Oct 03

Remembering 2011: Eugenio Velez

Lenny Ignelzi/APEugenio Velez

The setup: A .264 hitter with a .701 OPS in his first three seasons with San Francisco, Velez had fallen to .164 and .555 in 2010. He was actually batting .412 after going 3 for 5 against the Dodgers on April 17 last year, but finished his major-league action with a little-noticed hitless streak of nine at-bats. Signed to a minor-league contract by the Dodgers in December, Velez settled in nicely with Albuquerque, posting a .339 batting average and .371 on-base percentage with the Isotopes in 55 games. To emphasize that last point, Velez had 74 hits in Albuquerque before he was called up by the Dodgers in July and, if you look at the Isotopes’ batting average leaders, is No. 1 among those who played in at least 10 games, above such players as Trent Oeltjen, Dee Gordon, Tim Federowicz, Ivan De Jesus Jr., A.J. Ellis, Justin Sellers, Jay Gibbons, Trayvon Robinson, Russ Mitchell and Jerry Sands.

The closeup: Um, well, Velez did not hit .339 with the Dodgers. Or .239, or .139, or .039, or .0039. Though he was twice walked and once hit by a pitch, he failed to get a hit in 37 at-bats, establishing records for a non-pitcher for most hitless at-bats in a single season as well as longest hitless streak period: 46. Since a third-inning single on April 20, 2010, Velez is an unbelievable 1 for his last 66 in the majors: an .015 average. And if not for extra innings on May 18, 2010, Velez would be riding a hitless streak of 66 at-bats. There were also few instances of Velez just missing a hit in 2011. According to Baseball-Reference.com, he struck out 11 times (including all three at-bats of his seventh and final start of the year) and made 18 infield outs, in comparison to eight outs recorded by outfielders. He was credited with two line-drive outs in the majors this year.

Coming attractions: When he reached 46 consecutive hitless at-bats, Velez broke a record jointly held by two others who spent time with this franchise, Bill Bergen and Craig Counsell. Bergen was 31 when his streak ended in 1909; he collected 70 more hits over the final two seasons of his career. Counsell was 2 1/2 weeks shy of his 41st birthday when his streak ended in August, and he actually finished the season in an 11-for-40 hot streak (.275). So it’s not as if Velez, 29, should never get a hit again. However, Velez does have a burden borne by neither of his predecessors: He has to carry his hitless streak into his offseason job hunt. No one’s going to hand him a major-league job that offers him an early opportunity to exorcise this particular ghost. Velez will be playing in some organization next year, but he’s going to have to work his way up from the minors, and then figure out how to hit it where they ain’t. Expect him to drive in a go-ahead run with a double down the line against the Dodgers sometime before the decade is over.

Oct 03

Remembering 2011: John Ely

Kelvin Kuo/US PresswireJohn Ely

The setup: Last year’s rookie darling, at least before his pinpoint control abandoned him midway through the 2010 season, Ely was believed to hold enough usefulness that, amid a seeming lack of alternatives, he figured to be the first minor-league pitcher the Dodgers would turn to in 2011 if anything happened to Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Ted Lilly or Jon Garland.

The closeup: As soon as April 10, the ninth game of the season, the Dodgers did turn to Ely, because Garland hadn’t yet recovered from his Spring Training oblique injury. And Ely was one strike away from a quality start, having allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings, when he then walked San Diego’s Ryan Ludwick and then gave up a home run to Nick Hundley. If the Dodgers were going to be forgiving, an uneven performance at Albuquerque (5.99 ERA) changed their minds: Despite Garland soon being lost for the season, Ely made no more starts for Los Angeles in 2011, passed over in favor of Rubby De La Rosa, Nathan Eovaldi and Dana Eveland. In fact, Ely made only four other appearances in the majors this year. One of them was June 5, when he had a chance for a four-inning save before faltering in the ninth. The other three came after rosters expanded in September, when Ely pitched four innings of shutout ball, lowering his season ERA to 4.26 with 13 strikeouts against 12 hits and an uncharacteristic seven walks in 12 2/3 innings.

Coming attractions: Ely wouldn’t seem to figure in the Dodgers’ plans for 2012, especially with a new wave of homegrown minor-leaguers making the grade. Pitching in Albuquerque certainly seems to have done him few favors. On the other hand, he’s still only 25, and if not the Dodgers, some team might see if he can rediscover the confidence control that made him such a hit in 2010. In the same fashion that Eveland got another shot this year, perhaps Ely can too.

Oct 02

Remembering 2011: Justin Sellers

Kirby Lee/US PresswireJustin Sellers

The setup: With the Dodgers, his third organization as a minor-leaguer, Sellers began working his way onto the radar in 2010, when the shortstop hit 14 home runs in 288 at-bats with Albuquerque. He performed similarly in 2011, knocking 14 homers in 270 at-bats for the Isotopes while increasing his on-base percentage to .400. When Rafael Furcal’s replacement, 23-year-old homegrown prospect Dee Gordon, went on the disabled list on August 11, the 25-year-old Sellers got the proverbial break he was looking for.

The closeup: Sellers made an impression quickly, not just with his everywhere-you-look tattoos but with a home run in his third major-league game, after which he gave a memorable postgame TV interview while holding his 2-year-old daughter in his arms. During Gordon’s three-week absence, Sellers started 16 games at shortstop with a .714 OPS, while looking reliable and occasionally acrobatic in the field. Rather quickly, support began to build for the idea that Sellers could become the Dodgers’ starting second baseman next to Gordon in 2012, or at least a replacement for utility infielder extraordinaire Jamey Carroll.

Unlike several other Dodger rookies, however, Sellers suffered through a miserable September. He went 9 for 60 with a .227 on-base percentage and a .217 slugging percentage, and needed to go 2 for 4 in the season finale just to reach those heights. He finished 2011 with a .283 on-base percentage and .301 slugging percentage in 139 plate appearances.

Coming attractions: The Dodger infield is in flux, with Gordon arguably the only current member of the 40-man roster assured of a starting job. Casey Blake is likely gone, no one’s quite sure of what will happen with James Loney, and Don Mattingly has indicated that even Juan Uribe needs to prove himself. Carroll and Aaron Miles are free agents, but even if both returned, a bench role could be Sellers’ market. But thanks to his final-month performance, he would appear to be more of a fallback option than one at the forefront, and certainly an unlikely choice to be a starter Opening Day.