Mar 11

Dream-weaving the Dodgers offense

My thoughts remain with the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.


Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireRafael Furcal, shaky sparkplug

It says something about how concerned people are with the Dodgers offense that even as pitchers Vicente Padilla, Jon Garland and Ronald Belisario have dropped off the probable Opening Day roster, the hitting is still the Dodgers’ primary concern. And not without good reason.

But there are a number of ways, not even high-apple-pie-in-the-sky ways, that the Dodgers offense could exceed the lowest expectations and prove adequate, if not above average. Here are some potential upsides for the batsmen:

250 total bases from Rafael Furcal
The Dodgers want Furcal to be reasonably healthy and reasonably productive. Reaching this milestone would indicate that Furcal was successful on both fronts. (Throw in about 50 walks and double-digit steals to top it off.)

The challenge: The 33-year-old hasn’t reached 250 total bases since his first year as a Dodger in 2006, when he had 291. In 2009, Furcal played in 150 games but struggled badly at the plate (probably playing at less than 100 percent); the following year he was on pace for a great season but couldn’t make it into more than 97 games. The problem with Furcal seems to be that he is simply not a quick healer these days.

The hope: Furcal could miss 30 games and still reach the plateau if his bat doesn’t take a holiday. Knowing the Dodgers have Jamey Carroll as a backup in the majors and Dee Gordon or Ivan De Jesus in the minors, the team can afford to give him days off or even a quick run on the disabled list to recover from lighter ailments in order to preserve him for the long haul.

2009 calls, and Matt Kemp answers
A year ago, we were wondering how Kemp might improve on his banner 2009 season. Today, everyone would be happy if he merely matched it. Lest we forget, that was a season, at age 24, when Kemp had a .352 on-base percentage, .490 slugging percentage, 34 steals in 42 attempts and defense that made you gasp, but not in horror.

The challenge: Finding out if Kemp still has a 2009 in him. Can he adjust, both to the pitchers who fooled him in 2010 and to the level of mental approach required of him over a full season?

The hope: It’s not unusual for players to take a step back before they take their next step forward. The Dodgers hope the presence of Davey Lopes will help provide the spring in Kemp’s step. Want a statistical beacon to look toward? Kemp’s batting average on balls in play last year was .295, after averaging .364 the previous three seasons. A little luck could go a long way.

Kyle Terada/US PresswireDioner Navarro



Dioner Navarro proves his signing wasn’t a clerical error

“I’ve made a huge mistake,” Gob Bluth of “Arrested Development” might have said had he woken up one morning and realized he had signed the once-and-future Dodger catcher to a $1 million contract after Navarro slogged out a .528 OPS in 2010.

The challenge: It wasn’t only 2010. Over the past two seasons, Navarro has a .263 on-base percentage and .306 slugging percentage in 163 games. Yes, offensive expectations are lower for a catcher, but that’s just useless. The Dodgers need their backup catcher to succeed because Rod Barajas can’t play every day (nor would you want him to), but investing too much patience in Navarro could be an investment in a black hole.

The hope: Navarro is still only 27, still only two seasons removed from a .349 OBP and .407 slugging. Totals like that would more than do the trick. Why the Dodgers think Navarro can recover, I cannot tell you, but this isn’t the stereotypical Ned Colletti signing of a veteran on the downslope of his career. This was a belief signing, a buy-low on a player who could still be entering his prime. Perhaps Navarro’s 2011 will show us why at the end of every hard-earned day people find some reason to believe.

James Loney stops hitting like Joe Shlabotnik
Kemp gets all the grief in the mainstream press, but for New School fans, it’s Loney who’s the bigger target. His RBI totals (especially relative to his opportunities) and his defense don’t make up for the overall production the Dodgers could really use from their first baseman.

The challenge: Among other things, proving that not one but two seasons of sub-.400 slugging percentage were just a pause that refreshes. And then there’s overcoming a walk-to-strikeout ratio that went from 1.03 in 2009 to 0.55 last year. And then … well, you get the idea.

The hope: Loney had an .803 OPS heading into the All-Star break last season, which isn’t exactly Albert Pujols, but it’s something to cling to. Folks still love his stroke, a stroke that delivered 19 homers, a .372 on-base percentage and .543 slugging percentage in his first 144 career games. Are we really to believe that Loney peaked at age 23?

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireAndre Ethier


Andre Ethier is no platoon player

Ethier had an .846 OPS in 72 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers as a rookie in 2006. That production has declined each and every year since, down to .625 in 178 PA last season.

The challenge: Actually, protecting that pivotal pinkie might be Ethier’s biggest 2011 worry, but presuming he can, the decline against lefties is more than a bit worrying. Four years of decline is tough to stomach even for a player of Ethier’s overall ability.

The hope: Ethier, who will be 29 in April, was on an MVP pace for the first several weeks of last season, so with loads of room to improve against lefties, his best year might still be ahead of him. The alternative is that the Dodgers softly begin resting him against lefties if a fellow by the name of Jerry Sands keeps knocking at the door.

Jerry Sands knocks at the door
The power-hitting 23-year-old minor-leaguer with all of 68 games above Class A has been perhaps the top story in the early days of spring training, as Dodgers fans unhappy with the current third-outfielder conglomerate look longingly for a savior.

The challenge: Handling temptation. Sands’ massive inexperience at the higher levels of the game makes the script all too easy to write – an early taste of success followed by a faceplant against major-league breaking pitches.

The hope: In 2006, Ethier and Kemp came up as rookies and, while they didn’t win permanent starting jobs right away, made unmistakable contributions toward that year’s division title. The Dodgers can’t expect Sands to become rookie of the year, but it’s not crazy to dream he (or Trayvon Robinson) could provide some lift to the sagging outfield picture.

A midseason trade gives offense a new gear
For all the talk of how the McCourt ownership has hamstrung player acquisitions, the Dodgers have not been silent at the trade deadline. Ted Lilly was no Manny Ramirez 2008, but he was a major splurge for a team barely hanging on in more ways than one. It’s sensible to assume that unless the Dodgers fall completely out of the race, Colletti will have the BlackBerry working.

The challenge: Making the trade worthwhile, both in terms of what comes in (spare us Scott Podsednik, please) and what goes out. If Rubby De La Rosa continues his rapid progress, and anyone from the group including Ethan Martin, Aaron Miller and Chris Withrow bounces back, the Dodgers will have no shortage of trade chips in pitching alone. But you don’t want to use them unwisely, not at all.

The hope: Right player at the right time, ideally without giving up the primo minor-league talent. They’ve done it before; could they do it again?

Feb 21

You get a line, I’ll get a pole, my honey …


Morry Gash/APXavier Paul takes his swings at Camelback Ranch today.

Maury Wills sings “Crawdad Hole.” Thank you, Blue Heaven.

Elsewhere …

  • One of the lesser-known but valuable defensive statistical tools is PMR (Probabilistic Model of Range), by David Pinto of Baseball Musings. Today, he published shortstop data for the period 2006-10. The Dodgers are No. 6 out of 30 teams at the position, thanks mostly to Rafael Furcal, who is seventh-best in baseball over that stretch – fourth among those who have seen at least 10,000 balls in play in their zone.
  • Andre Ethier wants to be a more uplifting leader for the Dodgers this year, he tells Dylan Hernandez of the Times. Don Mattingly suggested a role model for Ethier: Derek Jeter.
  • It just keeps getting worse for Scott Podsednik. Mark Zwolinski of the Toronto Star reports that “Podsednik suffered a re-aggravation of foot injury he first came down with in 2010, and will not be immediately available to open spring training with the team.” Jays manager John Farrell said the ex-Dodger, whose unguaranteed contract gives him $1 million for making the team, is battling plantar fasciitis again.
  • I’ve been meaning to highlight this for a long time but kept forgetting: Brandon Lennox of True Blue L.A. went to the trouble of ranking and providing detailed capsules of the Dodgers’ top 200 minor-league prospects. Here’s your path to the trove.
  • A 7-foot-1 pitching prospect? You be the judge: Bill Plunkett of the Register has a fun feature on the Angels’ 85-inch minor leaguer, Loek Van Mil.
  • Dee Gordon, interviewed by Josh Jackson for MLB.com, says he isn’t expecting Stephen King to write “The Girl Who Loved Dee Gordon.”
  • ESPN.com has an entire page dedicated to 6-foot-2 high school basketball player Diamond DeShields, daugher of Delino and class of 2013.
Feb 19

Now batting, Don Mattingly


Morry Gash/APDon Mattingly: Five-tool manager?

The most fun and interesting detail to come out of Camelback Ranch today was the tidbit that Dodger manager Don Mattingly will stand in the batters box during bullpen sessions for his pitchers. From Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

In Mattingly’s first spring as the team’s manager, he already has employed at least one unconventional tactic. Often, when a pitcher is throwing in the bullpen, Mattingly will grab a bat, step into the left-handed batter’s box and get into the familiar stance he employed for so many years as a six-time All-Star first baseman for the New York Yankees.

“It gives me a better look at a guy’s stuff,” Mattingly said. “[By standing there], I can tell if what a guy is throwing can get somebody out or it can’t.”

Mattingly conceded that some of his pitchers — especially those who will spend the spring fighting for a roster spot — might be a bit unnerved by firing a baseball in the general direction of the boss’s body. In deference to that, he said he steps out of the box when it comes time for a pitcher to throw to the inside part of the plate.

Ken Gurnick of MLB.com has more.

… Mattingly’s participation in the bullpen sessions had the players talking.

“First time I ever saw that,” said catcher Dioner Navarro. “Caught me off guard. I did a double take. You know, you don’t want to drill him. But you can see he wants to be involved in everything, to know everything. It’s like he’s back to being a player. He knows what it takes. It brings confidence to the team to see that. It’s exciting.”

Mattingly, 49, said he no longer gets the urge to actually hit, having retired after the 1995 season. And he only steps in to his natural left-handed side, because he said he might not know how to get out of the way from the right-hander’s box.

Among the pitchers he “faced” Saturday were veterans Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla. Mattingly said he’d think twice if he saw a pitcher was having control problems.

“Managers do that in Japan and it’s considered an honor,” said Kuroda. “They do it for top young prospects and established veterans. And in the middle of Spring Training you have a session when you throw 200 to 300 pitches to establish endurance, and the manager steps in then, so you don’t slack off.” …

* * *

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles DodgersMatt Kemp works out at Camelback Ranch today.

Davey Lopes baserunning tutorials are in full swing. From Jackson:

… Lopes has been giving these tutorials every morning this spring, and after a few minutes on Saturday, (Matt) Kemp was joined by outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr., shortstop Rafael Furcal, highly touted prospects Dee Gordon and Trayvon Robinson and non-roster outfielder Trent Oeltjen. Not one of those players is required to be in camp until Monday, but several of the team’s position players chose to report early.

Lopes’ group spent the entire session taking leads off first, crouching and breaking toward second base, though they weren’t running at anything close to full speed and they stopped about halfway there.

“Right now, I’m just trying to get an idea of what they do and what they attempt to do and see if there is something we can try to adjust to make it a little better fit for them,” Lopes said. “Basically, we’re just breaking down their movements.” …

* * *

Hiroki Kuroda is working on adding a curveball to his repertoire. Dylan Hernandez of the Times has more:

Last spring, Kuroda tried to add a changeup to his arsenal, but the project was abandoned early in camp. Kuroda said he’s more optimistic about his curveball.

“I’ll throw it during the exhibition season and see how it feels,” he said.

Kuroda said he has received tips from Clayton Kershaw, but that he learned the curveball grip over the winter by watching videos.

* * *

Steve Henson of Yahoo! Sports writes about the importance to Rafael Furcal of the fire truck recently donated to his hometown in the Dominican Republic:

“I’ll sleep better knowing people will be safe,” Furcal said. “I’m the only guy who made it. It’s like a responsibility to me.”

His love of firefighting was noticed by Dodgers public relations director Josh Rawitch, who mentioned it to general manager Ned Colletti during Furcal’s contract negotiations after the 2008 season. Colletti included the truck in discussions with Furcal’s agent, Paul Kinzer. Furcal was torn between signing with the Braves – the team that first signed him in 1996 and for whom he played his first six years in the majors – or returning to the Dodgers.

The fire truck was the ideal perk. It spoke to something close to his heart. And it convinced him the Dodgers cared about him as a person, and about his hometown.


* * *

Farewell, Ollie Matson.

Oct 08

Dodgers make a (not-so?) noteworthy change at the top

Dodgers president Dennis Mannion has ankled the team, with Frank McCourt taking over his duties. (The story was first reported by Dylan Hernandez of the Times.) General manager Ned Colletti, who had been reporting to Mannion, will now be the sort to report to McCourt, unless the tort forces McCourt to abort; he dare not snort or hide in a fort, but must find port or he will be mort.

Sorry … don’t know what happened there.

There’s going to be some hand-wringing about McCourt (re)taking a bigger role in the team, but I don’t know that this makes much of a difference to the Dodgers on the field or in the front office. It’s the same administration either way, especially since Mannion had reported to McCourt anyway. I am curious about how much time Mannion had left on his contract, though.

Mannion’s legacy will include revenue-generating marketing endeavors like Mannywood but also one of the most ill-considered comments by a Dodger executive (Non-McCourt Division) in recent memory when he discussed player acquisition in the same context as acquiring portable concession stands. The tone-deafness of the comment was more noteworthy than the substance, but it was indicative of something that I’m not sure Dodger fans will miss.

For fun, here’s an Associated Press story from March 2009 about the promotions of Mannion and Jamie McCourt.

… “Jamie has done an outstanding job of assembling a talented management team, fostering a positive culture, and building a first-class business operation,” Frank McCourt said.

As CEO, Jamie McCourt will oversee the strategic direction and decisions of the organization, focusing on the development of relationships throughout the Dodgers community and Major League Baseball, and with corporate partners and public officials.

“It allows me to promote a strategic mind-set and build long-term relationships that strengthen our brand,” Jamie McCourt said. “The most important of those relationships is with our fans. So I will invest even more heavily in how we connect with them in every imaginable way.” …

* * *

  • Rafael Furcal makes too much money and gets hurt too often to be a viable trade candidate, but nonetheless, it is worth noting that he now must approve any trade the Dodgers might attempt. Furcal is a five-and-10 player (10 years in the majors, five with the same team), notes Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors, giving him a full no-trade clause.
  • Are you ready for 2011? The Dodgers’ Spring Training schedule is out. Opening Day is February 26 against the Angels, followed by the Camelback Ranch opener the following afternoon.
  • Former Dodger Dave Roberts, recovering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, has been named the Padres’ first-base coach. He had recently been a special assistant in the baseball operations department.
  • As Reds manager Dusty Baker watched Brandon Phillips make the final out in Roy Halladay’s no-hitter Wednesday, he could recall making the final out himself in Nolan Ryan’s record-setting fifth no-hitter in 1981, writes Kevin Baxter of the Times.
  • One of my pet peeves in reading and talking about baseball is how little agreement there is about what a No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 or No. 5 starter means. Bryan Smith of Fangraphs delves into the topic.
  • No worries, Roberto.
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 03

Rafael Furcal returns

Rafael Furcal, who homered, tripled, doubled and walked in six plate appearances rehabbing with Triple-A Albuquerque, returns to the Dodger lineup tonight for his first major-league action since August 2.  From Tony Jackson:

“He had a couple of backhand plays, not really tough ones but backhands nonetheless,” said Stan Conte, the Dodgers’ director of medical services. “He also ran out a double and a triple. He had no tightness [Thursday] and no tightness today.”

Furcal started two double plays Thursday, writes Christopher Jackson of Albuquerque Baseball Examiner. Jackson adds the following color:

Things got chippy in the ninth when (Josh) Lindblom hit Matt Camp with a pitch with one out. Iowa manager Ryne Sandberg and (A.J.) Ellis started yelling at each other. The benches and bullpens cleared, but no punches were thrown and order was quickly restored.

Lindblom struck out Jonathan Mota and Sam Fuld to end the game. Fuld took exception with a called strike three and had to be restrained by Sandberg from going after home plate umpire Matt Schaufert.

The Dodgers also added catcher A.J. Ellis to the expanded active roster.

* * *

  • John Lindsey finished third in the Pacific Coast League MVP race, writes Albuquerque’s Jackson.
  • Jon SooHoo, the great Dodger team photographer who is being honored for 25 years of service tonight, gets an appreciation via this photo package from Austin Knoblauch at the Times. (via The Left Field Pavilion).
  • Regardless of what it means for the trial, you don’t see story ledes like this every day: “Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt described himself Friday as a devoted husband who tried to comply with his wife’s exorbitant wishes but stopped when she sought $250 million for her personal use.”
Aug 17

Kershaw LXXVI: Kershawnna Karenina

Manny Ramirez is alive! He took batting practice at Dodger Stadium tonight and is close to a rehab assignment. Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.

Rafael Furcal felt tightness and will be held back from starting a rehab assignment for at least a couple more days.

* * *

Question: Are the Rockies more disappointing than the Dodgers this season, less or the same?

Related: Bob Timmermann explores “The Dodgers in 2010: The Year of Crabbiness” at L.A. Observed’s Native Intelligence.

* * *

Elsewhere …

  • Zach Lee is expected to make an appearance at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, the team said.
  • Lou Gehrig might not have had Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), reports Alan Schwarz in a fascinating New York Times article.
  • Josh Wilker has a fine piece about Mickey Rivers today at Cardboard Gods.
  • Remember Brent Mayne, he of the last Dodger catching tandem that couldn’t hit straight before this one? Mayne has a blog and an interesting post about ballplayers as social misfits. (via Hardball Talk).
  • If it’s an upset that the Padres are in first place and the Dodgers are in fourth, it’s another upset that the Dodgers had a more satisfying 2010 draft than the Padres did. Paul DePodesta tells the story of what happened to leave San Diego’s front office disappointed at It Might Be Dangerous … You Go First.
  • Claudio Vargas has been granted his release by Albuquerque, the Isotopes said.
  • Former Dodger prospect Andrew Lambo has had his second setback of 2010 — a shoulder injury, reports Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  • Sweet-hitting pitcher Micah Owings, whose career ERA and slugging percentage each start with the number five, has been designated for assignment by Cincinnati.
Aug 03

Slumping Jeff Weaver heads to DL; Rafael Furcal next?

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

* * *

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

Jul 08

The magnificent heaven: Samurai Kershaw, Furcal shine in 3-2 victory


Mark J. Terrill/APClayton Kershaw has walked eight batters in his past 41 2/3 innings, two in his past 20 2/3.

Boo hoo! Dodger pitchers never pitch complete games!  Waaah!  Why can’t they ever go the distance?  When is Clayton Kershaw going to step up and be an ace!  Waaaaaaaaah!

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system …

Magnificent.

That’s the word to describe Clayton Kershaw tonight. Eight innings, two runs, 12 strikeouts, 97 pitches, no walks

And then, Dodger manager Joe Torre, who has had no trouble letting the precious 22-year-old phenom throw over 100 pitches in fewer innings, decided to pull Kershaw before potentially recording his first complete game in the majors. And it wasn’t necessarily the wrong decision – Jonathan Broxton is warming up no matter what, and no doubt fresher at this point of the game – but wow …

Anyway, Broxton came in, retired the first two batters in the ninth, got two strikes on the third before allowing a single, then made sure none of us would spontaneously combust by inducing a harmless fly out from Kosuke Fukudome to complete the Dodgers’ 3-2 victory over Chicago.

Remember this post, after Kershaw was charged with seven runs in 1 1/3 innings against Milwaukee?

The last time Clayton Kershaw started but failed to get past the third inning – June 10, 2009 – this is what happened the rest of the season: 107 innings, 122 baserunners, 123 strikeouts, 1.77 ERA.

Well, this is what Kershaw has done since failing to get past the second inning on May 4, 2010: 81 2/3 innings, 85 baserunners, 92 strikeouts, 2.20 ERA.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Rafael Furcal puts the Dodgers in the lead.

Magnificent.

And yet this could have been an incredibly frustrating 2-1 loss for the Dodgers, were it not for the heroics of Rafael Furcal. Two innings after Matt Kemp just missed hitting a three-run home run, Russell Martin led off the bottom of the seventh with a single. One out later, Kershaw sacrificed him to second base, and then Furcal curled a game-changing home run just inside the right-field foul pole. Furcal ended the night a triple shy of hitting for the cycle.

Kershaw, who now has a lower WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) and higher K/9 than Tim Lincecum wasn’t perfect. He forfeited the Dodgers’ 1-0 first-inning lead, allowing a long home run to Alfonso Soriano in the second and a pair of hits for a run in the fourth.

He wasn’t perfect. He was just … you know.

Jul 07

And Rafael Furcal plays on …


Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireRafael Furcal has reached base 35 times in his last 15 games.

At the start of this season, I had practically given up on Rafael Furcal.

Last year was limp, and his brief fireworks in 2008 looked like the death throes of a player just before his back was hijacked by the devil. He seemed, to adapt one of the most malleable and miserable of baseball cliches, an old 32.

Maybe in an honest attempt to be objective, maybe in an attempt to be too clever, I picked Furcal as the Dodgers’ hidden weak link. While everyone else was worried about the starting pitching or Manny Ramirez, I was the one who so smartly pointed out that the Dodgers had a fizzler as the backbone of their infield.

Turns out, that fizzler has been the most valuable shortstop in major league baseball – All-Star snub be damned – according to Fangraphs.

That Furcal has made me look so wrong is wonderful. That he has done it in a year of personal tragedy is wondrous. How did he go back to work so quickly after his father died? And how did he go back so well?

Furcal is a player of tremendous ability – he quite possibly will leave the Dodgers at the end of 2011 as the greatest-hitting shortstop in their long history – and, if it may still be said, somewhat maddening inconsistency. At times like these, with a .443 on-base percentage and .667 slugging percentage since June 4, he is arguably the best player in the game, punctuated by the spring in his defensive step. But even this year, Furcal has had his struggles. Thanks to more injuries and more ill production, Furcal reached base only 13 times compared with 11 strikeouts over a six-week span from April 22 through June 3. To put it in the best possible light, Furcal has an uncanny ability to remind you that he is all too human.

He’s one of us. Until he’s not.

Furcal will cool off again, maybe starting tonight. And one of these days, months or years, he won’t heat back up again. After all, he’s an old 32, right?  But someday, after it’s all over, I hope I remember these inspiring weeks, when Furcal not only found life worth living in a dark hour, he made it that much more rewarding for the rest of us.

Jul 06

Furcal named player of the week … and other notes

Rafael Furcal was named National League Player of the Week. According to the Dodger press notes, Furcal has scored in 11 straight games, tying Davey Lopes (1979) and Shawn Green (2002) for the Los Angeles Dodger record. The franchise record of 12 was set by Gil Hodges in 1953.

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Minor-league news: John Lindsey activated from the disabled list after missing a month of games, James Adkins sent to AA Chattanooga, Timo Perez released.

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James McDonald is pitching now in the first game of a doubleheader for the Isotopes, who play another twin-bill Friday. McDonald started his night with two perfect innings. Three pitchers currently with Albuquerque – Carlos Monasterios (well, technically he’s not on the roster), Ramon Troncoso and McDonald — all might be with the Dodgers inside of a couple of weeks, given the ongoing roster shuffling.

Update: McDonald took a no-hitter into the fifth inning. He pitched six innings of two-hit, no-walk shutout ball, striking out five batters in a six-batter stretch at one point, and was two outs away from a shutout in the scheduled seven-inning game before getting charged with four runs in the seventh inning. (Three of those came in when Kiko Calero allowed a two-out, bases-loaded double.) Until that final frame, McDonald was working on a streak of 16 consecutive scoreless innings.

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.

Jul 03

Dodgers make Diamondbacks rue the error of their ways, 14-1


Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAfter tonight’s game, Kirk Gibson and Rodrigo Lopez have a story to rival the Andrea Doria survivors.

Clayton Kershaw and Rafael Furcal nearly had a face-to-face collision on the basepaths, and yet that mistake didn’t even register tonight. But six errors by the Diamondbacks did.

Arizona broke its club record for team trauma, making its most errors ever in what would have been the team’s worst shutout loss ever, before scoring a ninth-inning run to settle for a 14-1 defeat.

It would have been the Dodgers’ biggest shutout victory since they won 14-0 on September 24, 1975. Los Angeles’ biggest shutout victory ever was 19-0 over San Diego in 1969.

The Dodgers had a 7-0 lead before scoring their first earned runs, which came on home runs in the fourth inning by the scalding-hot Furcal and then Andre Ethier (both of them 2 for 4). According to True Blue L.A., Casey Blake became the first Los Angeles Dodger to score three runs without a hit or walk.

Furcal is now hitting .338 with a .384 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage in 226 plate appearances, 22 plate appearance short of what he needs to qualify for the leaderboards. Among those on the team with at least 248 plate appearances, only Ethier has a higher slugging percentage than the 5-foot-8 Dodger shortstop. And Furcal lost a few digits when his 400-foot blast to center field ended up being only a single, because Kershaw (running from first base) thought it was caught and started heading back from second base back to first. Furcal, trying to get Kershaw’s attention, was called out for passing Kershaw on the bases.

James Loney reached base four times, and Matt Kemp added a homer and double. Xavier Paul, in his first game back from Albuquerque, had two singles and a three-ball walk after a moment of home-plate umpire confusion. The game-winning RBI went to Blake DeWitt (2 for 5), who had a bases-loaded single in the second inning.

Arizona made two errors in that inning, then made errors on three consecutive batters in the third. Former Dodger Tony Abreu, playing shortstop tonight, made his third error of the game in the fifth inning.

Clayton Kershaw was effective, if not entirely efficient. He crossed the 100-pitch mark in the sixth inning, and with the 14-run lead, Joe Torre pulled him out. Kershaw allowed only four hits and two walks while striking out eight. By entering with at least three innings remaining, Travis Schlichting had a save opportunity, but was hit for after getting seven outs on 40 pitches. Jonathan Broxton, who hadn’t pitched since Sunday’s debacle, was eased back into action. Broxton lost the team shutout by giving up his first homer since August 15 – both the then- and now-homers were hit by Mark Reynolds, but got the next three batters to end the game.

The Dodgers have split the series so far but lead on goal differential, 19-13.

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Carlos Monasterios pitched three shutout innings in tonight’s rehab start with Albuquerque.

Jun 30

Rafael Furcal is making a serious NL All-Star case


Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesRafael Furcal, shown hitting a home run today, leads NL shortstops in on-base percentage (.382, minimum 200 plate appearances).

Playing nice defense, swinging the bat great: Rafael Furcal.

NL OPS leaders
.877 Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado (265 plate appearances, injured)
.877 Hanley Ramirez, Florida (330 plate appearances)
.869 Rafael Furcal, Los Angeles (221 plate appearances)
.803 Juan Uribe, San Francisco (292 plate appearances)

According to Fangraphs, Furcal is also third behind Tulowitzki and Ramirez in Wins Above Replacement.

Jun 26

Fun for the whole family: Dodgers 9, Yankees 4


Mark J. Terrill/AP
Rafael Furcal had three hits, three runs and a dazzler at shortstop.

On a night they had 11 hits and drew 10 walks, there were many moments of pleasure for the Dodgers in tonight’s 9-4 victory. For example, the Dodgers took a haymaker in the top of the first inning when Hiroki Kuroda struggled with control and gave up two walks and a home run to the first three batters, but Rafael Furcal got the Dodgers off the mat. It was just a simple single to left, but it started to take the sting out right away.

Furcal also ended the night with an exclamation point, making a full-flung diving stop of Robinson Cano’s grounder up the middle, bouncing to his feet and firing to first in time to end the game.

In between, Manny Ramirez reached base four times, and James Loney drove in four runs.

But when I think of everything that happened tonight, what gave me the most pleasure was Hong-Chih Kuo. With the tying runs on base and one out in the top of the sixth inning, Kuo blew away Derek Jeter on strikes and then got Jorge Posada to fly out. Then in the seventh, Kuo came back and retired Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Cano. Five Yankees, 18 pitches, no contest. Kuo showed the nation how great his stuff is, and it felt sweet.

The Dodgers have evened it up with the Yankees, and go for bragging rights Sunday with Clayton Kershaw.

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Message to Fox: There’s a line between an acceptable amount of in-game interviews and an excessive amount. And it’s not a fine line. It’s a line that can be seen from Saturn. You guys crossed it. This is not a latenight talk show – it’s a baseball game.

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From Vin Scully at John Wooden’s public memorial today:

“The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives. The triumph of life is to live hopefully, kindly, cheerful, reverent and to keep the heart unwrinkled. The coach kept his heart unwrinkled. He was truly triumphant.”