Mar 15

The Ramon Ortiz tease

Fifteen Dodger pitchers have Spring Training ERAs of 0.00, so it’s not exactly a rare feat at this stage of 2010. But it’s fair to tip one’s hat to Ramon Ortiz, who has extended his scoreless string to nine innings (with seven baserunners and 11 strikeouts) after throwing four shutout frames today in the Dodgers’ 4-0 victory over the Angels.

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Ramon Ortiz allowed two baserunners in four innings today, while striking out five.

It doesn’t mean that Ortiz will end 2010 a better pitcher than Scott Elbert, who had some soreness about as soon as Spring Training began and was optioned to the minors today with a 20.25 ERA. But it does mean that Ortiz has made himself a very real part of the No. 5 starter conversation, along with fellow 0.00ers Eric Stults, Russ Ortiz and Carlos Monasterios.

I emphasize the word “conversation” because we are still three weeks away from Opening Day, which means we’re still at the talking stage as opposed to the decision stage. The Ortizii also operate at a disadvantage to Stults, Monasterios and Charlie Haeger, all of whom the Dodgers would lose if they’re not on the April 5 roster. As I wrote last month, neither Ortiz (combined age: 73) has had a major-league ERA below 5.00 since 2004. So this isn’t just a question of turning over a new leaf – did they upend the entire tree?

Predictably, there’s all kinds of talk of Ramon Ortiz succeeding by adjusting to his limitations, as seen here in Tom Singer’s MLB.com article this afternoon. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports that Ortiz benefited by learning  to throw a curveball in Japan in 2008.  I’m not ruling it all out – nor am I ruling out the possibility that Ortiz will leapfrog the others and earn a spot on the staff in April. I just happen to still have major doubts that we’ll be waxing positive about Ortiz in September.

* * *

When Spring Training began, there were at least two spots on the pitching staff open for competition. But now there could be as many as five – if Ronald Belisario begins the year on the restricted list, if Hong-Chih Kuo begins the year on the disabled list and if the team goes with a 12-man staff. (At this point, my bets would be: yes, no, yes.)

There are at least 10 remaining candidates: Ortiz, Ortiz, Stults, Haeger, Monasterios, Jon Link, James McDonald, Josh Towers, Justin Miller and Jeff Weaver. Too soon to say what will happen, but the most intriguing decision might be whether McDonald will be in the Dodger bullpen or the Isotopes starting rotation, alongside Elbert.

* * *

  • Trayvon Robinson Saturday, Brian Cavazos-Galvez Sunday and Angelo Songco today – all hitting no-doubter home runs.  I can’t remember a Spring Training when the Dodgers got homers in three consecutive games from players 22-and-under – two of them not even out of A ball yet. Fun.
  • Argenis Reyes, Brent Leach, Travis Schlichting and Ivan De Jesus, Jr. were sent to the minors this afternoon.
  • Doug Mientkiewicz has a .421 on-base percentage in Spring Training after going 2 for 3 today; Garret Anderson is at .400 (2 for 5 in two games).
  • There will be a memorial service for Willie Davis on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium, according to The Associated Press.
  • Now that “Sugar” is making the rounds on cable and DVD – Josh Wilker wrote about it today at Cardboard Gods – it’s time for any of you who ignored my recommendation to see it to go see it already!
  • Update: What do Jamie McCourt and Leslie Knope have in common? The ambition to be President of the United States, according to Bill Shaikin of the Times.
Mar 15

Scott Elbert, Eric Gagne sent down

Scott Elbert and Eric Gagne are among the players the Dodgers have sent to minor-league camp, the team announced this morning.

Others, in case you hadn’t heard, are Kenley Jansen, John Lindsey, Michael Restovich and Scott Dohmann.

In addition, the Dodger career of Rule 5 draftee Armando Zerpa is over – he has been sent back to Boston.

Though nothing’s been decided yet, Joe Torre told reporters this morning that Ronald Belisario was “a longshot” to be on the Dodgers Opening Day roster.

Mar 14

Age is just a number … that tells you how old you are

It wasn’t just Garret Anderson making his 2010 debut today.

This morning, I played my first game of softball in more than a year, and had a great time despite the realization that my Strat-o-Matic card has gone from a CF 1e2 (+2) to a CF 3e6 (+3). And don’t even ask about my baserunning rating.

I could really feel the passage of time, both in the physical limitations and the instinctive ones. Things normally intuitive – the way I’d close in on a ball, for example – I had to think about. And considering that almost all my exercise is fingers on a keyboard, it was inevitable that I would tweak something. Sure enough, the first time I raced for a ball to my left, I got a twinge in my right rear bumper, so I was towing that leg the rest of the game.

With more frequent play, I’d get a second wind, but infrequency is my sandlot in life.

Nevertheless, I went 2-for-6 with three hard-hit outs and made a few solid plays. And it was a great day to be out on the grass again.

* * *

And now back to your regularly scheduled programming …

  • In the past 10 innings of Dodger baseball, I’ve had the unexpected TV pleasure of seeing prospects Trayvon Robinson and Brian Cavazos-Galvez hit towering homers. Oh, and Matt Kemp too.
  • Perhaps the top rising pitching prospect in the Dodger minor-league system, Chris Withrow, played his first Spring Training game with the big club today and struck out all three batters he faced. Details from Eric Stephen at True Blue L.A.
  • An error in the field and a pickoff on the bases today might have slowed the Blake DeWitt Starting Lineup Express just a tad, but even if it arrives, Dodger manager Joe Torre indicated he’s still inclined to give both Ronnie Belliard and Jamey Carroll some starts, according to this Ken Gurinck story at MLB.com. “Again, if it happens to be DeWitt, we’ll certainly make sure that Carroll and Belliard have to be part of the equation somewhat,” Torre said.
  • Dodger assistant general manager and director of player development De Jon Watson talked about Ivan DeJesus, Jr. and Dee Gordon with David Laurila of Baseball Prospectus.
  • To his credit, Dodger postgame radio host Ken Levine talked openly about a TV broadcast gone awry last week.
  • Don’t forget to join the Dodger Thoughts March Madness pool. Password is “Kershaw.”
Mar 14

Dodgers flying high (and flying home) after 11-1 victory in Taiwan

With a latenight freelance assignment to work on and a link to an online feed from Taiwan, I was primed to watch my first full Dodger game of the year. And would that they could all be this much fun in 2010 …

With Manny Ramirez, James Loney and prodigal son Chin-Lung Hu each getting three hits, the Dodger Globetrotters routed the Chinese Professional Baseball League All-Stars, 11-1.

The 22-year-old Trayvon Robinson scored three runs, the third on a towering ninth-inning homer to dead center field. Xavier Paul and Michael Restovich had two hits, and Lucas May and Angel Berroa each had booming doubles.

Jamey Carroll went 0 for 5, but more relevantly played error-free ball at shortstop and was the middleman on a 3-6-3 double play with Loney.

Josh Towers allowed one run over three innings, and was followed by Josh Lindblom, whose three shutout innings were highlighted by the best Spring Training curveball for strike three I’ve seen since Clayton Kershaw’s Public Enemy No. 1.

We also got a glimpse of converted catcher Kenley Jansen on the mound; Jansen struck out one in a perfect eighth inning. Jon Link gave up two hits but closed out the game in the ninth, striking out two.

Happy trails, Taiwan …

Update (from The Associated Press): “Four players were sent down after the game in the Dodgers’ first cuts of the spring. Non-roster players Brian Barton, Francisco Felix and Gabriel Gutierrez were reassigned to minor league camp. Pitcher Kenley Jansen was optioned from the major league roster.”

Mar 13

The happiest team on Earth


Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Meadowlark Lemon

So in the comments this afternoon, I started thinking about what it would be like if the Dodgers made this roadshow they’re currently on in Taiwan a permanent thing. I don’t mean an overseas trip every year. I mean turning the Dodgers into a modern-day baseball version of the Harlem Globetrotters – the L.A. Dodgers Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings –  crossing the globe on a 200-game roadtrip.

Oh sure, the team would never win a World Series again – but on the other hand, they’d really be playing a World Series. Tommy Lasorda managing, Don Rickles as his bench coach, Manny Ramirez signed to a 10-year entertainment services contract that lasts until he’s 48, Rickey Henderson brought in as designated runner and team emcee, Clayton Kershaw mixing fastballs with snowballs, Matt Kemp as the next Meadowlark Lemon, James Loney as Curly Neal, Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax each taking an inning via hologram, and just when you think they might lose, Andre Ethier ending every night with a walkoff homerun that he hits blindfolded.

A squad of baseball clown evangelists – traveling around the world, raising money and goodwill where it’s needed, pocketing it where it’s not, each game better than the last. All the team’s cares whisked away in a confetti-filled barrel of fun, a pregame “Sweet Georgia Brown” and a 200-0 record.

Yeah, I know: What about real competition? To that I say, don’t take me so seriously. Just think about the good times …

Mar 13

Bullet train bullet points

Between the last game and the next, here are some notes …

  • Josh Rawitch is writing about snakes on a bullet train at Inside the Dodgers.
  • It’s looking mighty sketchy for Eric Gagne. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has an update.
  • While allowing five baserunners in three scoreless innings, Chad Billingsley got some work in on his developing changeup, notes Dylan Hernandez of the Times.
  • The Dodgers’ goodwill  mission couldn’t be better timed considering the current baseball crisis in Taiwan, writes Steve Henson of Yahoo! Sports.
  • See Dodger ticket prices go from the sublime to the ridiculous, courtesy of Sons of Steve Garvey.
  • Not a good sign for his long-term future in San Diego: The Padres are leaving mega-first baseman Adrian Gonzalez out of their 2010 promotional campaigns, notes Scott Miller of CBSSports.com (via MLB Trade Rumors).
  • Brian Akin shows us at Dear (Tommy) John Letters how a 21st-century baseball prank goes.
Mar 13

For comparison: The New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks No. 5 starter competition

Even the richest team in baseball, the defending World Series champion New York Yankees, has doubts concerning its No. 5 starter.

It’s not for a lack of possibilities. The Yankees’ No. 5 starter competition nominally offers Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Sergio Mitre, Alfredo Aceves and Chad Gaudin, though the main contenders are probably Hughes and Chamberlain. Not one of the them offers a reliable starter’s resume.

Hughes posted a 3.03 ERA last season – but like the Dodgers’ James McDonald, he did much better as a reliever. Hughes only started seven games in 2009 and had a 5.45 ERA before going to the bullpen for good at the end of May.

Chamberlain, the 24-year-old who began his career with such domination as a reliever, started 31 games in 2009 but with a 4.75 ERA. Mitre, 29, had a 6.79 ERA in 51 2/3 innings in 2009. Gaudin, 27 this month, had a 4.76 ERA in 25 starts a year ago, averaging 5 1/3 innings per start. Aceves, 27, has a 3.24 ERA in 114 career innings, but relieved in 42 of 43 appearances in ’09.

Ben Shpigel of the New York Times writes that Yankees manager Joe Girardi hasn’t focusing on Spring Training results yet but will do so soon.

At Pinstriped Bible on Friday, Steven Goldman hosted a roundtable on the subject with Cliff Corcoran of Bronx Banter and Jay Jaffe of Baseball Prospectus and the Futility Infielder, offering thoughtful analysis before remembering that no April decision on the No. 5 starter will be etched in stone. (Earlier this month, Corcoran previewed the competition here.)

Does it matter? Eric Karabell of ESPN.com writes that the Yankees’ No. 5 starters in 2009 – Chien-Ming Wang, Hughes, Mitre, Gaudin and Aceves – had a 6.92 ERA in 35 starts (147 innings, 4 1/3 innings per start). Obviously, it helps if the rest of your team is strong enough to overcome this weakness.

And just to show that nothing’s even guaranteed at the top of the Yankee rotation, Scott Randall of ESPN.com’s TMI blog notes that the past five innings leaders of World Series champions — Curt Schilling, Mark Buehrle, Chris Carpenter, Josh Beckett and Cole Hamels, have struggled the following year.

Previously on Dodger Thoughts: “For comparison: The St. Louis Cardinals No. 5 starter competition”

* * *

Meanwhile, it’s not all peaches and cream with the Dodgers’ National League West rival Arizona.

Arizona has been counting on the return of Brandon Webb to health, but that appears to be delayed, writes Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. Kris Benson, the 35-year-old with an 8.46 ERA in 22 1/3 innings since 2006, worked out for the Diamondbacks, Piecoro notes, indicating the depth of their search for more depth.

AZ Snakepit predicts Billy Buckner (6.40 ERA last season) will be the No. 5 starter for Arizona, then goes on to discuss the Diamondbacks’ unattractive candidates for the rotation – behind Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy (6.03 career ERA) – should Webb not make it to Opening Day.

* * *

Things are even a bit testy with the ballyhooed San Francisco Giant rotation, though it might well be much ado about nothing. Amid ongoing concerns about his build and some reports of diminished speed in his fastball, some people are worried about Tim Lincecum — much to Lincecum’s annoyance, as Rob Neyer of ESPN.com notes.

Linceum had a 7.56 ERA after two starts in 2009, then a 2.28 ERA with 251 strikeouts in 217 innings the rest of the way. Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News is among those telling Lincecum’s fans not to jump off any bridges — though Baggarly adds that prospect Madison Baumgartner might not make the Opening Day roster for San Francisco.

Apparently, no one’s so desperate that they’re leaping after the guys on Ben Nicholson-Smith’s list at MLB Trade Rumors, led by Braden Looper, a 14-game winner, 39-homer allower in 2009 whose best offer might be a minor-league deal from the Dodgers, and Jarrod Washburn. John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez look like they’ll be part of this year’s partial season gang.

* * *

Jake Peavy is looking good so far – but that’s not for the Dodgers to worry about anymore.

* * *

In passing, Matt Eddy of Baseball America has an interesting article on player development and the use of minor-league options.

Mar 13

Rain on our parade: Taiwan game washed out, Kuo sidelined

Hong-Chih Kuo won’t pitch in the third game of the Dodgers’ Taiwan series as planned. Right now, the move is being described as precautionary, though it’s certainly worrisome. From Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:Hong-Chih Kuo said he “almost cried” when he told the Dodgers training staff that his elbow was sore again, and the news didn’t do manager Joe Torre any good, either.

Torre had to scratch Kuo from the start of his life Saturday night at 10 p.m. PT, a chance to pitch one inning in front of his mother against an All-Star team from his native Taiwan.

“It’s nothing major — he wants to pitch,” Torre said of Kuo, whose elbow, operated on four times already, has no margin for error. “But if something happened in front of his home crowd … We think it’s normal Spring Training stuff, but can’t take a chance.” …

It was less than a week ago that Torre had his most optimistic statement about Kuo since, perhaps, ever: “It’s nice to have him where you’re not giving him special care. That’s a real good sign for me. He’s maintained a level of health. There’s not a person in the clubhouse … not hoping everything goes well for him.” It did feel a little too good to be true, but hopefully this latest malady is preseason soreness and nothing more.

Despite a lengthy wait, the Dodgers and the All-Stars from Taiwan couldn’t get their second game in.

* * *

Doug Mientkiewicz tested his throwing arm successfully Friday by starting a 3-6-3 double play against the Reds, notes Dylan Hernandez of the Times.

* * *

Here’s a link to my interview Friday with KSPN AM 710.

Mar 12

Taiwan Game 2 chat – with Ronald Belisario update

There are reports of rain, but in case there’s a game and you’re not sleepy …

* * *

Dodger third-base coach Larry Bowa was released from the hospital today after a CAT scan examination brought on by abdominal pains. Tom Singer of MLB.com has details.

Tony Jackson’s ESPNLosAngeles.com notebook from the day at Camelback (Dodgers lost, 3-2) features Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Monasterios and Aroldis Chapman.

Update: Ronald Belisario has been found, by Ignacio Serrano of ESPNdeportes.com. In advance of his story, Serrano tweeted that Belisario hopes to have his visa by Monday, that he is in good shape and will only need two bullpen sessions to be game ready, and that he hasn’t missed any appointments with the American embassy in Caracas.

Update 2: Here’s the Serrano column. Link is to the original Spanish version; below is a Google translation. Continue reading

Mar 12

Dodger Stadium-Union Station shuttle service returns

Former Griddle blogger Bob Timmermann passes along the news that bus service between Union Station and Dodger Stadium has been restored, according to Zach Behrens of  LAist, thanks to a $300,000 grant from the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Timmermann, who just completed work on his presidential biography blog One Through Forty-Two or Forty-Three, gets a fine introduction for his new post as a contributor to L.A. Observed from the site’s main man, Kevin Roderick.

* * *

UCLA baseball is off to a 10-0 start, and Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com looks at the two pitchers who have played a big role:  Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer. To attend UCLA, Cole turned down the Yankees after being drafted in the 2008 first round out of Orange Lutheran High School.

* * *

Here’s Ramona Shelburne’s postgame report from Taiwan for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Mar 12

Rooster crows after Dodgers’ overseas defeat

Good morning, and welcome to the postgame show!

Yes, the Dodgers’ first game in Taiwan is already over, and it sounds like the Tianmu Baseball Stadium crowd had a good time. Native son Chin-Lung Hu had a two-run single for the Dodgers, but Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League All-Stars won, 5-2.

Sounds like it’s been a good trip all around, though:

  • Here’s a travelogue describing all the activities before the first game, from Josh Rawitch at Inside the Dodgers.
  • Ken Gurnick also has an article at MLB.com describing the Dodgers’ sightseeing.
  • Here’s a game story from Focus Taiwan. The Dodgers were out-hit, 12-3.
  • Sons of Steve Garvey collects some photos of the trip, as well as some Twitter updates from Rawitch, Gurnick and Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com describing game action. A 4:39 a.m. comment from Dodger Thoughts commenter Wen_JK also has more details.

    • Trayvon Robinson, Xavier Paul, Manny Ramirez (DH), James Loney, Ronnie Belliard, Russ Mitchell, Lucas May, Hu, Brian Barton and Eric Stults started for the Dodgers.
    • Manny Ramirez twice just missed homering to center and ended up 0 for 3.
    • Lucas May, who is now the organization’s third-string catcher, had to leave the game after getting hit by a pitch on the left ankle. Belliard also got plunked.
    • Stults threw three scoreless innings, striking out four.
    • Former Dodger Chin-Feng Chen, now a ripe old 32, had a single and a walk.
    • “Don’t Stop Believin'” was played in the top of the ninth inning.

The Dodgers’ mainland Spring Training game takes place against Aroldis Chapman and the Reds at 12:05 p.m., and then the second game of the Taiwan trip begins just after 10 p.m. Pacific time.

Update: Full game wrapup from Gurnick, plus box score. May told Gurnick he was fine.

Update 2: In the comments below, Wen_JK has posted some YouTube links to the game.

Mar 11

Why Don Mattingly and not Tim Wallach?

Steve Dilbeck questions the Dodgers’ fascination with coach Don Mattingly over Albuquerque manager Tim Wallach at Dodgers Blog, and I can’t say I don’t share it — only I might frame as “Why Don Mattingly and no one else?”

The answer is that Mattingly would theoretically carry forward the success that Joe Torre has had, but should we really feel so certain that Mattingly, for better or worse, is Torre II?

Writes Dilbeck:

… Mattingly has never managed. Wallach, who led Albuquerque to the playoffs last season and was named the Pacific Coast League manager of the year, will return to the helm of the Isotopes this season.

Does any of this sound familiar? Echoes of Mike Scioscia, perhaps?

When Tommy Lasorda finally stepped down, the Dodgers named coach Bill Russell to succeed him in 1997. Scioscia was a bench coach. When Russell was ousted in the middle of the ’98 season, Glenn Hoffman was named manager. When Hoffman was fired at the end of the season, Davey Johnson took over.

Scioscia, who in 1999 managed at Albuquerque, was passed over one time too many, resigned and then went onto become one of baseball’s finest managers for the Angels. …

… Wallach also said he sees no problem with Mattingly’s inexperience as a manager.

“He’s a baseball guy,” Wallach said. “He’s been Torre’s bench coach. I mean, I can’t even imagine how much he’s learned being with Joe all these years. If that’s how it works, I got … he’s a baseball guy. I think he’ll be fantastic.

“I’m getting experience to someday hopefully manage (in the majors). I would love it to be here, but if it’s not here, I appreciate the opportunity. I love the Dodgers. I always come back to the Dodgers. But they’re giving me an opportunity and I’m very happy with the opportunity.”

* * *

Heralded Cuban import Aroldis Chapman is scheduled to pitch for the Reds against the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch on Friday.

Update: Brian Giles has retired. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.