving his flexibility last off-season, went back to his old strength-based training program this winter,” writes Dylan Hernandez of the Times.

Feb 18

Down in ‘Jungle’-land: Eric Gagne signs minor-league deal

Eric Gagne has signed a minor-league contract with the Dodgers, according to Dylan Hernandez of The Times, Ken Gurnick of MLB.com and Tony Jackson of ESPN/LA, citing anonymous sources.

The odds remain against Gagne ever pitching in Dodger Stadium again, short of the organization bringing back the Oldtimers Game, and it’s almost certain he won’t break into the major-league bullpen by Opening Day. But apparently the Dodgers saw something in Gagne worth pursuing. I’m imagining there will be quite a roar if he takes the home mound one more time.

Gagne last pitched for the Dodgers on June 6, 2006 (coincidentally, the day Clayton Kershaw was drafted). After making his season debut four days earlier – nearly a year after his last major-league game – Gagne struck out two in a 14-pitch save against the Mets. There were reports he was ailing after the game,  but hope persisted he would return later in the year. Here’s my report from June 26 of that year.

Gagne said that he felt a little stiffness warming up in the bullpen before his last game June 6, but that it was nothing that he hadn’t felt in the past when he was healthy. But he thinks that when he entered the game, he overthrew a changeup – “rolled it over too much” – and tweaked the nerve. Subsequent treatment with anti-inflammatories did not help.

“It got better and we started some exercises, then it got sore again,” Johnston said.

The switch to neurontin seems to have brought renewed optimism, however cautious. If the progress continues, Gagne can resume exercises before moving forward, according to Johnston.

Gagne added that he isn’t sure that a rehabilitation assignment in AAA Las Vegas will be necessary, and that he could be on the Dodger Stadium mound in July.

“It’s not a bad injury,” Gagne said. “It’s just a nagging injury.”

Still, it has been a long, impatient road for Gagne, whose injury spiral began in March 2005 when he injured his knee during a Spring Training pepper drill. When asked how Gagne has handled his time on the sidelines, Johnston said sympathetically, “not very well.”

“He’s very frustrated,” Johnston said. “He’s such a competitor. He lives to be a big part of the team.”

Interviewing Gagne, it was easy to be swayed by the feeling that he knows his body, that he will be as patient during this rehabilitation as he says, that he will warm up as carefully in the future as he promises and ultimately, that he’s right to believe he will help the Dodgers this season. Walking away, it was hard not to feel paranoid that preventing further injury was beyond his control.

Can he really be on the mend? Why couldn’t he be on the mend? Fool me once and all that.

The implication was that further rest after Gagne’s pain disappeared was unneccessary, but the question I didn’t ask is whether that is a certainty.

Overall, Gagne and Johnston seemed quite humbled by the struggle.

After sitting out the remainder of 2006, Gagne pitched well in 31 games for Texas in 2007, but was traded to Boston and soon lost his remaining effectiveness, though he did end the 2008 season with 8 2/3 shutout innings with eight strikeouts. He had a rather nondescript 2009 pitching in a Canadian independent league.

Thomas Harding of MLB.com said that in his workout for the Rockies earlier this week, Gagne looked “noticeably lighter.”

Partly to rebuild the small shoulder muscles and partly to avoid some of the back pain that affected him in recent years, Gagne took up Ja Shin Do, a mixed-martial-arts-based workout in an extremely hot room, taught by Scottsdale grandmaster Andy Bauman. Former Rockies pitchers Shawn Estes (now with the Nationals) and Jeff Fassero and Dodgers catcher Russell Martin undergo similar workouts.

The result, Gagne said, is he is in better condition and his arm is “the best it’s felt in three or four years, easy.”

Well, if Estes, Fassero and Martin are doing it …

Despite my skepticism, I’m rooting for Gagne to make it back.