Jun 30

Fife, Dominguez glow amid Puig spotlight

That there is any other Dodger to write about besides the one who got his 44th hit in his 100th at-bat would be remarkable in any year, much less one that still features a last-place team in Los Angeles.

But here we are on the final day of June with not only the remarkable Yasiel Puig to talk about, or even the sizzling Hanley Ramirez, but two others who are turning heads.

You’ve met Stephen Fife – but have you met Stephen Fife? The 26-year-old, whose 2011 acquisition was derided in most quarters (including this one), not only threw seven shutout innings today, he lowered his June ERA to 2.21 – the best of anyone this month in the Dodger starting rotation.

Yes, the rotation. I mean, do you realize that Fife is in the rotation now? He’s not some stopgap spot starter. He’s in. He’s taken a regular turn for six straight starts now, striking out 30 in 36 2/3 innings. It’s hardly too late for his chariot to turn into a pumpkin, that he’s John Ely in disguise, but 12 starts into his major-league career, he has a 2.78 ERA.

In his own small way, far from the Puig spotlight, he has helped the Dodgers win eight games in their past nine and pull within four games of first place in the National League West, which has generated its own level of skepticism but for now remains the third-best division in baseball.

Games over .500
33 AL East
22 NL Central
-8 NL West
-11 AL West
-12 AL Central
-24 NL East

Even at 38-43, the Dodgers are in a much more enviable position at the halfway point of their season than seemed fathomable just last weekend. The future looks brighter than any point since Opening Day. And again, that’s not just thanks to Puig. The Dodgers’ newest freshman, Jose Dominguez, exactly four months older than Puig, delivered the most electric debut this side of their precocious rightfielder.

Hitting 101 on the radar gun, Dominguez relieved Fife in a perfect eighth inning, striking out his first major-league batter and displaying a tantalizing change to go with that fastball. Making it clear that he wasn’t equating Dominguez with Pedro Martinez, Vin Scully nevertheless said you couldn’t help thinking of the future Hall of Famer while watching the baby San Pedro de Macoris native. I can hardly wait to see him again, and I’m sure the Dodgers feel the same way.

We’ll wait to see how Dominguez’ control plays out, but it’s easy to draw renewed bullpen hope in a potential lead trio of Dominguez, Paco Rodriguez and Kenley Jansen, with J.P Howell and Ronald Belisario in secondary roles. And that’s no small reason why there’s renewed hope in the Dodgers as well.

Apr 21

Thanks – we needed that

I’m not going to say that Dodger fans needed this one, this 7-4 victory today over Baltimore, because for one thing, it seemed unlikely following Chad Billingsley’s latest health calamity that “this one” was going to come. Certainly, after replacement starter Stephen Fife gave up three runs in a 35-pitch first inning, “this one” seemed very unlikely to wander the Dodgers’ way.

Even I, after my funereal post Saturday, had my own set of Washington Generals jokes at the ready in the early innings. “You don’t see the Washington Generals’ fans having trouble holding it together, do you?” Such a great, great line. How I savored the thousands of retweets and acknowledgments of superiority it would engender. Yet I held off, because I didn’t want to have egg on my face if the Dodgers surrendered their three-run deficit as easily as they surrendered a three-run lead the previous morning.

And sure enough, it happened. Baltimore’s pitching fell apart in a four-run Dodger fifth, Los Angeles added insurance runs in the seventh and ninth, and Fife, J.P. Howell, Matt Guerrier, Paco Rodriguez, Kenley Jansen and Brandon League combined to shut out the Orioles over the final six innings. Just like that, the zephyr (to use a Vin Scully favorite) was every so gently at our backs, and the Dodgers had won.

We might not have needed it, but if only for a day, it sure was a relief.

Special praise is due to Mark Ellis, who drove in the Dodgers’ first three runs with a sacrifice fly and a two-run single, and also made a superb defensive play ranging far to his right with the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the eighth. For a No. 2 hitter, Ellis has a disappointing two walks all season, but he is batting .311, including .435 (10 for 23) with runners on base, and playing his usual steady defense.

Matt Kemp struck out with the bases loaded and two out in the third, but followed that with hits in three consecutive at-bats, showing a ton of seventh-inning hustle in stealing second and then scoring on an A.J. Ellis single, capped by a nifty slide at home. Though still homerless, Kemp went 8 for 22 (.364) with a walk this past week.

Every little bit helps.

Apr 21

Billingsley heads to disabled list, Fife recalled

No, really – just keep pouring it on.

This moming, the Dodgers placed Chad Billingsley on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow pain (retroactive to April 16). Stephen Fife – ninth on the Dodgers’ starting-pitcher depth chart when the season began three weeks ago – will start today’s game in Baltimore, trying to help the Dodgers end their six-game losing streak.

Fife has started three games for Triple-A Albuquerque this year, posting a 4.61 ERA in 13 2/3 innings with 20 hits allowed, three walks and 14 strikeouts. As a major-leaguer, Fife had a 2.70 ERA in five starts covering 26 2/3 innings in 2012, with 25 hits and 12 walks allowed against 20 strikeouts.

Fife’s longest outing this season so far is five innings, in the game he last pitched, Monday at Iowa. He allowed four runs and struck out eight, throwing 91 pitches.

We’re waiting for details on the timing of Billingsley’s trip to the DL. The right-hander, of course, eschewed surgery last year despite missing the final six weeks of the season with his elbow problem. He has a 3.00 ERA in 12 innings this year with 12 hits allowed, five walks and six strikeouts.

By the way, 21-year-old former first-round pick Zach Lee has a 1.17 ERA after four starts for Double-A Chatanooga this year, allowing 26 baserunners in 23 innings while striking out 21. (His teammate, Yasiel Puig, is on the seven-day minor-league disabled list with a sprained thumb.)

Update: “Chad Billingsley is not making his scheduled start today due to increased tightness and pain in his right elbow that he experienced during his last bullpen session,” the Dodgers said in a statement. “After consulting Dr. Neal ElAttrache, it was decided that he will return to Los Angeles on Tuesday for further medical evaluation. More information will be forthcoming after that examination.”

Dodgers at Orioles, 10:35 a.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Skip Schumaker, DH
Justin Sellers, SS
(Stephen Fife, P)

Jul 17

Fife digs the groundball in effective debut

Fanning one batter in six innings, Stephen Fife had the fewest strikeouts of any Dodger starting pitcher in his first major-league game since Sandy Vance went six whiff-free innings in 1970.

But Fife stymied the Phillies tonight, allowing no runs after Philadelphia leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins doubled and scored on a Shane Victorino sacrifice bunt (yes, a sacrifice against a Triple-A pitcher in his debut with a runner on second and none out) and a Chase Utley groundout. Matt Kemp threw out Ryan Howard trying to score from second base on a Hunter Pence single to end the sixth inning, and Fife’s happy debut was complete.

He allowed four hits and three walks, while recording 13 groundouts. That can be a dangerous way to live if those grounders come close to finding holes, but Fife thrived.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, delivered consecutive hits from Andre Ethier, Adam Kennedy, James Loney and Luis Cruz to score two runs in the bottom of the second inning against Roy Halladay, who came off the disabled list to make tonight’s start. “Stubbornly,” as Vin Scully put it, the Dodgers took that 2-1 lead into the eighth inning.

And now you don’t know the rest of the story

Nov 18

Dodgers remove Ely, Monasterios from 40-man roster

Ahead of the deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 draft, the Dodgers outrighted pitchers John Ely and Carlos Monasterios to Triple-A Albuquerque in order to make room for five first-timers on the 40-man roster.

Two came at the trading deadline: outfielder Alex Castellanos and pitcher Steven Fife.

  • Alex Castellanos, the 25-year-old outfielder who came from the Cardinals in exchange for Rafael Furcal and had a combined .958 OPS in 534 plate appearances at Double-A.
  • Stephen Fife, a 25-year-old righty who came from the Red Sox in the Trayvon Robinson trade and had a combined 3.74 ERA with 95 strikeouts in 137 innings at Double-A.
  • Chris Withrow, a 2007 first-round draft choice who had a 4.20 ERA with 130 strikeouts in 128 2/3 innings as a starter at Double-A Chattanooga.
  • Michael Antonini, a 26-year-old who came from the Mets organization last winter in exchange for Chin-Lung Hu and had a 4.01 ERA with 131 strikeouts in 148 innings as a starter at Chattanooga.
  • Josh Wall, a 2005 second-round draft choice who had a 3.93 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 68 2/3 innings as a reliever at Double-A Chattanooga.

After spending all of 2010 with the Dodgers, Monasterios was injured most of 2011, pitching only four innings with the Isotopes. Ely never recovered his Elymania form of 2010, though he was mostly effective in very short spurts with the Dodgers in 2011.

Both players could easily remain in the organization for 2012, depending on the interest they receive elsewhere.

For more on the state of the 40-man roster,  as well as some names that were left unprotected from the Rule 5 draft, check out this post and this post from True Blue L.A.

Jul 31

More reviews of Dodgers’ new prospects

Alex Castellanos

“… A 25-year-old right-handed hitter, he has mediocre tools but has put up big numbers this year. His plate discipline needs work, and despite the line at Springfield I’d rate him a Grade C prospect at this point, with a chance to be a bench asset.”
– John Sickels, Minor League Ball

Tim Federowicz

“… Federowicz is a catch-and-throw specialist who isn’t likely to produce enough at the plate to be an average regular, but is plus across the board behind the plate (including a career 34 percent caught-stealing rate) and is no worse than a good backup in the majors.”
– Keith Law, ESPN.com

“… The best defensive catcher in the Red Sox system, with the catch-and-throw skills to be a big league regular. His pure arm strength is average, but it plays up because he has smooth footwork and a quick release. He has thrown out 36 percent of basestealers this year in Double-A, and also has shown off his receiving ability by committing just one passed ball. Federowicz’s bat will determine how much he plays when he gets to the majors. He ability to hit for average and control the strike zone is decent, and he has some gap power. He runs well for a catcher and has more athleticism than most backstops.”
Baseball America

“… A top-flight defensive catcher, he has a strong throwing arm, plenty of mobility, and excellent leadership skills behind the plate. A weak stick has kept him off prospect lists. … He probably won’t hit enough to be a major league regular, but he could last a long time as a defense-oriented reserve. He turns 24 this week. Grade C.”
– John Sickels, Minor League Ball

“… He’s a very good catch-and-throw guy, with a quick release and strong arm. He’s also worked very hard to improve his blocking. At the plate, he uses a middle-of-the-field approach and has average pull power. Most see him as a defensive-oriented backup at the big league level, but he could become an everyday guy if he hits a bit more than expected.”
– Jonathan Mayo, MLB.com

Stephen Fife

“… Fife probably profiles as a right-handed reliever rather than a starter because he lacks the out pitch to start; he’ll touch 95 as a starter with a fringe-average curveball.”
– Law

“… Didn’t start pitching regularly until he was a high school senior, but after three years of college ball at Utah he worked himself into the third round of the 2008 draft. His best pitch is an 88-93 mph fastball that features good sink. He lacks an above-average secondary pitch, with his changeup (which has some splitter action) ranking ahead of his curveball. His control and command are average, and it’s more likely that he develops into a middle reliever than a starter.”
– Baseball America

“… His stuff is average across the board: 88-92 MPH sinking fastball, average changeup and curveball, but he throws strikes and keeps the ball low in the zone. … In the majors, he projects as a fifth starter or more probably a long/middle reliever. I’ve see him as a sleeper in the past but he’s never quite woken up. Grade C.
– Sickels

“… Fife is a solid right-handed starter with a three-pitch mix. An Eastern League All-Star this season, Fife can run his fastball up to 93 mph with some sink. His curveball can be an out pitch, and he’s also got a pretty good feel for a changeup. He mixes his pitches well and can change speeds, but he also has enough velocity to put hitters away at times.”
– Mayo

Juan Rodriguez

“… Rodriguez has a plus fastball, no average second pitch and below-average command and control – a nice arm to add to your system but a reliever at best and not a high-probability guy, either. Unless Robinson was somehow burning a hole in the Dodgers’ pockets, this (trade) doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, as they didn’t get any prospect as good as he is in the exchange.”
– Law

“… He still has room for projection in his 6-foot-5, 195-pound frame, and he already throws 93-95 mph coming out of the bullpen, enabling him to rank second among South Atlantic League relievers with 13.42 strikeouts per nine innings. There’s a good deal of effort in Rodriguez’s delivery, which hampers his control and command. His slider and changeup are fringy pitches, so his ceiling is as a late-inning reliever rather than as a starter.”
– Baseball America

… His command is spotty and his slider is mediocre, but his 92-95 MPH fastball has movement and his K/IP ratio is excellent. He needs to sharpen up his command and add polish, but he’s an interesting arm at least. Grade C, but has some upside.”
– Sickels

“… Rodriguez is a raw, tall and lanky right-hander with plenty of arm strength. Pitching out of the bullpen for Greenville in the South Atlantic League, he’s shown plus velocity, up to 98-99 mph at times. He’s got a slider that’s below average, and he’s working to develop a better feel for an offspeed pitch. He generally throws strikes, but he needs to find more consistency with his fastball command. That, and development of his offspeed stuff, will be key. But the power and arm strength that many teams covet are definitely there.”
– Mayo

Jul 31

Dodgers trade Trayvon Robinson for trio

Potential 2012 starting outfielder Trayvon Robinson, 23, has been sent by the Dodgers to Seattle as part of a three-team trade that brought Boston minor-leaguers Tim Federowicz, Juan Rodriguez and Stephen Fife to the Dodgers. Erik Bedard was the main prize of the deal, going from the Mariners to the Red Sox.

For the Dodgers, the key to the deal appears to be Federowicz, a catcher who will contend for playing time in Los Angeles next year. I think I might have been happier with Mark Brendanowicz. Turning 24 on Friday, Federowicz only has a .337 on-base percentage and .397 slugging percentage, however, with Double-A Portland in the Eastern League. SoxProspects.com praises his defense.

Rodriguez, a 22-year-old righthander, has pitched out of the bullpen this year and has 88 strikeouts in 59 innings (13.4 per nine), but with 32 walks and a 5.19 ERA. In Rookie ball last year, he pitched in 12 games, starting nine, with a 3.51 ERA and 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

Fife, a 24-year-old righty, has a 3.66 ERA and 6.1 K/9 in 19 games (18 starts) for Portland. That’s a bit below what John Ely could brag about after pitching in Double-A in 2009 at age 23.

For those three, the Dodgers gave up Robinson (24 in September), who has a .375 on-base percentage and .563 slugging percentage (26 homers) this year for Triple-A Albuquerque.  Robinson, who has hit well on the road as well as at home this season, has had his fine year marred by striking out 122 times in 100 games. But it’s stunning to see him traded for such an offensively challenged catcher and two sketchy pitching prospects.

In 2007, A.J. Ellis had a .382 on-base percentage and .409 slugging percentage in Double-A – better than what Federowicz has – and Ned Colletti does all he can to keep Ellis from getting regular playing time.

The only rationale I can think of is that the Dodgers think they’ll do better in the offseason trying to find a proper left fielder than they would trying to find a proper catcher. Essentially, Robinson was not in their plans, and they decided to unload him to fill a positional need. But it’s still puzzling, because the trade feels less like a step forward behind the plate and more like a step backward in outfield depth.