Jul 13

Count it for Broxton and the NL: 3-1


Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireJonathan Broxton and Brian McCann shake on it.

Coast to coast, Jonathan Broxton naysayers revved their engines as he came out to save for the National League against the American League in tonight’s All-Star game.

And coast to coast Broxton silenced them, at least until the fall.

Whether Broxton truly stripped away any of the cynics’ ammunition in preserving the NL’s 3-1 victory – the NL’s first victory since 1996 – is doubtful. If the Dodgers are fortunate enough to play in October, the doubters will surely return, because past success has never slowed the cynics before.

But considering the alternative, Team Broxton will take it.

“It felt awesome,” a smiling Broxton told Fox’s Eric Karros after the game.

Employed as closer by the manager who profited from Broxton’s twin NLCS disappointments, Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel, Broxton raised the stakes with his first pitch, lined to right field by David Ortiz. That brought up former Dodger Adrian Beltre, in his first All-Star game. Broxton blew Beltre away on three fastballs between 97 and 99 miles per hour.

Broxton then started John Buck off with three balls that missed, followed by two fastballs for strikes. Buck hit the next pitch as a blooper to right, and it looked like the NL would be victimized by their maligned outfield defense. But Marlon Byrd fielded the ball on a bounce and quickly and alertly fired to Rafael Furcal covering second base for a 9-6 forceout – a huge play that wiped out what would have been an unlucky hit.

Ian Kinsler then hit a high fly to center field, which Chris Young of Arizona gloved for the final out. And Broxton could wear the All-Star S across his big chest.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Hong-Chih Kuo

Short of a blown save for Broxton, a Kuworst-case scenario seemed to be ripening for Dodger fans midgame, when Hong-Chih Kuo walked the leadoff American League batter in the fifth inning, made a throwing error that put runners at first and third and then surrendered a deep sacrifice fly that scored the game’s first run.

But Brian McCann provided the relief (if sadly reminding us that we used to think Russell Martin was a better-hitting catcher not too long ago) with a bases-clearing double in the seventh inning, taking Kuo off the hook.

McCann also relieved himself, if you will, from an earlier disappointment. In the top of the fifth, Dodger outfielder Andre Ethier (1 for 2) had a chance to be a hero when he lined a single to right field with David Wright on second base. But the ball was hit too hard for Wright to be sent home. Corey Hart struck out, and McCann then flied out to strand the two runners.

Kuo faced four batters and retired two, throwing 18 pitches. Furcal walked in his only plate appearance, before getting in position to complete the key play of the game in the ninth.

Jul 04

Andre Ethier to start for NL All-Stars, Broxton in bullpen


Getty Images/US Presswire Anaheim Time

Andre Ethier was named to the National League All-Star team, announced this morning. Jonathan Broxton was selected for the NL bullpen.

Ethier has been coming on for some time now, but grabbed the nation’s attention with his Triple Crown start to 2010. Interestingly, this announcement comes with Ethier feeling something to prove again, following his post-pinkie injury slump. But he should come around.

Rafael Furcal (.884 OPS, 142 OPS+, 12 steals) is the NL’s most valuable shortstop this season, according to Fangraphs, but his surge unfortunately came too late to make an impact on the fan/player/manager selectors. Jose Reyes (.741 OPS, 100 OPS+, 19 steals) got the call to back up Hanley Ramirez ahead of Furcal.

Moreover, in its desire for versatility the NL found a spot for Atlanta utility player Omar Infante (.721 OPS in 56 games).

Former Dodger third baseman Adrian Beltre, an MVP candidate this year for Boston, made his first All-Star game.

Who chose whom? MLB.com has the answer:

NL Player Ballot position players include catcher Brian McCann of the Braves, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez of the Padres, shortstops Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies, third baseman Scott Rolen of the Reds, Prado, and outfielders Corey Hart of the Brewers, Matt Holliday of the Cardinals and Marlon Byrd of the Cubs. Because Tulowitzki is on the DL and unavailable, he is replaced by Reyes, who was the next choice on the Player Ballot behind him.

NL Player Ballot pitchers include starting pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez of the Rockies, Roy Halladay of the Phillies, Josh Johnson of the Marlins, Tim Lincecum of the Giants and Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals, along with relievers Matt Capps of the Nationals, Brian Wilson of the Giants and Jonathan Broxton of the Dodgers.

From there, Manuel, in conjunction with MLB, filled out his roster with the following: first baseman Ryan Howard of the Phillies, second baseman Brandon Phillips of the Reds (replacing Utley), infielder/outfielder Omar Infante of the Braves, outfielders Michael Bourn of the Astros and Chris Young of the Padres, and pitchers Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals, Yovani Gallardo of the Brewers, Tim Hudson of the Braves, Evan Meek of the Pirates and Arthur Rhodes of the Reds.

Jun 28

Oh, you Broxton haters


Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire
Jonathan Broxton, shown here Saturday when he was preserving a Dodger victory over the defending World Series champions on national television.

I have to admit that thankfully, the tirade that comes from so many Dodger fans during the rare collapse by Jonathan Broxton has reached the point of amusing me more than upsetting me.

Prior to Sunday’s game, Broxton had allowed one earned run in his previous 23 games (0.39 ERA) with no blown saves. In 33 games this season, he had allowed three earned runs and three inherited runs to score. He had surrendered two leads all year. He had over 50 percent more strikeouts than baserunners allowed.

But then the people come out and say none of this matters, because Broxton can’t perform on the national stage when it counts. Even though he had performed on the national stage in an identical situation one night before.

The people come out and say none of this matters, because Broxton can’t perform in the postseason. Even though he has in all but two games. Even though six of the other seven 2009 playoff teams saw their closer give up a lead in last year’s postseason. Yep – every closer but Mariano Rivera blew a postseason game last year. (Rivera got his out of the way in earlier years.)

Really, you just have to laugh. People say I’m too quick to defend Broxton, but really, it’s just so easy to do it. Where are all these other closers who never have a bad game? Where are they? Name one closer in baseball besides Rivera who is better than Broxton.

Jun 20

The Jonathan Broxton lament


Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire
Jonathan Broxton (shown earlier this month) has not allowed any runs or inherited runs to score in 25 of 30 appearances in 2010.

I like Andre Ethier. Like him a lot. I like Jonathan Broxton a lot, too.

I don’t like that Andre Ethier is allowed to fail, but Jonathan Broxton isn’t. Or maybe that’s the wrong way to put it – maybe it’s just that Broxton’s excellence is taken for granted in a way Ethier’s isn’t.

Because of Ethier’s history of walkoff success, no one holds it against him when he doesn’t come through in the clutch – which, quite frankly, is often. Part of that is the nature of hitting, which is very difficult.

Nevertheless, it’s something that when Ethier walks off with a victory, the fans build statues in his honor, and when Broxton walks off the mound with a Dodger victory, people shrug. That includes the past two postseasons. In his 11 appearances, Broxton did his job nine times.

Oh, but he didn’t do it 11 times.

In Game 4 of the 2009 National League Championship Series, Broxton entered the game in the same situation he entered Saturday’s game against Boston: runners on first and second, two out. And he got the out.

Then, after having had four consecutive scoreless appearances against the Cardinals and Phillies in the playoffs, he gave up the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. But does anyone remember what happened in the top of the ninth, with Rafael Furcal on third base and two out against Phillies reliever Brad Lidge?

Ethier struck out.

But I suppose some Dodger fans would rather have had Lidge on Saturday. After all, he did win a World Series once.

Here’s Broxton’s game log for this year before Saturday. I mean, it’s incredible. Those of you who can only focus on Broxton’s failures, you’re missing a heck of a show.

Jun 08

Broxton and crew boost Dodgers to best record in NL, 1-0

The thing is, Albert Pujols in the ninth inning is scary. But Jonathan Broxton just might be scarier.

No offense to Pujols, who does it all day, all year long. But Broxton is a force unto his own in the ninth, and tonight he bested Pujols and the Cardinals to preserve a 1-0 victory over St. Louis, in the teams’ first meeting since the 2009 National League Division Series.

Broxton has now faced Pujols 13 times in their careers and has allowed a single and two walks while getting him out the other 10 times. (Pujols was also 1 for 3 against Broxton in the 2009 postseason.)

The victory – the Dodgers’ second consecutive 1-0 Tuesday victory at home and third in eight days – vaults the Dodgers into first place in the National League West, with the best record in the entire league for the first time in 2010. The Dodgers have won 27 of their past 37 games to complete their worst-to-first (for now) journey.

The game was scoreless headed into the eighth. Hiroki Kuroda and Chris Carpenter dueled for seven shutout innings apiece, Kuroda allowing four hits and a walk while striking out six, Carpenter allowing six hits and a walk while striking out five. Things changed in the bottom of the eighth, when Rafael Furcal (2 for 4) led off with a single and one out later went to second on Andre Ethier’s third hit.

Manny Ramirez, 0 for 3 to that point, was up.  Ramirez had a .438 on-base percentage with runners in scoring position this season going into tonight’s game, but I’ll forgive you if it felt like he was overdue. Sure enough, Ramirez then launched one into the right-field corner for a double to drive in Furcal.

After an intentional walk to James Loney, Casey Blake and Blake DeWitt struck out to leave the bases loaded and keep the pressure on Broxton, who had to face Pujols, Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick in the ninth.

Pujols fouled off seven consecutive pitches in an 11-pitch at-bat before striking out for the third time tonight (10th time in his career that happened, according to Vin Scully), but Holliday, in his first ninth inning in Los Angeles since his enormous playoff error, singled to center. However, Broxton struck out Ludwick, then got an 0-2 broken-bat comebacker from Skip Schumaker for the final out.

Broxton’s 2010 numbers: 27 1/3 innings, 21 hits, three walks, 42 strikeouts, 0.99 ERA.

* * *

With two off days between now and Vicente Padilla’s expected activation from the disabled list June 18, Carlos Monasterios might be headed back to the bullpen, writes Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.

May 16

Demons be gone: Billingsley, Broxton bookend 1-0 victory


Lenny Ignelzi/AP
Chad Billingsley

It wasn’t just that San Diego was the site of Chad Billingsley’s last foray into the latter third of a baseball game. It’s that the last time it happened, on July 5, Jonathan Broxton had the ignominy of helping Billingsley’s 6-1 ninth-inning lead get away.

But on a day – just like a week ago against Colorado – when the Dodgers needed their pitching staff to keep runs off the board, Billingsley, Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo came through, shutting out San Diego, 1-0.

Padres starter Wade LeBlanc (1.54 ERA) held Los Angeles hitless for 5 1/3 innings before Russell Martin singled home Jamey Carroll (who had walked for the second time) with the only run of the two-hour, 18-minute game. Despite only one other hit from a Dodger lineup that was missing Andre Ethier, Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake, Blake DeWitt and Rafael Furcal, the pitching made it stand up.

Billingsley was replaced with no runners on base after 7 1/3 innings in which he allowed four hits, one walk and one hit batter while striking out six – all in 95 pitches. Kuo and Broxton retired all five batters they faced, as Dodgers pitchers faced the minimum number of Padres over the final five innings (thanks in part to two double plays in back of Billingsley).

In his past five starts, Billingsley has now gone 30 1/3 innings with a 2.67 ERA and 25 strikeouts, while allowing 38 baserunners (one home run).

After his first inning homer off Ramon Ortiz on Friday, Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez was retired in 12 straight at-bats by Los Angeles.

The Dodgers have won seven straight games and 12 of their past 15 to move within two games of first place in the National League West. Four of the five NL West teams are now over .500.

Apr 18

Just a wee taste of ’88: Kershaw, Ramirez lead Dodgers over Giants


Getty Images
Clayton Kershaw went seven innings allowing only one run, and Manny Ramirez made that hurt go away.

If Clayton Kershaw and Manny Ramirez were nothing more than a poor man’s Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson, it still made for a rich afternoon at Dodger Stadium.

Kershaw left Sunday’s game in the eighth inning after issuing his fourth walk of the game – an inning after Juan Uribe’s homer broke a scoreless tie – but he certainly pitched well enough to win, striking out nine. Two of his walks came after he crossed the 100-pitch mark. At age 22, Kershaw has walked at least four men in 21 of his 54 starts (39 percent), compared with Hershiser’s 71 of 466 (15 percent), but if you can put that annoying fact aside, you’re still left with a pretty swell pitcher with a career ERA of 3.40.

And then there’s Ramirez, who is this century’s go-to guy for lame home runs (in the good sense). On the heels (in the cliched sense) of his injured-hand Bobbleslam last summer, and right after Garret Anderson’s pinch-walk ended a superb performance by Barry Zito, Ramirez blasted a Sergio Romo pitch in the left-field seats to rally the Dodgers from their 1-0 deficit. Ramirez noticeably favored one leg in his trot around the bases, but though it didn’t have calf the drama of Gibson’s gimpy gem, it was a sight for sore Dodger eyes. (Video of the homer can be found at MLB.com.)

Jonathan Broxton retired the side in order in the ninth to close out the Dodgers’ 2-1 victory. Broxton has retired 17 of the 19 batters he has faced this season (including the past 14), striking out nine.

Several people, including Vin Scully, called today’s game the best of the young Dodger season, though some of that good feeling would have been tested had the Dodgers been shut out for the second afternoon in a row.

* * *

  • Hong-Chih Kuo looks good to go. He retired the side today on six pitches today in his second minor-league rehab appearance. If he survives that outing and Monday’s plane flight to Cincinnati, Kuo should be on the active roster for the Dodgers’ next game on Tuesday.
  • Prentice Redman knocked out three home runs by the fifth inning of Albuquerque’s 11-5 victory over Omaha. Redman raised his batting average to an even .400, on-base percentage to .447 and slugging percentage to .943.
  • John Lindsey watch: 3 for 3, raising his numbers to .538/.591/.897.
  • James McDonald left his start after one inning today because of a broken fingernail.
  • Isotopes reliever Brent Leach allowed six runs in his first 3 2/3 innings this season, but has pitched 5 1/3 innings of one-hit, two-walk shutout ball since.
  • In 6 2/3 innings this season for Inland Empire, Kenley Jansen has allowed no runs, four hits and zero walks while striking out 10.
  • For the second straight game, Great Lakes’ 23-year-old righty Josh Wall allowed one earned run over five innings, this time striking out eight.
Apr 11

Relief disbelief: Same old song with a few new lines


Keith Srakocic/AP
George Sherrill’s bad outing against Pittsburgh on Opening Day was mere prelude to Saturday’s Florida fright night.

George Sherrill should be able to get three outs before he gives up three runs. And inevitably, there was going to be a do-or-die situation this season when he would need to do that. Just as Vicente Padilla shouldn’t give up four runs on nine baserunners in 4 1/3 innings, Sherrill needs to do better if the Dodgers are going avoid trouble.

But Padilla and Sherrill’s failings are basically heat-of-the-battle failings, whereas Joe Torre’s use of Jonathan Broxton this week is the equivalent of filling the bubbles in your SAT exam with Crayola burnt orange. (Assuming they still use bubbles.)

We’ve said it before and we hate to say it again – so this is going to be brief. If you can’t afford to allow a run – as was the case when the Dodgers played extra innings in Pittsburgh on Wednesday – you use the pitcher least likely to allow a run. Only after that pitcher has been used do you turn to others. And certainly, you don’t worry about saving your best pitcher for a situation in which you can allow a run and still win.

On one level, it was coincidental that Torre’s use of Broxton this week led to us talking about his absence from Saturday’s game. It required a specific flow of events from Opening Day on. On the other hand, we do see this from Dodger managers, including Torre’s recent predecessors, all too often. If Sherrill had been used Saturday after a proper use of Broxton in previous days, people would have been talking about Sherrill overnight a lot more than Torre.

Do not save your best reliever for a save situation in an extra-inning game on the road.

  • One other oddity regarding Saturday and the bullpen: Torre told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com that Ramon Troncoso, who was pitched a perfect eighth inning but was pulled after giving up a leadoff single in the ninth, “is basically a one-inning guy.” I realize that bullpen roles have changed with Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario out, but especially when he hadn’t pitched the day before and with Broxton out, since when is Troncoso a one-inning guy? The guy made his reputation with his ability to go multiple frames. Troncoso needed only seven pitches to get out of the eighth inning, then had thrown six pitches in the ninth when he came out of the game.
  • The botched squeeze in the second inning Saturday (that resulted in a bases-loaded, one-out situation imploding) was even crazier than it appeared. As many surmised, Vicente Padilla missed the suicide squeeze sign that resulted in Casey Blake getting tagged out between third and home. But from what Torre told reporters this morning, it appears that Torre himself wanted to take the squeeze off after having initially called for it – but that he gave the second sign too late for third-base coach Larry Bowa to see. So Bowa and Blake incorrectly, though understandably, thought the squeeze was still on – while Padilla, apparently, was oblivious to all of this. Torre indicated that he puts signs on and takes them off all the time.
  • Manny Ramirez had his 2,500th career hit Saturday, while Rafael Furcal had his 1,500th. Furcal has a .480 on-base percentage this season and is tied for the major-league lead in doubles.
  • Ian Kennedy is the scheduled starter for Arizona against Clayton Kershaw in Tuesday’s home opener, followed by Rodrigo Lopez against Chad Billingsley on Wednesday and Dan Haren against Hiroki Kuroda on Thursday.
  • LeeAnn Rimes will sing the national anthem Tuesday.
  • Josh Lindblom was hit hard in his first 2010 start for Albuquerque – needing 77 pitches to get through three innings that saw him give up eight hits, two walks and three runs while striking out one.
  • John Lindsey, the 33-year-old minor-league lifer still looking for his first major-league action, is 7 for 13 with three doubles in his first three games for the Isotopes. Lindsey would need a few injuries to right-handed hitting Dodgers before he’d have a shot at a cup of coffee.
  • James Adkins, a 2007 first-round pick, allowed five runs in three innings of relief in his first 2010 outing for AA Chattanooga.
  • Ethan Martin’s Inland Empire season debut was a different story: five innings, no runs, three singles, no walks, one hit batter, nine strikeouts.
  • Allen Webster allowed one run over five innings (six baserunners, four strikeouts) in his ’10 Great Lakes debut.
  • Dixie Walker, the Brooklyn Dodger long remembered for starting a petition against Jackie Robinson joining the team, is revisited today by Harvey Araton of the New York Times (via Inside the Dodgers). The article’s main point seems to be that Walker was remorseful and not the racist he’s been accused of being:

    … Though (Maury) Allen and Susan Walker suggest in the book that her father did not initiate the anti-Robinson petition, Roger Kahn, in his 2002 book, “The Era,” wrote that Walker told him in 1976 that he had.

    Kahn quoted Walker saying: “I organized that petition in 1947, not because I had anything against Robinson personally or against Negroes generally. I had a wholesale business in Birmingham and people told me I’d lose my business if I played ball with a black man.”

    In a telephone interview, Kahn said his conversation with Walker took place when Walker was the hitting coach for the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

    “He invited me out for a glass of wine — somewhat shocking in that Budweiser world,” Kahn said. “We talked for a while, and then he got to the point: the petition and his letter to Rickey. He called it the stupidest thing he’d ever done and if I ever had a chance to please write that he was very sorry.”

    Calling the Walker he met “a lovely, courtly man,” Kahn said that the assumption should not be made that all early opposition to Robinson was based on core discrimination and not confusion or fear.

    “Ballplayers depended on off-season work back then,” he said. “When I was covering the Dodgers, Gil Hodges sold Buicks on Flatbush Avenue. Now, if you’re Derek Jeter and you have a wholesale hardware business, you can say, ‘So what?’ ”

    Rachel Robinson’s response in the same article: “If you’re asking about forgiveness based on the context of the time, I can’t say I worry about the view of them at this time. Maybe they learned better or changed, but at the time, they had a chance to move forward from segregation and chose the opposite. They had an impact.”

Apr 03

Don’t be jonesing for failure

Danny Moloshok/AP
At age 25, Chad Billingsley has a career ERA of 3.55. His adjusted ERA of 119 is fifth in Los Angeles Dodger history among starting pitchers with 500 or more innings.

When the Dodgers gave Juan Pierre millions of dollars over my proverbial dead body, I didn’t actively seek out immediate justification for my ill feelings. You never once caught me using any Pierre at-bat or game or even any month as proof that the signing was a mistake.

Good players have bad games; bad players have good games. Everyone knows this – no matter how often some people ignore it. Using a moment or series of moments as evidence that the Dodgers blew it with Pierre would have been wrong. Pierre’s signing was a mistake because over the life of his contract, he wasn’t going to be worth the cost. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t have hot streaks that made him look like the biggest bargain on earth. But the big picture is what matters.

Without a doubt, there have always been some Dodgers for whom fans seem to lie in wait for them to stumble, just so they can point out how awful they are. Pierre, for some, was certainly one. So was Hee Seop Choi and J.D. Drew. On the current Dodger team, the choice villains are Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton.

The people who have it in for Billingsley and Broxton have an unfailing ability to dismiss all the good they do and make mountains of the bad. Broxton was by many criteria the best closer in the National League last year, but each blown save he had wasn’t merely disappointing, it was unforgivable. No matter how good he was, he was worthless.

Billingsley is an even tougher sell these days because his struggles extended for about three months last year. Never mind that that period still constitutes a sliver of his career, never mind that the previous time Billingsley struggled, in the 2008 National League Championship Series, he came back to become an All-Star pitcher in the first half of 2009, building on the considerably excellent performance he has given since he broke into the big leagues. There are people out there who only see the negative. And there are people out there who, once they form that negative opinion about a player, only want to see the negative – just so they can be proven right.

Case in point: Entering the third inning of today’s game, Billingsley had a 1.84 ERA this exhibition season. It didn’t mean much to me, because no Spring Training stats mean much to me. You can bet that it also didn’t mean much to those who have complained about Billingsley since last fall. But when Billingsley ran into trouble and gave up six runs in the third inning, suddenly across the Internet and Twitter you could find people shouting out about the latest proof of how awful he is.

I’m not happy when Billingsley gives up runs. I was crushed each time in both the 2008 and 2009 NLCS when Broxton gave up the big hits to the Phillies. But perfection is not an achievable standard, and one’s state of mind in the heat of the moment is not a basis for evaluating a player.

If you’re skeptical about Billingsley or Broxton or anyone else, you obviously don’t need me to tell you you’re entitled to your opinion. But don’t get caught up in that game of  “Gotcha!” Don’t take one moment and try to tell me that’s all I need to know about a player – especially if that moment is in the minority of events. Just ask yourself how you’d feel if you were only judged at your extreme worst.

On a similar note, if you want to make an argument that the Dodger starting rotation lacks depth, please, please take a moment to compare the Dodgers’ rotation with other rotations. Don’t point out all the potential problems with the Dodgers while ignoring how threadbare things are in Arizona with Brandon Webb out, or the fact that just because Barry Zito was once an All-Star doesn’t mean he’s still one. The Dodgers might not have the best starting rotation in the NL West, but the distance from No. 1 is slim at best if you actually look at the entire rotations, rather than just making a judgment based on the most famous pitchers from each team.

Guaranteed, there will be some good players who get off to bad starts in 2010. There’s nothing like the beginning of a new season to skew one’s perception. But it’s a loooong season.  Try to keep a cool head.

* * *

Carlos Monatsterios’ place on the 25-man roster was made public today, while all signs pointed to Russ Ortiz getting the final spot on the team, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, who also reported that left-handed hitting second baseman Blake DeWitt would get the Opening Day start Monday at Pittsburgh even with the Pirates starting southpaw Zach Duke.

Also, A.J. Ellis was optioned to Albuquerque, confirming that Russell Martin and Brad Ausmus would be starting the season as the team’s active catchers.