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.

Mar 11

Thank you for coming to Taiwan, Manny – here’s $170,000

Given that the Dodgers left it up to their players to decide whether they wanted to go to Taiwan, if this Focus Taiwan report that Manny Ramirez accepted a $170,000 appearance fee from the promoters of the exhibition series in Taiwan is true, I don’t really see a problem. But I expect others will, just because they find a problem lately with everything Ramirez does. (Link via Dodger Thoughts commenter BHSportsguy).

Honestly, whether you wanted to go to Taiwan because you wanted to see the country, or you wanted to play in a foreign ballpark, or you wanted to see some friends back in your homeland, or you’re big on spreading goodwill, or you like long charter flights, or because $170,000 is a nice piece of change, it probably doesn’t matter.  Jet-lag is jet-lag, any way you look at it.

Ramirez is 38 — which is old for a ballplayer but young for your typical intercontinental flyer, I imagine. He’ll survive.

Mar 11

Farewell, Merlin Olsen


NFL/Getty Images
Merlin Olsen splits a double team during a 15-12 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on October 22, 1972, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Goodness.

Three days after the passing of Willie Davis comes the news that Merlin Olsen has died. Two leading heroes of a generation.

The difference for me personally is that I saw Olsen play – in fact, he was one of the foundations of my sports fandom. Before I even saw the inside of Dodger Stadium, my family had season tickets to the Rams. When I was born as a sports fan, Merlin Olsen was a titan.

That he was so powerful on the football field, yet so personable off it (much like his Fearsome Foursome teammate, Rosey Grier), made him all the more special to a little kid.

But for fans of any age in Los Angeles, Olsen was a pillar of the sports scene – a redwood. Completely reliable and completely unsurpassed. You simply couldn’t do better. At the bottom of this webpage you’ll see his list of honors.  Now surround that with the 90,000 fans at the Coliseum he would enrapture with his play. To make it clear to the younger folk, he was a big deal.

For a long time after his playing career was done, Olsen stayed with us through his roles on “Little House on the Prairie” and “Father Murphy.” It was a rare treat to have one of your heroes not fade away into oblivion (or alternatively, the broadcast booth).

Thinking of Olsen today, you think of an era where the Los Angeles Rams – even without an NFL title since 1951 – were a beloved giant in this city. And Olsen was a giant’s giant.

Mar 10

You’re out of order! No – you’re out of order!

Don Mattingly’s first game as Spring Training manager in 2010 was part Goofus, part Gallant. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details:

… Somehow, the official lineup cards the Dodgers submitted to plate umpire Brian Runge and to the Arizona Diamondbacks for the Cactus League game had Matt Kemp hitting third and Andre Ethier fourth, the exact opposite of every other lineup posted around the facility, including those given to the press box.

Mattingly said that after Ethier flied out to center to end the first and Kemp did the same to start the second, Runge informed Mattingly that they had batted out of turn and that the Dodgers had “established a new order.” Mattingly took that to mean they would continue to bat in that order the rest of the game. But after Kemp flied to left and Ethier grounded out to end the third, Runge came back to the dugout.

“He said, ‘I think we have a misunderstanding,”‘ Mattingly said later. “The way I understood it, we had re-established the order. But [bench coach Bob Schaefer] said he thought that was wrong, and it turned out that it was.”

So, in an effort to resolve the situation, Runge made a decision that seemed to make no sense and would wreak havoc with the postgame box score. He decreed that Ethier, who had been the next-to-last batter in the third, would lead off the fourth so that he would follow Kemp in the order.

So Ethier did lead off the fourth. And drove an opposite-field homer to left-center off Bob Howry, tying the score at 1-1.

“It was right on our lineup card, but obviously, we got it wrong [on the official card],” Mattingly said after the game. “I should have checked it, which we usually do. Schaef puts it on the [official] card, but it’s my job to check it, and I didn’t do that.”

Mattingly, who had been in a relaxed mood all day, then smiled.

“But wasn’t it great to get that out of the way in spring training?” he said. “In that sense, you have to look at it as a positive.” …

That was the sausage – here are the links:

  • According to a Venezuelan newspaper – as interpreted by Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy – missing Dodger reliever Ronald Belisario “has missed three dates with the U.S. embassy for paperwork, which is the reason he has yet to report to Camelback Ranch.”
  • Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com is en route to Taiwan and has begun a travelogue.
  • With so many Dodgers in a Taiwan-bound airplane, several players from minor-league camp got into today’s game, including Kyle Russell, Brandon Watson, Andrew Lambo, Pedro Baez and Christian Lara. Russell had an RBI single.
  • Ramon Ortiz has started the spring with six strikeouts in five shutout innings.
  • Tony Abreu batted leadoff for Arizona and took it to his former team with a single, triple and homer.
  • The Dodger Thoughts March Madness group is forming. When the NCAA men’s basketball bracket is announced, fill out yours here. “Kershaw” is the password.
Mar 10

Nomar Garicaparra – Mr. +1 – retires


Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Nomar Garciaparra follows through in the 10th inning, Sept. 18, 2006.

Nomar Garciaparra, whose place in Dodger lore was cemented with his game-winning home run in the 4+1 game, announced his retirement today. He is moving on to work for ESPN as a “Baseball Tonight” and game analyst.

Diamondbacks at Dodgers, 12:05 p.m.
Today’s Lineup
Rafael Furcal, SS
Blake DeWitt, 2B
Andre Ethier, RF
Matt Kemp, CF
Brian Giles, DH
Reed Johnson, LF
Doug Mientkiewicz, 1B
Nick Green, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
(Vicente Padilla, P)

Continuing the theme of the day, Garciaparra had nine walkoff hits in his career and five in his three Dodger seasons — four of them in 2006. Garciaparra had another game-winning home run six days after the 4+1 game.

Rob Neyer of ESPN.com is among those with more on Garciaparra.

* * *

  • Memories of Willie Davis have dotted the Internet. Here are a selected few, provided by Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com, Phil Gurnee of True Blue L.A., Buster Olney of ESPN.com, Neil Paine of Stat of the Day and Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle.  Also, Steve Dilbeck of Dodgers Blog interviewed former Dodger owner Peter O’Malley about Davis. In addition, here’s a link to one of my favorite pieces, the 2007 SI.com column I wrote about Vin Scully in which Davis’ 31-game hitting streak played a prominent role.
  • The Dodgers’ Taiwan sojourn left behind very few infielders in Arizona, Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. notes.
  • Ivan DeJesus, Jr. is the subject of the latest prospect profile at Memories of Kevin Malone.
  • Vin Scully Is My Homeboy documents his trip to Camelback Ranch. Love the picture with George Foster.
  • Forty years ago today, Ross Newhan of the Times celebrated the potential of the Dodgers’ young infield of “Billy Buckner, 20, Bill Grabarkewitz, 24, Bobby Valentine, 21 and Bill Russell, 21.” (via the Daily Mirror)
  • Don Mattingly had this to say to reporters about his Dodger future:
    “Everything will come off of what Joe does. I talked to the Dodgers after my first interview with Cleveland. They expressed that they wanted me to be a part of their future. Yes, the word ‘manager’ was brought up.”I like it here. I like California. Nothing definitive was said or done. … I’m not worried about money or things like that right now. I’m worried about our ballclub and soaking up as much as I can. I know where I want to go, but I have to keep my priorities straight.”