Feb 24

The travails of Podsednik and Martin

Catching up with two expatriates …

Here’s the first interview I’ve seen with Scott Podsednik since his offseason went south (non-geographically speaking). From the Canadian Press:

Scott Podsednik’s spring is not off to an ideal start, far from it, but at least he can take some solace in knowing that other years have also started poorly and turned out fine.

Like 2009, for instance.

“It’s a crazy game,” he said Wednesday after checking into camp with the Toronto Blue Jays. “A couple of years ago I was sitting on my couch at the start of the ’09 season, so anything can happen.

“I’ve learned over the years to just kind of focus on the things you can control, and all I can control is trying to get myself ready and playing my game in between the lines. Anything outside of that is not up to my decision, so I’m going to try to focus all my energy on things I can control.”

A sound approach and, given the circumstances, a wise one for the speed demon and former all-star.

Podsednik arrived in camp on a minor-league contract signed last week, the best deal for him after an off-season that didn’t play out anything like what he expected.

In November, he declined his end of a US$2-million mutual contract option for 2011 with the Los Angeles Dodgers and opted for free agency. It backfired since “for whatever reason my market just didn’t develop,” said Podsednik. …

Then there’s Russell Martin, who is not as ready for game action as he and the Yankees thought he would be.  From Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com:

The Yankees signed Russell Martin to be their everyday catcher, but he won’t be behind the plate when they open their exhibition season Saturday against the Philadelphia Phillies.“I don’t think he’s quite ready to go and I’m not going to rush him,” manager Joe Girardi said Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field. “He still talks about [his knee] doesn’t quite feel the same as it did before. I told him, I want to know when you’re 100 percent. Because I don’t want any setbacks with him. When I put him in, I want him to be ready to go.”

The 28-year-old Martin passed a physical before signing a one-year, $4 million contract in December to replace Jorge Posada behind the plate. But within a matter of days, it was announced he would undergo surgery to repair “a small meniscus tear” in his right knee, the same surgery both Posada and CC Sabathia underwent in the offseason.

At the time, general manager Brian Cashman said, “It’s not a serious surgery at all,” that Martin’s recovery would take two to three weeks and that the catcher would be “back to normal within a month.”But now, nine weeks after the surgery, Martin is still feeling discomfort. Worse, on Wednesday, he added three ominous letters to the mix: MCL, as in medial collateral ligament.

“I injured my MCL in the offseason,” Martin said. “But the surgery wasn’t for the MCL, it was for the meniscus. When they looked at my knee they saw that I had a meniscus issue as well, so in the time it would take for the MCL to heal, the surgery would heal, so they might as well do it. It was just a prevention type thing.”

Whatever the real extent of the injury, it has so far prevented Martin from participating in the full range of catching drills — he has not taken part in blocking drills yet — and will keep him out of the first spring training game at least. …

Feb 23

Mota motors

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireManny Mota, fastest pinch-hitting genius on three wheels …

When the Dodgers open Cactus League action Saturday with split-squad games on the road against the Angels and Giants, the starting pitchers are scheduled to be Hiroki Kuroda and Tim Redding, respectively.

In other news and notes …

  • Today from Tony Jackson: Dodger hitting coach Jeff Pentland talks about James Loney.

    … it is precisely that — not getting the ball to leave the yard, but getting Loney’s bat into the relatively small hitting zone more quickly — that Loney and Dodgers hitting coach Jeff Pentland have been working on not only since the start of spring training, but basically since the end of last season. Loney flew to Phoenix from his home in Houston twice this winter for extra work with Pentland at the team’s Camelback Ranch facility.

    “In order to hit the ball in that certain area, it’s really difficult,” Pentland said. “James probably isn’t as consistent as he needs to be at getting his bat to that spot. What he needs to do is put the bat head in a better position so we can add some sharpness to the ball. I never tell guys to swing for the fence. I want guys to hit the ball hard consistently. If they do that, there are going to be times where they catch it just right and it’s going to go out of the ballpark.”

  • Here’s Baseball America’s 2011 Top 100 Prospects list. Dodgers: Dee Gordon (26), Zach Lee (89), Rubby De La Rosa (90). In a related story, J.J. Cooper writes about how spectacular the 2011 Royals class of minor leaguers is, putting it atop a top 10 that also includes the 1991 and 2006 Dodgers.
  • Today’s edition of David Pinto’s 2006-10 PMR defensive ratings at Baseball Musings hones in on center field. The Dodgers have performed poorly there over the past five years. On an individual basis, Juan Pierre and Matt Kemp are neck-and-neck.
  • According to Jesse Wolfersberger of Fangraphs, no starting pitcher in baseball allowed fewer homers than expected in 2010 than Chad Billingsley.
  • Hank Aaron appears on tonight’s “Late Show with David Letterman.” Here’s a clip.
  • At today’s Hollywood Radio and Television Society panel, writes my Variety colleague Stuart Levine, Showtime president David Nevins said that “it’s not a God-given right” for viewers to be able to watch sports for free and called the transition of high-profile events to cable a “very natural and obvious evolution.”
  • Lead (or lede, if you’re on the inside) of the day goes to my former Stanford Daily colleague Eric Young, writing for the San Francisco Business Times:

    The Warren Commission took 300 days to turn in its probe of the Kennedy shooting.It took the 9/11 Commission 603 days to publish a report after the Twin Towers attack.

    It has been 695 days — and counting — since baseball commissioner Bud Selig appointed a three-person group to study whether the Oakland A’s can relocate in the East Bay. …

Feb 23

Kurkjian, Jackson: Sound bites on the Dodgers

“The thought that the Dodgers are going to be irrelevant this year like they were the second half of last year, I just don’t see that happening in this division,” ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian says in the clip above. “I sense a whole-new Dodgers this year.”

Below, here’s Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com talking about Davey Lopes and the Dodger baserunning.

Feb 23

With Padilla out, who is the Dodgers’ No. 6 starter?

Kelvin Kuo/US PresswireJohn Ely

Vicente Padilla was ticketed for the bullpen, but everyone expected him to be the first guy Los Angeles turned to if anyone in the Dodgers’ starting rotation had to miss a start. In fact, Padilla was going to be on a starters’ program in the early days of Spring Training before shifting to a relievers’ routine.

Dodger fans can still hope that Padilla will be back in uniform before a sixth starter is needed, but in case he isn’t, who’s next in line?

  • Blake Hawksworth started some last year for St. Louis, but Don Mattingly seemed pretty keen on keeping him in the bullpen. “As a starter he was throwing 90 (mph), 91 and out of the bullpen 94, 95,” Dodger manager Don Mattingly told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com earlier this month. “Sometimes a guy thinks when he’s starting he has to pace himself. Out of the ‘pen he’s more aggressive and attacking. We feel that’s where he fits best.”
  • Carlos Monasterios started 13 games for the Dodgers last year, but also performed much better in relief. The question is how the Dodgers view him going forward: He was ticketed for Albuquerque to start this season, but if he’s going to be in the rotation, he might be someone they turn to.
  • The Dodgers have toyed with Scott Elbert and even Ramon Troncoso as starting pitchers in their minor-league careers, but they are firmly relievers now.
  • Jon Link has gotten some brief starting work in his pro career, but he seems an unlikely option.
  • Minor-League Pitcher of the Year Rubby De La Rosa? Maybe later, but too soon for now.
  • Tim Redding is the player in camp with the most starting experience: 144 starts in the 33-year-old’s major-league career. But none of those have come since 2009, when he had a 5.10 ERA for the Mets.

That brings us back to last spring’s rotation savior, John Ely. Ely had a 2.54 ERA through June 1, an 8.00 ERA after. If there’s any chance that Part II was the fluke and not Part I, Ely might get the first opportunity to prove it. Elymania II?

Feb 23

Vicente Padilla to have surgery

Ric Tapia/Icon SMIVicente Padilla had a 4.07 ERA in 95 innings for the Dodgers in 2010.

Vicente Padilla will have surgery Thursday, the Dodgers said, with a timetable for his return to be determined afterward. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more.

Padilla was examined in Los Angeles on Tuesday, and according to the Dodgers, “it was determined that the right radial nerve was being entrapped by one of the deep muscles in the forearm.” The goal of the surgery is to “release the muscle and free up the nerve.”

It could be worse. St. Louis is facing the loss of Adam Wainwright for a considerable length of time, ESPN.com reports.

Feb 23

The talk of the sports world: Caltech ends 310-game losing streak

It’s actually a 310-game losing streak in conference games – Caltech has an overall record in 2010-11 of 5-20. But Tuesday, the Beavers won their first conference game since January 23, 1985.

More at ESPNLosAngeles.com and from Diamond Leung at ESPN.com:

… And after the 46-45 triumph at home against Occidental, they celebrated with students who rushed the court and dumped water on the third-year coach.

“I always wondered, ‘How does a coach let that happen?’” (Caltech coach Oliver) Eslinger told ESPN.com late Tuesday night. “I saw it out of the corner of my eye, and I kind of didn’t want to get out of the way.

“I was marinating in the moment. It was like the world stopped, and the stupid streak stopped, and now we can concentrate on winning the SCIAC.” …

Feb 22

Davey Lopes gets me excited about 2011

Kirby Lee/US PresswireYou’ve come to the right place.

Tony Jackson’s Spring Training update today for ESPNLosAngeles.com focuses on Davey Lopes’ tutoring the Dodgers. Some good stuff therein:

… The 45-minute session dealt mostly with the basics. But Lopes delivered his message in a charismatic, entertaining way, with a lot of the no-nonsense language one might expect from a 65-year-old baseball lifer who believes in doing things the right way, mixed with a little bit of humor.

The audience appeared to include every non-pitcher the Dodgers have in camp, and that audience burst into laughter on a few occasions, usually when Lopes would get especially animated while demonstrating the wrong way to do something.

For those who were paying attention, though, there were a lot of lessons.

For one, Lopes isn’t a fan of the headfirst slide. He also isn’t a fan of the slide into first base.

“There are two reasons why you slide,” Lopes told the assembly. “First, to slow your body down. … Second, to avoid a tag.”

And thus, Lopes said, the only time a slide into first base is justified is to avoid a tag if the player covering has to come off the bag to take an off-line throw. …

Elsewhere …

Feb 22

Clayton Kershaw is coming at you

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw has struck out more batters before his 23rd birthday than any other Dodgers pitcher since Fernando Valenzuela.


Nope, not quite.


Nope, not that, either. Not yet.

He’s not a Fernando or a Sandy. Not even a Piazza or (for that brief, baggage-heavy moment) a Manny. He’s not a “Bulldog” or a “Game Over.”

He’s still a plain old guy with two plain old names, with a humble personality to match — a wolf in sheepish clothing.

If you say Clayton Kershaw is the best player on the Dodgers, you won’t necessarily get an argument, but you might get a shrug. With disappointment still dripping from the team’s 2010 season, “best player on the Dodgers” won’t earn you much more than a patronizing pat on the head, maybe an extra juice box after practice. For now, anyway.

Sometimes it happens practically overnight, the way it seemed to with Fernando Valenzuela and Mike Piazza. Other times — more often, really — it’s years in the making, as with Sandy Koufax, Orel Hershiser and Eric Gagne.

Either way, there’s an explosion within reach for Kershaw — oh, you better believe there is. He turns 23 on March 19, and soon after, he might turn Dodger Stadium back into a place where fans are racing through the crowds for their seats, the way they did for those transcendent heroes of the recent or distant past, for no other reason than to drool over his next pitch or exult in his supremacy.

If baseball is thinking outside the batter’s box, it’s reserving Blake Griffin’s Kia Optima for this year’s All-Star Game, just in case it’s needed for Kershaw to drop one of his magic breaking balls through.

If that all seems a bit fast on the superlative train, if that locomotive seems to have some particularly loco motives, well, maybe so. Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Maybe that train will never quite arrive.

On the other hand, consider that you have a prodigy who has steadily developed, steadily improved every step of the way since he was drafted by the Dodgers 4 1/2 years ago, a pitcher who has met every small step back with two great steps forward.

“If there’s anything surprising,” Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt told Dodger Thoughts about Kershaw, “it’s at such an early age, the maturity of him and the way he goes about [his work]. He’s really a true professional … to the point that he’s really one of those gems that just strives to be the best and is not satisfied with being anything less.”

Rebound magnet

By the time he finished his first full season in the minors, in 2007, the Kershaw shorthand had been established: an uncommonly talented pitcher who would go as far as his control would allow him. His entire minor league career, which included not a day in Triple-A, lasted but 48 games and 220 1/3 innings, in which he had a 2.49 ERA and 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings. But, the walks …

In 2007, Kershaw split time between Class A and Double-A. He walked 4.6 per nine innings at the lower level and a whopping 6.2 after his promotion to Jacksonville. In 2008, Kershaw reduced his Double-A walk rate by more than half to 2.8. A pattern had begun: lose control, but rein it in and blast forward. With an ERA in the low 2s, he knocked so hard on the major league door that the Dodgers had to open it, making him, at age 20, their youngest big leaguer since Edwin Jackson.

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers
Kershaw’s first Dodgers mugshot

In his debut, Kershaw pitched six innings of two-run ball against Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals. Then he got knocked out in the fourth inning of his second start, in New York, walking four and needing 83 pitches to get 11 outs. Over his next six starts, he had a respectable 4.03 ERA and 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings. But he also was walking nearly as many as he was striking out; he didn’t make it through six innings once.

“The bumps were command,” Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. “Obviously, he’s got a great arm and he’s a smart kid and he’s coachable, but command was the first issue — rushing his delivery and just kind of being out of whack a little bit, and that happens with guys.

“When you’re a [recent] high school player … you’ve got to wait for the mental part to reach the physical part.”

After a July 1 start, the Dodgers dropped him back to Jacksonville for a little more seasoning, but he was gone less than a month. And when he came back, he was back for good. The Dodgers stuck with him after a horrendous outing in Colorado — three innings, 13 baserunners — and he rewarded the faith with five consecutive quality starts, averaging more than six innings with a 1.45 ERA, striking out 29 and walking only nine.

Never after a setback has Kershaw failed to rebound — and improve.

“His greatest strength is just his confidence,” Honeycutt said. “He’s got great ability, but … he expects to do well. There’s no fear in him. There’s that part of him that wants the ball. He wants to go deep in the game. He wants to be one of the best.

“The other side of the coin for that strength is him learning himself better, in how he prepares his game.”

After getting his postseason feet wet in 2008 as a reliever, Kershaw was on the Opening Day roster in 2009 and went through more of the same. In his second start of the year, he struck out 13 Giants in seven innings while allowing only a single walk and a single hit, a home run by Bengie Molina. The control issues still would flare up — he walked four batters or more in 13 of his 31 starts — but his season ERA fell from 4.26 in 2008 to 2.79 in 2009, and he led the National League in fewest hits per nine innings. In Game 2 of the 2009 NL Division Series, he held St. Louis to two runs over 6 2/3 innings, keeping the Dodgers alive for their dramatic, ninth-inning comeback victory.

But Kershaw faltered in the NL Championship Series. After shutting out the Phillies for four innings in Game 1, his fifth inning consisted of three walks and three wild pitches to go with a single, a double and a home run, a five-run collapse that reinforced in the general public’s mind this was still a baby in a man’s world. Next to cries for Jonathan Broxton’s head or Manny Ramirez’s testosterone tests, nothing was heard more from the peanut gallery than “The Dodgers need an ace.”

Within a year, the Dodgers were out of the playoffs, but their ace had arrived.

Growth spurt

In his first start of 2010, Kershaw walked six batters in 4 2/3 innings. By the end of April, he had walked 22 in 29 1/3 innings. And then, on May 4 against Milwaukee, he was battered: 1 1/3 innings, seven runs. His ERA sat at 4.99, and numerous pundits suggested this might be the real Kershaw. Jon Heyman of SI.com tweeted:

kershaw may be regressing faster than billingsley. not sure. close competition. #howcanbradpennybebetterthanboth?

“There was a point [in May] last year,” Honeycutt recalled of Kershaw, “where things were not going [as] well as he would like or we would like. He actually made a few adjustments, even in his ‘pens, that we talked about. That’s really when he started coming up with a smaller breaking ball. You can call it a slider … [but] a shorter breaking ball that he could throw for strikes more consistently.

“There was more importance on commanding the lower part of the zone in his bullpens than just getting his work in.”

Kershaw’s next start was May 9 against the hottest pitcher in baseball at that moment, Colorado’s 26-year-old Ubaldo Jimenez, who had made six starts to that point and allowed four total runs. Kershaw outpitched him that day, nursing a 1-0 lead with eight shutout innings, allowing two hits and three walks while striking out nine. It was an arrival game.

Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireKershaw worked his way through 204 1/3 innings last season, striking out 212.

Other gems followed, culminating in his first major league shutout. Kershaw had come close before, but finally in San Francisco on Sept. 14 (a night the Dodgers had only one hit in nine innings), a complete-game, 1-0 victory was his. But more impressive than the individual highlights was the overall growing control. Starting with the Jimenez game, Kershaw’s walk rate for the 26 starts that finished off his 2010 season was a career-best 2.95 per nine innings. Not coincidentally, he averaged a career-best 6 2/3 innings per start in that stretch. His ERA was 2.54, and opponents had a mere .277 on-base percentage and .303 slugging percentage against him.

“I just think experience helps,” Kershaw told ESPNLA’s Tony Jackson. “The more times you go out there, the more experience you get and the more confidence you get. I don’t think it was a matter of walking a lot of guys because I had bad control. I was just trying to be too fine and not letting my stuff do its thing. Now, I’m just trying to go after hitters more.”

Said Honeycutt: “I think again it was … maturity and not just thinking you have to go 100 percent on every pitch. There’s that fine line, pitching at that level and saying, ‘I can throw at 90 percent and maybe be a little bit more under control and get the ball in an area a little bit better.'”

Gearing up for ’11

No one, least of all Kershaw, thinks he has it made. For all his improvement and excellence, Kershaw had at least one start go awry every month of last season. Preparation for taking another two steps forward in 2011 — ideally without the typical one step back — has been at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

“From [the] first time I talked to him [this winter], he had already been doing his conditioning,” Honeycutt said. “He came out to Arizona and threw a couple of ‘pens and just looked great already, just physically and arm-wise. … He’s very aware of where he wants to be and what we’re trying to work on.”

“It was mostly throwing changeups,” Kershaw said, “because that is the pitch that is the toughest for me to get a feel for, so that’s obviously something I wanted to work on. I also just worked on gaining strength and trying to get stronger.

“My high school [Highland Park] finally got an indoor facility. That was where the Packers trained before the Super Bowl. So that was awesome to have a place like that to work out in the winter time.”

Kershaw’s offseason has had some non-baseball moments of a grand scale: his marriage to longtime girlfriend Ellen in December, followed by a brief honeymoon and then a goodwill trip to Zambia in January. Any of this could have proved distracting, but Kershaw said he stayed on his offseason plan.

“I just took it with me,” he said. “I threw while I was in Africa and got my work in. I worked out pretty much the entire winter except for the four days we were on our honeymoon in Mexico.”

Gus Ruelas/APJoe Torre and umpire Adrian Johnson debate Kershaw’s ejection after hitting San Francisco’s Aaron Rowand with a pitch July 20.

With his ascendancy on the mound coupled by his growing maturity on and off the field, there’s a ray of hope that Kershaw could become a leader in a Dodgers clubhouse that many say is crying out for one, especially from its newest generation. Kershaw, Colletti and Honeycutt all tamped that notion a bit, noting a pitcher is handicapped as a clubhouse leader by how often he plays relative to the position players.

“We have a lot of guys who have more experience than I do,” Kershaw said. “For me personally, I just pitch. It’s the only thing I can do.”

“They’re in two different realms most of the time,” Colletti said of pitchers and position players. “But certainly from a pitching standpoint he can [lead]. And he’s had great support, too, from the other guys. He and [Hiroki] Kuroda have been close since Kuroda got here. [Ted] Lilly and he hit it off right away. Lilly helped in his maturation process. So it’s possible that he starts to take more of a leadership role.”

In that respect, it might turn out that Kershaw’s influence is felt less among the 25 men on the major league roster at any one time and more specifically on the minor league pitchers coming up through the farm system — a group that as a whole suffered through a rocky 2010.

“We had this prospect camp in Arizona,” Colletti said. “The major league guys know about it, but they’re not required to be there. And he showed up. We had him address the prospects — the other guys, the Withrows, the Millers, the Martins, the Eovaldis — all those young arms. He addressed them a couple of times, and it was very interesting to hear this young man speak from the perspective of prioritization and work ethic, and on bringing the mental side of the game.

“He talked about how he came here and he thought he was pretty good right away, but how much he has learned and how much he continues to learn, to become as good as he can be.”

Pitfalls and pinnacles

How good can Kershaw be?

He’s already viewed by many as the Dodgers’ best lefty since Fernando. To become the Dodgers’ best lefty since Koufax — to help boost the team above the early season predictions positioning it as an also-ran to San Francisco, to start a mania in Los Angeles — Kershaw is going to have to become even more consistently excellent, avoiding the short start in which the runs suddenly pour across in bunches.

Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireKershaw’s career high for pitches in a game is 118.

“He’s starting to get to the point where he’s keeping his pitch count decent, starting a game out where the first inning isn’t a lot of pitches,” Colletti said. “Some guys, there’s an excitement to coming out of the gate, and maybe you rush a few things here and there, maybe you don’t warm up quite as thoroughly as you do when you’re into the game.”

Honeycutt said the Dodgers, who were extremely protective of Kershaw from a pitch-count perspective when he arrived in the majors, will continue to loosen their grip in 2011, bit by bit.

“He’s definitely strong enough and has shown the ability to obviously go deeper,” Honeycutt said. “With any starting pitcher, the game itself kind of dictates what you’re gonna do, and not that we don’t want him [to go long], but you still want to be conscious the whole goal is to keep him healthy for 32-34 starts and the postseason.”

Following a tough inning, the Dodgers still plan to be conservative with Kershaw, but “when things are going smooth, you let it ride,” Honeycutt said.

“He definitely has the ability to be a 120-125-pitch-type guy, where you don’t have to worry about him coming back. He’s gotten stronger, and his recovery over five days has been very consistent,” Honeycutt said. “The main thing is be smart with him like we would anybody. … I think you feel more comfortable about letting the reins loose.”

In each of the past two seasons, a top young Dodgers pitcher suffered a prolonged, second-half setback: Chad Billingsley in 2009 and Broxton in 2010. With Kershaw still younger than either of those pitchers were then, it’s hard not to consider that, even as the best is yet to come, the worst might arrive first.

“I don’t think there’s any way for predicting,” Honeycutt said. “I still think a lot of Chad’s situation was he was a little tight there around the All-Star break, and then he had a hamstring injury right after the break, so there were some physical issues there. Obviously, Broxton being a reliever, it’s a little bit different. … It’s trying to be very conscious of where each individual is. Each is gonna hit little walls. What’s tougher I think sometimes for a young guy is that communication process of knowing exactly what’s happening.

“I think [someone who’s] more of a veteran guy might have a light side in between starts. Derek Lowe, a lot of times as the season went on, would be, ‘I’m not gonna do a side this time. Just let my body recover.’ … But there’s no perfect formula.”

Heir to the throne

If it all comes together for Kershaw, if he becomes a Clayton or a Kershaw (or gets a nickname besides the one launched on Dodger Thoughts, “Minotaur,” that isn’t based in a superstitious fear of him becoming more myth than legend), the one thing no one seems to worry about is the lefty’s ability to thrive amid the attention.

The fans want someone to love. Kershaw can handle the love.

“He’s had quite a bit of attention already,” Honeycutt said. “We’ve thrown everything at him already, coming up as a 19-year-old and being a starter in the playoffs [at age 21], those are advancements that you just don’t throw on anyone unless you feel he can handle them. In my view, he’s handled things extremely well.

“He’s the type of guy that always seems to want a challenge. Some people like to shy away from a challenge, but the great ones want those head on. … He puts the team first, which has been a real plus to him from the start. It hasn’t been about him, but it’s about how [he] can help the team.”

Icon SMIThe Opening Day showdown: Lincecum versus Kershaw.

It’s not as if Kershaw is some robot that pays no mind to his surroundings. But the subtext keeps coming back: maturity and perspective.

“I wasn’t in awe, but definitely, the first time I got in here, it was different,” Kershaw said of his comfort zone in the majors. “You don’t really look at these guys as your teammates at that point. We had guys like Jeff Kent here, a lot of guys like that. But over time, the more familiar you become with something, the more comfortable you get with it.”

On March 31, Kershaw will take the mound in the first game of the 2011 major league baseball season, in front of a yearning Dodger Stadium crowd and a national television audience, against the defending World Series champions and two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. If Kershaw loses, you can put the fanfare on hold.

But if he wins, and wins impressively, then get ready, Los Angeles.  Just get ready.

Feb 22

Vicente Padilla to have MRI

Vicente Padilla’s pitching elbow is ailing, the Dodgers said today. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.

Dodgers vice president of communications Josh Rawitch said that Padilla “was experiencing pain in his right elbow similar to what he felt last year.” He was examined by Dr. Neil ElAttrache in Arizona on Monday, after which it was decided Padilla would fly back to Los Angeles today for an MRI. Results of that test are expected Wednesday.

The start of the season is still five weeks away, but a longterm Padilla injury would probably cement Blake Hawksworth’s spot on the club and, combined with Ronald Belisario’s absence, further increase the odds for Ron Mahay, Lance Cormier, Ramon Troncoso or Scott Elbert.

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 20

Photo gallery of the night

A Facebook friend of mine passed along this link:

These images, by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information, are some of the only color photographs taken of the effects of the Depression on America’s rural and small town populations. The photographs and captions are the property of the Library of Congress and were included in a 2006 exhibit Bound for Glory: America in Color.

They are really worth a look.

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.

Feb 18

Teach your children? Well …

Jason Miller/US PresswireMy reaction, as it would have been seen on SportsCenter.

Here’s a story …

Making our way through the rain, my 6-year-old and I arrived tonight at his 6:15 p.m. basketball practice a couple of minutes early. The gym was almost empty, so he had a chance to take some shots. They were all really short, barely getting airborne. That wouldn’t have been unusual a year ago, but he has shown this year he can make a basket on occasion.

I wanted to get him to bring his arm back and cock his wrist a little bit more. He really seemed to be short-arming the ball. Now, the boy has made it pretty clear that he doesn’t like to get athletic advice from me hardly at all, so I’ve hardly said a word to him this season, leaving it to his capable and easygoing coach.  But all I wanted to do was give him this small guidance.

He was having nothing of it. I reminded him a) how little I try to force my hoops instruction on him and b) he is supposed to listen to me per the father-son paperwork we filed with … well, no, there isn’t any such paperwork, but there should be.

Nothing.  He was doing everything he could to avoid hearing me.  He tried to take another shot, and out of frustration, I swatted it.  Mean old dad.  But a dad who, for crying out loud, would just like to get to be a dad at one of these moments.

The couple of minutes passed, and his coach called the boys in to start practice. (A small group to this point – only three had made it on time through the rain.)

I sat down on one of the folding chairs on the sideline.  I did not hide my displeasure.  I wanted him to see my frown.  I almost never do this at his sports practices, but I wanted to make my point.

Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images
In your face …

Without even half a team, the coach started the boys off on a layup drill, or something close to that.  My boy dribbled up, shot the ball … up, up, and into the basket.

He looked at me with an almost-but-not-completely sheepish smile.  I didn’t alter my frown an inch.

The other two boys shot, and then it was back to mine.  He dribbled up, shot the ball – in.

He looked over, smiling unabashedly.  I let my lips turn ever so slightly up.

Next turn … he shoots, it’s in.  He smiles big. I lean back, sigh, and smile unsurely, not completely positive I should let him off the hook but finding it very hard not to.

Fourth shot. Four in a row? Oh freaking yes. He looks over at me and is smiling so big, his eyes are aglow.

I’m smiling just as big. He’s melted me completely. In the car ride home, he tells me he’s the best basketball player in the world.

Feb 18

Why Lance Cormier is a darkhorse roster candidate

Kim Klement/US PresswireIn the past three seasons, Lance Cormier has allowed a sub-.700 OPS against left-handed batters, including 26 extra-base hits in 486 plate appearances.

Outside of the left-field conundrum, the Dodgers’ biggest question mark for Spring Training might be how they will address the task of getting left-handed batters out with their almost completely right-handed bullpen. No one wants to see Hong-Chih Kuo relegated to facing only lefties, and the only other left-handed thrower on the 40-man roster is the uncertain Scott Elbert.

Three non-roster invitees to major-league camp are left-handed: 39-year-old Ron Mahay, achy-hamstringed Dana Eveland (whose career 5.74 ERA will apparently be sidelined for weeks after Thursday’s injury) and Wilkin De La Rosa, who has never pitched about Double-A. After that, you start dipping down into the minors for developing players like James Adkins.

With Ronald Belisario’s absence seemingly opening up a roster spot, Mahay would seem to be the default candidate. He had a .520 OPS allowed against lefties last season. But the previous two seasons, his OPS allowed against lefties was above .700 — which isn’t terrible, but isn’t exactly the kind of authoritative performance you’re looking for when you really want someone to come in and get that guy out.

I got to wondering if there were any righties among the Dodger relievers who were reliable against lefties. Here’s a chart of the bullpen candidates’ OPS allowed against lefties over the past three seasons in the majors:

2010 PA/ 2010 OPS   2009 PA/ 2009 OPS   2008 PA/ 2008 OPS
Belisario 86 .793   122 .720      
Broxton 123 .626   148 .414   126 .800
Colon 5 .650   94 .713      
Cormier 162 .718   180 .671   144 .667
Elbert 4 2.000   40 .699   14 1.000
Eveland 59 .802   60 .999   170 .646
Guerrier 102 .649   120 .525   126 .801
Hawksworth 185 .886   76 .724      
Jansen 51 .586            
Kuo 69 .271   40 .524   98 .557
Link 16 .962            
MacDougal 39 1.353   124 .760   24 .858
Mahay 68 .520   111 .743   110 .721
Monasterios 188 .709            
Padilla 166 .590   352 .837   385 .944
Redding       282 .860   402 .808
Schlichting 39 .465   9 .905      
Troncoso 99 .823   157 .751   84 .707
Villarreal             68 .862

Some observations:

  • The Dodgers have a few righties who seem consistently effective against their opposite numbers: Jonathan Broxton, Matt Guerrier and, based on a small sample size, Kenley Jansen.
  • Oh, and another guy who probably isn’t on your radar … late signee Lance Cormier.
  • Based on only his one season, Carlos Monasterios offers an intriguing first impression — though looking at the chart, you can see how much these numbers can fluctuate. Look at what happened to Ramon Troncoso, for example, or moving in the other direction, Vicente Padilla.
  • For extreme small-sample candidates, there’s Roman Colon and Travis Schlichting. Consider at your own risk.

If the Dodgers decide that Kuo, Broxton, Guerrier, Jansen and Padilla are all effective against lefties, they could decide to go without a second left-handed pitcher — especially if they also think Cormier is worth a roster slot. It might still be Mahay’s spot to lose or Scott Elbert’s spot to win, but Cormier might be this year’s guy you least expected.