Jun 01

Bison buys one for the Dodgers, 1-0


Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
“The Dodgers are going to have to take an ad to get a run for him,” Vin Scully commented after John Ely’s seven innings of shutout ball left him with a no-decision.

And so we’ve found the kryptonite for John Ely – the Dodger offense. With his seven innings of two-hit, two-walk shutout ball tonight, Ely has allowed one run on 10 baserunners over 14 1/3 innings – a 0.63 ERA – but in that time, the Dodgers haven’t scored for him.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Matt Kemp: Glory be.

They did score for Jeff Weaver, however. With one out in the bottom of the 10th inning of a scoreless tie, Matt Kemp hit a hanging fastball hard, deep and winningly. His blast to the left-field bleachers off Juan Guiterrez gave the Dodgers a slightly more conventional walkoff victory, 1-0 over Arizona.

With walkoff wag Andre Ethier on deck, Kemp tied his outfield colleague with his 11th homer of the year and moved the Dodgers within a game of San Diego for the best record in the National League. It was the first 1-0 extra inning victory since Russell Martin hit that game-winning homer against the Giants on August 13, 2006, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. For the year, the Dodgers are now 2-2 in 1-0 games.

Kemp stole the spotlight from Ely, but the wunderkind pitcher still glows.

Ely took a no-hitter into the fifth inning before a Rusty Ryal single got past a somewhat immobile Casey Blake. To be honest, that wasn’t the first hard-hit ball off Ely – on MLB Gameday, the “Away Outs” portion of the hit chart in the bottom left-hand corner shows five balls caught at the warning track or deeper. But that doesn’t mean Ely wasn’t mesmerizing. At one stretch, he threw first-pitch strikes to 11 consecutive batters.

Ely even mesmerized Russell Martin, who committed a passed ball on what would have been an inning-ending strikeout in the top of the seventh but instead allowed Arizona to put Ely in some of his biggest jeopardy of the night – runners at first and second. (Martin also committed a throwing error after an Ely wild pitch that allowed Ryal to reach third base in the fifth.) But two pitches later, LaRoche practically mimicked the James Loney blunder of Monday’s game – actually did worse, considering how many outs there were – by getting himself thrown out by Martin trying to advance on another ball in the dirt.

That, as it turned out, was the last we’d see of Ely tonight. With a runner on first base and one out, Joe Torre decided to have Garret Anderson pinch-hit for Ely, who had thrown 92 pitches, in what I commented at the time was not exactly going to be a popular decision. Anderson then did himself no favors by hitting into a routine 4-6-3 double play.

Ely went to the showers with his ERA lowered to 2.54 and his sixth consecutive quality start in which he allowed no more than two runs. (The six straight quality starts are the most by a Dodger rookie since Hideo Nomo in 1995, according to the Dodger press notes.) Ely struck out five, and his K/BB ratio actually declined to 4.63. Interestingly, he’s getting close to having enough innings to qualify for the National League ERA race, and even more interestingly, it’s kind of relevant. As of now, Ely is 12th in the league in ERA among pitchers with at least 40 innings and third in K/BB.

“The Dodgers are going to have to take an ad to get a run for him,” Vin Scully commented.

Dodger fans who were doubly disappointed by the Anderson-for-Ely exchange might have felt that disappointment redouble when Ronald Belisario gave up a leadoff single in the eighth, and, after a Chris Snyder bunt, Dan Haren was left in the game to bat. The explanation: Haren was 14 for 34 (.412) this season, plus Arizona’s bullpen is notoriously poor. But Haren flied out, and Hong-Chih Kuo came in to get Kelly Johnson to ground out.

Haren, who had an 8.68 ERA over his past three starts, continued through the eighth inning. Ethier got his first hit since coming off the disabled list, meaning that for the third time in three weeks, Manny Ramirez would bat in a potential game-winning situation in the eighth inning against a tiring Arizona starter. Ramirez hit a grand slam off Edwin Jackson on May 12, then struck out with the score tied 4-4 Monday against Rodrigo Lopez. Tonight, Haren just missed striking out Ramirez on his 125th pitch, and then on his career-high 126th pitch, Ramirez popped to center field. Amid chatter that Haren might be left in for infinity and beyond, he instead ended his night with eight shutout innings, allowing seven hits and striking out seven while walking nada.

Neither team scored in the ninth, despite two-out hits by Martin and Jamey Carroll, and so the Dodgers and Arizona took their scoreless game to extra innings. Weaver allowed a hit in an otherwise harmless top of the 10th, and then one out after Rafael Furcal lined to short, Kemp made Ely the valued best supporting actor in a victory.

* * *

Sour note: James McDonald’s hamstring injury is significant, writes Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.

… McDonald is presently on the seven-day DL and is at the Dodgers’ spring-training facility in Glendale, Ariz., where he is throwing off flat ground. But he isn’t expected to return to pitching competitively anytime soon.

“It’s a significant strain,” Dodgers trainer Stan Conte said. “It’s not a small one. We call it a Grade 2 out of a possible three. We’ll just have to see how long it takes. We don’t believe it’s a matter of days. It’s longer than that.”

May 26

Monasterios to start Friday

Carlos Monasterios will start Friday for the Dodgers in Colorado, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. The team is expected to go back to a 12-man staff by then, and Jackson thinks Scott Elbert might get the call despite his control problems. Elbert has allowed four earned runs in his past 16 1/3 innings, though he has 11 walks in that time.

If the Dodgers are looking for a lefty specialist for the time being, Elbert might be the guy. According to Minor League Splits, Elbert has walked three of 40 left-handed batters he has faced (8 percent) and 26 of 139 right-handed batters (19 percent). Lefties are batting .229 against Elbert (.304 batting average on balls in play); righties .301 (.383).

But if they just want a long man in the bullpen – and someone who might take the next start instead of Monasterios – perhaps James McDonald is the better choice.

* * *

Rafael Furcal wasn’t the only one who goofed Tuesday. I managed to miss another start Ryan Dempster made against the Dodgers last year – August 23. Thanks to commenter DodgerKramer for alerting me. Dempster allowed no earned runs in seven innings that outing, meaning that his streak of innings without allowing an earned run against the Dodgers is actually 22.

May 04

James McDonald tries to make the case for a callup

John Ely is expected to start Thursday for the Dodgers, but is James McDonald ready to reclaim his roster spot? McDonald, who entered the season as a potential member of the starting rotation, is back from his fingernail-induced hiatus and takes a 3.57 ERA into his start today for Albuquerque against Memphis at 5:05 p.m.

McDonald has 16 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings for the Isotopes, but has allowed 25 baserunners despite his five innings of no-hit ball last week. On the other hand, outside of the one-inning start that sent him to the DL, McDonald has allowed four runs and 20 baserunners in 16 2/3 innings (2.16 ERA). The 25-year-old’s career major-league ERA is 3.65.

Apr 24

Dodgers win in extras but lose Vicente Padilla


Nick Wass/AP
Carlos Monasterios, right, gets a high-five from Russell Martin, center, and Matt Kemp after the Dodgers defeated the Washington Nationals 4-3 in 13 innings Saturday. Monasterios isn’t going anywhere for a while after his 2 2/3 extra innings of shutout ball.

See what happens when you get two out of three cogs working?

The Dodger defense help cause the team to play four extra innings Saturday, but this time the bullpen was up to the task while the offense did just enough. With Carlos Monasterios getting the final eight outs, the Dodgers defeated Washington in 13, 4-3.

The glow was tempered a bit with the news that Vicente Padilla was going on the 15-day disabled list with right forearm problems – the third Dodger to go on the DL this week. Reliever Jon Link has been recalled, but the Dodgers will make another roster move by Tuesday for a starter to take Padilla’s turn in the rotation. But there was a glow nevertheless.

Clayton Kershaw (3.13 ERA in 2010) allowed 11 baserunners in six innings but went to the showers with a 3-2 lead thanks to Casey Blake’s second home run. However, a Russell Martin throwing error – the 20th of the Dodgers’ 17-game season to date – led to an eighth-inning entrance by Jonathan Broxton, who allowed the game-tying, unearned run (charged to Ramon Troncoso). Rafael Furcal’s error an inning earlier also caused trouble; the Dodgers used four pitchers to get six outs in the sixth and seventh.

But the Dodger bullpen provided five scoreless innings at a most welcome time, with Broxton pitching the ninth, George Sherrill retiring all four batters he faced and then Monasterios (his ERA shrinking to 2.08) providing the final 2 2/3 innings to end it.

It wasn’t without one more scare. Monasterios entered the bottom of the 13th with the one-run lead after Russell Martin (0 for 5 with the big error at that point) singled in Furcal, who had singled and stolen his eighth base in nine attempts this year (second in the National League). Monasterios allowed a one-out single to pinch-hitter Ivan Rodriguez and then a double to the right-field corner by Nyler Morgan. A faster player would have scored, but Rodriguez held at third – and then was thrown out at the plate by inches by Blake on the Nationals’ next at-bat.

Cristian Guzman then popped out to end it. Monsasterios had come through. The Dodgers had come through. Even though Washington had gotten a runner to at least second base in each of the first nine innings, the Dodgers won.

From Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:

Monasterios, 24, generally keeps his emotions in check on the field but was jumping up and down in the infield like a Little Leaguer when he got Guzman to fly to left and end the game.

“That’s the correct way, no?” Monasterios asked. “I’m very excited and happy to be on this team right now. This experience will give me a lot of self confidence.”

Shades of Pedro Astacio …

Blake went 3 for 5 with the three RBI from his two homers, and Furcal, Matt Kemp and James Loney each had two hits. (Furcal also had a walk.)

With James McDonald on the AAA disabled list because of a broken nail (“Why tonight?”), the leading candidates to take the Tuesday start are John Ely, Scott Elbert and Josh Towers. Ely and Towers would require a 40-man roster spot, which the Dodgers have to spare if they move Brad Ausmus or Cory Wade from the 15- to the 60-day DL. Ely has the best numbers of the three: a 3.00 ERA over three starts covering 18 innings, though he has allowed 16 hits and eight walks against 12 strikeouts, and he’d be on five days’ rest for Tuesday. McDonald could be activated from the DL next week, but would the Dodgers use him after the layoff he has had?

Elbert, who last pitched for Albuquerque five days ago and was scheduled as recently as Friday to pitch today, was replaced by Seth Etherton, so one might have concluded he’ll get the call despite allowing 13 runs in eight innings over his past two starts. (He pitched six shutout innings in his first start of the year.) But Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. points out that Elbert is with his wife for the birth of their second child, so who knows?

Also keep in mind, with the possibility of a rainout Sunday or Monday, the Dodgers might be able to postpone addressing this problem. Anyway, enjoy today’s glow – a nice alternative to what could have been another dastardly disappointment.

Apr 13

One take, baby – one take

So after today’s game, Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com and I got together at the Dodger Stadium Downtown Overlook to talk shop.  Welcome to Low Expectations Video Theater, where it’s all unscripted, there are no reshoots and anything can happen. Is there an explosion? Well, there isn’t not not an explosion.

Job 1: Work on my squinting.

  • A statue of Chick Hearn is headed for the front of Staples Center, writes Steve Springer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. This is sure to get people talking about a Vin Scully statue at Dodger Stadium.
  • Quote of the Day comes from Dodger starter Clayton Kershaw, via Jackson: “I would rather we win because of me than in spite of me.” Arash Markazi of the site has more.
  • Jackson reports that George Sherrill’s next appearance might be moved earlier in the game as he works through his troubles.
  • Andre Ethier talks about his ankle to Dylan Hernandez of the Times the way Jack Walsh talked about his popularity with the Chicago police department.
  • Brad Ausmus is very worried that his latest back problems might end his career six months early, writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • The Dodgers’ four home runs today were a Los Angeles home opener record.
  • The starting outfield of Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Ethier homered in the same game for the second time since they’ve been a unit.
  • One other scoreboard oddity I forgot to mention today: A new feature (as new as a ripoff of ’80s David Letterman can be) in which Tommy Lasorda throws things off a Dodger Stadium ledge and the audience votes on whether those things will break. Believe it or not, if you throw a TV from a great height, it won’t bounce.
  • Carlos Monasterios should have pitched today, argue Chad Moriyama of Memories of Kevin Malone and Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness, which has added an “Ortiz DFA-O-Meter” to its upper-right corner.
  • James McDonald tonight: six innings, 11 baserunners, three runs, eight strikeouts.
  • John Lindsey Watch: 2 for 2 off the bench to raise his on-base percentage to .654 and slugging to .864.
  • Nick Staskin of Phillies Nation isn’t happy that fans there have begun to boo Cole Hamels. I can relate.
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.

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 17

James McDonald headed for bullpen


Chris McGrath/Getty Images
James McDonald

This probably won’t come as much of  a surprise, but Dodger manager Joe Torre told reporters this morning that James McDonald “looks like more of a bullpen guy.”

I don’t know yet if Torre means that about McDonald in April, or forever.  But you get the sense that we’ll see McDonald limited to shorter stints in the near future at least, and that he won’t be starting the year in the Albuquerque rotation with Scott Elbert.

No longterm decision on McDonald should be based on the first two weeks of Spring Training games, or for that matter his four career major-league starts. But you start to wonder if the Long Beach native will ever get a full opportunity to prove himself as a starter, or whether, like Jonathan Broxton (who was a very effective starting pitcher over 50 games in the minors), it has simply been decided that McDonald’s skill set doesn’t translate into a big-league rotation.

* * *

  • The Dodgers sent Russ Mitchell, Juan Perez and Prentice Redman to minor-league camp.
  • Former Dodger and current Rangers manager Ron Washington will be part of a media tempest after he admitted to testing positive for cocaine use last year.
  • The Rockies have an ample supply of health concerns, according to Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus. Here’s his rundown of Arizona as well, while David Pinto of Baseball Musings points specifically to problems in the Colorado bullpen.
  • In surprising news, the Nationals released outfielder Elijah Dukes.
Mar 15

The Ramon Ortiz tease

Fifteen Dodger pitchers have Spring Training ERAs of 0.00, so it’s not exactly a rare feat at this stage of 2010. But it’s fair to tip one’s hat to Ramon Ortiz, who has extended his scoreless string to nine innings (with seven baserunners and 11 strikeouts) after throwing four shutout frames today in the Dodgers’ 4-0 victory over the Angels.

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Ramon Ortiz allowed two baserunners in four innings today, while striking out five.

It doesn’t mean that Ortiz will end 2010 a better pitcher than Scott Elbert, who had some soreness about as soon as Spring Training began and was optioned to the minors today with a 20.25 ERA. But it does mean that Ortiz has made himself a very real part of the No. 5 starter conversation, along with fellow 0.00ers Eric Stults, Russ Ortiz and Carlos Monasterios.

I emphasize the word “conversation” because we are still three weeks away from Opening Day, which means we’re still at the talking stage as opposed to the decision stage. The Ortizii also operate at a disadvantage to Stults, Monasterios and Charlie Haeger, all of whom the Dodgers would lose if they’re not on the April 5 roster. As I wrote last month, neither Ortiz (combined age: 73) has had a major-league ERA below 5.00 since 2004. So this isn’t just a question of turning over a new leaf – did they upend the entire tree?

Predictably, there’s all kinds of talk of Ramon Ortiz succeeding by adjusting to his limitations, as seen here in Tom Singer’s MLB.com article this afternoon. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports that Ortiz benefited by learning  to throw a curveball in Japan in 2008.  I’m not ruling it all out – nor am I ruling out the possibility that Ortiz will leapfrog the others and earn a spot on the staff in April. I just happen to still have major doubts that we’ll be waxing positive about Ortiz in September.

* * *

When Spring Training began, there were at least two spots on the pitching staff open for competition. But now there could be as many as five – if Ronald Belisario begins the year on the restricted list, if Hong-Chih Kuo begins the year on the disabled list and if the team goes with a 12-man staff. (At this point, my bets would be: yes, no, yes.)

There are at least 10 remaining candidates: Ortiz, Ortiz, Stults, Haeger, Monasterios, Jon Link, James McDonald, Josh Towers, Justin Miller and Jeff Weaver. Too soon to say what will happen, but the most intriguing decision might be whether McDonald will be in the Dodger bullpen or the Isotopes starting rotation, alongside Elbert.

* * *

  • Trayvon Robinson Saturday, Brian Cavazos-Galvez Sunday and Angelo Songco today – all hitting no-doubter home runs.  I can’t remember a Spring Training when the Dodgers got homers in three consecutive games from players 22-and-under – two of them not even out of A ball yet. Fun.
  • Argenis Reyes, Brent Leach, Travis Schlichting and Ivan De Jesus, Jr. were sent to the minors this afternoon.
  • Doug Mientkiewicz has a .421 on-base percentage in Spring Training after going 2 for 3 today; Garret Anderson is at .400 (2 for 5 in two games).
  • There will be a memorial service for Willie Davis on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium, according to The Associated Press.
  • Now that “Sugar” is making the rounds on cable and DVD – Josh Wilker wrote about it today at Cardboard Gods – it’s time for any of you who ignored my recommendation to see it to go see it already!
  • Update: What do Jamie McCourt and Leslie Knope have in common? The ambition to be President of the United States, according to Bill Shaikin of the Times.
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.