Feb 27

Dodgers look sharp against Angels


Harry How/Getty ImagesMatt Kemp and Marcus Thames feel fine in the sunshine.

Spring Training, Day 2

Highlights:

  • Looking to return to form and function, John Ely faced eight batters and allowed one hit, striking out three and walking none.
  • The Dodger bullpen followed with seven shutout innings from Mike MacDougal, Blake Hawksworth, Kenley Jansen, Ramon Troncoso and Jon Link.
  • Two hits from Rafael Furcal in his Spring Training debut.
  • Jamie(Jamey)’s got a glove: Diving defensive plays from Jamey Carroll at short and Jamie Hoffmann in left field.
  • Rod Barajas hit the Dodgers first homer of the spring.

Lowlights:

  • I didn’t see the play, so I don’t know how bad it was, but after hitting a two-run single in the first inning, Matt Kemp was picked off. Something for him and Davey Lopes to talk about?
  • Andre Ethier struck out in both his at-bats.

Sidelights:

Feb 23

With Padilla out, who is the Dodgers’ No. 6 starter?


Kelvin Kuo/US PresswireJohn Ely

Vicente Padilla was ticketed for the bullpen, but everyone expected him to be the first guy Los Angeles turned to if anyone in the Dodgers’ starting rotation had to miss a start. In fact, Padilla was going to be on a starters’ program in the early days of Spring Training before shifting to a relievers’ routine.

Dodger fans can still hope that Padilla will be back in uniform before a sixth starter is needed, but in case he isn’t, who’s next in line?

  • Blake Hawksworth started some last year for St. Louis, but Don Mattingly seemed pretty keen on keeping him in the bullpen. “As a starter he was throwing 90 (mph), 91 and out of the bullpen 94, 95,” Dodger manager Don Mattingly told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com earlier this month. “Sometimes a guy thinks when he’s starting he has to pace himself. Out of the ‘pen he’s more aggressive and attacking. We feel that’s where he fits best.”
  • Carlos Monasterios started 13 games for the Dodgers last year, but also performed much better in relief. The question is how the Dodgers view him going forward: He was ticketed for Albuquerque to start this season, but if he’s going to be in the rotation, he might be someone they turn to.
  • The Dodgers have toyed with Scott Elbert and even Ramon Troncoso as starting pitchers in their minor-league careers, but they are firmly relievers now.
  • Jon Link has gotten some brief starting work in his pro career, but he seems an unlikely option.
  • Minor-League Pitcher of the Year Rubby De La Rosa? Maybe later, but too soon for now.
  • Tim Redding is the player in camp with the most starting experience: 144 starts in the 33-year-old’s major-league career. But none of those have come since 2009, when he had a 5.10 ERA for the Mets.

That brings us back to last spring’s rotation savior, John Ely. Ely had a 2.54 ERA through June 1, an 8.00 ERA after. If there’s any chance that Part II was the fluke and not Part I, Ely might get the first opportunity to prove it. Elymania II?

Sep 26

Ely’s issues more complicated than ‘just throw strikes’

Matt York/AP
John Ely has allowed 11 home runs and 29 walks in his past 49 1/3 major-league innings.

It’s getting harder and harder to remember the John Ely we all want to remember.

Though Ely never trailed Saturday until allowing a sixth-inning home run, he surely did struggle, using 101 pitches (nearly half of them balls) in 5 1/3 innings and walking five unintentionally. He had six consecutive outstanding starts from May 6 to June 1; since then, he has had three quality starts out of 10 in the majors, with an ERA of 7.48 and 5.3 walks/2.0 home runs per nine innings. Opponents are OPS-ing 1.002 against him in that time.

During Elymania, everyone marveled at his ability to pound the plate, and the value of that is borne out on first glance at his splits: Ely has allowed a .567 OPS after getting a first strike on a batter, .983 after ball one. However, it’s not quite that simple, because Ely is also allowing a .929 OPS when batters swing at his first pitch.

According to MLB Gameday, Cole Gillespie’s pivotal three-run homer Saturday came on a 80-mph floating changeup over the meat of the plate that followed an 87-mph fastball for a strike. Ely had the count to his advantage, but the pitch just wasn’t good enough.

None of this is enough to make me give up on Ely, but he is going to need to find a way to raise his game. The walks contribute to his trouble, but simply throwing strikes isn’t enough. He somehow has to get back to fooling people.

* * *

Josh Fisher at Dodger Divorce goes beyond the legal realities of the McCourt case to offer his take on what really happened with the disputed post-nup agreement.

* * *

To my amusement, in the Dodger press notes, Dodgers communications vice president Josh Rawitch has been tracking Chin-Lung Hu’s rise up the chart of all-time Dodger leaders in games played by a shortstop. Friday, Hu passed Rafael Bournigal to move into a tie for 29th place, and Saturday, Hu left Oscar Robles in the dust. Hu’s next game at short takes him past Kevin Elster.

According to Rawitch, the Dodgers will finish the season with 593 player games lost to the disabled list, the team’s lowest total since 2002. The Dodgers crossed the 1,000-game mark in 2008 and 2009.

Sep 16

The Big Blue Wrecked Crew: 2010-11 Dodger offseason primer


Kirby Lee/US PresswireRussell Martin: Just one of the many questions the Dodgers face this winter.

The Dodger roster heading into the 2010-11 offseason, and I don’t say this lightly, is a mess.

It’s not a hopeless mess. But it is a mess, and it’s going to take some skill from the crew in charge to clean up. It’s a goop of oil and water, an unsightly combination of having to fill holes while also figuring out which rising salaries to jettison and which to risk holding onto.

Oh, and when the 2010 season ends, the No. 5 starter on the 40-man roster, at least by major-league experience, will be someone who hasn’t pitched in a professional game in four months: Scott Elbert.

The Dodgers have one absolute jewel on the team: Clayton Kershaw. The team’s top player won’t be arbitration eligible for one more year and only figures to earn approximately $500,000 in 2011.

Then, there are a few players whose higher salaries the Dodgers won’t mind paying. Chad Billingsley, who will command somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million, knocked down many of the questions others had about him with a resurgent 2010 season. Hong-Chih Kuo will draw low seven figures, and after the way he has persevered and performed, no one should begrudge him. Kenley Jansen will make people swoon, and only receive the major-league minimum pay and meal money in return.

So much for the good news. Now, the concerns:

  • Rafael Furcal surely remains talented, but the Dodgers have $12 million going to a player who has averaged fewer than 100 games per year since 2008.
  • Slumping reliever Jonathan Broxton’s final season before free agency is tagged with a $7 million salary.
  • Coming off an injury that ended his second straight disappointing year, arbitration-eligible Russell Martin would also get as much as $7 million if the Dodgers don’t non-tender him.
  • Andre Ethier looked like an MVP at the start of the year; by the end, his $9.25 million 2011 salary for an outfielder who struggles against lefties didn’t seem like quite as much of a bargain.
  • Lightning Rod Award-winning outfielder Matt Kemp has $6.95 million coming next year.
  • Casey Blake, game but aging, gets $5.25 million in the final chapter of his three-year deal.
  • By now, James Loney should have developed enough that the $4.5 million he is projected to earn next year should have seemed closer to a bargain than a burden, but his second-half disappearance hasn’t helped matters.
  • Incumbent second baseman Ryan Theriot and his sub-.700 OPS will bring home about $3.5 million if the Dodgers hang onto him.

In sum, that’s about $55 million committed to a series of question marks, some small, some large. In addition, Los Angeles owes approximately $17 million of its 2011 budget to (swallow hard) Manny Ramirez, Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones and Jason Schmidt — the price for turning past mistakes into the playoff teams of the previous two years.

Overall, the Dodgers on paper have close to $100 million – a figure that might well be at or above their budget limit – committed before they make a single offseason move.

Now, all is not lost. The Dodgers can and probably will gain roughly $12 million in breathing room if and when they bid farewell to George Sherrill, Octavio Dotel, Scott Podsednik and Brad Ausmus (who has said he will retire). Meanwhile, free agents Jay Gibbons and Rod Barajas should start to help shore up the bench for under $2 million combined. And it should be noted that not all of the above question marks will have negative answers.

Nevertheless, that still leaves the Dodgers at about $90 million in payroll, with John Ely as their No. 3 starter and serious questions about most of their offense. As shaky as their lineup now looks, and however aggressive the Dodgers might want to be with the latest crop of prospects, the Dodgers absolutely have to add at least two more starters, whether through free agency or trade, whether Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda or outsiders.

It’s for this reason that unless the team salary budget goes up, the Dodgers almost certainly will trade or non-tender a 2011 contract to at least one from the group of Broxton, Kemp, Ethier, Loney and Martin. Loney, because he has the lowest salary, might be most likely to stay – he’s finishing the year as a disappointment at first base, but he’s not finishing the year alone as a disappointment. In any case, all of them have something to offer other teams that might be, as hard as it is for some to digest, more willing to spend than the Dodgers are.

An Ethier trade would be a shock, for example, much more than a Kemp trade, but who can say it’s out of the question now?

However this plays out, the Dodgers may well bring back many of the same players next year who boosted them to National League Championship Series appearances in 2008-09 and sunk them in 2010. In one respect, nothing will have changed: You’re always hoping players move forward, like Kershaw and Billingsley, and not backward, like Kemp and Loney and Broxton and Martin and so on. Good does sometimes follow bad, after all. But still, it’s going to be a nervous offseason for a lot of us.

Sure, BP had it tougher. But as cleanup goes, this is as thick a goop as Chavez Ravine has seen in quite some time.

Sep 06

Since they aren’t needed elsewhere, three cheers for John Lindsey!

Let’s start with Sunday’s best story: John Lindsey is finally a major leaguer. From Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Lindsey, 33, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Triple-A first baseman who has played more seasons in the minors without earning a call-up to the majors than any current player, was among five players the Dodgers promoted Sunday afternoon.

Lindsey will be joined by third baseman Russ Mitchell, who is also making his major league debut, infielder Chin Lung Hu, and pitchers Jon Link and John Ely.

For Lindsey, set to join the team Monday, it was the realization of a lifelong dream. He’s spent nearly half his adult life in the minor leagues, since the Colorado Rockies took him in the 13th round of the 1995 draft.

He’s had a career season in 2010, batting .354 with 25 home runs for the Albuquerque Isotopes.

“Oh man, the second [Isotopes manager Tim Wallach] told me my whole brain kind of shut down. I was hearing what he was saying, but I couldn’t even believe it,” Lindsey said.

“He went to shake my hand and I had to hug him because my legs were so weak.”

Lindsey said Wallach had initially tried to fool him by asking him to come into his office, then slamming the door.

“I think he was trying to mess with me, but [hitting coach] Johnny Moses was in the corner, trying to keep a straight face the whole time, but he couldn’t stop smiling,” Lindsey said.

“Wally told me it was the happiest day as a manager he’s ever had. I walked out of that office and hugged all my teammates, called my wife, and I haven’t stopped smiling or pacing around the clubhouse since.

“I probably won’t sleep the next three or four days.” …

Sometimes, it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s that you get to play the game.

Says Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.: Lindsey, who is 33 years, 219 days old today, will be the oldest non-Japanese Dodger to make his MLB debut since Pete Wojey (34 years, 213 days) on July 2, 1954.

* * *

As for Sunday’s results – yes, the team looking to make a miracle comeback in the standings suffered a blow. Arizona fell to Houston, 3-2, missing a chance to close within 12 games of the fourth-place Dodgers, who lost to San Francisco, 3-0.

The Dodgers’ magic number to clinch non-last place is 12. Los Angeles has clinched the tiebreaker against Arizona by winning the season series, so even though six of the Dodgers’ final nine games are against the Diamondbacks, the odds remain in the Dodgers’ favor.

Oh, as for the other races? Can’t say the Dodgers are doing much there.

The Padres are the first team to stay in first place despite a 10-game losing streak since the 1932 Pittsburgh Pirates, and looking to be the first team to make the playoffs despite a 10-game losing streak since the 1982 Atlanta Braves, according to Stat of the Day. That was the year that the Dodgers took advantage of the Braves’ slump to regain the National League West lead, only to run into a most bitter ending. This year is looking bitter in a different way.

Greg Zakwin wraps up Sunday’s Ack-loss at Memories of Kevin Malone: “(Andre) Ethier, Jamey Carroll, and Matt Kemp struck out a combined eight times. Five baserunners. Thirteen strikeouts in total against just a single, solitary walk drawn. Just a single extra-base hit. No Dodger reached base more than once. Pitiful is a word that seems to perfectly describe the offensive side of things since the All-Star Break.”

Hiroki Kuroda made his sixth straight start of at least seven innings, with a 2.47 ERA and .179 opponents batting average in that time, according to the Dodger press notes. Ken Gurnick of MLB.com notes that it was the sixth time this year that Kuroda has been on the wrong end of a shutout. As Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com writes, opportunities to watch Kuroda in a Dodger uniform might be dwindling to a precious few.

* * *

  • Al Wolf of the Times (via Keith Thursby of the Daily Mirror) predicted in 1960 what the team’s 1962 Dodger Stadium opener would be like. His conclusion: “As broadcaster Vince Scully said in his dulcet tones: ‘Wotta show! Wotta show! Come on out tomorrow night, those of you who missed it. But if you can’t be with us, plunk down a dollar in your pay TV set and watch it that way. Or better yet, put in two bucks and see it all in living color.’”
  • Fred Claire, who acquired Tim Wallach for the Dodgers on Christmas Eve 1992, puts his support at MLB.com for the Wallach for Manager campaign, though not with the Dodgers specifically. Claire, of course, was the Dodger general manager throughout Mike Scioscia’s post-playing Dodger career. His departure preceded Scioscia’s by about a year.
  • Four of the Dodgers in Sunday’s game – Carroll, Ryan Theriot, Ethier and Reed Johnson – finished with a .289 batting average.
Jul 26

Clayton Kershaw to start serving suspension Tuesday

And more news … methinks John Ely is headed back to Los Angeles …

Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers have decided to have the lefty drop the appeal of his five-game suspension, which he will serve this week, postponing Kershaw’s next start until Sunday in San Francisco.

Kershaw was suspended for hitting Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand with the first pitch of the seventh inning July 20, after both teams had been issued warnings earlier in the game. Dodgers manager Joe Torre and coach Bob Schaefer served one-game suspensions related to the game last week.

The 22-year-old Kershaw pitched eight shutout innings against the Mets on Sunday, lowering his ERA for the season to 2.96, 10th in the National League. He is fifth in the NL in strikeouts, and after a history of control problems, has walked only 14 in his past nine starts.

After using Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla from Tuesday-Thursday against the NL West-leading Padres, the Dodgers will probably have their two most commonly used fifth starters, Carlos Monasterios and John Ely (now in Albuquerque), pitch Friday and Saturday in San Francisco, not necessarily in that order. Both will be on at least four days’ rest by Friday.

Unless he turns things around this week, James McDonald would be the most likely player to be sent to Albuquerque to make room for Ely. That’s assuming that Jack Taschner retires a batter in the interim.

Jul 25

Dan Haren takes Angels’ flight out of NL West

Debate on the Dan Haren-to-the-Angels trade seems mainly to mainly not whether the Angels won this trade, but by how much.

  • ESPN.com’s Keith Law doesn’t think much of the Joe Saunders-plus-minor leaguers package.
  • Zach Sanders of Fangraphs notes that even if the deal doesn’t help the Angels rally to make the playoffs this year, it puts them in better position to bounce back next year.
  • Matthew Carruth of Fangraphs sat “for an hour and still cannot even come close to justifying this. … The Diamondbacks just acted like Dan Haren was Scott Kazmir.”
  • Echoes Joe Sheehan for SI.com: “If there’s a model for how not to handle the trade of a high-priced, high-value player, this is it.”
  • Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com plays devil’s advocate for a brief moment to present the risk for the Angels – that Haren is declining (and overpaid) as his 4.60 ERA this season would suggest.
  • Aaron Gleeman of Hardball Talk points out that the deal might hinge on a player to be named later, but that player is not Mike Trout, the Angels’ top prospect.
  • Haren himself is excited, even if he’ll miss Arizona, reports Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic.

Should the Dodgers have swooped in? For this price, maybe. I haven’t thought much of Haren’s performance this season, but it’s not as if Arizona overcharged for him – although, as others have pointed out, the Diamondbacks might have charged more from a division rival than they did from the Angels.

* * *

And in other news …

  • Callups to come? John Ely pitched a seven-inning complete game, allowing two runs on seven baserunners while striking out five, and Jay Gibbons went 4 for 4 in Albuquerque’s 14-2 victory over Nashville.
  • From the postgame press notes: “Carlos Monasterios was examined by Dr. Neal ElAttrache after being struck in the right side of the head by a foul ball off the bat of Carlos Beltran in the fourth inning. He never lost consciousness and did not appear to have a concussion.”
  • Here’s a great profile on Dodger Stadium organist Nancy Bea Hefley from Dodgerfan.net.
  • The new LACMA exhibition, “Manly Pursuits: The Sporting Images of Thomas Eakins,” is reviewed by Christopher Knight of the Times.
  • Former “Happy Days” star Anson Williams sang God Bless America today like he thought he left the oven on at home. Kudos for not milking it.
Jul 11

Starting over: John Ely goes to Albuquerque

The Dodgers announced today that they have optioned John Ely to Albuquerque and recalled Jon Link in time for tonight’s game.

Ely’s next scheduled start for the Dodgers was July 19, so unless he is replacing an injured player, he cannot be recalled in time for that start. But of course, there’s always the chance the Dodgers will have an injured player for him to replace.

Sending Ely to Albuquerque presumably allows him to work on some things in game action, rather than being sidelined for nine days.

Nevertheless, by the sounds of Joe Torre’s media session today, it doesn’t look like the Dodgers are eying Ely for that next start. Torre said that he and Ned Colletti decided that Ely needs to get back on track, and that James McDonald, Carlos Monasterios and Claudio Vargas are currently candidates for the July 19 start against the Giants. That’s assuming the Dodgers don’t make a trade.

McDonald extended his recent relatively hot streak today, allowing a run in 6 1/3 innings for the Isotopes, though he walked four and struck out only two. McDonald has a 2.08 ERA in his past four appearances, with no home runs allowed.

Jul 10

John Ely tells us the oldest tale in the book

The story was that John Ely not only came up challenging hitters, but that he convinced the tentative Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw to do the same. Ely the golden child, Ely the student as master.

It’s all so simple, right? Just throw strikes.

Maybe Ely gave his two teammates something to think about. Maybe. But the real story is that throwing strikes isn’t a matter of simply choosing to do so.

Pitchers don’t will themselves to have command. Command comes from something far more nebulous, a combination of ability, mechanics, faith and fortune. And if just one piece of that puzzle is missing, the whole thing falls apart.

No one issues a four-pitch walk to start the second inning because they think it’s a good idea. It happens because pitching is hard. Just because you can throw strikes one day doesn’t mean you’ll throw them the next.

Ely seemed like he might have a preternatural or even supernatural ability to harness those mysterious forces. Now, we find he’s just like everyone else – except that, as we knew before, he has a thinner margin for error than everyone else.

Ely might bounce back. We’ll see. We’ll hope. If he isn’t as good as he was at the outset of his career, he’s not as bad as he was today.

But just remember this the next time you see a pitcher struggle with control. Don’t be that guy that asks, “How could he walk the pitcher?” Don’t be the one asking, “Why doesn’t he just throw strikes?” Don’t be that person. Because if you’ve ever watched baseball, you know the answer.

Pitching is hard.

Jul 06

Dodgers, Ely cede middle ground in 6-5 loss


Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesRafael Furcal shows how close John Ely was to a good night Monday.

During one of Stanford’s unexceptional football seasons when I was there, the offense had become so frustratingly predictable that the student section began yelling out “Volpe up the middle” on first and second down before the plays were run. Almost invariably, we were right. Not surprisingly, defenses adjusted quickly. It wasn’t exactly sabotage on our part – we were just trying to encourage change. They told us during freshman orientation to question authority, after all.

Anyway, that all came unpleasantly back to mind Monday at Dodger Stadium, when Florida relentlessly went up the middle on the John Ely, knocking him out in the third inning of a 6-5 victory over the Dodgers. If you look at the game’s hit chart (click on “Field Controls” and then “Away Hits”), you’ll see that eight of the Marlins’ 10 hits went between the 385 and 395 markers, five to straightaway center. A potential inning-ending double-play ball in the first went off Ely himself, leading to the second run of the opening frame. Then in the third inning, the first four Florida batters all singled up the middle, three of them scoring to boost the Marlins’ lead to 6-1. A diving Rafael Furcal stopped one of the balls and almost turned an amazing double play that inning as well, but it was not to be. Ely’s night ended when he allowed a single to opposing pitcher Nate Robertson … to center field.

This is not to completely exonerate Ely for his performance, but I came away feeling the rookie righthander mostly did what he was supposed to do. He threw strikes (25 balls to 18 batters), walked only one and struck out three in his 2 2/3 innings. Clearly, Florida was able to hit the ball hard enough to cause problems, but a small amount of luck would have made a big difference. You’d rather have a pitcher that didn’t need luck to win, but I still feel encouraged that the Dodgers have a guy in Ely who at least will take advantage of it.

“It’s still not going to keep him from pressing,” Dodger manager Joe Torre told Brian Kamenetzky of ESPNLosAngeles.com. “He’s still young, and it’s still new to him. He may not be able to restore order as quickly as someone who has been down that road a time or two, but that’s how you gain your experience. Trial and error.”

More tangibly, the Dodgers had just enough good performances in this one to turn what might have been a rout into a heartbreaker. Jeff Weaver and Ronald Belisario were fairly remarkable in relief of Ely, combining for 6 1/3 innings of one-hit, one-walk shutout ball (with Weaver stranding two runners inherited from Ely). Weaver threw 50 pitches in his 3 1/3 innings, while Belisario completed his career-high three innings in only 26 pitches.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers rallied, scoring a run in the third before the running-out-of-words-to-describe-how-hot-he-is Furcal hit a two-run homer to cut the deficit to 6-4. A double by James Loney to drive in Andre Ethier (2 for 3 with a walk) in the eighth drew the Dodgers within a run. However, the team went down in order in the ninth, with Garret Anderson missing a potential leadoff double as a pinch-hitter because Florida was guarding the lines. You should’ve gone up the middle, Garret – that was the winning strategy Monday.

* * *

Manny Mota was interviewed by David Laurila of Baseball Prospectus. Much of it is focused on Mota’s arrival in the States and the beginning of his career.

Jun 29

The soothing feeling of John Ely on his game


Jason O. Watson/US PresswireRemember me? I’m still getting it done

John Ely walks the occasional batter now, and Elymania has died down, but with everyone’s attention elsewhere, he is back to doing the job.

After a 30-pitch first inning in which he walked two and gave up a double and a run, the rookie righthander stymied the Giants in pitching the Dodgers to a 4-2 victory Tuesday. He went six more innings, allowing only five more baserunners and no runs, giving the Dodgers a much-needed lift. Ely pitched his second consecutive game of seven innings and one earned run, lowering his season ERA to 3.62.

James Loney was another hero, twice giving the Dodgers the lead with an RBI single in the first and a two-run single in the fifth. Rafael Furcal (3 for 5 with a triple) and Russell Martin (2 for 5 with two steals) were the main tablesetters for the Dodgers, and Casey Blake had the other RBI.

With Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario all designated for rest after heavy workloads in recent days, the Dodgers had to regret some missed opportunities to put the game away. They stranded Furcal at third base with two out in the sixth and left the bases loaded in the seventh.

But in the eighth, Ramon Troncoso got two outs, gave up a single, and then George Sherrill came in and had what had to be his best sequence of the season, going 1-0 on Aubrey Huff and then striking him out on three perfect breaking pitches – Sherrill’s first strikeout since May 17.

Justin Miller, who began the season in AAA, had a chance for his first career save in his 176th career major-league appearance, but gave up a leadoff homer in the ninth to Pat Burrell and a two-out single to Edgar Renteria that fell just in front of Reed Johnson in left field. Belisario, who began warming up after the Burrell homer, came in for the third consecutive game after having thrown 12 and 13 pitches the previous two nights. Rookie pinch-hitter Buster Posey lined Belisario’s first pitch to Furcal, who reached to snare it for the final out. That gave Belisario his first career save in his 103rd appearance. (Bob Timmermann adds that it was the first one-pitch save by a Dodger since Duaner Sanchez in 2005.)

San Diego lost again, allowing the Dodgers to close to within three games of first place in the National League West.

Matt Kemp, who came off the bench in the first inning after Manny Ramirez’s injury, fouled out, struck out and singled twice in four at-bats, while making two more long running catches in center field. Both catches came on full sprints after slow reactions, but that’s basically how Kemp did the job in center all last year.

Johnson went 0 for 4, striking out three times for the second consecutive game, matching Kemp’s feat from Thursday and Friday last week.

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more on the Kemp drama.

Jun 23

Can you stop this, Johnny? Can you top this, Johnny?

John Ely was the surprise stopper at one of the Dodgers’ darkest hours this season, when they were 11-16 and about to be swept at home by Milwaukee. And now, with the Dodger chips down again, Ely has the chance to snap out of his own slump and surprise and delight again.

For Dodger fans, it would be the perfect end to a crazy day that began with breakfast-hour soccer dramatics from South Africa, redoubled with lunchtime Wimbledon wonders from the U.K. and now takes its chances on the latest Stephen Strasburg outing.

* * *

Halos Heaven has a link to a radio interview with Vin Scully.

Jun 17

Ely’s struggles are a middle, not an end


Al Behrman/AP
John Ely’s ERA rose today to 4.15 — a number the Dodgers would have been glad to have when he was first called up.

After six consecutive good starts, John Ely has had three consecutive poor ones — the latest, seven runs allowed in 4 2/3 innings, including a three-run homer by opposing pitcher Bronson Arroyo — in the Dodgers’ 7-1 loss at Cincinnati.

That wasn’t an earthquake you just felt in Southern California, that was the thud of Dodger fans leaping off Ely’s bandwagon. But Southern Californians tend to overreact to the slightest rumble in their sports universe. (Get your psyches retrofitted for tonight’s Lakers game, just in case.)

Back when things were going well for Ely, all of two weeks ago, we all knew he eventually would have some subpar performances, so I don’t know why there should be any surprise that it has happened. A quick look around the comments sections of various sites and Twitter already shows some fans not only disappointed, but giving up on Ely as quickly as they fell in love with him. If it weren’t for Chad Billingsley’s injury, it appears that some of them would expect Ely be sent back to Albuquerque tonight.

It almost never fails to stun me that even the most experienced baseball fans expect players to deliver the same level of performance every time out. A pitcher whose ERA is around 4.00 isn’t going to allow four runs each and every nine innings. Ups and downs are a fundamental part of this game. Yet somehow, a good player is always supposed to be good — if he’s not good, he must be bad.

What I think happens is this: There’s an insatiable rush to judgment. So many fans are determined to know, to draw conclusions. “Wait and see” is not a comfortable place for people to be. It’s easier for a lot of people to give up on a player, or at the very least drop their expectations down to nothing, than to simply ride out his struggles.

As excited as I was about John Ely during his hot streak, his future remained a mystery. No big deal: I watch the games like I turned the pages of Agatha Christie novels as a kid — to see what happens next. A guess at the future doesn’t change the text on the next page. Now that Ely is slumping, I can say, “That’s too bad.” But there’s a difference between saying “That’s too bad” and “He’s a fraud.”

My point is, we learned very little about John Ely today. He gave up three home runs in a place where home runs are frequently given up. We always knew that was possible — there’s no news there. Much more relevant will be what John Ely might have learned about John Ely today. It might well be that this is the beginning of the end of Ely’s young career, that he has fooled all the people he can fool, but much more likely is that it is one of many twists in a windy road. For all we might think we see at the horizon, we don’t know yet what’s going to be coming around each and every turn. We just know the turns will be there.

Jun 06

When Los Angeles met John Ely


Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire
In seven starts, John Ely has walked eight batters, throwing nearly two-thirds of his pitches for strikes.

In Hollywood, they call it a “meet cute.” Like when Harry met Sally. The circumstances are more oddball than auspicious. A and B are thrown together, often in chaos, might not even like each other at first.

But from such quirky beginnings, love can bloom.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and John Ely met cute April 28, sharing a mostly unfulfilling cab ride in New York. Thanks to injuries and inadequacies, the Dodgers were stuck with this nobody, this fix-up date dressed in a cheap fastball – tell us someone has a “good changeup,” and you might as well be trying to sell us on a “good personality” – instead of someone more desirable, whether that was Vicente Padilla, Randy Wolf, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay or Sandy Koufax. The Dodgers deserved better, right?

As for Ely, he mostly was happy to be there, but this wasn’t exactly the team of his dreams, the team he’d written love poems to in his diary. That dream team was where he grew up, Chicago’s South Side, and in his late-night fantasies would have had a better record than the 8-12 Dodgers, losers of three in a row and practically the worst squad in the National League.

Expectations were low on that first date, and initially they weren’t exceeded. In just the second inning, Ely came undone, allowing four runs on a combination of poor pitching and a fielding mistake that made dinner conversation awkward to say the least. After another run in the third … well, not that Ely wasn’t a nice guy or good to his mother, not that the Dodgers didn’t pick up the check, but both were eying the door.

And then, as they lingered, a spark.

Adam Davis/Icon SMI
He’s Elyful, he’s elicious, he’s elovely.

Just about the time Ely should have been heading for a cold shower, he retired 10 of the last 11 he faced in New York. The Dodgers and Ely didn’t see each other again for another week, but they did arrange for a second date. And on that May 6 evening, with the 11-16 Dodgers still down in the dumps (after hard losses incurred by Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley) and starting to feel pretty sorry for themselves, this unassuming specimen stepped up and kept them from drowning their sorrows in ice cream or bourbon. Ely threw 6 2/3 innings before finally allowing a run, retiring 16 batters in a row at one point and overall giving up four hits, striking out seven and walking none. For a second date, it sure was better than a hole in the head.

Even so, the Dodgers continued to play hard to get. They optioned Ely back to Albuquerque. Oh, maybe they planned on a third date all along – this other fella they had been dallying with, Charlie Haeger, was looking so lame that no one objected when he was placed on the disabled list – but it wasn’t like the Dodgers and Ely were quite going steady yet.

Then came May 11, the third date. And you know what they say about third dates.

Once again, Ely made it into the seventh inning before allowing a run. Once again, he walked no one. And this time, there was no mistaking it – the Dodgers, whose 13-3 victory over Arizona gave them eight wins in their most recent 11 games, and John Ely, who had allowed no walks or extra-base hits to has most recent 48 batters – were definitely clicking. The Dodgers stopped being aloof – they wanted to keep seeing this guy with shades of Matthew McConaughey’s looks and Mark Fidrych’s personality, this guy who mesmerizes batters with his ability to mix speeds.

And so they entered that blissful time of the courtship where every night just seems more and more magical. May 17: Ely extends his streak without allowing a walk or extra-base hit to 84 batters. May 22: Ely shows his human side by allowing two runs on two doubles, a single and a walk in the first inning against Detroit, but then just becomes even more alluring by shutting the Tigers down for the next five innings. May 27: A two-hit shutout through seven innings before allowing a single run in the eighth. June 1: C’mon, now. A no-hitter into the fifth inning, another two-hit shutout through seven.

Is this heaven? I’ll tell you one thing – it ain’t Iowa.

This afternoon, Ely and the Dodgers go on Date No. 8, and it’s safe to say that their relationship has gone deeper than anyone would have thought that first time in New York 5 1/2 weeks ago. Ely has a 2.54 ERA in 46 innings with 37 strikeouts, allowing only 44 baserunners and still not a single home run. He has gone at least six innings in every appearance, averaging 15.1 pitches per inning. And not coincidentally, since his arrival, the sun has shone brighter on Los Angeles, the grass has smelled sweeter, and the wins have come easier. The Dodgers are 24-12 since Ely first went to the mound for the team, and while he doesn’t deserve all the credit, it’s not so absurd to think that on some level, he completes them.

There are no wedding bells yet; the Dodgers have not committed to Ely until retirement do them part. But let’s just say they find Ely rather engaging. “Meet cute,” indeed. At this point, this is one they’re going to try to make work for the long haul, so they’re going to put up with the occasional flaw, the occasional sour day, because like Mama said, who doesn’t have days like these? And because Ma, this one looks like a keeper.