Dodger Thoughts

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

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In case you missed it: Spring Training’s eternal mysteries

By Jon Weisman

All that’s great and ugly about Spring Training, chapter whatever …

Zach Lee, looking stirrup-sharp, enters today’s Dodger game against the Diamondbacks in the top of the third inning and retires the first seven batters he faces. Five of the next six reach base, and what looks like a showcase outing turns into apparent mediocrity. But boy, he sure looked good before the roof (or, given the stakes, the pup tent) caved in.

This wasn’t the only classic Spring Training story of the day, which saw the Dodgers lose to Arizona, 9-2.  (Ken Gurnick of MLB.com has the game recap.) We also saw and heard tale of multiple players trying to overcome injury.

Zack Greinke made it through two innings of his start today and threw 14 more pitches in the bullpen afterward, but acknowledged that he still has a corner or two left to turn in his recovery from a calf injury, according to Gurnick. A small excerpt:

“I’d thought I’d be fine that day (of the injury), like 100 percent in a day or two,” he said. “It just hasn’t gotten better, it’s a 10 percent pace from what I was expecting. You know it’s there. If I did more than I’m ready to do, I’d be right back where I started. But it’s getting better every day and that’s the key.”

Speaking of revelations: Josh Beckett revealed that he caught his right thumb in a clubhouse door 10 days ago and that it is sprained. Beckett, who threw mostly fastballs while giving up three home runs in his most recent Spring Training outing Sunday, might skip his next start. From Gurnick:

Beckett has had previous problems with the inside ligament of the thumb.

“I come back from thoracic outlet surgery and this happens,” he said in frustration.

Then there’s Matt Kemp. Weird, but in a good way? That seems to be how to interpret Kemp’s evaluation of his first action of any kind in center field this year, in today’s minor-league intrasquad game. Dylan Hernandez of the Times relays the quotes:

“I feel a little weird still being out there, but I’m having a lot of fun,” he said. “I’m excited to be back on the field, just playing. That’s the process. We’re taking our time.”

Kemp was in center field for two innings.

“I’m still trying to get my legs under me,” he said. “I just wanted to feel good. The legs feel a little heavy and tired at times, but that comes with getting back into shape. You can lift as many weights as you want, but nothing prepares for the game speed out there on the baseball field.

All part of another Spring Training day. Only four of them left before the big club leaves Arizona for Australia.

* * *

  • The Dodgers’ schedule of minor-league Spring Training games was conveniently posted by Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.
  • I know I have no reason to be proud of this tweet — none — but I am.

March 12 pregame: Zack is back

Los Angeles Dodgers vs Kansas City Royals
By Jon Weisman

Zack Greinke makes his first exhibition game appearance since his four-pitch outing about two weeks ago. (Has it only been two weeks?)

Greinke is expected to pitch two innings.

Almost simultaneous to today’s game, Matt Kemp was playing in a minor-league intrasquad game at Camelback, including his first action in center field of the year.

Diamondbacks vs. Dodgers, 1:05 p.m.
Yasiel Puig, RF
Carl Crawford, LF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Andre Ethier, CF
Chone Figgins, 3B
AJ Ellis, C
Dee Gordon, 2B
Zack Greinke, P
  • Scheduled to follow Greinke today on the mound are Zach Lee, J.P. Howell, Kenley Jansen, Chris Perez and Chris Withrow.
  • Adrian Gonzalez told Dylan Hernandez of the Times that he’s looking to take more walks in 2014.

    “I’ve done a decent job of it so far this spring,” he said. “I’ve walked three or four times and a lot of at-bats have gone deep into counts. There have been at-bats where I got frustrated because I walk and I’ll say, ‘I want to hit now,’ but then I’m like, ‘Stay with it.’ “

  • Chris St. John of Beyond the Box Score compiled a consensus ranking of the Dodgers’ top 65 prospects.

Is positional panic overblown?

Los Angeles Dodgers workout

By Jon Weisman

Many worry about potential uncertainty at second base for the Dodgers, and even team officials acknowledge that it’s a position that could be in flux in 2014.

It’s worth remembering, however, that one position won’t make or break the team.

Here’s a look at the offensive production the Dodgers received at every position (excluding pitcher) relative to the National League over the past 10 years, using the Baseball-Reference.com statistic sOPS+.

  • An sOPS+ of 100 indicates average production at the position.
  • Above 100 indicates above-average offense.
  • Below 100 indicates below average.

(Click each chart to enlarge.)

Positions chart - sOPS+

As you can see, even in playoff years, the Dodgers have had multiple positions with below-average production compared with the rest of the NL. In 2009, their best regular season in the past 10, the Dodgers had particularly disappointing offense from first base, where James Loney (.761 OPS) didn’t stack up against most of his peers.

In 2013, the Dodgers had a below-average sOPS+ at half their positions, and in 2004, they were underwater everywhere but second base (I bet you’ve forgotten how awesome Jose Hernandez was), third base and center field.

The numbers in the next chart indicate the Dodgers’ NL rank at a given position in a given year.

Positions chart - rank

In the Dodgers’ five playoff appearances over the past 10 seasons, their average rank in offense at a given position has been no worse than ninth in the NL. It helps to have across-the-board strength. Nevertheless, note that the Dodgers’ positional performance in 2008, when they won a weak NL West, was barely distinguishable from 2005, when they lost 91 games in an even weaker NL West.

It goes without saying that pitching and defense play enough of a role in a team’s fortunes that the offense at one position shouldn’t be a game changer, any more than greatness at one position will turn a losing team into a champion. (Hello, 2005 Jeff Kent.)

Obviously, the Dodgers want to be the best they can be at second base, whether it’s Dee Gordon, Alex Guerrero, Chone Figgins, Justin Turner or anybody else.  For that matter, there are other positions on the Dodgers that might not be offensive powerhouses. But you always need to keep the big picture in mind.

In any case, this is all on virtual paper anyway. Here’s one last chart — the primary starters for the Dodgers over the past 10 years, with the number of games each played at the position. More than a few times, you’d be hard-pressed to call anyone a regular. (Of course, we knew this already.)

Positions chart - players

In case you missed it: Guerrero’s near-home run

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By Jon Weisman

For the second time in just a few days, a Dodger hit a long fly ball that sure looked like a home run but wasn’t.

Saturday, it was Joc Pederson. Today’s would-be homerer was Alex Guerrero, who to his credit ran his way to a triple on this ball that he absolutely crushed.

The hit for Guerrero started the Dodgers’ three-run ninth-inning rally, capped by Noel Cuevas’ game-winning home run, that led to a 7-5 victory over Kansas City. (Dick Kaegel of MLB.com has the game recap.)

  • We’re sad to relay from Ken Gurnick of MLB.com that Don Mattingly will miss the next two Dodger games because of a death in the family. Tim Wallach will manage in his absence.
  • Dan Haren talked to J.P. Hoonstra of the Daily News about his outing, in which he allowed a run, seven hits and a walk in four innings.
  • It’s been speculated that Haren will go to Australia as the Dodgers’ exhibition and/or alternate starter, but Cash Kruth of MLB.com notes that might not happen.
  • Playing shortstop, Chone Figgins made an error, his first of the spring, but went 2 for 4. He is only hitting .185, but he leads all of the Major Leagues in walks this exhibition season with eight. His on-base percentage is .371.
  • Dee Gordon, who leads the Majors with eight steals (in eight attempts), has an OBP of .267. Gordon has a groundouts-airouts ratio of 2.2 to 1.
  • Today in Jon SooHoo.

Los Angeles Dodgers vs Kansas City Royals

Noel Cuevas, this is your moment

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Noel1By Jon Weisman

I mean, come on. A three-run, go-ahead homer in the ninth in your first at-bat with the Dodgers is going to feel good, I don’t care what the stakes are.

What a big smile.

Noel Cuevas, a 22-year-old outfielder who played at Rancho Cucamonga last year, slugged the big blast to bring the Dodgers back from a 5-4 deficit in the ninth inning today against Kansas City.

Cuevas had 25 doubles, 10 triples and 12 homers for the Quakes in 2013, to go with 38 steals in 53 attempts. He walked 37 times and struck out 107 in 536 plate appearances.

The Dodgers selected the Puerto Rico native in the 21st round of the 2010 draft — and in doing so, laid the groundwork for this classic Spring Training moment.

Here he is making a diving catch last summer, just to show he’s not a one-trick pony.

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March 11 pregame: A Sandy Koufax-Roger Maris trade?

Oakland Athletics vs Los Angeles Dodgers

Dodgers vs. Royals, 1:05 p.m.
Chone Figgins, SS
Carl Crawford, LF
Yasiel Puig, RF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Scott Van Slyke, CF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Justin Turner, 2B
A.J. Ellis, C
Dan Haren, P

By Jon Weisman

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Sydney …

  • The Dodger press notes helpfully point out that the team record for Spring Training ties is five, achieved in 2006.
  • Scheduled to follow Dan Haren on the mound today are Jose Dominguez, Javy Guerra, Paco Rodriguez, Chris Withrow and Jamey Wright.
  • Red Patterson was reassigned to minor-league camp today.
  • Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier will rest today, then be scheduled to play the next five days in a row before the team leaves for Australia, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Times.
  • Maury Wills, 27 when he became a Dodger regular, talked to Kevin Baxter of the Times about 25-year-old Dee Gordon.
  • Mark Saxon has a couple of pieces at ESPN Los Angeles looking ahead to Australia, including this interview with Australian former Dodger infielder Craig Shipley.
  • Sandy Koufax gets the Union Oil 1961 Family Booklet treatment (via Blue Heaven), with this tidbit: “Allegations persist that the Dodgers twice declined to swap Koufax to Kansas City for Roger Maris.” Maris was the American League MVP in 1960, remember, while Koufax was 8-13 with a 3.91 ERA.

Koufax-Maris

You’d think it was Father’s Day

ties

By Jon Weisman

Why yes, I have noticed that a certain Even Steven approach to the Dodger exhibition season. Cyndi Lauper is putting out her new single, “Tie After Tie,” as we speak.

Today’s 8-8 deadlock with Oakland widened the Dodgers’ Cactus League record to 4-6-4 and gave them ties in nearly 30 percent of their contests. In their past 10 games, the Dodgers are 2-4-4. Their past six games have been as easy as 1-2-3.

Last year, Los Angeles played 15 extra-inning games out of 162 in the regular season.

The Dodgers allowed a game-tying five runs in the eighth inning today, but it could have been worse. Brian Wilson, still mixing the occasional knuckleball, had a visit to the mound from an assistant trainer in the eighth inning (no, I’m not making a connection there), but the team reported no trouble to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.

Wilson was charged with two runs, while Carlos Frias, who retired none of his four batters, was charged with three.

Los Angeles looked great at the outset, with Andre Ethier lovingly smashing a three-run home run in the first inning, Juan Uribe following with a solo shot, and Hyun-Jin Ryu scattering a run and four baserunners over five innings, striking out four.

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Miguel Olivo added a three-run double (not to mention a stolen base) in helping boost the Dodgers’ lead to 8-3. In addition, J.P. Howell and Dee Gordon each turned in fine defensive plays.

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[mlbvideo id=”31495283″ width=”400″ height=”224″ /]

Following the game today, the Dodgers optioned pitcher Matt Magill and reassigned Frias, J.C. Boscan, Brendan Harris and Clint Robinson to minor-league camp. Harris is the second of the pre-Spring Training infield candidates to miss the cut, following Justin Sellers, who was sent to Cleveland.

Magill has had a nice exhibition season, with six strikeouts against five baserunners in 5 2/3 innings.

And, a postscript: I know the story here is Zack Greinke and Matt Kemp progressing in their rehab, but what really tantalized me was the thought of seeing Kemp bat against Julio Urias. The 17-year-old gave up a sacrifice fly to Kemp in the intrasquad game, but also struck him out.

In short, call it Even Steven.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prvm5ZFPIrE&w=550&h=413]

March 10 pregame: Autograph much?

San Francisco Giants vs Los Angeles Dodgers

A’s vs. Dodgers, 1:05 p.m.
Dee Gordon, 2B
Carl Crawford, LF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, CF
Yasiel Puig, RF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Scott Van Slyke, 1B
Tim Federowicz, C
Hyun-Jin Ryu, P

By Jon Weisman

Welcome to the final week of Cactus League play for the Dodgers.

  • Scheduled to follow Hyun-Jun Ryu on the mound today are Kenley Jansen, Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, J.P. Howell and Brandon League.
  • An interesting, color-coded chart on Dodger fielding (using Inside Edge data from Fangraphs) is provided by Cody Stump at Feelin’ Kinda Blue.
  • Here’s Frank Howard, 1961 Union Oil booklet style, at Blue Heaven. Again, these are great primary source documents on figures from our Dodger past.
  • Dancing Tommy Lasorda.
  • Sunday in Jon SooHoo.
  • SONY DSCHere is newly elected Japanese Hall of Fame pitcher Hideo Nomo visiting Vero Beach’s Historic Dodgertown, where he is now a partner with Peter O’Malley, Terry O’Malley Seidler and Chan Ho Park.

    “I wish for this to be a place where people can come back to see both what it was and also what it is now,” Nomo said. “To preserve the history of a place that was home to Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax is special, and I hope kids can feel the nostalgia while also creating new memories for themselves.”

March 9 pregame: Kershaw and Opening Day, together again

Hanley locker

Giants vs. Dodgers, 1:05 p.m.
Chone Figgins, CF
A.J. Ellis, C
Yasiel Puig, RF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Justin Turner, 3B
Mike Baxter, LF
Alex Guerrero, 2B
Miguel Rojas, SS
Clayton Kershaw, P

By Jon Weisman

It’s official: Clayton Kershaw has been named the Dodgers’ Opening Day starter in Australia on March 22, where he will be followed in the second game by Hyun-Jin Ryu.

“Kershaw will be the first Dodgers pitcher to make four consecutive Opening Day starts since Ramon Martinez from 1995-98,” writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. “Don Sutton has the Los Angeles record with seven (1972-78).”

Kershaw and Ryu are scheduled to face Patrick Corbin and Trevor Cahill.

In addition, though Matt Kemp isn’t expected to make the trip to Australia, Mattingly has said that the outfielder is close to making it into Spring Training action.

“We’re seeing him take fly balls, getting jumps,” said Mattingly (via Gurnick). “He’s swinging the bat good. It won’t be long before he’s in a game.”

A few other notes:

  • Kershaw today will be the first Dodger starter to bat for himself in a game this year.
  • Prized infield prospect Corey Seager is suiting with the big club for a Cactus League game for the first time today.
  • Among those scheduled to follow Kershaw on the mound today are Javy Guerra and Red Patterson, each of whom working on shutout streaks of at least four innings in Spring Training.
  • At this morning’s L.A. Marathon, which began at Dodger Stadium, J.P. Howell’s wife Heather ran to raise support and awareness to counter human trafficking. From the Dodger press notes: “Howell is affiliated with ‘Run for Hope’ at the marathon and is running for two shelters located in Southern California: one is a 72-hour rescue center, and the other a long-term rehabilitation and restoration program that provides for intense counseling, medical, and legal needs of victims, as well as GED and job search.”

The ‘What if’ gang

Los Angeles Dodgers at Texas Rangers

By Jon Weisman

The last time I had this level of anticipation in March for a Dodger season was in Manny Ramirez’s brief but shining heyday with the team, and perhaps not even then.

There are the fears, as I briefly alluded to Friday with Hanley Ramirez, that potential could go poof in a moment’s broken bone or ligament tear. But it’s not every year that the sky’s the limit with a team. And with this team, it kind of is.

The possibility of a great pitching performance every night. A lineup that, while not quite Murderer’s Row, has strength after strength.

With question marks even so.

And so when I follow these Spring Training games, games that in and of themselves don’t mean anything, I see them through the prism of what might happen in the regular season. It doesn’t matter that the Dodgers blew a lead in one game Saturday or missed rallying in another. It just makes me play “What if?” over and over again.

Take Joc Pederson, who bridged both split-squad games today. The prospect struck out in all three at-bats in the lidlifter, then absolutely torched two balls in the nightcap: a drive over the fence in center field, 410 feet away, that looked like a home run to my eyes but was called a double, then another shot that was a no-doubt tater. In case we needed the reminder, when Pederson’s number is called sometime this year, whatever the month, it could be heartbreak or heroics.

Los Angeles Dodgers at Texas RangersJustin Turner went 2 for 2 with a walk … and an error. Paul Maholm was effective; Josh Beckett, not so much. Seth Rosin had another three innings without allowing an earned run, and still we don’t know how exactly there will be a roster spot for him.

Dee Gordon has taken us down this road for a few years now. As much as he might struggle to get on base, the electricity he generates when he does is too much to ignore. Perhaps the truly compelling aspect to Gordon in 2014 is that rather than be demoralized by having his native shortstop position closed off to him, he seems galvanized. Second base seems to suit him, marking a potential new beginning rather than an end.

Certainly, uncertainty remains. Gordon has had better springs than this as precursors to disappointing regular seasons. In the 2012 Cactus League, he had a .446 on-base percentage and .485 slugging, and throughout his exhibition career with the Dodgers, he has stolen 26 bases in 30 attempts. Reality has its way of insinuating itself in unpleasant ways.

But isn’t this why we come back to baseball each year? To say, “What if this year is different? What if this year is the one?”  Isn’t this why Dodger fans keep burning the candle, 26 years removed from 1988?

Remember this: Every team has weaknesses and anxieties. The best you can have at this time of year is fewer of them than the next team. After that, it’s just seeing where the ride takes you.

The Dodgers fell to 4-5-3 in Spring Training (so close to the improbable 4-4-4). And still, this team fills me with anticipation. What if? What if?

March 8 pregame: Split-squad day

Texas Rangers vs Los Angeles Dodgers

Dodgers vs. Rangers, 12:05 p.m.
Chone Figgins, 2B
Joc Pederson, LF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Andre Ethier, CF
A.J. Ellis, C
Miguel Olivo, DH
Justin Turner, SS
Mike Baxter, LF
Brendan Harris, 3B
(Paul Maholm, P)

By Jon Weisman

Paul Maholm starts the first of two Dodger games today, with the other partition of the team taking on Seattle at Camelback this evening.

According to the Dodger press notes, six players are pulling double-duty today and are scheduled to appear in both games: Mike Baxter, Joc Pederson (starting both games), Alex Guerrero, Miguel Rojas, Clint Robinson and Brendan Harris.

Today additionally brings what I think you might call a highly anticipated appearance from Seth Rosin, who has pitched five innings this spring with no walks and eight strikeouts. Also suiting up is Steve Edlefsen, one of two players the Dodgers signed from their open tryout.

Last pregame press note: “This morning, Zack Greinke threw approximately 35 pitches in a simulated game to Dodger outfielder Matt Kemp, who is also progressing in his rehab. Kemp took some limited-range flyballs today in the outfield to supplement his running program.”

In case you missed it: Hanley and a hand for Lee

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Texas Rangers vs Los Angeles DodgersBy Jon Weisman

It wasn’t as loud as Hanley Ramirez’s mammoth home run to dead center, accounting for the Dodgers’ only runs in a 2-1 victory over Texas today, but Zach Lee made a nice first impression in his Spring Training starting debut.

Lee allowed two hits in two shutout innings, walking none while striking out one. Bookending Lee was 2013 second-round draft pick Tom Windle, who closed out the final two shutout innings by also allowing two baserunners while striking out one.

Infield candidates Chone Figgins and Brendan Harris had the only other Dodger hits. Dee Gordon had one of five Dodger walks, stole his fifth base in five attempts this spring and made a fine defensive play diving to his right back of second base.

Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com has more on Lee:

Despite the sore lat, Lee said he’s enjoying his first big league camp. He has been spending as much time as he can with Zack Greinke and Josh Beckett.

“I think I’m somewhat like [Greinke], although I don’t think I take it to the extent that he does,” Lee said. “Growing up, and the way I looked at pitching, I was always a cerebral and analytical person. I really thought more about game-planning and what [Greg] Maddux did back in the day, where he was able to pinpoint with location rather than overpower you.”

* * *

Texas Rangers vs Los Angeles Dodgers

Several more fond remembrances of Dr. Frank Jobe emerged today, many of them captured by Sanchez. You also won’t read anything more powerful than what Dodger director of team travel Scott Akasaki or vice president of medical services Stan Conte shared with Kevin Baxter of the Times.

Cliff Corcoran of SI.com shared the five top Tommy John surgery success stories.

* * *

Finally, don’t miss today in Jon SooHoo.

March 7 pregame: Please, Hammer, don’t hurt ’em

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Los Angeles Dodgers at Los Angeles Angels of AnaheimBy Jon Weisman

There was a pitch in Thursday’s 4-4 Dodger tie with the Angels that was heading scarily toward the same spot on Hanley Ramirez’s body that turned the 2013 National League Championship Series on its rib.

The good news is that the pitch hit Ramirez’s triceps and that, as predicted by Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, he is playing today.

The bad news is that ballplayers and dreams are still too fragile.

In other news …

Read More

Farewell, Dr. Frank Jobe

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frank.jobeBy Jon Weisman

It doesn’t seem possible to appreciate Dr. Frank Jobe’s importance to baseball. You’d be better off trying to take a closeup of Kilimanjaro.

Think of how many innings, how many careers — how much joy — that Jobe’s innovation brought to the world of this sport.

Somehow, Jobe isn’t in the Hall of Fame, although in essence, he reached exponentially beyond the 300-win and 3,000-strikeout plateaus that typically serve as qualifiers.

Jobe died this morning at the age of 88. You can find an obituary from Ken Gurnick at MLB.com. Here’s what I wrote about Jobe and John in 100 Things Dodger Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die:

Read More

Introducing Dodger Insider magazine

March 2014 cover

By Jon Weisman

I’m pleased to introduce Dodger Insider magazine, the in-depth companion to the Dodger Insider blog.

The first of eight monthly editions in 2014 is on sale now. You can purchase a digital download of a single issue, or subscribe either to the digital (with embedded video links) or print editions.

The print subscription comes with a free 2014 Dodger yearbook which — trust me — you are going to want.

Print editions are also on sale at Camelback Ranch and Dodger Stadium.

As a teaser, we’re presenting “Team on a Mission,” this month’s cover story, online for free. So check that out, but understand that there’s much, much more content in the magazine itself — including great features, news stories, historical pieces, photos and games. The March preseason issue is 72 pages, with next month’s April issue coming in at well over 100.

Get your copy of Dodger Insider today!

Update: Print subscriptions will be available for online order next week, but to order a print subscription by phone today, call (877) BLUE-062.

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