Feb 07

Infielder roulette

Monday was a day of past Dodger infielders making news, and present Dodger infielders become past ones.

  • Russell Mitchell was designated for assignment to make room on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster for Todd Coffey. He could return to the organization if he clears waivers. (Remembering 2011: Russell Mitchell)
  • Blake DeWitt, once upon a time known as “The Solution,” was designated for assignment by the Cubs, who acquired him in the Ted Lilly trade a couple years back. DeWitt, 26, had a 95 OPS+ (.305 on-base percentage, .413 slugging) with Chicago in 2011, compared with Adam Kennedy’s 79 OPS+ for Seattle – but don’t expect the Dodgers to give someone up to acquire DeWitt, who more likely would end up back in the minors for the Cubs.
  • Alex Cora is still at it, signing a minor-league deal with St. Louis.
  • Edwin Jackson reportedly turned down a three-year, $30 million deal with Pittsburgh to sign with Washington for one year and $11 million, banking on doing better in next season’s free-agent market (or just determined to set a record for organizations in a career).
  • Dodgers assistant general manager of amateur and international scouting Logan White talked about some of his prize picks – Zach Lee, Clayton Kershaw, Allen Webster, Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Reed – with David Laurila for Fangraphs.
  • Up-and-coming reliever Shawn Tolleson was profiled by Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • The late Jose Lima is the subject of a recent SABR biography by Rory Costello.
  • Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. is taking a day-by-day look at the Dodgers’ divisional rivals, starting with Arizona on Monday and continuing with San Francisco today.
  • Monday in Jon SooHoo: Blake Griffin and Matt Kemp.
  • Mark Prior is trying one more time to salvage his pitching career, writes Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe (via Drew Silva of Hardball Talk). Prior last pitched in the majors in 2006 and won only two games after his 25th birthday.
  • Also aspiring to come back: Brandon Webb, out since Opening Day 2009.
  • Tim Lincecum talks about Clayton Kershaw, among other topics, in this video passed along by Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
  • Here’s a simple dice baseball game designed for kids ages 3-6, via Baseball Think Factory.
  • One last baseball-oriented remark about “Smash” that I tweeted: “Hilty is the proven veteran talent. McPhee is green but higher-ceiling. It’s Juan Rivera vs. Jerry Sands. Harang vs. Eovaldi.”  Except this wasn’t quite right. It’s more like A.J. Ellis vs. Tim Federowicz.
  • Ten years ago, while on detail for MLB.com in Venezuela, former Dodger communications vice president Josh Rawitch wrote about an up-and-coming Rivera.
  • In this terrific podcast interview, ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Kamenetzky brothers talk to Oscar-nominated actor Gary Oldman about, among many other things in a 45-minute chat, his great admiration and love for baseball.
  • This seemed to fascinate some folks on Twitter late Monday: Take a look at these NPR contributor bios, and see if their pictures match with your images of them.
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.

Jun 01

Dodgers to pay tribute to Jose Lima on Sunday

The Dodgers will fill Sunday’s game against Atlanta with tributes to the late Jose Lima — including his 2004 rendition of the National Anthem and an honorary first pitch from his son.

From the Dodgers’ press release:

… Prior to his untimely passing, the charismatic pitcher had been planning to perform at a Viva Los Dodgers Day this summer, much like he did at the Viva Los Dodgers festival in 2004 when he was an active player. Lima’s longtime friend and bandleader of L.A.’s Conjunto Amistad Johnny Polanco will perform a set in his honor this Sunday, followed by Estrellas de Tuzantla. Polanco has performed with various notable musicians including Prince, Cachao, Johnny Pacheco, Tito Puente Jr., Charlie Zaa, Ray De La Paz and Tito Nieves.

Several of Lima’s friends and family members will recount stories of his life while fans will be encouraged to sign a book of memories for his family.

Lima performed the National Anthem and God Bless America at a Dodger home game in 2004. Lima’s anthem rendition will be shown on DodgerVision before Sunday’s game against the Braves and his version of God Bless America will run during the middle of the 7th inning. Lima’s son, Jose Jr., is expected to throw out an honorary first pitch and there will also be an in-game video tribute to the right-hander. …

Starting two hours prior to the game, fans can enjoy live music, a family-friendly celebration and a beer garden presented by Bud Light in Lot 6. Auto gates open at 11 a.m., Estrellas de Tuzantla will perform at 11:15 a.m. and Johnny Polanco and Conjunto Amistad will take the stage at 12:15 p.m. Jose Jr.’s first pitch will take place at approximately 1:00 p.m. followed by the 1:10 p.m. game against Atlanta.

May 23

Remembering Jose Lima: Time ticks away so fast


Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers
Jose Lima received an ovation from Dodger Stadium fans at Friday’s game.

One of the things I’ll remember most about Jose Lima is his unspoken farewell to the Dodgers.

That shutout he pitched against St. Louis in the 2004 playoffs, that unbelievable, electric night, was also the last game Lima pitched for the Dodgers. Lima had come to the Dodgers with a contract of one year and expectations of about zero. The year before, he had pitched 73 1/3 innings for Kansas City with a 4.91 ERA and all of 32 strikeouts. The year before that, with Detroit, Lima’s ERA was 7.77.

Lima only found his way onto the Dodger roster the way fringe players often do, thanks in part to the misfortune of others. If Paul Shuey hadn’t ruptured a tendon in his thumb at the end of March 2004, Dodger fans might never have heard of “Lima Time.”

It was almost as much of a miracle that Lima stayed on the roster. His ERA on May 9, after nine appearances, was 7.91.  Whatever people feel today about Ramon Ortiz (who is only six months younger than Lima), that’s about what they felt about Lima six years ago this month.

But then Lima began having those “Lima Time” moments. He didn’t allow an earned run for a month, including 5 2/3 innings of shutout ball in relief against the Cubs and eight innings of in a start against Arizona. And although bad outings would crop up here and there, he became something of an unlikely hero. His personality – which alienated some of us when he pitched for other teams – became something you couldn’t get enough of.  You just looked forward to seeing him on the mound, even if the results were unpredictable.

All this led to the pinnacle of his time in a Dodger uniform, that October night against the Cardinals, the crowd mad with delight, Lima genuflecting after the final out.

The Dodger offseason began about 24 hours later, after the team lost the third of four playoff games to St. Louis. Not surprisingly, the popular feeling in town was that the Dodgers had to bring Lima back – how could they not?  But if you looked closely at the situation, you sadly realized that it was almost inevitable that Lima would not return. Based on the rules that existed at the time, the Dodgers were actually operating at a disadvantage compared with the other 29 teams in baseball in that they had to offer him salary arbitration or forfeit the right to negotiate with him on the open market. Essentially, the system at the time required the Dodgers pay Lima more than any other team had to. And given that Lima’s performance was so fluky, it just didn’t make sense for them to do so.

Lima signed a $2.5 million contract with Kansas City at Christmas, and the following year, his ERA soared to 6.99. After four more appearances with the Mets in 2006, Lima was out of the majors for good, at age 33.

It’s heartbreaking that a man with so much life left this world, just as he left the majors, so quickly. And it’s heartbreaking that it happened just as Los Angeles was about to spend more time with him – Lima, according to the Dodgers, had just become a member of the Dodger Alumni Association and was preparing make community appearances as well as open a youth baseball academy this summer in Los Angeles.

Our time to enjoy Jose Lima, from the start, was fleeting. Fundamentally so. There were few better to remind us to appreciate the moment while we can. For me, Jose Lima will always be one of the most important Dodgers in that respect – an infinite reminder of the finite, a beacon for savoring the precious.

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Others remembrances of Lima: