Jun 17

Ely’s struggles are a middle, not an end

Al Behrman/AP
John Ely’s ERA rose today to 4.15 — a number the Dodgers would have been glad to have when he was first called up.

After six consecutive good starts, John Ely has had three consecutive poor ones — the latest, seven runs allowed in 4 2/3 innings, including a three-run homer by opposing pitcher Bronson Arroyo — in the Dodgers’ 7-1 loss at Cincinnati.

That wasn’t an earthquake you just felt in Southern California, that was the thud of Dodger fans leaping off Ely’s bandwagon. But Southern Californians tend to overreact to the slightest rumble in their sports universe. (Get your psyches retrofitted for tonight’s Lakers game, just in case.)

Back when things were going well for Ely, all of two weeks ago, we all knew he eventually would have some subpar performances, so I don’t know why there should be any surprise that it has happened. A quick look around the comments sections of various sites and Twitter already shows some fans not only disappointed, but giving up on Ely as quickly as they fell in love with him. If it weren’t for Chad Billingsley’s injury, it appears that some of them would expect Ely be sent back to Albuquerque tonight.

It almost never fails to stun me that even the most experienced baseball fans expect players to deliver the same level of performance every time out. A pitcher whose ERA is around 4.00 isn’t going to allow four runs each and every nine innings. Ups and downs are a fundamental part of this game. Yet somehow, a good player is always supposed to be good — if he’s not good, he must be bad.

What I think happens is this: There’s an insatiable rush to judgment. So many fans are determined to know, to draw conclusions. “Wait and see” is not a comfortable place for people to be. It’s easier for a lot of people to give up on a player, or at the very least drop their expectations down to nothing, than to simply ride out his struggles.

As excited as I was about John Ely during his hot streak, his future remained a mystery. No big deal: I watch the games like I turned the pages of Agatha Christie novels as a kid — to see what happens next. A guess at the future doesn’t change the text on the next page. Now that Ely is slumping, I can say, “That’s too bad.” But there’s a difference between saying “That’s too bad” and “He’s a fraud.”

My point is, we learned very little about John Ely today. He gave up three home runs in a place where home runs are frequently given up. We always knew that was possible — there’s no news there. Much more relevant will be what John Ely might have learned about John Ely today. It might well be that this is the beginning of the end of Ely’s young career, that he has fooled all the people he can fool, but much more likely is that it is one of many twists in a windy road. For all we might think we see at the horizon, we don’t know yet what’s going to be coming around each and every turn. We just know the turns will be there.

Jun 16

Dodgers win a close rout, 6-2

Al Behrman/AP
Dude – nice work.

Clayton Kershaw didn’t walk anyone in the first inning. Or the second, the third, the fourth or the fifth.

In the bottom of the sixth, the first moment he pitched when the game wasn’t close, he walked the leadoff batter.

Pitching is such a mystery, isn’t it? And so is baseball, for that matter.

For a game the Dodgers just about ran away with and eventually won, 6-2, there were more than a few tense moments. The Dodgers would get up, but never too far up. They’d be in peril, then escape like Bugs Bunny.

They’d break a 0-0 tie with two runs in the fifth inning on yet another James Loney double, but strand runners on second and third with one out. They’d give up a fourth-inning single with a runner on second, only for Manny Ramirez to throw the guy out at home. They’d enter that bottom of the sixth with a 5-0 lead, but would escape the none-out, bases-loaded inning only thanks to a controversial, two-ejection strikeout.

The bottom of the eighth might have been most vexing of all. With a 5-1 lead, Joe Torre had Clayton Kershaw bat for himself in the top of the inning despite being past the 100-pitch mark, then removed him from the game following a one-out error by Blake DeWitt. Two relievers and two baserunners later (including a Hong-Chih Kuo walk to load the bases), the Dodgers used a line-drive double play, Rafael Furcal unassisted, to amscray.

In the ninth, with the Dodgers up 6-1, Kuo gave up his first run since April 22 on the first homer he allowed since Game 5 of the 2009 National League Championship Series, before getting the final out on a lunging catch by Matt Kemp, but that was a pocket full of posies compared to what had preceded. And so on a night that Andre Ethier singled twice and hit a three-run homer, that Loney had two more hits to raise his OPS to .810, that Manny Ramirez homered for the third time in seven games, that Kershaw lowered his ERA to 2.96 with 7 1/3 innings of seven-hit, seven-strikeout, one-run and yes, one-mystery-walk pitching, the Dodgers ran away with the victory … and hid. So close to disappointment, instead it’s two straight victories over the NL Central leaders and, once again, the best record in the National League. They’ll take it.

* * *

Happiness is a married bullpen catcher: A love story involving former Dodger Jason Phillips, culminating in a bullpen wedding ceremony, told by Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times (via Baseball Think Factory).

Jun 15

Dodgers a-splishin’ and a-splashin’, 12-0

Al Berhman/AP
The Reds couldn’t stop Rafael Furcal – they could only hope to tag him out trying to steal in the sixth inning.

In the middle of tonight’s game, the Dodgers worried that their three-run first-inning outburst might be washed away by rain. Turns out the team was just getting started.

On a night that Rafael Furcal had five hits, the Dodgers scored nine runs after the tarp was removed at soaked and nearly empty Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, finishing off a 12-0 romp at 12:52 a.m. on the East Coast.

With Hiroki Kuroda leading the pitching before and after the rain delay, the Dodgers stayed within a half-game of San Diego for the best record in the National League. Yet for the season, the Dodgers had only outscored their opponents by two runs, 292-290, before tonight.

Furcal, who grounded out in the ninth while bidding to tie the Dodger team record of six hits, had four singles and a double, and also dazzled defensively. James Loney (now the team’s RBI leader) added three doubles and a single, giving him seven hits in his past nine at-bats. Left field also had four hits for the Dodgers, with Manny Ramirez homering and singling twice in his second consecutive three-hit game, and Reed Johnson adding a single. The Dodgers had 25 baserunners in all – Ramon Troncoso even had a bases-loaded walk.

According to the Dodger TV broadcast, the last time two Dodgers had at least four hits in a game was when Jeff Kent and Marlon Anderson did it in the 4+1 game on September 18, 2006.

Jun 13

After the sweep, time to get dirty again

Let me tell you something about my checking account. It has a winning history and much potential, but not a lot of depth at the current time. It can build up a little cushion and then just get knocked around, a few steps forward, a few steps back. And I should probably be able to say where it’s going to finish the year, but I can’t.

Well, you don’t really need me to connect the dots for you, do you? The bills for John Ely and Carlos Monasterios came due this weekend, not to mention Matt Kemp, and so the Dodgers have to go back to earnin’. On the bright side, three games do not a season make, and we saw signs of life from Manny Ramirez and even a near-comeback victory. Still more good signs on this team than bad. The Dodgers hit the road a game behind San Diego and half a game ahead of San Francisco.

Jun 11

Dodgers get Munched, 10-1

Solum, Stian Lysberg/AFP/Getty Images

If I were the Dodgers, I would not have planned the bizarre Ozzy Osbourne-led screamfest take place for right before Chad Billingsley was taking the mound at the start of the fifth inning. Why not let the opposing pitcher wait that out?

Anyway, moments after the scream, Joel Pineiro reached base for the second of three times tonight, and eventually scored the second of his three runs when Andre Ethier’s diving attempt to catch Hideki Matsui’s bases-loaded drive in a 1-1 game came up empty. Billingsley walked Pineiro again with two out and the bases loaded in the sixth, launching a four-run sixth inning. (George Sherrill, in his first game back from the disabled list, allowed three inherited runs to score.) It ended up a 10-1 Angels victory.

Pineiro personally outscored the Dodgers while going the distance on a five-hitter. Ken McBride in 1962 is the only other Angel pitcher to score three runs in a game. It was the first time in 25 years that the Dodgers allowed an opposing pitcher to score three runs.

Jun 09

Close and yes cigar for the Dodgers, 4-3

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Blake DeWitt and Aaron Miles star in Series Metaphor Theater.

‘Twas a fortuitous bounce.

Leading off the top of the ninth against the Dodgers’ Jonathan Broxton for the second night in a row, down by a run for the second night in a row, St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols this time coaxed a 3-2 single after it appeared he had been struck out. Two outs later, he was still at first base when Yadier Molina hit a drive in the right-center gap. Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier both pursued, but it landed just out of reach on the warning track – and then, as if on classic Cardinal AstroTurf, bounced into the bleachers. Pujols, who would have scored the tying run, was pinged back to third base on the ground-rule double.

Repreived, Broxton induced a slow ground ball from Randy Winn to Casey Blake, who narrowly completed the throw to James Loney for the final out of the Dodgers’ 4-3 victory, the franchise’s first three-game sweep of the Cardinals at home since A.D. 1988. With San Diego rained out, Los Angeles now leads the National League West by one game, and heads into Thursday’s off day having gone 11-5 since their last. Nine of those victories were by one run. In consecutive series against (at-the-time) division leaders, the Dodgers went 5-2.

The Dodgers led this one all the way and at one point seemed to be headed for a surprising, dominating and even history-making romp. Through three innings, the Dodgers cuffed the normally nemesing Adam Wainwright (1.38 ERA in his past five starts vs. Los Angeles, per True Blue L.A.) for four runs on six hits and four walks, two of the runs coming on a Manny Ramirez first-inning homer.

While Wainwright needed 70 pitches to get through those three frames, Clayton Kershaw allowed only a first-inning walk to Pujols while striking out six. But Kershaw faltered briefly but significantly in the fourth inning, surrendering a three-run home run to Ryan Ludwick.

Kershaw only allowed two baserunners thereafter while completing seven innings and striking out a total of 10 (he now has 90 on the season, one behind Wainwright’s MLB-leading 91), but even with a 4-for-4 night from Loney (and thanks in part to his line-drive snag in the eighth), the Dodgers could not press their advantage. And so it came down to the reverb from the Dodger Stadium warning track to keep a spring in the Dodgers’ step.

* * *

This story by Bill Shaikin of the Times is quite something. It’s sure to be overblown, but it doesn’t mean it’s not quite a read. All I’ll say is, it seems now the McCourts heard all our cries to sign Vladimir – they just signed the wrong one.

Of a different sort of interest: Ted Miller of ESPN.com reports (based on an anonymous source) that the Pac-10 is on the verge of becoming the Pac-16. It depends on Nebraska moving to the Big 10. “The new conference would be split into divisions with Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado forming an Eastern Division with Arizona and Arizona State opposite the former Pac-8 (USC, UCLA, Stanford, Washington, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State) in the Western Division,” Miller writes.

Jun 08

Broxton and crew boost Dodgers to best record in NL, 1-0

The thing is, Albert Pujols in the ninth inning is scary. But Jonathan Broxton just might be scarier.

No offense to Pujols, who does it all day, all year long. But Broxton is a force unto his own in the ninth, and tonight he bested Pujols and the Cardinals to preserve a 1-0 victory over St. Louis, in the teams’ first meeting since the 2009 National League Division Series.

Broxton has now faced Pujols 13 times in their careers and has allowed a single and two walks while getting him out the other 10 times. (Pujols was also 1 for 3 against Broxton in the 2009 postseason.)

The victory – the Dodgers’ second consecutive 1-0 Tuesday victory at home and third in eight days – vaults the Dodgers into first place in the National League West, with the best record in the entire league for the first time in 2010. The Dodgers have won 27 of their past 37 games to complete their worst-to-first (for now) journey.

The game was scoreless headed into the eighth. Hiroki Kuroda and Chris Carpenter dueled for seven shutout innings apiece, Kuroda allowing four hits and a walk while striking out six, Carpenter allowing six hits and a walk while striking out five. Things changed in the bottom of the eighth, when Rafael Furcal (2 for 4) led off with a single and one out later went to second on Andre Ethier’s third hit.

Manny Ramirez, 0 for 3 to that point, was up.  Ramirez had a .438 on-base percentage with runners in scoring position this season going into tonight’s game, but I’ll forgive you if it felt like he was overdue. Sure enough, Ramirez then launched one into the right-field corner for a double to drive in Furcal.

After an intentional walk to James Loney, Casey Blake and Blake DeWitt struck out to leave the bases loaded and keep the pressure on Broxton, who had to face Pujols, Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick in the ninth.

Pujols fouled off seven consecutive pitches in an 11-pitch at-bat before striking out for the third time tonight (10th time in his career that happened, according to Vin Scully), but Holliday, in his first ninth inning in Los Angeles since his enormous playoff error, singled to center. However, Broxton struck out Ludwick, then got an 0-2 broken-bat comebacker from Skip Schumaker for the final out.

Broxton’s 2010 numbers: 27 1/3 innings, 21 hits, three walks, 42 strikeouts, 0.99 ERA.

* * *

With two off days between now and Vicente Padilla’s expected activation from the disabled list June 18, Carlos Monasterios might be headed back to the bullpen, writes Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.

Jun 07

Monahysteria spreads while DeWitt drives home five in 12-4 victory

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire
Blake DeWitt drove in five runs, three on this, his first home run of the year.

On a night that Blake DeWitt drove in a career-high five runs, one of the mesmo men was at it again.

Carlos Monasterios pitched a two-hitter for six innings despite striking out nary a batter. Even after giving up Ryan Ludwick’s second solo homer of the night and a Randy Winn single to start the seventh inning, Monasterios can go to sleep tonight with his ERA still at 2.27 for the season and, thanks to an efficient Dodger offense capped by DeWitt’s first home run of the season, a 12-4 Dodger victory Monday over St. Louis.

Monasterios needed only 41 pitches to get through four innings, then got into a two-walk, none-out jam in the fifth but escaped with a double play and a fly out. He cruised into the seventh inning even though, according to Vin Scully, there was only one swing and miss against Monasterios all night. But as has been the case most of the year with Monasterios and John Ely, the contact wasn’t enough to do major damage.

After taking a 2-0 lead in the first inning and then seeing it halved in the next frame by Ludwick’s first home run, the Dodgers scored four runs in both the fourth and fifth innings, with pretty much everyone getting into the act. Manny Ramirez started things off with a double, and after a Ronnie Belliard walk, scored on a DeWitt single. A.J. Ellis squeezed home Belliard, and after Monasterios sacrificed, Rafael Furcal hit a ground-rule double to right to make the score 6-1.

In the fifth, walks to Andre Ethier and James Loney were followed by a Belliard RBI single, and then DeWitt hit one off the right-field foul-pole screen to make it 10-1.

Every Dodger starting position player (plus pinch-hitter Garret Anderson) had a hit except Loney, who walked three times. And every Dodger starter scored in this emphatic end to the streak of winning games by one run.

* * *

Congrats to the family of Dodger PR veep Josh Rawitch, who not only became the father of his second child today, but had the birth announced on the air by Scully.

Jun 03

Dodgers can’t quite bounce back, fall 4-3

Danny Moloshok/AP
Manny Ramirez’s failure to come up with this sinking drive by Atlanta pitcher Kris Medlen in the sixth inning allowed what proved to be the winning run to score.

Well, the Dodger offense indeed was slumping. Shut out for the first seven innings tonight by Atlanta’s Kris Medlen, the Dodgers had only two runs to show for their past 31 innings.

Still, they almost extended their winning streak. Almost.

Danny Moloshok/AP
Takashi Saito’s Dodger Stadium homecoming was nearly perfect, until his leg gave way.

Down 4-0 and held to three runners in the first seven innings by 24-year-old Atlanta righty Kris Medlen, the Dodgers picked and poked their way back into it in the bottom of the eighth, scoring three runs on singles by James Loney, Blake DeWitt, Jamey Carroll and Ronnie Belliard, a throwing error by the Braves (which DeWitt barely converted into a run with a devilish hand-touch of home), and an RBI groundout by Rafael Furcal. But after Matt Kemp walked, mojo-free Andre Ethier struck out on a 2-2 fastball.

And then control of the game turned to our truly old friend, 40-year-old Takashi Saito, pitching against the Dodgers for the first time in his career. In the ninth, Saito retired Manny Ramirez and Loney, then got to 0-2 on Martin … when he had to leave the game with an apparent left hamstring injury. After a delay of several minutes, Jonny Venters came in and threw one pitch to strike out Martin and walk away with Saito’s save of a 4-3 Atlanta victory.

It was a disappointing night for Los Angeles, but not quite the bad taste that a shutout would have left. And the Lakers’ NBA Finals Game 1 victory will certainly provide some cover and consolation.

Hiroki Kuroda is also slumping now, by the way. His performance tonight wasn’t terrible – three earned runs in six innings – but the seven hits and four walks against two strikeouts hint at how sloppy it was. In his past two starts (the previous one an even more uncomfortable outing in Colorado), Kuroda has allowed 11 runs (eight earned) on 23 baserunners in 10 innings with three strikeouts. Yikes.

But this all, I believe, will pass. Perhaps around the time that the Dodger bullpen, which hasn’t allowed an earned run in its past 20 innings (according to the Dodger press notes), cracks.

* * *

  • Jeff Weaver entered the game in the top of the seventh, only to depart with trainer Stan Conte without throwing an official pitch. No details immediately available.
  • Casey Blake is day-to-day with back spasms, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.
  • Spurred to investigate the situation by questioners during his online chat today, Jackson found that minor-league pitcher Josh Lindblom is being converted back to relief. “When he gets back, we’re probably going to transition him back to the bullpen,” assistant general manager for player development DeJon Watson told Jackson. “I think he is better suited to the bullpen. It’s just his delivery and his stuff, and I think this will give him a chance to help our big league club at some point this year. We just want to get him back to where he was at the end of last year.”
  • Pitching rehab outings for Inland Empire tonight, Vicente Padilla threw 37 pitches, allowing one hit and striking out five in three innings, while George Sherrill struck out two in an eight-pitch inning of relief.
  • Vin Scully will make a rare trip East in two weeks, broadcasting the Dodgers’ game at Fenway Park for Prime Ticket on June 18, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. Lucky us.
Jun 02

Dodgers outlast Diamondbacks again, 1-0 in 14 innings

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Carlos Monasterios looks towards the sky in the second inning, as if he knew how long this day would be for the Dodgers.

It was — or should have been — Edwin Jackson’s game.

Instead, it was … Garret Anderson’s?

The maligned Dodger reserve, with 12 hits in 82 at-bats this year, singled home Matt Kemp in the bottom of the 14th inning to give the Dodgers their second-straight 1-0, extra-inning victory over Arizona — capping a series in which the Diamondbacks were held scoreless for their final 31 innings.

The Dodgers, whose scoreless pitching streak is their longest since a 37-inning skein July 24-28, 1991, according to the Dodger press notes, entered this series with a 4.21 team ERA, and left it at 3.99. It was the first time two MLB teams had gone scoreless into extra innings in consecutive games since 2001, and the first time for the Dodger franchise since 1919. The Dodgers also have three consecutive walkoff wins for the first time since August 5-7, 1982.

We’ll talk about the Dodger offense another time, but for now we’ll tip our hat once more to Arizona’s starting pitcher. More than six years after Jackson’s memorable Dodger debut against the Diamondbacks, nearly five years after his last appearance at Dodger Stadium, Jackson returned and put on a show. It was against a lineup that missed Manny Ramirez, Russell Martin, and Rafael Furcal (and for half the game, Casey Blake), but it was a show nonetheless. Jackson pitched shutout ball for nine innings, allowing three hits and three walks while striking out six.

But Jackson didn’t get the win — and neither did Arizona, which was held scoreless by six Dodger pitchers, the last Travis Schlichting, who pitched four shutout innings in his 2010 Dodger debut despite not having thrown that many in a game all year in the minors.

The tone was set early by Jackson and Carlos Monasterios, who, like John Ely, has had to fight a lot of natural-born skepticism to get into the starting rotation. But with five shutout innings today, Monasterios lowered his 2010 ERA to 1.87 and threatened to give birth to Monahysteria. He allowed two singles, walked none and struck out three. He was also, like Ely, reasonably efficient with his pitch count — except for a rather bizarre stretch in the fifth inning when Adam LaRoche and Rusty Ryal combined to foul off 11 of 13 pitches. Monasterios also had to battle several three-ball counts in the second inning, but still got his five innings completed in 81 pitches.

After Ramon Troncoso, now being rationed by Joe Torre, was used for one shutout inning, it fell to recent callup Justin Miller to keep Arizona at bay. Miller immediately tattooed Arizona by hitting Stephen Drew and LaRoche with pitches, but in between came a strikeout and throwout by A.J. Ellis of Drew attempting to steal, to interrupt the scoring bid. Ryal then flied deep to Kemp in center field to end the inning.

Jackson then became the second Arizona starting pitcher in as many games to bat for himself in the eighth inning of a scoreless game — and worked Miller with an 11-pitch single. But on his 41st pitch of the game, Miller got Kelly Johnson to fly to Kemp.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Arizona’s offense denied Edwin Jackson his second career shutout.

In the bottom of the eighth, Jackson once again faced Manny Ramirez with a runner on first and the game on the line, as he did May 12 in Arizona. But instead of hitting a home run, Ramirez was called out on strikes — the third consecutive game Ramirez failed to bring home the go-ahead run in the eighth inning.

After Jonathan Broxton pitched a scoreless top of the ninth, the valiant Jackson went back to the mound. He was one strike from completing his ninth shutout inning when he gave up a line single to Jamey Carroll, who had the only three hits Jackson allowed, along with a walk. Kemp then walked on a 3-2 slider, leaving it up to Andre Ethier. In a situation seemingly scripted in the Dodgers’ favor, Hollywood rejected it, with Ethier lining out to LaRoche at first base on Jackson’s 123rd pitch.

Ronald Belisario’s scoreless 10th inning fed into James Loney’s double to start off the bottom of the 10th, the only extra-base hit in the 101 combined plate appearances by the two teams today. Ronnie Belliard walked after Anderson struck out, but pinch-hitters Furcal and Martin couldn’t bring the run home.

From that point on, you could say the Dodgers’ otherwise significant bullpen advantage was starting to bleed out, especially with Hong-Chih Kuo unavailable because he threw 1 1/3 innings Tuesday and Torre also wanting to give a day off to Jeff Weaver, who threw 21 pitches Tuesday night.

That left Schlichting, with two career major-league games, the last nearly a year ago, and a history of injury issues. Schlichting pitched a perfect 11th inning, survived two singles in the 12th and then completed a 1-2-3 13th. All the while, the Dodger offense remained silent.

But that wasn’t all. Schlichting, whose longest minor-league outing of the year was 3 2/3 innings, batted for himself in the bottom of the 13th and stayed in to pitch the 14th. He gave up a hit and a walk with one out, but escaped on two fly balls to cap his 60-pitch effort.

Finally, in the bottom of the 14th, Kemp ended an 0-for-14 drought by the Dodger outfielders with a single. Ethier lined out for the third time in his hard-luck 0-for-6 day, but Kemp advanced to second base on a wild pitch, went to third on a Loney grounder and then, unbelievably or mercifully, scored on Anderson’s hit.

With three walkoff victories, this was a series the Dodgers won’t soon forget — but Arizona will sure try its best.

Jun 01

Bison buys one for the Dodgers, 1-0

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
“The Dodgers are going to have to take an ad to get a run for him,” Vin Scully commented after John Ely’s seven innings of shutout ball left him with a no-decision.

And so we’ve found the kryptonite for John Ely – the Dodger offense. With his seven innings of two-hit, two-walk shutout ball tonight, Ely has allowed one run on 10 baserunners over 14 1/3 innings – a 0.63 ERA – but in that time, the Dodgers haven’t scored for him.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Matt Kemp: Glory be.

They did score for Jeff Weaver, however. With one out in the bottom of the 10th inning of a scoreless tie, Matt Kemp hit a hanging fastball hard, deep and winningly. His blast to the left-field bleachers off Juan Guiterrez gave the Dodgers a slightly more conventional walkoff victory, 1-0 over Arizona.

With walkoff wag Andre Ethier on deck, Kemp tied his outfield colleague with his 11th homer of the year and moved the Dodgers within a game of San Diego for the best record in the National League. It was the first 1-0 extra inning victory since Russell Martin hit that game-winning homer against the Giants on August 13, 2006, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. For the year, the Dodgers are now 2-2 in 1-0 games.

Kemp stole the spotlight from Ely, but the wunderkind pitcher still glows.

Ely took a no-hitter into the fifth inning before a Rusty Ryal single got past a somewhat immobile Casey Blake. To be honest, that wasn’t the first hard-hit ball off Ely – on MLB Gameday, the “Away Outs” portion of the hit chart in the bottom left-hand corner shows five balls caught at the warning track or deeper. But that doesn’t mean Ely wasn’t mesmerizing. At one stretch, he threw first-pitch strikes to 11 consecutive batters.

Ely even mesmerized Russell Martin, who committed a passed ball on what would have been an inning-ending strikeout in the top of the seventh but instead allowed Arizona to put Ely in some of his biggest jeopardy of the night – runners at first and second. (Martin also committed a throwing error after an Ely wild pitch that allowed Ryal to reach third base in the fifth.) But two pitches later, LaRoche practically mimicked the James Loney blunder of Monday’s game – actually did worse, considering how many outs there were – by getting himself thrown out by Martin trying to advance on another ball in the dirt.

That, as it turned out, was the last we’d see of Ely tonight. With a runner on first base and one out, Joe Torre decided to have Garret Anderson pinch-hit for Ely, who had thrown 92 pitches, in what I commented at the time was not exactly going to be a popular decision. Anderson then did himself no favors by hitting into a routine 4-6-3 double play.

Ely went to the showers with his ERA lowered to 2.54 and his sixth consecutive quality start in which he allowed no more than two runs. (The six straight quality starts are the most by a Dodger rookie since Hideo Nomo in 1995, according to the Dodger press notes.) Ely struck out five, and his K/BB ratio actually declined to 4.63. Interestingly, he’s getting close to having enough innings to qualify for the National League ERA race, and even more interestingly, it’s kind of relevant. As of now, Ely is 12th in the league in ERA among pitchers with at least 40 innings and third in K/BB.

“The Dodgers are going to have to take an ad to get a run for him,” Vin Scully commented.

Dodger fans who were doubly disappointed by the Anderson-for-Ely exchange might have felt that disappointment redouble when Ronald Belisario gave up a leadoff single in the eighth, and, after a Chris Snyder bunt, Dan Haren was left in the game to bat. The explanation: Haren was 14 for 34 (.412) this season, plus Arizona’s bullpen is notoriously poor. But Haren flied out, and Hong-Chih Kuo came in to get Kelly Johnson to ground out.

Haren, who had an 8.68 ERA over his past three starts, continued through the eighth inning. Ethier got his first hit since coming off the disabled list, meaning that for the third time in three weeks, Manny Ramirez would bat in a potential game-winning situation in the eighth inning against a tiring Arizona starter. Ramirez hit a grand slam off Edwin Jackson on May 12, then struck out with the score tied 4-4 Monday against Rodrigo Lopez. Tonight, Haren just missed striking out Ramirez on his 125th pitch, and then on his career-high 126th pitch, Ramirez popped to center field. Amid chatter that Haren might be left in for infinity and beyond, he instead ended his night with eight shutout innings, allowing seven hits and striking out seven while walking nada.

Neither team scored in the ninth, despite two-out hits by Martin and Jamey Carroll, and so the Dodgers and Arizona took their scoreless game to extra innings. Weaver allowed a hit in an otherwise harmless top of the 10th, and then one out after Rafael Furcal lined to short, Kemp made Ely the valued best supporting actor in a victory.

* * *

Sour note: James McDonald’s hamstring injury is significant, writes Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.

… McDonald is presently on the seven-day DL and is at the Dodgers’ spring-training facility in Glendale, Ariz., where he is throwing off flat ground. But he isn’t expected to return to pitching competitively anytime soon.

“It’s a significant strain,” Dodgers trainer Stan Conte said. “It’s not a small one. We call it a Grade 2 out of a possible three. We’ll just have to see how long it takes. We don’t believe it’s a matter of days. It’s longer than that.”

May 31

Balki finish sends Dodgers into dance of joy, 5-4

Gosh, I’m sort of flummoxed – so flummoxed that I’m googling video of a show I never watched. I really just planned to talk about Chad Billingsley and his very interesting outing.

But I can’t exactly ignore the Dodgers coming back to tie tonight’s game against Arizona with two out in the eighth on a double error by Kelly Johnson. And I really can’t ignore the Dodgers winning, 5-4, in the most esoteric way I can recall, on a blink-and-you-missed-it, don’t-blink-and-you-still-might’ve-missed-it balk by Esmerling Vasquez to score Casey Blake.

All I can tell you is I watched the replay about a half-dozen times, and I didn’t see enough of a balk that I would have expected it to be called. Valdez’s twitch could easily have been written off as part of his movement off the rubber – especially at this stage of the game. If it had happened against the Dodgers, it would have been an infuriating way to lose – more infuriating than seeing Andre Ethier’s two-on, one-out line drive in the third inning turned into a double play, more infuriating than James Loney’s leap and subsequent crisis of faith, trying to advance to third base when the infield creeped in front of him with none out in the ninth and getting caught.

But thankfully, this infuriation is not on my plate. It’s over at places like AZ Snakepit, whose Jim McLennan points out that since 1954, there have been fewer walkoff balks in baseball than perfect games.

Part of me wonders whether the Dodgers won this game Thursday in Chicago, when Blake made himself a public expert on balk rules while protesting Ted Lilly’s position on the pitching rubber. Maybe he’s really got the umpires’ attention now. Who knows?

Gus Ruelas/AP
Chad Billingsley went a season-high eight innings, allowing four runs on six baserunners while striking out 11.

In any case, the Dodgers took a balkoff walk for the second time since 1969 and first time since 1989, according to the Dodger press notes. And in doing so, averted a sour start to the homestand … and completed the journey of Billingsley’s outing from bizarre to quietly kinda awesome.

Billingsley faced 10 batters before his fielders recorded an out, allowing a double and three homers while striking out six in the first two innings. Pretty crazy. But from that point on, he gave up two hits and no runs over the next six innings, finishing the night with 11 strikeouts and no walks in eight innings. You wanted a Billingsley who throws strikes, you wanted a Billingsley who’s resilient after a rough start – you wanted, in other words, the Billingsley that has been there almost his entire career  – you got him. (You also got a Billingsley who threw 120 pitches, his most since May 14 of last year and the second-most of his career.)

Not to be forgotten completely: Manny Ramirez hit his 550th career homer, while Matt Kemp and Rafael Furcal combined for five of the Dodgers’ seven hits on a night that Rodrigo Lopez otherwise owned them.

Update: A.J. Hinch saw the balk and didn’t argue.

May 30

Kemp faceplant prevents Dodger nosedive, 4-3

Ed Andrieski/AP
Matt Kemp beat the throw home to Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta to score on James Loney’s double in the first inning Sunday.

Clayton Kershaw might be a roller coaster, but he’s a mere Gold Rush compared to the Colossus that is the Dodger defense.

Surviving a pop-up that Blake DeWitt lost in the sun in the first inning, a grounder through the legs of Casey Blake in the ninth inning and two other errors in between, the Dodgers survived Sunday against Colorado, 4-3, to win the series, split their six-game road trip and stay within two games of the top team in the National League, San Diego.

And what was the key play? A diving catch by Matt Kemp in the fifth inning that saved at least two runs.

Kemp scored his NL-leading 41st run on James Loney’s first-inning double to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead, before Kershaw continued his vexing first-inning struggles, hitting the first batter he faced, walking the third and giving up an RBI single to the fourth. DeWitt’s sun blindness on Chris Ianetta’s pop-up let a second Colorado run score and helped extend Kershaw to 30 pitches in the inning. But Kershaw ended up getting all three outs that inning on strikeouts – then struck out the side in the second inning as well.

The Dodgers loaded the bases with none out in the third against Jhoulys Chacin (walk, bunt single, hit by pitch) but settled for a game-tying sacrifice fly by Loney. Kershaw then got out of jams in the third and fifth innings, the latter capped by Kemp’s sprawling grab with the bases loaded and two out. Just a huge moment in the game.

Casey Blake, robbed of an RBI single in the first inning by Rockies center fielder Carlos Gonzalez, doubled to lead off the sixth inning and scored the tiebreaking run on a single by Xavier Paul, who is likely headed to Albuquerque on Monday to make room for Andre Ethier (unless the Dodgers suddenly cut bait on Garret Anderson). Paul later scored on a fielder’s choice, and for the second time in three games, the Dodgers asked for four innings out of their bullpen, and the bullpen answered.

Ramon Troncoso and Hong-Chih Kuo each pitched perfect innings, while Ronald Belisario allowed a walk but got a double-play grounder to end the eighth. In the ninth, Colorado put the tying runs on base with one out thanks to an Ian Stewart double and Blake’s error on Seth Smith’s grounder. Gonzalez’s fielder’s choice brought Colorado within one, but just like Friday, Broxton struck out Ryan Spilborghs to end the game.

Kershaw, who got his first hit of the season in his 16th at-bat, finished with nine strikeouts in five innings against four hits and four walks, throwing 96 pitches. If he figures out what’s bedeviling him in the first inning – of the 22 runs he has allowed in 11 starts this season, nine of them have come in first innings – it’d be pretty wonderful.

After the game, the Dodgers sent control-troubled lefty Scott Elbert back to the Isotopes and called up Travis Schlichting in his place. The 25-year-old righty has a 4.02 ERA with 19 strikeouts against 41 baserunners in 31 1/3 innings, which tickets him for mop-up duty for the time being.

If Ethier comes off the disabled list Monday, the Dodgers will have gone 10-5 in his absence and 12-7 for the year in games he hasn’t started. Not everything went right for the Dodgers this past week, but considering how close the team came to losing six of their past seven games, Dodger fans might be relieved to be heading home for an Ethier reunion with the three victories they got.

* * *

Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy posted memorial video for Jose Lima in the Dominican Republic.

May 28

Monasterios and sixth-inning rally are pleasant surprises for Dodgers, 5-4

Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images
Carlos Monasterios

Dodgers 5, Rockies 4. Monasterios (W, 2-0). Did you see that coming when the sun was going down?

The irony of Joe Torre’s apparent determination to get Charlie Haeger back into the Dodger starting rotation is that Torre couldn’t wait to get him out of the rotation last summer, when Haeger was pitching better. In any case, Carlos Monasterios’ 1.90 ERA entering tonight’s game, at least in the moment, wasn’t enough for Torre to take a “let’s see what happens” stance regarding whether Monasterios would make another start.

And it was fine to be a bit wary of how Monasterios would come out of tonight’s game at Colorado – it still featured someone who was in A ball last year pitching in an notoriously difficult environment. But lo and behold, Monasterios was efficient and effective: 67 pitches and two earned runs over five innings.

After the first inning, in which he gave up two unearned runs (they came two outs after Ronnie Belliard’s error at first base), Monasterios allowed only three baserunners. Two came in the fourth inning – a Miguel Olivo triple (followed by an Ian Stewart sacrifice fly) and a Clint Barmes homer that was contested in vain after a fan reached out to catch it. That put the Dodgers down, 4-0. Monasterios then retired the side in his fifth and final inning. Maybe I’m rooting too hard, but I’m having trouble putting this down as a poor effort.

Monasterios isn’t long for the Dodger rotation no matter what, but in the short term, with this game under his belt and a 2.20 ERA in 28 2/3 innings, it’s hard for me to see how he hasn’t earned the opportunity to start again Wednesday against Arizona at Dodger Stadium. He has six unintentional walks all year, he had 15 first-pitch strikes against 22 batters in Colorado – isn’t this the kind of John Ely-like boldness that the Dodgers are looking for, at least until Vicente Padilla comes back? I’m not assuming that Haeger hasn’t solved his problems and can’t do the job. It’s just that again, I’m wondering what has tilted the scales toward Haeger and away from Monasterios in Torre’s eyes. And I’m wondering if those scales might tilt back, as they did with Ely.

Anyway, this all appeared it would be an academic discussion to occupy us after a Dodger beating, what with Jeff Francis taking a one-hitter into the fifth inning, having faced the minimum 12 batters. Matt Kemp began the fifth with his 10th homer of the season, but that was seemingly the result of a pitcher with a lead just throwing the ball across the plate – Francis retired the next three batters.

Jack Dempsey/AP
Manny Ramirez hit his first home run since his pinch-hit game-winner April 18.

But the Dodgers shredded Francis’ exquisite origami in the sixth, tearing a small opening with a Jamey Carroll leadoff walk and then busting through with a Garret Anderson pinch-hit double, a Rafael Furcal sacrifice fly to score Carroll, a Russell Martin double to score Anderson, and then, Manny Ramirez’s first home run in his past 58 at-bats and first career homer at Coors Field period. Suddenly, the Dodgers were ahead, and Monasterios was poised to be the winning pitcher.

From that point on, the rested Dodger bullpen took control of the game (a fine thing, since none of the final nine Dodger batters reached base). In the final four innings, Ramon Troncoso, Hong-Chih Kuo, Ronald Belisario and Jonathan Broxton faced 16 batters and struck out eight – two apiece. Troncoso pitched a perfect sixth, Kuo got out of a two-on, two-out jam in the seventh and Belisario pitched a perfect eighth.

In the ninth, Broxton who had walked two of 77 batters this season and hit none, plunked leadoff pinch-hitter Jason Giambi, who was replaced by pinch-runner Dexter Fowler. Broxton struck out Barmes, but Melvin Mora hit a fly down the line in right that Xavier Paul made a nice play to catch for the second out, only for Fowler to tag up and take the tying run to second base. The Dodgers then chose to walk Carlos Gonzalez intentionally even though he was the winning run, preferring to have Broxton face Ryan Spilborghs – who had singled twice and homered in five career chances against Broxton. But after working the count to 2-2, Spilborghs couldn’t catch Broxton’s 97-mph fastball and went down swinging.

Monasterios (W, 2-0). That’s right.

Having not only survived this game to even their record on the road trip at 2-2 and move within one game of first-place San Diego in the National League West – the Padres entered the bottom of the ninth trailing Washington, 5-2, and got four straight singles for a run before striking out twice and grounding out – the Dodgers get to come back with Hiroki Kuroda and Clayton Kershaw for the next two games of the series. Beyond that, Andre Ethier singled and walked twice in four incident-free plate appearances in his first rehab game, keeping him on track to return to the Dodgers Memorial Day in Los Angeles. The Dodgers are 9-4 without Ethier, but don’t think they don’t want him back.

Update: From Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Although Torre had given a strong indication before the game that knuckleballer Charlie Haeger will come off the disabled list in time to reclaim the fifth spot in the rotation the next time it comes up either Tuesday or Wednesday, Torre at least paid lip service after the game to the possibility Monasterios pitched well enough to warrant another shot.

“I don’t think we have figured it out yet,” Torre said. “But I certainly wouldn’t be afraid to do that. He enhanced his chances if we were going to consider it.”