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 29

Manny Ramirez gets Matt Kemp back on the field … by getting hurt


Jason O. Watson/US PresswireJoe Torre leaves the field with Manny Ramirez after the outfielder’s injury.

Manny Ramirez injured his right hamstring on a freak slide (some would say that’s an appropriate term) back into second base in the first inning tonight – forcing Matt Kemp into the lineup after all of today’s commmotion. From The Associated Press:

Ramirez was initially listed as day to day, but there was no immediate word as to the nature or severity of the injury.

Ramirez, who had singled up the middle with two outs, went to second on a subsequent single by James Loney that scored Andre Ethier from third. But Ramirez then inexplicably rounded second base and wandered three or four feet toward third even as the throw from Giants right fielder Aubrey Huff came to shortstop Edgar Renteria, who was standing on the second base bag.

Ramirez then made a feeble attempt to get back as Renteria applied the tag, but the ball popped out of Renteria’s glove as second base umpire Ron Kulpa was calling Ramirez out, causing Kulpa to change his call.

Ramirez was on the disabled list earlier this season with a calf strain in the same leg. Xavier Paul, who had a .328 on-base percentage and .404 slugging percentage when called up earlier this season, has continued his banner season with Albuquerque (.402/.633).

Jun 29

We have ourselves a firestorm

Matt Kemp is benched for the third game in a row.

Update: These are the nuggets from Joe Torre’s media session …

1) Torre and Kemp talked.
2) Torre told Kemp he would start Wednesday.
3) Torre said Kemp is struggling and has been frustrated.
4) Kemp came to see Torre; Torre did not approach Kemp.
5) Torre said he didn’t know if Kemp would be starting Wednesday if Kemp hadn’t come to him.
6) Torre said if the coaching staff has something to say a player, they tell him. (I guess Torre had nothing left to tell Kemp without Kemp coming to Torre?)
7) Torre said Andre Ethier would probably get a day off Wednesday. Whether Manny Ramirez will start Wednesday has not been determined.
8) Hong-Chih Kuo and Jonathan Broxton are resting tonight and Ronald Belisario is doubtful. The team will improvise its relief in the late innings.

Jun 29

Matt Kemp is apparently the first player ever to slump


Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire
If a smile is Matt Kemp’s umbrella, it’s not keeping out the June gloom.

Three months ago, Matt Kemp was a 25-year-old reigning Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner — a Dodger cover boy.

Two months ago, Kemp was overcoming some uncharacteristic defensive and basestealing lapses with a career-high .570 slugging percentage, to go with a respectable .346 on-base percentage.

Since that time, Kemp has fallen so far from grace that he has been benched for two consecutive games and become the subject of such furious trade talk that his long-running bandwagon must have come with an ejector seat.

Branch Rickey’s credo to “trade a player a year too soon rather than a year too late” has been taken to absurd lengths in this day and age. When applied to younger players, you run a much greater risk of trading a player 10 years too soon.

As is the case for all major leaguers, you could never say never to a Kemp trade. There’s a fair deal for Albert Pujols or Steven Strasburg somewhere in this universe. But any trade of Kemp would have to make sense. And chances are, if you feel Kemp is a lost cause right now, you are not going to make a good trade.

Kirby Lee/US Presswire
Kemp’s .579 OPS in June is only his second month with an OPS below .750 since June 2008.

Baseball is fundamentally about adjustments. Kemp has needed to make them before and did so in becoming an elite center fielder last season. There isn’t enough reason to think he can’t make them again.

Yes, he could fail. But no, he won’t fail because he’s dating Rihanna or that he’s a mental case. Whatever’s going on inside Kemp’s head, there’s just too much incentive for him to succeed not to focus on improving. He has years and millions upon millions ahead of him. Even if Kemp has a big ego, that ego would recognize that you don’t get a megacontract for sucking. (Remember, Andruw Jones had his big deal in hand before he tried that.)

If Kemp is meant to end up like this decade’s version of Juan Encarnacion, if he is going to fade like Russell Martin, it will be because Kemp isn’t physically up to the task. It will be because, as Phil Gurnee of True Blue L.A. fears, Kemp is somehow slowing down before his 26th birthday. It will be because his reactions are going downhill. It won’t be because he doesn’t care. He didn’t get to where he was two months ago by not caring.

And ultimately, the risk of Kemp becoming an average outfielder is still outweighed by his potential.

After OPSing .880 in April and .837 in May — compared with the .842 in 2009 that satisfied pretty much everyone — Kemp is at .579 in June. This is his first month with an OPS below .600 since his rookie year, 2006. It’s only his second month with an OPS below .750 since June 2008. His performance this month is so clearly an aberration that Kemp really does have every right to feel insulted by the doubters. And no doubt, after his rest day Sunday (following two walks, a double and a marathon running catch Saturday) turned into a punitive benching Monday, insulted is probably just how he feels. The guy needs to get better, but he should be allowed to have at least some pride in his past performance.

Raul Mondesi, another player Kemp has been compared to, had a .573 OPS in April 1996, at age 25, with as many strikeouts (22) as hits. The rest of that year, his OPS was .882, followed by a .901 in 1997. While Mondesi never topped that ’97 season, he was still a productive player for five of the next six years.

Andre Ethier, who has nothing on Kemp when it comes to fielding or baserunning or even chumminess with the press, has an OPS of .611 this month. They each have the same number of walks. Kemp has two homers to Ethier’s one. The main difference: Ethier is batting .228, Kemp .196. Woo-hoo for Ethier! Now, Ethier has the excuse (however justified it might be) that his pinkie might still be hurt. But that pinkie is no more a terminal condition than the slump Kemp is in.

As for Kemp’s baserunning mistakes, like getting picked off Wednesday, the hysterical reactions are just tired. Jamey Carroll, Mark Sweeney, Juan Pierre, Luis Gonzalez — that stuff happens to everyone. James Loney, whom Joe Torre loves, made a mental error at the most critical moment of Sunday’s loss to New York. The only significance in Kemp’s baserunning mistakes is how they fuel the fire of his critics.

As for the strikeouts, they’re always going to be part of his game, some days more than others. But the types of outs he makes hardly matter when seen as part of the big picture.

Kemp’s fate is still to be determined, that’s for sure. Every day is a risk, with any player. Maybe he won’t be a superstar, maybe he’ll have to cut back on his basestealing, maybe he’ll have to move to right field (pushing Ethier to left). Maybe he’ll only just be (horrors!) good instead of great. But this much is certain: Selling low on a 25-year-old is rarely a good idea. And we’re talking about a center fielder with a career .817 OPS who, for all that has gone on, is still quite possibly entering the best years of his career, all before free agency.

The idea that Kemp has to get better has been hammered home to him in the past month. The baseball community might want to at least give Kemp a chance to see if he has gotten the message

Jun 29

Trade Don Drysdale!


AP
Don Drysdale, March 1959

Fifty years ago, this was the hot trade rumor of the day, according to Keith Thursby of the Daily Mirror: Don Drysdale, Gil Hodges and Duke Snider to the Yankees for Tony Kubek, Elston Howard, Ryne Duren and Johnny James. Buzzie Bavasi shot it down. (The link  also takes you to a feature on baseball stats godfather Allan Roth.)

Hodges and Snider were near the end of their careers, but Drysdale was only 23. He was coming off a 3.46 ERA in the 1959 title season, but he ran into a slump, posting a 7.11 ERA in 31 2/3 innings over seven appearances (six starts), only one of them a quality start.

Don Drysdale a Yankee. Gosh, it must’ve seemed like such a good idea to dump the kid at the time. All I need to find is one article calling him a head case or mental midget and my year will be complete.

  • Matt Kemp will return to the Dodger starting lineup tonight, Joe Torre told Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.
  • Testimonials for Don Mattingly come in this article by Gideon Rubin for the Daily News from former teammate Dave Righetti and current Dodger Jeff Weaver. “There’s one thing that he’s about, and that’s hard work,” Weaver said. “He communicates well, and the guys respect him.”
  • Ten managerial candidates to consider have been conveniently offered by John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus. Mattingly is on the list, along with Alex Cora’s brother Joey, former Dodger Ron Roenicke  and one-time Dodger candidate (before Paul DePodesta was fired) Torey Luvullo.
  • Lucas May singled, doubled and homered twice for Albuquerque on Monday.
  • Carlos Monasterios has taken a walk on the rehab trail. He allowed five runs (four earned) on nine baserunners while striking out four in 3 2/3 innings. Three of the runs came on a first-inning homer. “I thought Monasterios threw the ball pretty well,” Isotopes manager Tim Wallach told Christopher Jackson of Albuquerque Baseball Examiner. “The home run he gave up in the first was probably a bit of an Albuquerque home run.”
  • James McDonald will return to the Albuquerque active roster Thursday, Jackson reports.
  • I make the case for Hong-Chih Kuo’s inclusion on the National League All-Star Team at Rob Neyer’s Sweet Spot blog at ESPN.com.
  • How do you solve a problem like George Sherrill? Ask Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.
  • Joe Posnanski is looking for your nominations for top sports books.

Update: Adrian Beltre tells Alex Speier of WEEI the story of how he became an underage signee of the Dodgers, and the fallout that ensued. (via MLB Trade Rumors)

Jun 18

Oh, Manny … that would have been something


Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Manny Ramirez is rendered powerless by the final pitch of the game.

Down 10-3 after five innings, the Dodgers actually found themselves not only they poised to send the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning at Fenway Park on Friday, but a tying run in the person of Manny Ramirez.

With two on and one out and Ramirez on deck, eyeing a grand slam that would tie the game at 10-10, a highlight that would have rivaled or even surpassed 2009′s Bobbleslam for radioactivity, the Dodgers suffered a blow when Andre Ethier’s hard grounder was turned into an out by Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youklis.

And then Ramirez, who had made good contact his first three times up this evening, was frozen on a 2-2 slider from Boston reliever Daniel Bard, taking a called game-ending strike that sealed the Dodgers 10-6 defeat.

The end delighted the Fenway Park crowd, which all in all treated Ramirez fairly enough. Maybe more than half booed, but there were plenty of cheers and no significant viciousness.

As badly as Carlos Monasterios pitched today – and he was fooling next to no one, allowing eight hits and in four innings, including two home runs (one by David Ortiz to deadest center, one off the top of the Green Monster by J.D. Drew that was approved via instant replay) – the Dodgers still had chances to wrestle this game away. After rallying from an initial 3-0 deficit to tie the game, Monasterios finally got the hook when he gave up the go-ahead run on a single, walk and double to start the bottom of the fifth.

Ramon Troncoso relieved Monasterios, and everything that has gone wrong for Troncoso this season seemed to crystallize in his five-batter outing. Darnell McDonald singled in two runs, and then Adrian Beltre slugged a two-run homer from his knees. Jason Varitek then doubled and Mike Cameron singled before Troncoso hit Daniel Nava with a 2-2 pitch.

Two so-called productive outs off Travis Schlichting scored the remaining Troncoso baserunners, inflating the beleaguered reliever’s ERA to 5.81 this season. The Dodgers are certainly revisiting some starting pitching worries this week – Ned Colletti is definitely targeting an acquisition at the trade deadline, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com – but Troncoso is a nagging concern. Worse ideas than giving him 15 days of time off continue to occur to me.

But like I said, there were bright spots for the Dodgers – Matt Kemp’s triple to right-center on a 2-for-5 night being one of them. Garret Anderson had a home run in the ninth inning. And the team continued to battle. Aside from the ninth inning, the team’s best look at the game after the Red Sox’ seven-run fifth inning came immediately thereafter, when they scored two runs with none out in the sixth. But Anderson and Jamey Carroll struck out, and Kemp grounded out.

The one player who didn’t reach base for the Dodgers on Friday: Ethier, who went 0 for 5.

* * *

Kemp thinks he has solved his basestealing problems, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:

“I saw that I was raising up instead of leaning toward the next base,” said Kemp. “You wouldn’t think that raising up would get you out of whack, but it did. And I need to get bigger leads. I know I’m better than this.

“I ain’t going to lie — I know you’re not supposed to think like this, but you get caught nine times, you start wondering if you shouldn’t go. I’ve got to get back to stealing bags and get into scoring position for Andre [Ethier] and Manny [Ramirez]. I haven’t even tried to steal third base. I’ve got to be aggressive.”

Jun 17

Rafael Furcal placed on bereavement list

No details yet, but the Dodgers announced in a 7:30 a.m. e-mail that Rafael Furcal had been placed on Major League Baseball’s bereveament list. Chin-Lung Hu has been called up to take his roster spot, though he will not arrive in Cincinnati in time for the start of today’s early game.

Placement on the bereavement list means that Furcal will miss from three to seven games.

All my sincerest condolences to Furcal.

Update: Furcal went to the Dominican Republic to see an ailing family member, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

* * *

  • Nick Green opted out of his minor-league contract and became a free agent, reports Christopher Jackson of Albuquerque Baseball Examiner.
  • Claudio Vargas returned to the Dodger organization, signing a minor-league contract with the Isotopes, whose pitching has been trashed by injuries, absences, promotions and demotions.
  • Russ Mitchell homered twice and singled for Albuquerque on Wednesday, while Michael Restovich doubled, tripled and homered, and Xavier Paul and Ivan De Jesus, Jr. also each had three hits.
  • Kyle Russell hit his first AA home run for Chattanooga, while Trayvon Robinson had three hits.
  • Fred Claire has a nice story at MLB.com about Monte Irvin, who at age 91 will have his number retired by the Giants. Among other tidbits was this revelation:

    … Irvin revealed that when he got out of the service in 1945 he signed a contract with the Dodgers.

    “I had been selected by Branch Rickey to break the color barrier,” said Irvin. “I had the talent and I was easy to get along with.”

    Irvin said that even though he had signed the contract with the Dodgers, he asked to return to play in the Negro Leagues “because I didn’t want to go to the Major Leagues until I had my game back after three years in the service.”

    Irvin said a dispute developed over the contract between his Negro League team and the Dodgers, and he didn’t get his opportunity in the Major Leagues until a deal was worked out with the Giants in 1949.

    “Things have a way of working out and I’m just happy that I had the chance to play the game that I loved,” he said.

  • Matt Kemp’s struggles get an analysis from Chad Moriyama of Memories of Kevin Malone.
  • Second-round draft choice Ralston Cash is close to signing with the Dodgers, reports Bill Murphy of the Gainesville Times.
  • Ernest Reyes of Blue Heaven passes along a neat find: a 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers ticket order form. Get your box seats for $3 …
  • Here’s a fun historical site: CalTrafficSigns.com (via Franklin Avenue).
Jun 13

Matt Kemp rests

After 62 games, Matt Kemp is rested for the first time in 2010. “I’m giving Matt Kemp a day off, which is something he hasn’t had,” Joe Torre told reporters today. “He’s fighting himself a little bit, and I noticed yesterday that he was just trying to put the ball in play. I wanted to give him a mind day off, it’s not a physical thing.”

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has the recap of Saturday’s game.

Torre on Vicente Padilla: “We’ll talk Tuesday when we see him in Cincinnati, he’ll throw his bullpen on Wednesday. I need him to be honest, I don’t want him to be almost there, I want him all the way back.”

Steven Strasburg is at it again: eight strikeouts in five innings so far today. Though he has walked three, he has allowed only one hit, a home run.

Jun 01

Bison buys one for the Dodgers, 1-0


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

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

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Matt Kemp: Glory be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

May 14

An unexpected thriller: Dodgers 4, Padres 3


Lenny Ignelzi/AP
Matt Kemp took Tony Gwynn, Jr. to the wall, and we all held our breath …

With Jon Garland matching Ramon Ortiz in allowing baserunner after baserunner – and with both offenses failing to take advantage – the early innings of tonight’s Dodgers-Padres game in San Diego had a sluggish, Spring Training feel. But somewhere along the way, a switch flipped, and a nearly random game in May took on the illusion of a true pennant-drive contest between two teams desperate to win.

And so, as the Dodgers trailed 3-2 in the seventh inning with Russell Martin on second base, when Matt Kemp lofted an enormous fly ball to dead center field, and Tony Gwynn, Jr. leaped a good two feet over the wall, and the ball disappeared momentarily in the blur of his glove … only for Gwynn to slam the wall in anger after the ball had somehow gotten through and to the other side, the Dodger season ascended into a moment of September-caliber drama. The Dodger bullpen then made Kemp’s two-run homer hold up, giving Los Angeles a 4-3 victory, its fifth victory in a row and 10th out of the past 13, cutting the Padres lead to four games in the National League West.

“That’s probably the hardest ball I’ve hit in a little while,” Kemp told Prime Ticket after the game. “If he had caught it, I probably would have had some words for him in batting practice tomorrow.”

The drama came five innings after what was probably the Dodgers’ offensive lowpoint this season, when they loaded the bases with one out in the second inning, down 1-0, but came away empty after Ortiz bunted feebly into an easy 1-2-3 double play. (“I still don’t understand it, trying to bunt with the bases loaded,” Dodger manager Joe Torre told reporters after the game.)  In the next inning, the top of the Dodger order slammed four straight singles off Garland, but settled for one run to tie the game.

Lenny Ignelzi/AP
After fastballs on seven of his previous eight pitches, Hong-Chih Kuo struck out Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez on a slider.

Ortiz gave up a first-inning homer to Adrian Gonzalez (who is 6 for 9 with two walks and two homers against Ortiz in his career) and nine baserunners in all out of 20 batters faced, but for all his problems wasn’t really outpitched by Garland, whose ERA is more than three runs lower. Both were often in trouble; both managed to avoid the big inning. (Garland caught a break, in a manner of speaking, when a fifth-inning blast by Andre Ethier hit high off the wall and ended up being only an RBI double instead of his 12th home run of the year.)

The spirit of the night turned serious when, after Ethier’s double made the score 2-2, Torre finally got Ortiz out of the game after allowing a walk and a single to lead off the bottom of the fifth and, as I predicted, began playing with his entire bullpen to get through the game. George Sherrill, Jeff Weaver and Ronald Belisario each faced three batters before Hong-Chih Kuo came in with the tying run on base. In a nine-pitch encounter, Kuo struck out Gonzalez – another edge-of-your-seats moment – then went on to complete the eighth inning in his longest shutout outing since September 7, 2008.

“Kuo was huge. Kuo was huge,” said Torre, who earlier had praise for Kemp. “I guess I wasn’t disappointed that DeWitt got (caught in an eighth-inning rundown), because that would have forced me to pinch-hit.”

Jonathan Broxton didn’t mess around in the ninth, retiring the side on 12 pitches to close things out. After Ortiz, Dodger relievers retired 15 of 17 batters.

“We were able to pitch great out of the bullpen, and that was the difference tonight,” Torre said.

Apr 17

Dodgers have a monster mash – but Tim Lincecum awaits


Mark J. Terrill/AP
Hello … is it me you’re looking for?

Andre Ethier is just mashing the ball. And it’s not just Friday in the Dodgers 10-8 victory over the Giants. Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. notes that Ethier has hit 25 home runs in his past 81 home games. Sons of Steve Garvey has a photo essay showing just how incredible Ethier’s night was.

And Matt Kemp is just mashing the ball, too. He has homered in four consecutive games and five of his past six.

James Loney doesn’t have a home run yet, but he is mashing the ball in his own way. Loney is 12 for his last 25, raising his batting average from .167 to .327 and making him one of seven Dodger regulars hitting over .300.

And for a night, opponents stopped mashing the ball against Vicente Padilla. With the Dodger bullpen in a shambles, Padilla picked a good time to give the Dodgers his best outing of the season. But Vin Scully and KCAL noticed Padilla rubbing his pitching arm pretty vigorously just before the fifth inning – the inning in which he lost his no-hitter and was hit pretty hard. Though Padilla lasted seven innings, we’ll have to see if what Scully saw had any significance.

The Dodgers came within one run of matching their team record (since moving to Los Angeles) for most runs in the first 10 games of a season (68). At the same time, they also reached their third-highest total of runs allowed in the first 10 games of a season (60).

* * *

Manny Ramirez came out of the game after three innings because of calf tightness, but Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports that Joe Torre said Ramirez would have stayed in the game if the Dodgers hadn’t been up by seven.

Of course, there were no guarantees the Dodgers would hold such a lead. And the fact that Russ Ortiz again could not finish an easy assignment is the last straw. Ortiz needs to be released.

When you take a flyer on a pitcher who hasn’t pitched well in years, the sole (if questionable) purpose is to try to see if there’s a chance he has solved his problems or even has one hot streak left in him. When you can see that he’s just as bad as he’s always been, there is nothing to hold out for. There is no situation in which Ortiz is a reliable pitcher, and the Dodgers should not wait any longer on him.

If Hong-Chih Kuo is about to be activated, that’s a simple exchange. But if Kuo has a setback, the Dodgers still need to jettison Ortiz.

* * *

  • It’s a tall order, but the Dodgers will try to “outlast” Tim Lincecum in today’s game, writes Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. It’s similar to how they were able to get a late victory against Arizona on Thursday – if they can make the great starter throw a lot of pitches, they can at least give themselves a chance against the bullpen.
  • The fifth-inning Padilla pitch that hit Aaron Rowand left him with two small fractures in his cheekbone and a concussion, writes D.J. Short of Hardball Talk.
  • Joe Torre recalls that when he was managing the Mets in 1977, the team almost traded Tom Seaver to the Dodgers for a package of players that included minor-leaguer Pedro Guerrero, writes Vincent Bonsignore of the Daily News.
  • John Ely pitched six two-run innings for Albuquerque last night.
  • Dee Gordon went 3 for 6 for Chattanooga and now has a .448 on-base percentage. Trayvon Robinson had a single, double and homer.
  • Will Savage, the 25-year-old from West Hills, pitched six innings without allowing an earned run while striking out eight for Great Lakes. In 12 2/3 innings this year, Savage has allowed two earned runs and five unearned runs.
Apr 15

Dodgers unlose! Dodgers unlose!


Mark J. Terrill/AP
Matt Kemp is wide-eyed after hitting a game-tying homer in the seventh inning.

The other team blew the leads. The Dodgers didn’t blow the leads. The other team did.

Oh, sure, the Dodgers blew two ties, at 0-0 and 3-3, but still – progress.

Bullpen (except for Jonathan Broxton) still shaky. Fielding still shaky. But still … progress.

So that I’m not up all night, just a little stream of consciousness to wrap things up …

Hiroki Kuroda gave up 10 hits but didn’t walk anyone over seven innings, while striking out seven. That’s practically a perfect game compared to what we’ve seen lately.

Matt Kemp had trouble with another fly ball defensively but homered for this third game in a row to tie the score in the seventh – he now has 13 RBI in nine games. He drove in pinch-hitter Ronnie Belliard, who is a crazy 8-for-14 to start the season.

Dan Haren mostly stymied the Dodgers, but needed 121 pitches to get 19 outs, and that extra work cost him by requiring Arizona to go its bullpen sooner. The third pitch by Aaron Heilman was Kemp’s two-run homer.

Justin Upton then hit his second tiebreaking homer in two nights, a monster blast halfway up the left-field pavilion off Jeff Weaver, to give Arizona a 4-3 lead. Upton also made a bigtime catch of a Garret Anderson drive to the top of the right-field wall in the bottom of the eighth to preserve the lead.

Arizona added a slop run in the ninth, but the Dodgers rallied with two in the bottom of the inning to tie, thanks at the end to a blooper-reel throw by Stephen Drew that allowed Manny Ramirez to score the tying run.

Broxton dominated in the top of the 10th, and then the Dodgers won it on a leadoff single by Blake DeWitt, an intentional walk to Kemp and then, ho hum, a walkoff hit by Andre Ethier.

Here’s a list, passed along by Mark A. Simon of ESPN.com from mikemav.com, of the Dodgers’ all-time walkoff hit leaders since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958:

14 Dusty Baker
12 Manny Mota
11 Ron Cey
11 Davey Lopes
10 Andre Ethier
10 Steve Garvey

The final tally for Russell Martin in the series: three games, 571 pitches caught.

* * *

Hong-Chih Kuo struck out two in a 1-2-3 rehab inning for Inland Empire, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. He completed his 20-pitch assignment in the bullpen.

Matt Magill of Great Lakes struck out seven, walked none and allowed two doubles and a single in a scoreless five innings tonight. This year, the 20-year-old from Simi Valley has struck out 12 in nine shutout innings.

Dee Gordon went 2 for 4 for Chattanooga and has a 1.006 OPS on the season.

Apr 11

Don’t fall prey to the RISP bogeyman

Doug Benc/Getty Images
Matt Kemp is feeling bad tonight after making an error on this play and striking out with the tying run on third in the ninth inning, but he still had a good first week.

No Dodger fan likes the team flunking with runners in scoring position. But just because it’s frustrating doesn’t mean the Dodgers should succeed all the time. It’s not as if your odds for winning the lottery increase the more you want to win.

Okay, not the greatest analogy, but it gets us headed in the right direction. Whenever a team wastes scoring opportunities, you start to see people toss around tidbits like batting average with runners in scoring position. This is a stat that gives stats a bad name.  Batting average is a stat of very limited value, and tacking it on to runners in scoring position doesn’t make it any more useful.

Batting average with RISP doesn’t take into account sacrifice flies, run-producing groundouts or walks. It doesn’t take into account the fact that often, an RISP at-bat comes against a pitcher brought in for a particular matchup to defuse that situation. It doesn’t reward you for getting a runner home from first base (or from home plate). Most of all, it give you any indication of how often a team has those situations.  Exaggerating to make a point, if the Dodgers had 30 at-bats in nine innings with RISP, succeeding in only six of them wouldn’t mean the offense was unproductive.

The idea of a clutch hitter is a dubious measurement to begin with, because clutch hitting tends to fluctuate from season to season. Looking for clutch hitting in a team is an even less useful activity. Batting average with RISP doesn’t come with enough context to have hardly any meaning.

In their first six games of the season, the Dodgers are batting .260 with RISP. That’s not going to light anyone’s pants afire, though it’s respectable. But then you see that the Dodgers have had 95 RISP plate appearances, an average of 15.8 per game – that’s more than one per inning. In those 95 plate appearances, the team has reached base 29 times while also delivering five sacrifice flies and four sacrifices – achieving the goal of an RISP at-bat at a .400 rate, even before you starting talking about productive outs.

Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
Even after today’s strikeout, Kemp has a .308 batting average plus a sacrifice fly with RISP and has seven RBI in six games.

Through Saturday’s games, the Dodgers were second in the National League in RISP plate appearances and second in RISP runs and RBI (before adding three more RISP runs today). Matt Kemp struck out with the tying run on third and one out in the ninth inning today in what was a bad-looking at-bat, but how much should we get on his case when, for the season, he is batting .308 with a sacrifice fly in RISP situations? How much better is he supposed to be? The Dodgers are  tied for third in the NL in runs scored – averaging 6.0 runs per game with at least five runs in every game but Wednesday’s – how much better are they supposed to be?

When you lose three one-run games on a six-game road trip, it’s natural to look at the what-might-have beens – and the Dodgers’ outs with RISP provide many. But to be fair, there is only one loss this season for which the offense can reasonably be blamed. The Dodgers might have some issues to upset their catnaps on their flight home from Florida, but RISP is just not one of them.

There are some people who decry the excess of esoteric stats that populate the game today, but my guess is that a lot of them think batting average with RISP as a good one. However, this is honestly a case where simplicity is for the best. You want to know how your offense is doing, you really are better off trashing batting average with RISP, and just looking at runs scored.

* * *

  • More on the rarity of a knuckleballer striking out 12 batters in a game from ESPN’s TMI blog. This isn’t confirmed, but it appears Charlie Haeger came within one strikeout of tying Phil Niekro and Charlie Hough for the most by a knuckleballer in a game in at least the past 40 years.
  • The ever-awesome Vin Scully Is My Homeboy posted a great Sport Magazine cover shot of a young Maury Wills.
  • Hugh Bernreuter of the Saginaw News (via Baseball Think Factory) writes about Dodger prospect Brian Cavazos-Galvez’s lost relationship with his father, former Dodger minor leaguer Balvino Galvez. Cavazos-Galvez hasn’t let it derail him, and when he’s not playing baseball, he volunteers for Special Olympics and Challenger Little League. “My uncle (Timmy Cavazos) has Down’s Syndrome, so I have experience being around those kids,” Cavazos-Galvez said. “Other guys are kind of scared to be around those kids or don’t know how to act. I love it.”
  • Former Dodger pitcher Edwin Jackson hit his first career home run in Arizona’s team-record 13-run fourth inning. Jackson allowed four runs over seven innings and 98 pitches to get credit for a 15-6 victory.
  • Marvin Bernard admits to steroid use? Marvin Bernard? Something tells me this one won’t be analyzed to death by the pundits.
  • Top MLB prospects Steven Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman each impressed in their U.S. professional debuts, writes Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com.
  • John Lindsey went 3 for 4 today, with his first homer of the year, to raise his 2010 Albuquerque on-base percentage to .632 and slugging percentage to .941.
Mar 19

Matt Kemp: Nickname in a twist

Killing time before the Dodgers begin four games in 48 hours (tonight, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon) …

As I’m compelled to pass along anything relating to Matt Kemp’s “Bison” nickname, here’s the video (posted Thursday by my ESPNLosAngeles.com cohorts at Land o’ Lakers) of an ESPY promo spot features some new in-depth talk about the moniker, about a minute in.

And … just for old times’ sake, here’s a link to Kemp’s March 2008 appearance on “Hardball Made Easy with Ron Stilanovich.”