Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Category: Managing (Page 1 of 3)

The Dodgers, Dave Roberts and the human element

Dave Roberts (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

In front of an emotionally eviscerated Dodger fan base, in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2018 World Series on October 27, Kiké Hernández came to the plate at Dodger Stadium.

Only an hour earlier, a thrilling glow suffused Chavez Ravine. Having survived an 18-inning Game 3 marathon, Los Angeles had taken a 4-0 lead into the seventh inning against the Boston Red Sox. The Dodgers were eight outs away from evening the Fall Classic at two games apiece.

Then their world collapsed around them like a dream in Inception. Nine Boston baserunners crossed the plate, the final four in the top of the ninth, obliterating a beautiful consciousness.

In that soul-darkening ninth inning, Hernández stood at the plate as a symbol of star-crossed Octobers. Coming off the most successful regular season of his major-league career, Hernández homered in his 2018 playoff debut, the Dodgers’ 6-0 trouncing of Atlanta in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. The multiposition master, baseball’s Swiss Army knife, then went 12 consecutive games without a single extra-base hit or RBI.

Hernández couldn’t hit right-handed pitching. He couldn’t hit left-handed pitching. He couldn’t hit, period. Entering the gloom of Game 4’s waning moments, Hernández had made 30 outs in his past 33 at-bats.

As another fallen hope stood on first base in the person of Brian Dozier, Hernández took two fastballs from Boston closer Craig Kimbrel, then let rip at a knuckle-curve and launched a fly ball to deep left-center for a two-run home run. Except for the fleeting sliver of hope it kindled in those who could conceive the greatest miracle postseason comeback in Dodger history, it was a footnote. The Dodgers lost the game by the score of 9-6 instead of 9-4.

The next day, in a game the Dodgers could not spare, Hernández was in the starting lineup against Boston lefty David Price, batting third.

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Dave Roberts went all in to win and reaped the rewards

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

If not for the double plays that his team grounded into during the seventh, eighth and ninth innings Saturday, Dodger pitcher Kenta Maeda would have been batting in the ninth inning of an absolute nailbiter in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.

If not for the 4-3 lead the Dodgers had taken despite those double plays, Maeda — or a pinch-hitting Clayton Kershaw — might have been batting to keep the Dodgers alive.

If not for the Dodger bullpen’s work in holding that 4-3 lead, scheduled Game 4 starter Rich Hill would have taken the mound for Los Angeles to start the bottom of the 10th inning.

If not for Austin Barnes avoiding any injury that could have come in the final hour of the game, Max Muncy, who has never played catcher professionally, would have had to go behind the plate.

Any of these scenarios would have exposed Dodger manager Dave Roberts to toxic criticism. Instead, Roberts sashayed home to Los Angeles with a well-earned split of the first two NLCS games.

I’m here to tell you that even if the Dodgers had lost the game, Roberts made the right moves.

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Would you have fired Tommy Lasorda before the 1981 season?

Beginning his much-sought managing career in 1977, Tommy Lasorda won two National League West titles and two National League Championship Series in his first two seasons as Dodger manager.

The team fell both times in the World Series to the Yankees. In 1978, the Dodgers lost their final four games in a row, and were wiped out by a combined 19-4 score in the final two.

The 1979 Dodgers were a disaster — in last place at the All-Star break before rallying to finish third in the division, but still with their worst record in more than a decade.

The 1980 Dodgers were a competitive team in a thrilling division race, but on the brink of completing an historic comeback, dissolved in a 7-1 defeat that makes Game 7 of the 2017 World Series look ultra-close.

So after four years at the helm, the 53-year-old Lasorda averaged 91 wins per season, with two division titles, while extending the Dodgers’ drought without winning a World Series to 15 years, the longest gap in Los Angeles history.

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to suggest that if social media had existed back in October 1980, the cries for Lasorda’s head would have been deafening. I can still hear faint echoes from talk radio.

So — and this is a sincere question — should Lasorda have been fired before the 1981 season?

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Bullpen usage key in decision to start Kershaw

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Nationals
Trea Turner, CF
Bryce Harper, RF
Jayson Werth, LF
Daniel Murphy, 2B
Anthony Rendon, 3B
Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
Danny Espinosa, SS
Pedro Severino, C
Joe Ross, P
Dodgers
Chase Utley, 2B
Corey Seager, SS
Justin Turner, 3B
Adrián González, 1B
Josh Reddick, RF
Joc Pederson, CF
Yasmani Grandal, C
Andrew Toles, LF
Clayton Kershaw, P

By Jon Weisman

Two critical factors in favor of Julio Urías starting today’s Game 4 of the National League Division Series fell away Monday.

No. 1 was that the Dodgers lost, making today’s game an elimination game. No. 2 was that the Dodger bullpen, already on its heels after Saturday’s postponement and Sunday’s 3 2/3 innings, was forced to throw 131 pitches Monday after Kenta Maeda’s fourth-inning exit.

Whatever you might speculate about Clayton Kershaw’s durability at this point, his typical outing is longer than a typical outing for the 20-year-old Urías. With that in mind, the Dodgers decided to put their best pitcher out there today.

One whom, it must be added, has actually thrived on three days’ rest, with a 1.89 ERA in 19 such innings over three starts.

“With Clayton, we had complete certainty from the training staff (and) doctors that health wasn’t a factor,” Dave Roberts said. “Obviously, it’s a game we need to win. One, Clayton gives us the best chance to win, and two, he gives us the best chance to go deeper into a game.”

Basically, the Dodgers need to play 18 innings of winning baseball over the next three days. The Dodgers will start attacking those innings with Kershaw, and then use the remaining 10 pitchers on their staff (except, one supposes, for Kenta Maeda) to cover the rest.

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A Hill of beans in this crazy world

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Dodgers at Marlins, 10:10 a.m.
Chase Utley, 2B
Josh Reddick, RF
Corey Seager, SS
Adrián González, 1B
Yasmani Grandal, C
Joc Pederson, CF
Andre Ethier, LF
Howie Kendrick, 3B
Kenta Maeda, P

By Jon Weisman

I guess my wife and I picked the wrong day to take the family to Disneyland.

Exactly 51 years and one day after Sandy Koufax threw the last perfect game by a Dodger pitcher, Rich Hill nearly did the same (in a 5-0 Dodger victory). And in the process, he became the first Dodger pitcher since Hiroki Kuroda in 2008 to throw seven perfect innings — and the first ever to do so without facing another batter.

The controversy arose from the latter fact. In the overnight chatter since Hill was removed, many have had a chance to weigh in, and so with the Dodgers’ next game already about to start, I’m just going to highlight a few points …

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Kendrick, Thompson start in OF corners, Puig rests

Cincinnati Reds vs Los Angeles Dodgers

Reds at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Chase Utley, 2B
Corey Seager, SS
Justin Turner, 3B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Trayce Thompson, RF
Joc Pederson, CF
Howie Kendrick, LF
Yasmani Grandal, C
Scott Kazmir, P

By Jon Weisman

Yasiel Puig isn’t in tonight’s Dodger starting lineup, which isn’t a surprise — least of all to Dave Roberts, who planned to give Puig a night off even before Tuesday’s mid-game benching.

Howie Kendrick is in left field, with Trayce Thompson moving to right. Puig was on the field this afternoon for early batting practice, but not in preparation to start.

“I let all the players know when they’re gonna play, when they’re not gonna play,” Roberts said. “I told Howie (Tuesday afternoon) he was going to be in there with Trayce and Joc. So, tonight is not punitive at all. It was already set.”

Roberts said he had an “extended conversation” with Puig after Tuesday’s game, and now they are moving forward.

“We talked about expectations and a vision and accountability,” Roberts said. “For me, you’ve got to be responsible for your actions.

“He understands, and he wants to be a better teammate. I’m not going to say a mistake like that’s not going to happen with him or any other player, but I think he wants to get better.”

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The Algebra of Yasiel Puig

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

By Jon Weisman

We’re not really the sum of all our parts. We’re more the multiplication of them.

The fractions of ourselves don’t neatly add up in tidy columns. They clash and they explode like calculus.

So just in the past several days, the answer to Yasiel Puig involves finding the product of this:

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Dodgers look to get jump on Angels in Freeway Series

St.Louis Cardinals vs Los Angeles Dodgers

Angels at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Chase Utley, 2B
Corey Seager, SS
Howie Kendrick, 3B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Yasmani Grandal, C
Joc Pederson, CF
Trayce Thompson, RF
Carl Crawford, LF
Kenta Maeda, P

By Jon Weisman

Taking the mound tonight against the Dodgers is a pitcher with a 9.12 ERA, which might be enough to make you want to dial 9.11 if you’re an Angels fan.

But Matt Shoemaker is also a pitcher who had a 3.04 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings as recently as 2014. And even last month, he pitched back-to-back games — both on the road — in which he allowed two runs in 12 innings.

It’s almost as if there are two Shoes, and you don’t know which the Angels will put on tonight when they meet the Dodgers in the regular-season kickoff of the Freeway Series.

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Dave Roberts knows .500 isn’t good enough

LOS ANGELES DODGERS V NEW YORK METS

Mets at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Chase Utley, 2B
Corey Seager, SS
Justin Turner, 3B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Yasmani Grandal, C
Joc Pederson, CF
Yasiel Puig, RF
Carl Crawford, LF
Alex Wood, P
Note: Alex Guerrero is beginning a rehab assignment tonight with Single-A Rancho Cucamonga.

By Jon Weisman

If you’re wondering whether the Dodgers are content to be in first place in their division with a .500 record, the answer is no.

“We’re not playing great baseball,” Dave Roberts said this afternoon. “I think for the most part we’re catching the baseball, but for the pitching and hitting to sync up, we’re still waiting for that to happen.”

The debate about the Dodgers that’s happening right now around town and on social media is which of their two seemingly irreconcilable identities is true. Are they a first-place team, or are they a squad that loses at least as much as it wins?

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Dodgers hold team meeting before batting practice

Padres at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Chase Utley, 2B
Corey Seager, SS
Justin Turner, 3B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Yasiel Puig, RF
Yasmani Grandal, C
Carl Crawford, LF
Joc Pederson, CF
Alex Wood, P

By Jon Weisman

In the wake of their four-game losing streak, the Dodgers held a closed-door meeting at 3:30 p.m. in the clubhouse that Dave Roberts said essentially addressed the same issues he brought up after Thursday’s game.

“You just got to get back to the fundamentals and trying to play clean, crisp baseball and play every pitch,” Roberts said. “I think that there are signs of that. … Whether we’re winning games or not winning games, I still think there’s a process that needs to be in place, and you just don’t want things to get away from you. So right now, it’s kind of hit the reset button a little bit.”

Among other issues, Roberts has the sense that Dodger batters are pressing at the plate.

“You know, it’s funny — I think it’s just guys are trying too hard,” he said. “And you hear it all the time when guys aren’t swinging well, that guys want to do it so bad, it’s a little bit, ‘Try a little less hard.’ Because guys just start swinging the bat, and you start coming out of the strike zone.”

One thing not addressed in today’s meeting was the 80-game suspension of former Dodger infielder Dee Gordon that was announced late Thursday. Reaction to that news is amply covered at a number of sites, but Roberts echoed the feeling of many.

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For Dave Roberts, lefty-righty not quite almighty

Left-handed hitters Joc Pederson, Corey Seager and Carl Crawford

Left-handed hitters Joc Pederson, Corey Seager and Carl Crawford

By Jon Weisman

When is a platoon not a platoon? According to Dave Roberts, when it isn’t quite a platoon.

Though the Dodgers have leaned heavily on lefty-righty matchups in constructing their offense this season, Roberts explained today some of the distinctions that he sees.

“Certain guys, their out pitch is a changeup,” Roberts said. “Certain lefties, it’s a breaking ball. So when typically, it’s a breaking ball is their best secondary, then it’s harder for the left-on-left — the visual. Guys that have a changeup as an out pitch, typically the left-handers can handle them more. There are other components to it as well.”

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Don Mattingly and returning to the scene of the climb

LOS ANGELES DODGERS V MIAMI MARLINS

By Jon Weisman

It’s not that you can’t go home again — it’s just so strange to do it.

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Dodgers’ outrageous Opening Day offensive onslaught

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Linescore
Box score

By Jon Weisman

A historic day for the Dodgers began with something between a hunch and an observation by new manager Dave Roberts.

Chase Utley isn’t the Dodgers’ permanent leadoff hitter. He was simply the kind of hitter, based on his long history in the game, whom Roberts thought might do well batting first against Tyson Ross on Opening Day.

Coming up to start the 2016 season, Utley fell behind 1-2, worked the count to 3-2, and then stroked a simple, solid, sinking drive to left-center at which Jon Jay dove fruitlessly, good for a double.

No. 2 hitter Corey Seager, with almost none of Utley’s past but potentially all of his future and more, then boomed a double off the left-field wall on the fly, and it was on.

How on, we had no idea.

Their 15-0 victory (recapped by MLB.com) was the largest Opening Day shutout by any team in Major League history, according to Elias, breaking a 105-year-old record set by the Pirates at Cincinnati on April 12, 1911, 14-0.

“That first inning really set the tone for us,” Roberts said after the game. “After that, guys kept having good at-bats.”

The dominant performance created this cavalcade of conquest …

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In case you missed it: Lighting up the scoreboard

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By Jon Weisman

Today, when Dave Roberts had to make his first mid-inning visit to the mound as Dodger manager, to relieve starter Scott Kazmir with two out in the second inning against the Angels, maybe it seemed like a big deal.

It wasn’t.

Kazmir’s five runs allowed were matched by Jeff Weaver of the Angels, only the start of what became a 13-13 tie in Tempe — recapped at MLB.com.

“I honestly think I’m on the right path,” Kazmir said. “If you look at the game and not the box score, it tells a different story.”

But really, this was a day for the offense.

Joc Pederson, Austin Barnes (who had three hits) and Scott Van Slyke homered for the 4-1-2 Dodgers, who have increased their Spring Training OPS to a rather ridiculous .916.

The player who made the biggest impression today was 20-year-old first baseman Cody Bellinger, the theoretical heir to Adrian Gonzalez — if he can wait that long. Bellinger, who is also capable of playing outfield, went 3 for 3 and is impressing Roberts.

“The game doesn’t speed up on him,” Roberts told Ken Gurnick in this feature for MLB.com. “He looks comfortable out there. The more you see, the more you like.”

What else?

  • Encouraging news on the injury front from Gurnick: Howie Kendrick and Alex Guerrero participated in fielding and hitting drills, Hyun-Jin Ryu threw for the third consecutive day, Justin Turner again played in a minor-league game and Julio Urias had a light bullpen session ahead of his anticipated Cactus League debut Friday.
  • Brett Anderson spoke at length to Gurnick about beginning his latest rehab from surgery to repair a bulging disc.
  • Bill Plunkett of the Register looks at the different ways Roberts tries to connect with his players.
  • Kenta Maeda, who pitches Thursday for the Dodgers, talked to Doug Padilla of ESPN.com about what it would mean if he were able to face off against the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka when the Dodgers go to the Bronx in September.
  • Skip Schumaker, who had twin .332 on-base and slugging percentages for the Dodgers in 2014, has retired at age 36, ending an 11-year MLB career.

Dodgers Love L.A.: A special day connecting the dots between Jackie Robinson and Dave Roberts

Jorge Jarrin, Dave Roberts and Mark Langill address students at Muir High School.

Jorge Jarrin, Dave Roberts and Mark Langill address students at Muir High School.

By Jon Weisman

It’s no exaggeration to say that Jackie Robinson is the pride of Muir High School, just as he is the pride of the Dodgers and, for that matter, the United States.

A tribute to Jackie Robinson in the Muir High School museum.

A tribute to Jackie Robinson in the Muir High School museum (click to enlarge)

So it was a special day for everyone today when this week’s Dodgers Love L.A. community tour (presented by Bank of America) made a stop at Muir, with a screening of portions of Ken Burns’ upcoming “Jackie Robinson” documentary, followed by a Q&A featuring manager Dave Roberts and team historian Mark Langill, moderated by broadcaster Jorge Jarrin.

Many of the four score students in attendance today will graduate from Muir exactly 80 years after Robinson did. But not to worry — his story still resonates.

“I loved the documentary,” said Bryan Barrios, senior captain of the Muir baseball team. “It was very inspiring (and) emotional. I walk around this campus just thinking about Jackie Robinson all the time. Sometimes I can’t believe he came here.”

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