Feb 17

Today’s Dodger Facebook status updates

Kyle Terada/US PresswireChad Billingsley is digging fielding practice today at Camelback Ranch.

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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.

Aug 03

Slumping Jeff Weaver heads to DL; Rafael Furcal next?

Jeff Weaver, who has allowed 14 runs in 13 2/3 innings since July 1, decided that it might be a good idea to admit that he was pitching with a knee problem. The Dodgers placed Weaver on the disabled list today with left knee tendinitis, and called up Ramon Troncoso from Albuquerque.

… “They kind of pried it out of me,” Weaver said. “Obviously, I wasn’t able to command my pitches like I need to. It’s my landing leg, obviously, so there has been some inconsistency with it. Now is not the time to go out there not at your best. It’s frustrating, but it’s not something that is going to get worse or anything. It just needs a little time to work itself out. Hopefully, this will give me a chance to get it stronger.”

Weaver said he didn’t sense club officials were upset with him for concealing his injury, which he says came on gradually.

“They didn’t really say anything about it,” he said. “I think more than anything, they were happy I came forth with it instead of continuing to go out there with it.” …

* * *

Rafael Furcal is out of the starting lineup tonight, with Joe Torre telling reporters today that the All-Star shortstop is having an MRI on his back. Torre said Furcal felt something in his lower back on a throw, and that he is hoping it is not related to the back trouble that sidelined him for weeks and months in the recent past.

Also, Manny Ramirez has suffered yet another setback, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

* * *

The Dodgers’ magic number to avoid last place is 42. Any combination of Dodger victories and Arizona defeats adding up to 42 will keep Los Angeles out of the cellar.

Jul 24

Torre concedes error in 6-1 loss

Joe Torre told Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com that he made a mistake Friday having Ronnie Beliiard pinch-hit with two out in the bottom of the seventh for Vicente Padilla, who had allowed one run on 77 pitches through seven innings.

If the Dodgers had been scoring more, Torre wouldn’t have been faced with that choice. But with rare exceptions like Bizarro Tim Lincecum night, the Dodger offense hasn’t been doing much lately, and facing the Mets’ Johan Santana didn’t help.

Jeff Weaver compounded Torre’s ill-fated decision. Weaver, who had walked seven batters in his first 28 games this season (through the end of June) and never more than one in a game, walked the first two batters he faced in the eighth – giving him eight walks in 7 2/3 innings in July.

It all went downhill from there.

* * *

Andre Ethier is in a 1-for-24 slump, though he has walked seven times and homered. His batting average (.302), on-base percentage (.367) are at their lowest marks since the second game of the season.

* * *

John Ely had his Friday start for Albuquerque was postponed. Christopher Jackson of Albuquerque Baseball Examiner said Ely was struck by a batting practice ball.

* * *

Here’s a preview of my brother’s latest producing effort, “Young Justice,” which will premiere on Cartoon Network next year with 26 episodes. I have written two and will be writing two more.

Jun 20

Just make Saturday’s game a bullpen game


Chris Williams/Icon SMI
Opponents have a .282 on-base percentage and .321 slugging percentage against Jeff Weaver this season. Since returning to the Dodgers in 2009, his home ERA is 2.68.

The Dodger rotation after today’s game in Boston:

Monday: off
Tuesday: Clayton Kershaw
Wednesday: John Ely
Thursday: Vicente Padilla
Friday: Hiroki Kuroda
Saturday: ???

Those question marks shouldn’t be filled by a pitcher who isn’t major-league ready, just because he’s a “starting pitcher.”

Right now, the best solution for the Dodgers might just be to start Jeff Weaver even if he can only go for two or three innings, and then follow him with a bevy of relievers. And then make a roster move the following day to help rebuild the bullpen if necessary.

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 03

Dodgers’ Opening Day roster almost set

With Jeff Weaver, Ramon Ortiz and Garret Anderson added to the Opening Day roster Friday, the Dodgers have 23 of their 25.

Starting pitchers (5): Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, Vicente Padilla, Charlie Haeger

Relief pitchers (5): Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Ramon Troncoso, Jeff Weaver, Ramon Ortiz

Starting lineup (8): Russell Martin, James Loney, Blake DeWitt, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier

Bench (5): Jamey Carroll, Ronnie Belliard, Brad Ausmus, Reed Johnson, Garret Anderson

Carlos Monasterios is all but a lock for a sixth bullpen spot, bringing the team to 24.

A.J. Ellis would sub in for either Martin or Ausmus should a last-minute health issue flare up, but otherwise is headed to Albuquerque, where Chin-Lung Hu (who made an ugly error to allow the winning run to score in Friday’s 4-3 loss to the Angels) and Xavier Paul will be among his teammates.

Luis Ayala and Justin Miller were sent to the minors Friday.

Barring a last-minute recovery by Hong-Chih Kuo, that leaves pitcher Russ Ortiz and infielder-turned-utility man Nick Green contending for the title of Mr. Irrevelant – the 25th man that no one actually wants to see in a game. (I’d be pretty happy to see Kuo on the roster, even if he’s only pitching once every week to 10 days, over Ortiz or Green.)

Normally, you’d expect a Joe Torre-managed Dodger team to go with at least 12 pitchers. But Torre seems curious about the possibility of knuckleballer Haeger serving as the seventh reliever in between starts, so it’s plausible that Ortiz would start the season in the minors. The Dodgers would then go with 11 pitchers until Ronald Belisario or Kuo were ready to be activated.

On the other hand, today’s start of Carroll at shortstop indicates that Torre is still entertaining the possibility of him being Rafael Furcal’s backup at that position.

In any case, I think we have to face up to the fact that Ortiz will be in a Dodger uniform at some point this season. I had predicted that he would be this year’s Shawn Estes, but he’s looking more like this year’s Weaver or Eric Milton.

For comparison, here are the changes (that we can be reasonably sure of) from the 2009 Opening Day roster:

Starting pitchers: Padilla and Haeger replace Randy Wolf and James McDonald.

Relief pitchers: Sherrill, Weaver, Ramon Ortiz and Monasterios replace Kuo, Guillermo Mota, Will Ohman and Cory Wade.

Starting lineup: DeWitt replaces Orlando Hudson.

Bench: Johnson, Anderson, Carroll and Belliard replace Juan Pierre, Mark Loretta, Doug Mientkiewicz and DeWitt.

Two members of the 2009 Opening Day bullpen, Wade and Ohman, ended up being non-factors for 2010 before April was done.

Feb 21

Scott Elbert recovering from tendinitis

No. 5 starter candidate Scott Elbert had a recent bout of shoulder tendinitis, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, but after being shut down for 10 days had a pain-free bullpen session Thursday. He is scheduled to throw again Monday.

In a separate blog post, Gurnick noted that reliever Travis Schlichting had a pretty significant health scare over the winter, dealing with Gilbert’s syndrome, “which results in increased bilirubin levels and, in Schlichting’s case, is believed to have caused fatigue and nausea that led to (a 30-pound) weight loss.”

Hiroki Kuroda and Hong-Chih Kuo, among others, are having no issues so far.

  • Vicente Padilla was throwing (stories about) bullets. Tony Jackson of ESPN.com/LA has details. If Padilla were a duck, Casey Blake might still have a beard.
  • The way Joe Torre talked about Jeff Weaver, according to Gurnick, a swingman role in the bullpen is his to lose.
  • For those interested in injured pitchers from 2009 that the Dodgers might have signed but ended up with Oakland instead, this Associated Press update tells us that Justin Duchsherer is having back troubles, but Ben Sheets is pounding the strike zone.