Jul 06

Glancing at the Dodger starting rotation of 2014 and beyond (Hola, Julio)

Forgive me for getting ahead of myself here, but the Ricky Nolasco trade interests me as much for what it might mean for future seasons as it does for the current one.

I imagine the Dodgers will re-sign the newly acquired Southern California native, who is eligible to be a free agent after this season, if he does half-decently. Assuming Los Angeles parts ways with Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly by Veterans Day, the Dodgers would greet 2014 featuring Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Nolasco in the first four spots of the starting roation, with Josh Beckett and Stephen Fife among the contenders for the fifth slot. (Hint: Ned Colletti doesn’t figure to want to settle for those two.)

But it could get more fun as springtime progresses, if and when Chad Billingsley (a year removed from Tommy John surgery in April) and Zach Lee (2.79 ERA, 1.121 WHIP, 8.2 K/9 with Double-A Chattanooga) enter the mix. Heck, maybe even someone like a Ross Stripling (2.29 ERA, 1.039 WHIP, 8.6 K/9 with Chattanooga) or a Rob Rassmussen (2.42 ERA, 1.074 WHIP, 8.5 K/9) gets run up the flagpole.

All that aside, I’ll admit that my biggest future question about the Dodger starting rotation is whether Julio Urias will still be a teenager when he arrives in Los Angeles. Urias is so young, he was born August 12, 1996 – the second anniversary of the shutdown of the 1994 baseball season (I was supposed to take my then-girlfriend to the game that night) – giving him three years and change to become a teen team player. He is the youngest pitcher in the Midwest League in decades, and though he initially wasn’t meant to stay there, it’s been hard to kick him out.

The 16-year-old from Mexico has a 2.78 ERA, 1.268 WHIP and 10.6 K/9 with Single-A Great Lakes, for whom Lee – the Dodgers’ No. 1 pitching prospect entering this year – had a 3.47 ERA, 1.220 WHIP and 7.5 K at age 19 in 2011. If Lee is on track for a mid-2014 arrival in the majors (notwithstanding a potential cup of coffee this September), Urias could realistically hit Dodger Stadium before his 20th birthday in 2016.

Like I said, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Just having fun thinking about it.

For perspective, Clayton Kershaw had a 2.77 ERA, 1.253 WHIP and 12.4 K/9 with Great Lakes at age 19 in 2007. He was in the majors one year later, two months after turning 20. Urias is arguably the Dodgers’ best pitching prospect in the seven years since they drafted Kershaw, the gold standard.

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)

Sep 01

At least there is some good news …

Atlanta, St. Louis and Pittsburgh are sure doing what they can to keep alive the Dodgers’ hopes of playing past Oct. 3, even if only for one day. But it sure has been an ugly week.

On the bright side, Jaime Jarrin has signed a three-year deal with the Dodgers that will keep him in the broadcast booth for his 55th, 56th and 57th seasons.

Elsewhere …

  • I talked Dodgers in this interview with Will Carroll at the Nickel.
  • Javy Guerra and Tim Federowicz are expected to be the Dodgers’ first roster-expansion callups today.
  • John Ely might not get a callup because of 40-man roster issues, but he was named Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year. He led the league in ERA, WHIP and innings, writes Christopher Jackson of Albuquerque Baseball Examiner.
  • Dodger pitching prospect Zach Lee has a 2.27 ERA with eight walks and 29 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings since July 27 for Double-A Chattanooga.
  • Yasiel Puig, Eric Eadington, Red Patterson, Steven Rodriguez, Gorman Erickson, Rafael Ynoa and Joc Pederson will be on the Dodgers’ Arizona Fall League team.
  • The life and career of John Roseboro is the subject of Bruce Markusen’s piece at the Hardball Times.
  • Former Dodger shortstop Rafael Furcal has a damaged elbow ligament and will miss the rest of 2012. Tommy John surgery is a possibility. Furcal had a .325 on-base percentage and .346 slugging percentage in 531 plate appearances for St. Louis, .276/.278 from May 17 on. He played in 121 of the Cardinals’ first 131 games.
  • No one plays third base like Adrian Beltre, writes Tyler Kepner of the New York Times (via Rob Neyer at Baseball Nation).
  • San Diego, which began its season 28-50, is 34-21 since – best in the National League West. Jeff Sullivan writes about their resurgence at Fangraphs, while The Associated Press writes about their new O’Malley-led ownership.
Jun 28

Zach Lee makes successful Double-A debut

Dodger pitching prospect Zach Lee, who turns 21 in September, pitched six innings of one-run ball Wednesday in his Double-A debut, allowing eight baserunners and striking out seven. He threw 81 pitches.

Elsewhere …

  • Buster Olney offers a selection of potential Dodger trade targets at ESPN.com. Mostly, I see a list of players you really wouldn’t want or that just might require too much in return, but I’ve never been good at constructing hypothetical trades.
  • In one for the “You can never have enough pitching” Marching and Chowder Society, the Yankees lost C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte to injury inside of 24 hours. Jay Jaffe has more at SI.com’s Hit and Run.
  • Former UCLA star Trevor Bauer makes his major-league debut tonight, looking to give Arizona a fuel injection in their pursuit of the Giants and Dodgers.
  • Tal’s Hill in center field of Minute Maid Park in Houston might be leveled, according to Zach Levine of the Houston Chronicle (via Hardball Talk). It probably has no place in a major-league park, but I kind of liked it, as it kindled childhood memories of playing ball even when the field was less than ideal.
  • The latest from Josh Wilker.
Jun 26

Mickey Hatcher a Dodger again (Note: not on active roster)

Some afternoon news and notes …

  • Mickey Hatcher has returned to the Dodger organization as a special assistant to the general manager, according to Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com (via Hardball Talk).

    Update: An official Dodgers press release says Hatcher “will devote time helping with player development as well as assisting the major-league staff.”

    Hatcher hit one home run in the 1988 regular season, two in the ’88 World Series and two more for the rest of his major-league career. In 1990, his final season with the Dodgers, Hatcher OPSed .498 in 85 games. So don’t expect him activated.

    Manny Mota, on the other hand …
  • A man wearing a Dodger jacket disappeared after Monday’s game and is suspected to have fallen into the bay adjacent to AT&T Park, according to Ellen Huet of the San Francisco Chronicle.
  • The ownership group that includes Peter O’Malley, his sons Brian and Kevin, nephews Peter and Tom Seidler and golfer Phil Mickelson have been given an exclusive negotiating window to buy the San Diego Padres, according to Scott Miller of CBSSports.com. Sale price is expected to be in the $800 million neighborhood. Though the former Dodger owner is the biggest name in the group (at least for readers of this website), it’s the next generation that figures to be the long-term key players.
  • Still not much new on the disappearance of Daron Sutton from the Arizona Diamondbacks broadcast team, as Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic notes.
  • Clayton Kershaw reached Double-A 14 months after being drafted. (He had the advantage of pitching in Rookie ball the year he was picked.) Zach Lee, who was drafted in June 2010 and began his pro career in April 2011, has been promoted to Double-A. Writing more on the subject for True Blue L.A. is Craig Minami.
  • The one-time Fabulous Forum has been purchased by the Madison Square Garden Co., which will renovate the venue for performance use.
  • Here’s the latest health update from Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
Apr 27

Eovaldi ho!

Scene from Wednesday. © Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2012

Haven’t done a links post in a while … so let’s catch up.

  • Nathan Eovaldi is headed to Los Angeles, but we don’t know yet whom he is replacing on the roster, writes Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.
  • The move is interesting in part because Todd Coffey and Ronald Belisario have begun their minor-league rehab outings, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. Coffey can be activated Sunday, Belisario a week from today.
  • As Magic Johnson prepares to officially become a Dodger co-owner, Michael Jordan’s 7-59 Charlotte Bobcats wrapped up the worst winning percentage for a team in NBA history, .106.
  • J.P Hoonstra of the Daily News got a first-hand look at Dodger pitching prospect Zach Lee at Rancho Cucamonga, where the pitching coach is none other than Matt Herges.
  • Guest-posting at Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness, Christopher Jackson offers a position-by-position update on the Albuquerque Isotopes. My favorite note: Luis Cruz’s “imitation of teammate Trent Oeltjen’s Australian accent is a sight to behold.”
  • ThinkBlueL.A. has expanded from a forum into a full-fledged blog, led by friend of Dodger Thoughts and fellow Bluetopia co-star Ron Cervenka. Evan Bladh of Opinion of Kingman’s Performance is also contributing.
  • ESPNLosAngeles.com had an interesting way of summing up Albert Pujols’ trials in a headline: “James Loney Has 1 HR.”
  • Eno Sarris’ interview at Fangraphs with Stanford baseball “dean of stats” Dean Stotz is interesting. Sample: “Fifty percent of the time, the hitters take the first pitch. Twenty-six percent of the time, they hit it foul. Twenty-four percent of the time they put it in play —- and only 33% of those balls are hits. That means —- if you throw a first-pitch strike —- 92% of the time, you’ll get an out or an 0-1 count.”
  • Jackie Robinson movie 42 is set to be released April 12, three days before the next Jackie Robinson Day, reports Dave McNary of Variety.
  • As part of his 30 baseball books in 30 days series, Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News reviews Willie Mays Aikens: Safe at Home.
  • For my TV-viewing friends, this post by Mitch Metcalf of Showbuzz Daily might be of interest: “What Does a Tenth of a Rating Point Really Mean?”
  • Chess boxing? Chess boxing???
Feb 08

Interview: De Jon Watson looks at Dodger prospects

Though the Dodger farm system certainly has its less fallow spots, it also certainly has its fertile areas, which were enough for ESPN.com’s Keith Law to rank it 12th in the majors, higher than I’ve seen elsewhere.

For a closer look at some of the Dodger developing prospects, I interviewed Dodger assistant general manager in charge of player development De Jon Watson recently for a piece that is running in full at ESPNLosAngeles.com. Here’s how it begins …

The patchwork roster surrounding established Los Angeles Dodgers stars like Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw this year would hint at a dearth of minor league chips to play with, but De Jon Watson would encourage you to ante up.

The Dodgers’ assistant general manager in charge of player development has more than a poker hand’s worth of serious starting pitcher candidates rising through the system, and would even argue for a few wild cards among the position players.

“It’s been good stuff, man,” Watson said of the franchise’s depth at starting pitcher. “Our kids are coming. It’s great to have that type of competition. … If you have a hiccup or someone goes down for a little bit, you have a legitimate option waiting in the wings. The key is being as sharp as they can possibly be when that opportunity arises so you really don’t miss a beat.”

That doesn’t change the Dodgers’ pattern of leaning toward veterans at the start of the season. With Hiroki Kuroda leaving as a free agent and the team’s 2010 minor league pitcher of the year, Rubby De La Rosa, recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers signed Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano rather than hand a starting rotation slot to Nathan Eovaldi, who had a 3.09 ERA in six starts at age 21 late last summer.

Shortstop Dee Gordon is the only 2011 Dodgers rookie who has the inside track on a starting spot with the team this season. Gordon, who had 24 stolen bases in 56 games and a .325 on-base percentage (.398 in September), will look to capitalize on his hot finish.

“The biggest thing to look for from him is going to be his on-base percentage,” Watson said, “because his speed is going to change how they pitch to the guy that’s behind him. He’s going to apply pressure both from an offensive standpoint and a defensive standpoint for the opponent. So he has to get on base. For us, his key is understanding what type of hitter he is, understanding the strike zone.” …

In addition to Eovaldi, De La Rosa and Gordon, Watson also provides a status report on Jerry Sands, Zach Lee, Garret Gould, Allen Webster, Chris Withrow, Shawn Tolleson, Steven Ames, Scott Van Slyke, Alex Castellanos, Chris Reed and Pedro Baez.

Hope you enjoy reading the full story

Continue reading

Feb 07

Infielder roulette

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

  • Russell Mitchell was designated for assignment to make room on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster for Todd Coffey. He could return to the organization if he clears waivers. (Remembering 2011: Russell Mitchell)
  • Blake DeWitt, once upon a time known as “The Solution,” was designated for assignment by the Cubs, who acquired him in the Ted Lilly trade a couple years back. DeWitt, 26, had a 95 OPS+ (.305 on-base percentage, .413 slugging) with Chicago in 2011, compared with Adam Kennedy’s 79 OPS+ for Seattle – but don’t expect the Dodgers to give someone up to acquire DeWitt, who more likely would end up back in the minors for the Cubs.
  • Alex Cora is still at it, signing a minor-league deal with St. Louis.
  • Edwin Jackson reportedly turned down a three-year, $30 million deal with Pittsburgh to sign with Washington for one year and $11 million, banking on doing better in next season’s free-agent market (or just determined to set a record for organizations in a career).
  • Dodgers assistant general manager of amateur and international scouting Logan White talked about some of his prize picks – Zach Lee, Clayton Kershaw, Allen Webster, Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Reed – with David Laurila for Fangraphs.
  • Up-and-coming reliever Shawn Tolleson was profiled by Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • The late Jose Lima is the subject of a recent SABR biography by Rory Costello.
  • Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. is taking a day-by-day look at the Dodgers’ divisional rivals, starting with Arizona on Monday and continuing with San Francisco today.
  • Monday in Jon SooHoo: Blake Griffin and Matt Kemp.
  • Mark Prior is trying one more time to salvage his pitching career, writes Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe (via Drew Silva of Hardball Talk). Prior last pitched in the majors in 2006 and won only two games after his 25th birthday.
  • Also aspiring to come back: Brandon Webb, out since Opening Day 2009.
  • Tim Lincecum talks about Clayton Kershaw, among other topics, in this video passed along by Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
  • Here’s a simple dice baseball game designed for kids ages 3-6, via Baseball Think Factory.
  • One last baseball-oriented remark about “Smash” that I tweeted: “Hilty is the proven veteran talent. McPhee is green but higher-ceiling. It’s Juan Rivera vs. Jerry Sands. Harang vs. Eovaldi.”  Except this wasn’t quite right. It’s more like A.J. Ellis vs. Tim Federowicz.
  • Ten years ago, while on detail for MLB.com in Venezuela, former Dodger communications vice president Josh Rawitch wrote about an up-and-coming Rivera.
  • In this terrific podcast interview, ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Kamenetzky brothers talk to Oscar-nominated actor Gary Oldman about, among many other things in a 45-minute chat, his great admiration and love for baseball.
  • This seemed to fascinate some folks on Twitter late Monday: Take a look at these NPR contributor bios, and see if their pictures match with your images of them.
Feb 01

More Dodger prospect rankings


We saw Dodger prospect rankings from Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus on Monday, and now here’s a list from Marc Hulet at Fangraphs today. Zach Lee, (above, via MLB.com) tops both lists. Comparing the top 15s:

Site BP Fangraphs
1 Lee Lee
2 Eovaldi Eovaldi
3 Webster Reed
4 Reed Webster
5 Gould Gould
6 Withrow Withrow
7 Silverio Silverio
8 Pederson Pederson
9 Castellanos Federowicz
10 Sanchez Lindblom
11 Tolleson Santana
12 Baldwin Tolleson
13 Federowicz Baldwin
14 Martin De Jesus
15 Lindblom Miller
Dec 04

Manny happy returns?

Wrapping up the last week and starting a new one chock full of bullet points …

  • Manny Ramirez is moving forward with plans to get himself back in the majors for 2012, but would probably to need to still serve 50 games as a suspended player, writes Buster Olney of ESPN the Magazine. Ramirez, who turns 40 on May 30, went 1 for 17 with the Rays in 2011 before his season abruptly ended. He could show what shape he’s in with a nonroster invite to some team’s Spring Training.
  • The Dodgers are taking applicants to fill the position of vice president of public relations (link via AZ Snakepit). The Dodgers aren’t holding off until the ownership switch to make the hire: Public relations wait for no one.
  • Clayton Kershaw was interviewed by Molly Knight for ESPN the Magazine.
  • Baseball America’s annual Dodger prospects top 10 has Zach Lee on top, followed by Allen Webster, Nathan Eovaldi and then the first position player, outfielder Alfredo Silverio. Looking at the article, you know what cracks me up? The fifth-highest amateur signing bonus in Dodger history still belongs to 2000 draftee Ben Diggins.
  • I think it’s worth a reminder that Lee could be in the majors before the 2012 season is over, though it probably wouldn’t be until 2013 that he begins making any kind of impact. He’s about a half-season behind the development of Kershaw, whose debut came in May 2008, 23 months after the Dodgers signed him. Lee, who had a 3.47 ERA with 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.22 WHIP in 2011 for Single-A Great Lakes, should hit Double-A in 2012 at age 20, the same age Kershaw was (though he’s not at the same performance level as Kershaw, who had 12.4 K/9 with Great Lakes).
  • When the Red Sox hired Bobby Valentine to manage, I joked on Twitter that his ESPN broadcast partners Orel Hershiser and Dan Shulman could join him on the coaching staff. Well, in the case of Hershiser, the Red Sox are in fact interested in him as a pitching coach, writes Sean McAdam of Red Sox Talk – assuming Hershiser’s pursuit of Doger ownership doesn’t get in the way.
  • Some vintage Tommy Lasorda cursing is available in this video passed along by Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
  • Ross Newhan calls the theory a “longshot,” but he explains the substance behind why some think Frank McCourt could renege on his commitment to sell the Dodgers.
  • More Newhan, on Magic Johnson’s entrance into the Dodger ownership race:

    … In announcing his intention to bid for the Dodgers with usual flair and enthusiasm, Johnson said he would try to build the Dodgers in the Showtime mold of his star-driven Laker teams, recruiting prominent players and paying the price for free agents.

    This is an area that Kasten and others may want to advise Johnson that it would be better to low key. Many of the 29 other owners who will eventually vote on the McCourt successor may not be happy to hear that Magic intends to pay any cost to restore Dodger prominence, driving up salaries in the process. …

  • Two views of the Dodgers’ Chris Capuano signing: Eric Seidman of Fangraphs doesn’t hate it, while Christina Kahrl of ESPN.com thinks it pretty grim.
  • DodgerTalk alum Ken Levine said he will do more Seattle Mariners radio broadcasts next year.
  • Russell Martin is expected to return to the Yankees in 2012, writes Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com.
  • Ken Arneson has an interesting piece on why the opening of a Giants Dugout Store in Walnut Creek is meaningful to the rest of the baseball world.
Aug 03

Despite De La Rosa’s injury, hope for the Dodger rotation

What, the Dodgers still have a future?

Despite the callup of John Ely when Rubby De La Rosa went on the disabled list, Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports that Nathan “What, no ‘U’?” Eovaldi might be the Dodgers’ next No. 5 starter when the rotation wheel turns that way on Tuesday. Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness provides a detailed introduction to Eovaldi, who has a 2.62 ERA for Chattanooga with 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

There are two things I want to add to Petriello’s post this morning. The first is to compare Eovaldi’s performance at Chattanooga this year to De La Rosa’s work there (spread over the 2010-11 seasons).

Eovaldi (born February 13, 1990): 103 innings, 6.6 hits per nine IP, 4.0 walks per nine IP, 8.7 strikeouts per nine IP, 2.62 ERA in 2011.
De La Rosa (born March 4, 1989): 91 innings, 6.7 hits per nine IP, 4.3 walks per nine IP, 11.7 strikeouts per nine IP, 2.08 ERA in 2010-11.

There are similarities, with the most noteworthy difference being De La Rosa’s dominant strikeout rate, which makes Eovaldi’s strong numbers smaller in stature. Given that Eovaldi is almost a year younger than De La Rosa but would be making his major-league debut fewer than three months later, I think we can be quite excited about him in the long term, but should certainly temper our expectations in the short run.

Is Eovaldi being rushed? Well, I think his potential callup should be looked at the same way that earlier stints for Jerry Sands and Dee Gordon were.  It’s not a permanent or do-or-die situation. It’s an opportunity, given injuries at the major-league level, to provide a first look at the majors for a potentially important 2012 player. The pressure should be lower on Eovaldi, who unlike De La Rosa would not be making his debut while the Dodgers could still be considered in playoff contention.

The second thing I want to do is check in on ballyhooed 2010 first-round pick Zach Lee, who was drafted with the potential of being a top counterpart to Clayton Kershaw in the Dodger starting rotation.

Kershaw reached the majors on May 25, 2008 – just shy of two years after he was drafted. If Lee matched the same exact path, he would be introduced to the Dodger rotation next May. The first hitch in that plan, however, was that Lee signed so late in 2010 that he didn’t play in the minors that year, while Kershaw pitched 37 innings (striking out 54 with a 1.95 ERA).

Still, let’s take a look at how each performed at age 19 for Single-A Great Lakes:

Lee (born September 13, 1991): 81 innings, 8.0 H/9, 2.8 BB/9, 8.1 K/9, 3.22 ERA in 2011.
Kershaw (born March 19, 1988): 97 1/3 innings, 6.7 H/9, 4.6 BB/9, 12.4 K/9, 2.77 ERA in 2007.

Kershaw was promoted before the end of the 2007 season to Double-A Jacksonville, where he had a 3.65 ERA and 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings in 24 2/3 innings. Lee, who was slowed briefly this year by elbow soreness, might remain a step behind Kershaw’s development path, given that aside from better control, he also hasn’t been as dominant.

Nevertheless, we could very well see Lee in the majors by a year from now. And if you can wait a bit longer – just 21 months from now –  the Dodgers’ 2013 starting rotation could offer Kershaw, De La Rosa, Eovaldi, Lee and Chad Billingsley, not to mention Ted Lilly and other contenders from the farm system. Something to look forward to …

May 14

Unearned run provides margin for 4-3 Dodger victory

Mark J. Terrill/APMatt Kemp executes “The Crane” to topple Kenley Jansen at the All-Valley Karate Tournament.

It says something about Clayton Kershaw that he allowed back-to-back doubles leading off the first inning and loaded the bases in the third inning and still ended up pitching shutout ball. And by the end of his seven-inning outing, when he struck out 11 and retired his last 14 batters, he had gone from backpedaling to dominating.

It was the second-straight seven-inning shutout by a Dodger starter. Meanwhile, Los Angeles scored four runs, one unearned, and that was just enough to withstand the latest bullpen meltdown for a 4-3 victory.

Matt Guerrier allowed a run in the eighth inning, and Vicente Padilla allowed two in a 32-pitch ninth before Kenley Jansen came in and struck out Melvin Mora for the final out – the 15th strikeout of the game for the Dodgers.

By holding on, the Dodgers had their second three-game winning streak of the season and moved within 2 1/2 games of first place in the National League West despite an 19-20 record.

* * *

As if we hadn’t gotten enough scary medical news lately, Zach Lee entered the picture. From Jim Peltz and Kevin Baxter of the Times:

… Lee, the Dodgers’ first-round pick in last June’s draft, was sent to the team’s minor league complex near Phoenix for an MRI test on the right-hander’s pitching elbow.

Lee complained of tightness in the elbow after his last start May 5, when he went a season-long six innings, giving up one run on five hits. But he lacked his usual sharpness, striking out just one, a career low.

DeJon Watson, the Dodgers’ assistant general manager for player development, characterized the test as a standard procedure for young pitchers. He said the test showed no damage and that Lee, 19, would return to Great Lakes of the single-A Midwest League, though Watson said he did not expect Lee to pitch for 10 to 15 days.

“There’s nothing wrong,” Watson said. “We just want to make sure he’s 100%.”

Some happier tidings: Shawn Tolleson, who struck out 33 of the 56 batters he faced at Single-A Great Lakes while allowing only 12 baserunners and a 0.00 ERA in 15 innings, has been promoted to Rancho Cucamonga. (Thanks to Dodger Thoughts commenter Mike–Tink for the link.) In addition, Rancho Cucamonga reliever Steven Ames (60 batters, 28 strikeouts, 12 baserunners, 1.17 ERA) has moved up to Double-A Chattanooga.

* * *

Gathering dust: Scott Elbert has not pitched since May 9 and has thrown only one inning since May 6.

* * *

Today’s game has an unusual 4:10 p.m. start. The shadows could be timely for the pitchers …

Apr 24

Trayvon Robinson making his own case

Eric Risberg/APTrayvon Robinson

Hot starts from Dodger minor leaguers:

Trayvon Robinson, 23, OF, Albuquerque
63 plate appearances, .429 on-base percentage, .661 slugging percentage, four homers, six walks, 19 strikeouts

Jon Link, 27, RP, Albuquerque
12 1/3 innings, 16 baserunners, 10 strikeouts, 2.19 ERA

Bryan Cranston, 55, UT, Albuquerque
No stats, only video.

Corey Smith, 29, 3B, Chattanooga-Albuquerque
63 plate appearances, .397 on-base percentage, .483 slugging percentage, one homer, five walks, 10 strikeouts

Scott Van Slyke, 24, OF, Chattanooga
54 plate appearances, .463 on-base percentage, .830 slugging percentage, three homers, six walks, 10 strikeouts

Michael Antonini, 25, SP, Chattanooga
17 2/3 innings, 20 baserunners, 12 strikeouts, 1.53 ERA

Rubby De La Rosa, 22, SP, Chattanooga
15 1/3 innings, 20 baserunners, 19 strikeouts, 1.76 ERA

Nathan Eovaldi, 21, SP, Chattanooga
15 innings, 18 baserunners, 16 strikeouts, 1.20 ERA

Austin Gallagher, 22, 1B, Rancho Cucamonga
62 plate appearances, .468 on-base percentage, .632 slugging percentage, two homers, five walks, seven strikeouts

Gorman Erickson, 23, C, Rancho Cucamonga
49 plate appearances, .490 on-base percentage, .575 slugging percentage, no homers, nine walks, seven strikeouts

Steven Ames, 23, RP, Rancho Cucamonga
8 1/3 innings, seven baserunners, 15 strikeouts, 1.08 ERA

Jonathan Garcia, 19, OF, Great Lakes
65 plate appearances, .354 on-base percentage, .712 slugging percentage, six homers, five walks, 17 strikeouts

Garrett Gould, 19, SP, Great Lakes
17 innings, 14 baserunners, 12 strikeouts, 1.59 ERA

Zach Lee, 19, SP, Great Lakes
14 innings, 21 baserunners, 21 strikeouts, 1.29 ERA

Shawn Tolleson, 23, RP, Great Lakes
6 1/3 innings, seven baserunners, 16 strikeouts (out of 19 total outs), 0.00 ERA

Mar 03

Looking back on a quake-free year in San Francisco

With Giants righty Matt Cain having to rest an inflamed elbow, Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles uses the occasion to marvel at San Francisco’s 2010:

It’s tough to explain now. The Giants won it all. It’s hard to go back and rediscover that sense of urgency. What were we all worried about? The trick is to start the season with a garbage offense, and then a) hope that a journeyman minor league free agent turns into vintage Carlos Beltran, b) count on a rookie catcher to come up and propel the offense for a month, and c) scour the waiver wire in case there are teams in Florida giving away productive outfielders. It turns out we were just being paranoid.

But when you hear this

“(Cain) has not thrown a baseball since he came down with elbow inflammation on Sunday, making it seem unlikely he will miss only one turn in the rotation. At the same time, he seems totally unconcerned about what he confessed is the first elbow issue of his career.”

… you remember why there was urgency in the first place. The Giants were built around young pitching. Young pitching is beautiful, like, oh, a shiny idol made of solid gold. But while you stand there, mouth agape, marveling at the golden treasure, you hear the boulder. The boulder isn’t evil. It’s just obeying the laws of physics. And it’s going to crush you. It’s going to crush you real dead-like. …

And when I hear that Matt Cain’s elbow is barking, it makes me appreciate just how danged fortunate the Giants and their fans all were. The Giants made it through an entire season with four young starting pitchers, and there weren’t any injury concerns. They didn’t have to recall Todd Wellemeyer. They didn’t have to shoehorn in Henry Sosa for a start or two. The young pitchers were good, and they were healthy. …

It was special. Never take it for granted.

* * *

Alex Belth of Bronx Banter passes along Duke Snider stories from oldtime scribes Roger Angell and Dick Young.

* * *

There will be a $1 Dodger Dog day at Dodger Stadium on May 30 when the Rockies play.

* * *

This morning, the Dodgers played a ‘B’ game in which Ted Lilly made his first spring appearance, as Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com notes. And as Ken Gurnick of MLB.com notes, Lilly’s relief crew included three former No. 1 picks – Zach Lee, Ethan Martin and Aaron Miller – whose signing bonuses alone totaled nearly $8 million. Lee was the only one of the trio to allow a run.

Later on, the Dodgers have their first night game of Spring Training …

Dodgers at Reds, 6:05 p.m.

Feb 07

The Dodgers according to Ned Colletti


Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesNed Colletti is beginning his sixth season as Dodgers general manager. The team has averaged 86 regular-season victories during his tenure.

Ten days.

The Dodgers rose from the basement of the National League West in May to the best record in the league in June, then sat only two games out of first place in the division at the All-Star Break.

Yet as far as Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was concerned, it was almost a mirage. During an interview at his Dodger Stadium office last week, Colletti fully acknowledged that the Dodgers’ second-half fade, as much as he and everyone else tried to reverse it, came as disturbingly little surprise to him.

Ten days. In Colletti’s view, that’s how long the Dodgers played championship-quality baseball in 2010.

“I think the second half, in a lot of ways, was the result of the first half and the spring,” Colletti said. “I can’t say I had more than a 10-day period where I thought we were truly playing as well as we could play. In ’09, we had a pretty good defense, and we executed, played well in clutch situations, found a way to win games. We really hadn’t done that very much in the first half of the season. And I think it caught up with us in the second half.

“And what I did last year wasn’t acceptable. How I prepared for last year didn’t meet the results that I have for myself.”

The Dodgers will arrive to spring training later this month, in many ways, a different team than a year ago, starting with a greater emphasis on starting pitching that represents Colletti’s most visceral response to his roster concerns from 2010. At the same time, Colletti said the experience the returning core gained from last year’s disappointment has the potential to play a significant, positive role in 2011.

“They’re professional, and this is their livelihood,” he said. “And you believe there’s enough pride and adjustment and education from this past year. A lot of guys haven’t gone through what they’ve gone through in the past year. That will put them in the right place coming in to know it’s got to be better and it’s got to be more focused.

“Because they’ve (succeeded) before, I’m confident. But then, last year was what it was. I’m cautious by nature. I take nothing for granted, at any point in my life at any stage. So I don’t take it for granted that it’s just gonna happen. I think it has to be prepared in order to happen.

Translated, Colletti believes the talent is there but the effort, focus and confidence need to return. He said the offseason preparation “is done to some point, and when you get to camp now it’s going to be up to Don [Mattingly] and his staff to have certain procedures in place and certain accountability set forth. And I obviously have to support that, and they have to buy into it.”

Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
Matt Kemp had homered once in 31 games prior to hitting one out in each of his final five games of 2010.

Comeback kids?
Despite leading Dodgers regulars on offense, Andre Ethier never fully seemed to recover from the pinky injury he suffered in May and fed doubts about his long-term ability to hit left-handed pitchers (.625 OPS against them in 2010, .681 for his career). James Loney went from decent before the All-Star Break (.803) to disastrous after (.616). Jonathan Broxton’s second-half collapse is as well-documented as anyone’s, and Matt Kemp … well, let’s just say his season could have been the inspiration for what made Linda Blair’s head spin in “The Exorcist.”

The question, Colletti agreed, is which of the players will hit a hurdle in their development in 2010, and which have hit a wall. And it’s a question that’s due for an answer. Mulligans that were handed out last year won’t be found so easily or at all in 2011.

“In the past, I’ve been more patient than open-minded,” Colletti said. “I think that one of the toughest characteristics you have to have in these jobs is patience because everybody expects everything to turn overnight. … It doesn’t work that way. Everybody’s human; these guys are all human. They take maturation, physical maturation, all kinds of processes.

“I won’t be able to be just completely patient with it [this year]. We’re not an old team, but we’re not a team overwhelmed with rookies, either. We have experience, and a lot of our players have been to the postseason at least twice and sometimes three times in the last five years. So it’s there, it’s really kind of going back to that point and being focused about it and passionate about it and tough-minded about it.”

It might surprise people to learn that Colletti seems particularly bullish about Kemp, the target of a radio critique by Colletti in April.

“I think probably from middle of August on, things became a little bit more focused for him,” Colletti said. “He and I had a conversation, probably in August, that was really a man-to-man, heart-to-heart, one-on-one conversation. And I was trying to take some of the weight off. I think he understands it; I think he understands what transpired last year. I think from my conversations this winter, from the last month of the season and this winter, I think he understands more than he did a year ago about himself and about the game, about preparation. So I think he’s got a chance to really have a great year.”

It’s possible Colletti might have said the same thing about Russell Martin, except Martin is no longer around. The circumstances of the Dodgers’ decision to let Martin go rather than offer him salary arbitration weren’t discussed, but Martin’s recent offseason comments about “distractions” that affected him led to a broader comment from Colletti about the difficulty of playing in Los Angeles.

“Sometimes, it’s commitment, prioritization and commitment,” Colletti said. “I read what Russell said, but I don’t know what the true context was or what his underlying thoughts were as to why he said it. … There are a lot of distractions in this city. There’s a lot of different things to be doing, a lot of places your mind can wander off to, but if you’re a professional baseball player, if you’re a Dodger, you’ve got to figure out life. … And it’s not easy to do it.”

Without going into many specifics, Colletti indicated that the ability to play in Los Angeles is a factor in some trades of young players he has made. He called Carlos Santana the prospect he regrets parting with “probably more than anybody” before he added that there were a couple of other guys he would have to wait and see on.

“Again, Los Angeles isn’t for everybody,” Colletti said. “Sometimes we make a move on a player because we know in this environment here, they’re not going to be very good in it.”

Chris Williams/Icon SMI
Jonathan Broxton issued 25 of his 28 walks last season after June 23.

Pitching paradoxes
As for Broxton, count Colletti among those who see his second-half crumble as an issue of confidence, rather than health problems that might have been caused by his 48-pitch tar-and-feathering against the Yankees last June.

“He never complained,” Colletti said. “And at the end, he wasn’t thrilled with it, but I said, ‘Jonathan, I need you to take a complete physical — your arm, your shoulder, your elbow.’ A week to go in the season. And he said, ‘I feel great. I don’t need to do it.’ And I said, ‘I need you to do it.’ So he said, ‘I’ll do it,’ and everything came back clean.”

Colletti is aware of the volatility of relief pitchers, comparing them to great goaltenders who can go through “a month or two where they can’t stop anything.” But this awareness cuts both ways. It leads Colletti to give relievers who have performed in the past long leashes, and it compels him to have as many alternatives on hand as he can, as seen through the acquisitions of set-up men Matt Guerrier and Blake Hawksworth and oblique references to No. 6 starter Vicente Padilla’s potential to close games.

Again, however, Colletti believes that at rock bottom you can often find a trampoline. Look no further than Chad Billingsley, banished from the Dodgers’ starting rotation by the end of 2009 before rising anew last season.

“Most of our young players did not experience a lot of failure as young players, minor leagues [or] early in the big leagues,” Colletti said. “They really didn’t struggle. And when it finally hits you, and you do struggle for whatever reason and you’re doing it in front of 45,000 people in Los Angeles all the time, on television every day, that’s a tough time to struggle for the first time, for the really first time, and be able to come out of it.”

Interestingly, Colletti’s faith in failure recovery played a partial role in what many believe is the Dodgers’ greatest weakness heading into this season: the lack of a bona fide left fielder.

Angst in the outfield
This winter, the Dodgers didn’t bid on the two marquee outfield free agents, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, and you can safely conclude that was a reflection of their overall contract demands and the Dodgers’ budget. But when it came to alternatives, Colletti was wary of blocking two Dodgers outfield prospects who could each be major league ready a year from now, Trayvon Robinson and Jerry Sands, especially after the experience Robinson had in Jacksonville last summer.

“Robinson last year started off slow in Double-A, and we stayed with him and he figured it out,” Colletti said. “That to me was huge. Because he’s gonna have to figure that out. Because everybody struggles up here.”

There is the caveat that it’s not as if the current Dodgers never struggled in the majors or minors before 2010 – one could easily make the case that they did, but that their subsequent triumphs blotted out the memory. In any event, if he had found a signable veteran outfielder worthy of a multiyear deal, Colletti no doubt would have pulled the trigger. But he does feel optimistic over the long term about what he has.

“If I would have signed a left fielder for three years, who was again not one of those robust guys — I’m not sure there was a guy out there — then I’m really kind of blocking one of those two kids, and I’ve got faith in both of them,” he said. “Hopefully, not this year. Hopefully, it’s a year from now, but I have faith in both that they’ll be able to play and contribute. And actually I told them both that, too, in the fall — I told Trayvon way back in the summertime, ‘It’s important for me to know who you are and how you play. Because you know what, Manny’s not gonna be back next year. And I’ve got to make a decision whether I’m gonna go and tie up his spot for three or four years, or be patient and mix and match for a year and wait for you.’”

Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesCasey Blake had an .895 OPS against lefties last year, .663 against righties.

In the interim, Colletti is under no illusion that he has gold in the third outfield slot, so the Dodgers will essentially play it by ear in the outfield, with Mattingly looking at matchup opportunities for Tony Gwynn Jr., Marcus Thames, Jay Gibbons and Xavier Paul (if he makes the squad), and on an infrequent basis, Casey Blake or Jamey Carroll.

“Right now Matty’s the center fielder,” Colletti said. “Andre’s the right fielder. I want to see what Tony can do offensively. He’ll play as much as the offense allows him, I think … using the whole field, bunting more, figuring out ways to get on base, because his on-base percentage isn’t high even when he hits .270. See if he can become more disciplined at the plate, use his speed more to get on. I don’t expect power out of him. I don’t expect gap power out of him, but I would like to see him get on base a lot more, because if he does it perhaps changes the dynamics in the outfield.

“And in the meantime, I’ve got two guys that can hit, one from the left side and one from the right side — actually two from the left side with X. Paul and Gibbons, and then Thames. … And perhaps they’re five- or six-inning guys, and then you go defense later. But you’ve got two guys that might be able to hit 20 homers between them.”

Third base offers a secondary question for the Dodgers because, while Blake is sure to start against lefties and some righties, no one seems to be beating the drum for him to play 146 games like he did last season. With the Dodgers’ minor leagues fairly thin at second and third base, this time Colletti took the plunge on a multiyear stopgap in Juan Uribe.

“Our system’s produced a lot of guys,” Colletti said. “But except for really [Ivan] DeJesus, we don’t really have a second baseman that’s on the verge of being here. We have a shortstop coming probably in Dee Gordon and after him [Jake] Lemmerman, and right now third base is a bit of an open spot too — we had [Pedro] Baez in the Cal League last year. So Uribe, while the on-base percentage isn’t Moneyball-ish or whatever, the run production is still pretty good, in that he can play second, short or third, and we don’t have anybody that’s going to press him at third for a while, and really De Jesus is trying to transition to play second. I needed somebody I can run out there who’s a big league guy.”

Because of what he sees as a potential benefit to have Uribe play some at the hot corner, Colletti emphasized that De Jesus has a legitimate chance to make the Opening Day roster as a backup infielder. Obviously, someone like Carroll could also make several starts to allow Blake to rest.

In any case, Colletti is aware of how much a juggling act the Dodgers’ everyday lineup has become. Though he has in one sense traded last year’s lack of a fifth starter for this year’s lack of an everyday left fielder or third baseman, Colletti sees the two situations as apples and oranges.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Matt Guerrier, 31, has allowed 11.5 baserunners per nine innings in his career.

Never enough
“You really didn’t have in my mind many choices that were going to be able to play every day,” Colletti said. “We had to fix the pitching first, and we had to upgrade the bullpen if we could.

“You can’t finesse pitching. Maybe a day here or there, but you need to have it. And the list [of available pitchers], we were kind of picking near the top of the list, even though it isn’t sexy to say you signed Ted [Lilly] or Hiroki [Kuroda], it’s not necessarily ‘wow,’ but it’s solid. It gave us a little bit of depth. So we had to start there. The kid from Minnesota, Guerrier, is gonna be a good add for us. He’s pitched in a lot of big games; he’s always had positive results.

“It’s the most volatile group, but once [Joaquin] Benoit got three years and [$16.5 million], that’s what people expect to get … and if you really need a guy, sometimes you have to go the extra distance to go and get him.”

Add together the total commitments the Dodgers made to their free-agent signees of this past offseason, and you barely pass the total value of Adrian Beltre’s deal by itself, while falling short of the Crawford or Werth contracts. And like it or not, Colletti was not going to enter another season shy on pitching or dependent on unproven rookies such as James McDonald or Scott Elbert.

“I was apprehensive all winter long last year” Colletti said of the starting pitching. “I knew we were short going in; I knew we weren’t going to be able to rally it. In the spring, J-Mac and Scotty both struggled. We may have sent them both out early, in fact, because they couldn’t throw strikes; they were all over the board. So right from the beginning, I knew we were going to be short. I didn’t know how we were gonna mix and match, and we couldn’t afford an injury certainly.”

If there’s an ongoing concern on everyone’s minds, it’s how the Frank McCourt ownership crisis is affecting spending on the team on the field. You can argue that different owners might have allowed Colletti to sign one big-ticket free agent in addition to shoring up the pitching, but Colletti doesn’t contend that the divorce itself is having an impact on personnel.

He also makes the case, as McCourt did a year ago, that the Dodgers are aiming to spend more money to deepen their prospect population.

Farm aid
“We’ve had basically the same [major-league] payroll,” Colletti said. “Though we dipped a little bit last year, we’re coming back this year. It’s not really how much you have, it’s where you spend it. We do have to get better at international signings; we have to reinvest there. I think we’ve let Venezuela slip for a few years, and we’ve made some changes in the staffing.

“We’ve done a decent job in the D.R. [Dominican Republic] — not what we did 25 years ago, but with all due respect, 25 years ago there wasn’t 30 teams down there, either. So, it’s not like we could just cherry-pick the players we want like we probably did at the outset of the country opening up to having players signed. But we do have to get better at that to support our player development system. It’s been fruitful. Obviously, a lot of players are in the big leagues now that we drafted, but we have to keep flowing, and they have to keep getting better. I know we’ve hit a touchable lull right now and I think we’re probably a year or two away from having another group come forward.”

[+] EnlargeZach Lee

Chris Carlson/APLogan White escorts newly signed Zach Lee in his Dodger Stadium visit in August.

Colletti didn’t rule out the Dodgers’ top draft choice of 2010, Zach Lee — whose signing shocked most baseball observers — being part of the Dodgers’ graduating class of 2012. Amid the height of McCourt tensions, Lee received a $5.25 million signing bonus, a record for a Dodgers’ draft pick. The previous record-holder, Clayton Kershaw, reached the majors less than two calendar years after he was picked, and Lee could do the same.

“We really liked this kid,” Colletti said. “We really liked his makeup, his demeanor, his abilities, athleticism, his toughness. … Not only are the physical skills different than most kids you see, but the way his mind works is different … probably from playing at the highest levels at a couple of sports, including going to LSU for a summer and having that experience, which as long as he didn’t get hurt it didn’t bother me.”

Colletti’s hope is that the Dodgers’ minor league pitchers drafted in previous years allow Lee as much time as he needs to develop. There was an epidemic of setbacks among the farm system’s arms in 2010 — so many that if Colletti wants to see who can overcome hurdles, wish granted.

“It’s concerning to me,” he said. “Probably a lot of the guys that we could both probably name should be a year farther along than they are. They’ve all struggled with command. … Some are converted players, some weren’t pitchers necessarily in high school or college. So they’re still learning that.

Curing the epidemic
And to circle back to the beginning of our piece, in some ways, older players never stop learning and developing. Witness Colletti’s additional assessment of the contagion that struck the Dodgers’ offense in 2010:

“I think hitters sometimes without results start to get impatient, so they start to chase out of the zone,” he said. “They’re trying to build more offensive numbers in a quicker period of time and so they’re not as diligent to work the count, and all that stuff starts to compound through the course of it. … When people are starting to slump, sometimes it produces more guys that go in that direction than less. And that’s what started to happen. It started to spiral where one guy struggled and then two. And then the third guy saw the other two and then he struggled, and it continued to mount.”

Alex Gallardo/APDavey Lopes will switch to a Dodgers’ uniform for the first time since Game 6 of the 1981 World Series.

When you take Colletti’s view of what went wrong with the Dodgers last year and what’s needed to make it right, it makes sense that he sees one of the most promising offseason moves as one that even some jaded Dodgers fans embraced: the hiring of Davey Lopes as a coach.

“I’ve known him a long time and I’ve admired him,” Colletti said. “You know, I was with him in Chicago when he was still a player and I’ve certainly watched him from the other side of the field when he managed and when he was coaching. And I think what he brings here is — you’re talking about first — someone who was an iconic Dodger who understands Los Angeles and understands the Dodgers and was here during one of the greatest periods in our franchise’s history. That’s important.

“What he did in Philly with baserunning and defense and fine-tuning that position, the first-base coaching position, to make it a far more valuable position to the organization, is something we noticed. And I think he’s going to have a great impact on our club. I think there are some players that could turn their game up a notch with his instruction, with his thought process. I think, while it’s a coaching position, I think it’s a huge addition for this franchise.”

Will a new manager, new coaches, new players and new spirits be enough to right the Dodgers’ ship? It’s too soon to say, but if the Dodgers are to play more than 10 days of great baseball in 2011, Colletti will expect to see strong signs of it before Opening Day arrives.