Jun 09

Where Jerry Park meets Clayton Place: Dodgers roll, 8-3

And to think the Dodgers and their fans thought they had a supersub over the past two years in Jamey Carroll.

Jerry Hairston Jr. continued his world-beating tour of 2012 on Saturday, delivering a home run and two doubles in the Dodgers’ 8-3 victory over Seattle. Thirteen days after knocking a career-high five hits, the 36-year-old Hairston drove in a career-high five runs, including a three-run home run smashed down the line in left in the first inning that put the Dodgers ahead for good.

In 101 plate appearances this season, Hairston has a .435 on-base percentage and .525 slugging percentage, which puts him on pace to become one of the best Dodger reserves in many a moon. Since the franchise’s last World Series title in 1988, according to Baseball-Reference.com, the only true Dodger reserve to have a higher adjusted OPS in a single season than what Hairston has so far in 2012 is Dave Hansen.

Hairston managed to overshadow Clayton Kershaw, who got the win after striking out 12 in seven innings today. There have been “What’s wrong with Kershaw” mutterings this season, which might have revived after he gave up a three-run home run today to Miguel Olivo in the fourth inning. Given his new battle with plantar fasciitis, I might have been ready to join in had something gone wrong today, and I can’t say I’ve stopped worrying that something will.

But let’s now compare Kershaw’s current stats with last year’s through June 9, 2011.

2011	14	91.67	3.44	.605	10.0	1.15
2012	13	88.33	2.65	.610	8.3	1.00

Kershaw’s 2011 numbers were inflated by consecutive outings to start June in which he allowed six runs apiece.  The flawless Kershaw that won the Cy Young Award didn’t really kick into gear until after this point of the season. So yeah, his 2012 strikeouts show a decline, but overall, Kershaw is actually off to a better start.

That, combined with Ronald Belisario, who pitched another shutout inning, practically filling the role of 2010 Hong-Chih Kuo (his ERA now sits at 1.10), Todd Coffey lowering his ERA to 3.18 since coming off the disabled list with a shutout ninth, and a 14-hit attack on offense, meant the Dodgers could put the memories of Friday’s no-hit loss far behind them.

Jun 08

Oh oh oh: Mariners say yes to no-hitting Dodgers

Like a Farmer John hot dog and Nancy Bea Hefley at the organ, trying to win a game without a hit is a time-honored Dodger tradition.

But tonight in Seattle, the Dodgers got boiled, rocked and rolled. There would be no repeat of the Dodgers’ June 29, 2008 hitless victory over the Angels. A record-tying six Mariners combined to no-hit Los Angeles in a 1-0 victory.

It was the first no-hitter the Dodgers lost since Kent Mercker threw one at Dodger Stadium in 1994. The only twist was how Mercker’s successor in Atlanta, Kevin Milwood, was deprived of the victory.

Milwood pitched the first six innings in 68 pitches without giving up a hit or anything really close to one (save perhaps for a fourth-inning bunt by Dee Gordon that needed a bare-handed play by Kyle Seager for the out), allowing just a fifth-inning walk to Juan Rivera. But after throwing one warmup pitch before the seventh inning, Milwood didn’t throw another. He left the game with what was said to be a mild groin injury.

Lefty reliever Charlie Furbush got the next batter, then threw a ball hit by Elian Herrera away for a two-base error. But Furbush manhandled Andre Ethier with a third strike, and then newly called up Stephen Pryor struck out Rivera.

Nathan Eovaldi, who matched Milwood at least in innings and runs allowed, left the game after 103 pitches, allowing seven baserunners and striking out six while lowering his 2012 ERA to 1.93. Facing five lefty batters in a row, Scott Elbert looked great in striking out the first two and allowing a scratch infield single by Ichriro Suzuki. However, Elbert walked Dustin Ackley, then surrendered a 1-2 single to Seager (older brother of the Dodgers’ top draft choice this week, Corey), to dive in the game’s big-deal run.

The drama increased in the eighth when Prior walked Bobby Abreu and Jerry Hairston Jr. on nine pitches. The Mariners’ fourth pitcher, lefty Lucas Luetge, came in to face James Loney, who looked uncomfortable squaring to bunt but sacrificed one of the Dodgers’ remaining six outs to move the runners to second and third. That brief appearance was it for Luetge, who gave way to Seattle pitcher No. 5, Brandon League.

A.J. Ellis came up with an opportunity to tie the game even without a hit. He sent a sinking fly to left that Chone Figgins caught in shallow enough territory that pinch-runner Alex Castellanos held at third. League then struck out Tony Gwynn Jr., and the Mariners were one inning away.

After Josh Lindblom pitched a shutout eighth to keep Los Angeles witn a run, Tom Wilhelmsen came in to pitch the ninth inning as the Mariners aimed to match the Houston Astros (June 11, 2003) by using six pitchers for a no-no.

Dee Gordon led off the ninth with a slow grounder to shortstop Brendan Ryan, but unlike Ichiro, he was called out by half a step. Herrera, the hero of Philadelphia, followed by hitting a liner, but right at Ryan for the Dodgers’ 26th out.

Up came Ethier. He fouled off the first pitch, then hit a grounder to second baseman Ackley — and it was celebration time in Seattle. It was something to see. Close, and yes, cigar.


Jun 07

Dodgers order a 4 x 4, eat up Phillies

Animal style, protein style, error style — any way you cook it, the Dodgers came in ‘n out of Philly with four consecutive victories, capped by today’s 8-3 munching.

That’s what a sweep is all about.

Today’s game picked up on this morning’s defensive theme early, with Alex Castellanos and Elian Herrera each making errors in a third inning that put the Dodgers behind the Phillies, 3-0.

Undaunted, the Phillies came back with four errors of their own, two of them on consecutive plays to start the sixth inning by Ty Wigginton, with the Dodgers then capitalizing off Phillies starter Cole Hamels to take 4-3 lead.

Los Angeles was set up to take its fourth consecutive one-run victory in Philadelphia when the Phillies made two more errors in the ninth inning, helping the Dodgers score four runs to all but put the game out of reach. Herrera, Juan Rivera, Jerry Hairston Jr., James Loney and Matt Treanor each reached base twice on the day.

Aaron Harang went the first six innings for the Dodgers and allowed eight hits and a walk on 92 pitches. With the front end of the Dodger bullpen resting after being used heavily in the series’ first three games, Los Angeles got a boost from two innings of shutout relief from Jamey Wright. Shawn Tolleson then made his major-league debut and walked the first two batters he faced, causing him to get yanked for Ronald Belisario. The prodigal Dodger got the final three outs on seven pitches, capped by a game-ending double play by Hunter Pence.

Belisario lowered his 2012 ERA to 1.17. He has allowed two runs and 16 baserunners in 15 1/3 innings with 11 strikeouts.

Update: A ninth-inning error was later changed to a double for Andre Ethier.

Jun 07

Radical notion: Play James Loney every day

Dodgers at Phillies, 10:05 a.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Elian Herrera, 3B
Juan Rivera, LF
Jerry Hairston Jr., 2B
James Loney, 1B
Alex Castellanos, RF
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Matt Treanor, C
Aaron Harang, P

I wouldn’t say I’ve spent much time defending James Loney’s performance in the past couple of years, and I don’t know if I’ve ever suggested that defense at first base is important. But in the absence of many heroes with the bat (appearances in Philadelphia notwithstanding), putting their best foot forward defensively seems to be a huge contributor to the Dodgers’ success, and even with his shaky hitting, I’m not comfortable when Loney isn’t in the lineup.

The Dodgers have a few players whose contributions with the glove have been valuable, such as Loney, Tony Gwynn Jr. and (when healthy) Mark Ellis. Defense has been Juan Uribe’s one redeeming quality as a Dodger, while Jerry Hairston Jr. was sensational in April at third base, though perhaps that was a fluke.

Defense has made a difference for the pitching staff and in the standings, and, especially when Matt Kemp is sidelined, I’m not sure that the Dodgers have the kind of bats that call for messing with that defense. In particular, Juan Rivera is not so valuable at the plate that I’m happy when he’s playing first base, even against left-handed pitchers. Judging by Fangraphs’ ratings, defense propels Loney into the ranks of adequacy among National League first basemen, non-Joey Votto division – and that doesn’t factor in his above-average ability to rein in the sometimes wayward throws from the left side of the infield. In a crucial situation, you can always pinch-hit for Loney.

In a way, it’s unfortunate that Loney and Gwynn are both left-handed hitters, because keeping each in the lineup while batting them eighth against lefty pitchers would seem like a satisfactory solution. But that’s not possible, which poses problems in a lineup that also includes lefty hitters in Dee Gordon, Andre Ethier and often Bobby Abreu.

Still, until Kemp’s return, I would probably keep both Loney and Gwynn in the lineup, batting one sixth and the other eighth. (That ideal lineup would probably have A.J. Ellis leading off, but that’s another matter.)  Elian Herrera and Hairston would be the other infielders to go with Gordon and Loney. If Uribe returns to action next week from the disabled list, I’d then consider platooning Herrera, a capable looking outfielder, and Gwynn in center until Kemp recovers.

Next year, presumably, the Dodgers will go in an entirely different direction at first base. But for now, Loney remains the best one they have.

Jun 05

Billingsley, Herrera rise to occasion as Dodgers stun Phillies again

Philadelphia won’t soon forget Elian Herrera.

For the second straight evening, the Dodgers’ utility star drove in the winning run, delivering a two-out, two-strike, two-run double in the eighth inning to give Los Angeles what it needed for a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia and winless Cliff Lee.

Lee had allowed three baserunners and struck out 12 before the eighth inning — and the Dodgers did him the additional favor of having two baserunners thrown out at third base to begin that frame. (Following a leadoff double, Matt Treanor couldn’t make it to third on a Tony Gwynn Jr. bunt, and then Gwynn himself was thrown out trying to take two bases on a single by pinch-hitter Bobby Abreu.)

But after Dee Gordon singled, Herrera doubled to deep left-center, driving in the tying and go-ahead runs. Josh Lindblom and Kenley Jansen then closed the door on Philadelphia.

Herrera has twin .377 on-base and slugging percentages for the Dodgers now. Lee fell to 0-3 despite a 2.92 ERA on the year.

The Dodgers stayed close thanks to Chad Billingsley, who threw seven innings of one-run ball to set himself up for another blistering critique from the fans the next time he fails to impress. In the first inning, Billingsley allowed a leadoff double, an RBI single and a walk before escaping on a to-the-wall fly to right. After that, however, the righthander permitted only four baserunners over his final six innings, despite striking out only three of 28 batters he faced in the game.

Jun 05

Lasorda suffers heart attack, in stable condition

Sadly, Tommy Lasorda doesn’t just give heart attacks, he gets them. Best wishes to the former Dodger manager, who is recovering at a New York hospital.

“Doctors inserted a stent to correct a blocked artery in Lasorda’s heart,” the Dodgers said in a press release. “He is resting comfortably and in stable condition.”

“The doctors confirmed I do bleed Dodger Blue,” Lasorda joked. “I’m looking forward to being back at the stadium to cheer on the Dodgers.”

Update: Dylan Hernandez of the Times reports that Javy Guerra had knee surgery this morning and is expected to be sidelined from four to six weeks.

Dodgers at Phillies, 4:05 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Elian Herrera, 3B
Juan Rivera, 1B
Andre Ethier, RF
Alex Castellanos, LF
Jerry Hairston Jr., 2B
Matt Treanor, C
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Chad Billingsley, P

Jun 04

Dodgers draft infielders Seager, Valentin with top picks

As Harvard-Westlake righthanded pitcher Lucas Giolito fell into the teens of the 2012 MLB draft, I began to wonder – and I’m not sure why this didn’t occur to me sooner – whether the Dodgers might go after him.

Giolito had been projected as a potential No. 1 overall pick this year before he came up with an elbow injury that hinted at the potential need for Tommy John surgery down the road. That poses a fear factor, but I wasn’t sure it would be enough to dissuade prep pitching fan and occasional daredevil drafter Logan White of the Dodgers.

As it happened, only two slots before the Dodgers’ selection at No. 18, Giolito was plucked by the Washington Nationals, who will potentially line him up with post-TJ ace Stephen Strasburg. And so came a different sort of twist. For the first time since James Loney in 2002, White began his draft with a position player and the intention of keeping him there: 6-foot-3 Corey Seager of Northwest Cabarrus High in Concord, North Carolina – the younger brother of Seattle third baseman Kyle Seager.

“(Seager) has similar pure hitting ability while projecting to hit for more power and a better frame,” than his brother, writes John Manuel of Baseball America. “Seager has a chance to play shortstop as a pro but likely slides to third base and has the pop to fit the profile. He has a smooth, powerful swing, and the consensus was he’d have to go out in the first round to keep him from attending South Carolina.”

Here’s ESPN.com’s take: “Corey is bigger and more physical than his brother. Corey could be a tough sign here with a strong commitment to South Carolina, but you have to think the Dodgers are confident they can get him signed. Seager is a very projectable athlete that plays shortstop now but projects to move to third base, where his above-average hands, smooth feet and plus arm will make him an above-average defender. He shows an advanced feel for hitting with a sweet swing from the left side and average present raw power that could be plus as he fills out his broad shoulders, giving him All-Star upside if he develops as scouts project.”

Though it will be years before Seager is big-league ready, assuming that day comes, I’m sure many Dodger fans are heartened to finally see the team draft some offensive help. White is typically adamant about taking the best player available, and if he thought an infielder was that guy, well, that gives me some amount of optimism.

With their second pick, coming in the supplemental round before round two, the Dodgers went with another infielder with major-league bloodlines: Jesmuel Valentin of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy.  Conor Massey of Baseball America did a story in May about the son of one-time Dodger Jose Valentin.

“Jesmuel has a similar build to his father at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds,” Massey wrote. “He’s primarily a shortstop, but plays a lot of second base in deference to his high school teammate at Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Carlos Correa. He’s a smooth defender with a strong arm and is an average runner with good instincts on the bases. Valentin said he doesn’t particularly care which position he plays—which must run in the family.”

Jun 04

Dodgers reach Herrerified air in Philly, 4-3

What an exciting, rewarding finish to tonight’s Dodger game for fans scarred by their trips to Philadelphia in the past several years.

With the score tied 3-3, oft-maligned shortstop Dee Gordon’s second hit of the game was a triple to lead off the ninth inning. Listening to the play in my car, I had dreams of him rounding the bases for a game-winning inside-the-park home run, but I had barely had time to be disappointed that he only made it to third base, because Elian Herrera hit the very next pitch from Jonathan Papelbon for a single to score Gordon and break the tie.

The bottom of the ninth began with the Dodgers leading by the same score that they marked the start of the final frame of the heartbreaking Game 4 of the 2009 National League Championship series. The echo reverberated in my brain.  Kenley Jansen struck out the first batter, but the second hit a sinking line drive, recalling a similar ninth-inning shot by Gary Carter off Orel Hershiser that turned around Game 1 of the 1988 NLCS.

Herrera, the hero from Nowhereville finding himself in center field tonight only because Tony Gwynn Jr. was a mid-day scratch, came charging in and glided into a dive, snaring the ball without a care in the world. Two out.

Jansen then went 3-1 to Hector Luna, moving within one pitch of putting the tying run on base. But Jansen blew Luna away on two cutters, and the Dodgers had a big win in Philadelphia, 4-3.

The reaction to the Dodgers’ recent losing stretch (six of seven, eight of 11) has been predictable and understandable, if unpleasant. Insecurities about the team have come out, and there’s a reason those insecurities are there. The 2012 Dodgers barely looked like a playoff team with Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp at full strength. With Kemp on the disabled list, Kershaw struggling to avoid the meltdown inning and other problems materializing, it’s understandable to wonder how long they can hold things together. Put them in a stadium that’s not far from a chamber of horrors for Los Angeles, and tempers are going to be short and not sweet.

We can all see the weaknesses. And so when they overcome them, it’s just so damn pleasing.

Jun 04

Kershaw’s unsteady first half — in 2011

Last year, on June 4, Clayton Kershaw allowed six runs in 6 2/3 innings in Cincinnati. In his next start, he allowed six runs in six innings at Colorado.

His ERA on June 9 last year stood at 3.44.

Admittedly, his strikeout rate is down in 2012, which is not fun to contemplate, but contrary to popular recollection, Kershaw was hittable in the first half of last season. His Cy Young run began June 14, when he began a streak in which he allowed 24 earned runs in his final 19 starts.