Friday, April 30, 2010

No solving the great Brian Burres

The Dodgers found themselves up against one of the most dominant pitchers in the history of baseball on Thursday night. He's an overpowering presence with stuff that is practically unhittable. Any team would be lucky just to crack the scoreboard against him.

Actually, it was Brian Burres of the Pirates, a guy who entered the game with 14 career wins and a 9.31 ERA this season.

It may as well have been Cy Young out there, as Burres and two other relievers completely shut the Dodgers down. Clayton Kershaw tried, but the Pirates took an early 2-0 all the way to the end for the win. The Pirates have now won three of four from the Dodgers already this year.

To say the Dodgers didn't provide the spark they needed would be an understatement. Their offense put together four measly hits (only one for extra bases) and four walks. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that with zero runs, they were all stranded.

The first inning could not possibly have gone any worse for Matt Kemp. Fresh off of some hefty criticism from Ned Colletti, Kemp let a single bounce all the way by him for a two-run "triple" for the game's only runs. I say "triple" only because it should have been an error, no doubt. For whatever reason, it wasn't.

It's not like the Dodgers never had any chances to score, because they did. In the third, Blake DeWitt singled and went to third on a Garrett "Matt Kemp" Jones error in right (yes, Jones let the ball bounce by him as well). Kershaw then took a walk for two on and one out.

Russell Martin then came up, and things were looking good. Then Kershaw got gunned out trying to get to second on a passed ball. So things were looking bad. Then Martin grounded out. So things were looking dead and gone.

In the fifth, Kemp and Andre Ethier hit back-to-back singles with one out, and Ethier went to second as Kemp advanced to third. Casey Blake struck out, but James Loney walked. With the bases loaded and two down, Jamey Carroll grounded out to end the inning.

The Dodgers again had runners in scoring position in the sixth. Walks to Ethier and Blake with one out gave them hope, but two groundouts put that threat to bed.

That's really all there is to say about this game. Kershaw's final line was 6 1/3 innings, three hits, two runs, four walks, and seven strikeouts. But, as has been his problem his entire brief career, he threw WAY too many pitches at 117. He opened the game with consecutive free passes, so the high pitch count isn't a surprise.

As for the offense, it was another case of coming up short in big situations. Remember how they were tops in the league with an average over .300? Ya, it's down to .273 now. It was unrealistic to expect them to hit over .300 like that, but they've still crashed and burned pretty hard lately.

With all due respect to the teams they're playing, it's the Dodgers who are their own worst enemy right now. Walks, baserunning blunders, bad defense, terrible hitting with men on - it's all gone wrong. And when it rains, it pours.

It's up to Chad Billingsley to get the Dodgers back on track tonight, as he's coming off his best start of the season in Washington. Of course, he took the loss 1-0. So, maybe it's not up to Bills, it's up to his offense to back him up.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Colletti has seen enough

In case you didn't hear, Ned Colletti is really MAD! He recently went on KABC Radio on Tuesday morning and ripped his team a new one. Here are some of the highlights (bolded words are the more interesting ones):
  • "I grabbed a couple of players one-on-one and let them know I'm not satisfied with their approach. It's not an easy game, and when you think you've mastered it and you can take it easy and walk to your position and not hustle, the game catches up to you. And some guys think they're better than they are and they think the opposition will roll over and get beat by them. That just doesn't happen."
  • "We lost two of three to Cincinnati, we lost two of three to Washington, we lost two of three to Pittsburgh. No offense to those clubs, but we're better than they are. It's frustrating."
If you thought he was going to stop there, you thought wrong. He then started tearing into Matt Kemp.
  • "It's below average. The baserunning is below average, the defense is below average. Why is it? Because he got a new deal? I can't tell you."
  • "If this was the last day of the season and you were voting for Gold Glove, his name would not be on the ballot.
To my knowledge, this is the first time in five years that I can recall Colletti going off like this, at least in public. It's obvious that the slow start has been stressing him out, as the Dodgers weren't exactly commended for their dealings this offseason. So, his hope that some minor signings would keep the Dodgers as contenders hasn't paid off yet.

After reading these comments, my first reaction was that Colletti's heart was in the right place. I think it's not necessarily a bad thing that he refuses to sit back and act like everything is OK. Since he's not known as a guy that will bash people in public, you have to listen up when he actually does.

But, I find the Kemp bashing to be a little odd. Maybe Colletti is just trying to light a fire under him, as his defense has taken some criticism this year. And let's face it, he's never been the smartest guy on the basepaths.

Still, I think Colletti would be better off talking about the pitching, which has been atrocious. Last I checked, Kemp isn't a pitcher. There's only a few pitchers who have performed well (Broxton, Kershaw, Kuroda, and Monasterios). The rest range from terrible to downright embarrassing.

So instead of calling out Kemp, I think Colletti should've talked about the need for the team as a whole to play with more fire. When frustration sets in, lots of things are said that could have been avoided, and that may be the case here.

Then again, if Kemp starts playing a better all-around game, and the Dodgers start beating teams they're supposed to, maybe we'll look back at these comments and be happy they were made.

Embarrassing road trip ends with another loss

I guess playing the Reds, Nationals, and Mets was not the recipe for success the Dodgers thought it would be.

The Mets completed a three-game sweep of the Dodgers today by winning 7-3. With the loss, the Dodgers completed their nine-game trip with a pathetic 2-7 record. They now stand at 8-13, dead last in the NL West.

Make no mistake about it, the Dodgers are a bad team right now.

After losing Tuesday's doubleheader by a combined score of 14-5, you would think the Dodgers would try to scratch and claw their way to a victory today. Instead, they fell behind 4-0 after two innings, and once again looked completely lost.

With a tired starting staff and bullpen (except for Jonathan Broxton, who never gets to pitch because the rest of the team can't get the damn ball to him), John Ely was called upon to make his first start in the bigs. Along with Jon Link, Ely was part of the Juan Pierre trade this past offseason.

In the second, David Wright doubled to lead off and Ike Davis singled for two on. A fielder's choice grounder by Jeff Francoeur made it 1-0. Rod Barajas was then beaned, and John Maine sacrificed both runners into scoring position.

With two down, Ely needed a big out, but didn't get one. Instead, Angel Pagan hit a two-run triple, and Alex Cora an RBI double to make it 4-0.

The Dodgers got one back in the third, though it was by luck. Jamey Carroll hit an infield single to start, and two outs later found himself on third. An error by Jose Reyes off the bat of Matt Kemp allowed Carroll to score, and it was 4-1.

Francoeur's RBI double in the bottom of the third got that run right back. About the only sign of life from the Dodgers came from Russell Martin in the fifth, who hit leadoff today and uncorked a two-run homer, putting the score at 5-3.

That's as close as it would get on this day, as Ronald Belisario couldn't hold the score as is in the seventh. RBIs from Jason Bay and Davis put the game away at 7-3. Francisco Rodriguez gave up a couple of hits in the ninth, but struck out the side to end the game.

I'm glad the Dodgers don't return to the East Coast until mid-June, because they don't look like they have much of a clue right now. They've lost two of three in Pittsburgh, Florida, Cincinnati, and Washington, and lost all three in New York. That's good for a 4-11 road record. And that's just horrible.

Their offense has tanked, and the pitching and defense have been lousy all year. The GM is ripping the team, and the manager preaches patience. It doesn't matter who you want to blame, the bottom line is that the Dodgers have no identity right now, and are in desperate need of someone to step up and lead the way.

I also don't find this much of a coincidence that they're 1-5 since Manny Ramirez went on the DL. Manny's presence in the lineup has obviously had a trickle-down effect, and suddenly the team that had the top offense looks pretty ordinary. True, Manny has nothing to do with the pitching, but the team as a whole doesn't look the same.

All the Dodgers can do now is go home and put together one win at a time. Yes, it's a tired sports cliche, but in this case it works because the Dodgers aren't favored against anybody at this point. They've got the Pirates at home for four, the same team that beat them two of three to start the season.

Clayton Kershaw gets the ball tomorrow, and that's a good thing. He still throws way too many pitches, but has lowered his ERA by over a run in his last two starts.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rain forces doubleheader on Tuesday

Monday night's game between the Dodgers and Mets in Citi Field has been rained out. If you live in New York like me, it's been raining since Sunday, so it's no surprise.

Both teams will play two on Tuesday, starting at 4:10 ET. The Dodgers will throw Hiroki Kuroda and Charlie Haeger, and the Mets counter with Johan Santana and Oliver Perez.

Tuesday's game was originally supposed to be a mystery as far as the starting pitcher was concerned. Since Haeger has volunteered to pitch, the next mystery will be who pitches on Wednesday. According to the Dodgers' official website, the candidates are all minor leaguers: Jesus Castillo (Double-A), Josh Towers (Triple-A), and Scott Elbert (Triple-A).

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Billingsley rebounds, but Dodgers lose a close one

Chad Billingsley finally stepped up and pitched the kind of game people have been waiting to see. After giving up a run in the first, he shut the Nationals down for the next five innings, striking out five along the way.

Too bad the offense didn't have his back.

The Dodgers didn't capitalize at all when men would reach base, and the Nationals held on for the narrow win, 1-0. With the loss, the Dodgers dropped two of three in Washington, and are now 2-4 on the current road trip.

On paper, this looked like anything but the pitcher's duel that it turned into. Billingsley and Scott Olsen each had horrible ERA's entering Sunday afternoon's game, and one would think that the bats would make plenty of noise.

During the first inning, both teams had plenty of chances to score. Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, and James Loney all singled to center with one down. Casey Blake came up, and he was coming off a two-homer game the day before. The good vibes didn't carry over to today, as he struck out. Ronnie Belliard popped out to center, and a big scoring chance was flushed down the drain.

Nyjer Morgan began things for the Nationals with a single. Adam Kennedy then took a walk, and Christian Guzman laid down a nice bunt to get them both over. Adam Dunn ripped one to Belliard, who had to make a diving catch just to get the out and only one run.

That would be it for the scoring on this day, as both pitchers did a nice job of keeping their team in the game. The Dodgers actually put a runner on in innings 4-7, but couldn't get the big hit. Andre Ethier had the day off, but pinch-hit in the seventh and grounded into a double play to end the inning.

Matt Capps came on once again for the Nationals to try and nail down the save. Loney led off with a double, and the Dodgers were in business. But, like every other inning, they failed to get anything done. Blake, Belliard, and Garret Anderson all recorded easy outs to end the game.

I'll look at the positive here, and it was definitely Billingsley. He came into this game with a 7.07 ERA, and left with a 5.40 ERA. He took the loss, but it wasn't his fault by any means. With Vicente Padilla hurt, the Dodgers really needed Bills to get back on track, and he started to do that today.

While the offense was sizzling coming into this series, they only scored five runs in three games. Manny Ramirez did not appear in any of them, as he's on the 15-day DL. It's not hard to figure out just how valuable he is to the offense as a whole. Take his presence out of there, and opposing pitchers are more confident in getting the job done.

Next up is a three-game series in New York, rounding out the road trip. The Mets are an average team like the Dodgers are now, so it's an even matchup. Hiroki Kuroda will go in the first game against Oliver Perez.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Add Padilla to the DL with a sore forearm

Vicente Padilla is the latest Dodger to hit the 15-day DL. He has a sore right forearm, something that he first complained about back in Spring Training.

The beginning of the season was downright awful for Padilla, who was given the Opening Day start in Pittsburgh, then got bombed for seven runs in 4 1/3 innings. His next start in Florida was terrible as well, but he's coming off of two pretty good starts.

His stuff has looked pretty good, so even when he was getting torched, I thought he'd be able to turn it around. His last two starts against the Giants and Reds have combined for 13 innings, six earned runs, and 15 strikeouts. So I thought he was figuring things out. Now this happens.

In his place is supposed to be Jon Link. Since he was just sent down to Triple-A, he hasn't fulfilled the required 10 days to come back up. But, if the Dodgers are given permission since he's replacing an injured player, he'll be the one.

The bigger question will be who makes Padilla's next scheduled start in New York on Tuesday. Jeff Weaver is also hurt, so perhaps Scott Elbert will get recalled. We shall see.

Martin's single gives Dodgers the win in 13

Russell Martin's error led to the tying run in the eighth, but his RBI single in the 13th lifted the Dodgers over the Nationals, 4-3. Basically, it was the typical formula of the hitting outperforming the defense and bullpen to get the win.

It was a bit of a wild game with pretty good starting pitching, plenty of hits, and lots of baserunning blunders. Fortunately for the Dodgers, the Nationals seemed determined to screw up on the bases and give away outs.

Ian Desmond's one-out triple in the first was the game's first hit. He scored a batter later on an RBI groundout from Christian Guzman.

Casey Blake was involved in a lot of big plays today, and it all started for him in the second. James Loney singled with one down. Blake then hit a two-run homer, his second of the season, making it 2-1.

One of the big mistakes on the bases from the Nationals cost them in the sixth. The starting pitcher, Craig Stammen, hit an RBI single to tie the game at two. Nyjer Morgan then hit one over Xavier Paul's head in left, but got gunned out trying to get a triple out of it. Stammen didn't cross home plate in time, so it remained tied.

Blake continued his hot day at the plate with a solo shot in the seventh, his second of the day, making it 3-2. Once again, he's quietly putting together a good year with a .316 average, and great defense at third.

The game was then turned over to the bullpen, and you can probably guess that it would be an adventure one way or another. And it was. Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario combined to hold the Nats scoreless in the seventh, but it wasn't easy. Rafael Furcal had an error, but the Nationals ran into an out when Desmond was tagged out at home.

Ramon Troncoso came in next inning, and gave up a single to Alberto Gonzalez with one out. Adam Kennedy forced him out with a fielder's choice for two down. Enter Jonathan Broxton, still only with one save. Well, Martin didn't make it easy, as his bad throw to second on Kennedy's steal allowed him to go to third.

Wouldn't you know it, the bad defense cost the Dodgers. Morgan singled to left, and Broxton suffered a blown save in knotting the game at three.

Matt Capps already has seven saves, and he was called upon to keep the game even. Singles by Loney and Blake put men in scoring position with two down, but Paul flew out to deep center to end it.

Fast forward to the 13th, and the Dodgers came through. With two outs, Raffy singled and stole second. That would be key, as Martin lined a single just ahead of Morgan in center to score the winning run.

Carlos Monasterios survived a very shaky bottom of the 13th for the win. Pudge Rodriguez singled and Morgan doubled with one down. Desmond then bounced one to Blake, and the throw home just barely got Pudge on a nice block and tag by Martin. Guzman flied out to Paul to end the game.

Yes, the Dodgers made it hard on themselves, but it doesn't matter. They just need wins while their bullpen settles in. Clayton Kershaw wasn't too sharp, going six innings for eight hits, two runs, three walks, and six strikeouts. But, the bottom line was only giving up two runs in six innings, which he'll take.

Give credit to both George Sherrill (yes, I did just say that) and Monasterios for their work in extra innings. Sherrill was perfect in 1 1/3 innings, and Monasterios went 2 2/3 scoreless for his first career win.

Sunday is a big start for Chad Billingsley. The Dodgers have all but lost patience with him, and he needs a good start to reassure everyone that he'll be OK. He currently has ERA of 7.07. It could be worse, though. The guy he's going against is Scott Olsen, and his is 11.74.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Strained calf lands Manny on the DL

Manny Ramirez has re-aggravated his strained right calf, an injury originally suffered in Pittsburgh the first week of the season. Rather than taking a few days off and hoping for the best, the Dodgers have placed him on the 15-day DL.

The decision looks to be all Manny's, as he's the one that told club officials that he needed more time to heal. It might seem like a strange request (this is Manny Ramirez we're talking about), but he's only been on the DL three times in 17 years. That's pretty amazing if you think about it.

If this were a younger version of Manny, I highly doubt a DL trip would be needed. But, he'll be 38 in about a month, and he's in the league without the designated hitter. Add it all up, and it's easy to see why he wants the extra time to get rest and get healthy.

In his place with be slugger Xavier Paul, who was tearing up Triple-A Albuquerque with a .361 average, three home runs, and nine RBIs in 15 games. For him, it's another audition to get the starting role next to Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier next year when Manny is gone. Numbers like those show great potential.

Dodgers can't stop Dunn

The Dodgers were facing a pitcher making his first big league start, and a defense that committed three errors on the night. It didn't matter, as Adam Dunn's two homers led the way, and the Nationals took this one, 5-1.

Playing without Manny Ramirez, who was placed on the 15-day DL earlier in the day with a strained calf, the offense never could get going. When they did put men on, they were left on base over and over, which is never a recipe for success.

The bad news started in the first, as Nyjer Morgan led off with a triple to left. Adam Kennedy scored him right away with a single, and it was 1-0.

The Dodgers got it back in the fourth. A double by James Loney, a single by Ronnie Belliard, and an intentional walk to Blake DeWitt brought up A.J. Ellis with one down. He put the ball in play on an 0-2 count, and scored Loney on a groundout.

Dunn hit his first of two homers in the bottom of the fourth, an absolute bomb to right. Seriously, it hit off the bottom part of the upper deck. He would add his second one in the sixth, this time a two-run blast to make it 4-1.

Like I said before, the Nationals committed three errors, but they never had to pay for it. It was just one of those nights at the plate for the Dodgers. It's unrealistic to expect them to pound the ball every single night. They have been for the most part, but not tonight.

Charlie Haeger got his third start, and it was a mixed bag. Actually, it was more on the negative side after looking at his numbers: 5 1/3 innings, five hits, four runs (three earned), two walks, three strikeouts. I wouldn't say he was that bad, but obviously the long balls by Dunn killed him.

Then there's Ramon Ortiz, who for some reason or another continues to find himself in games. And, once again, he was terrible. He went 2 1/3 innings and only gave up a run. But, don't be fooled. He gave up four walks, including walking the bases loaded in the eighth. He just got lucky and got a pop-up, a forceout at home, and Willy Harris wandering off of first base for no reason and getting picked off.

I'm just baffled as to why Ortiz keeps getting the call. The guy has a 6.94 ERA in nine appearances. And the Dodgers wanted him over Jon Link? I just don't get it. There must be something going on that I'm not aware of, because this makes no sense.

Clayton Kershaw will try to get the Dodgers back on the winning track by going on Saturday afternoon. He's gotten a little better in each of his three starts, so hopefully that will continue.

Bullpen blunders sink the Dodgers

All season long, Dodger fans have been waiting for the returns of Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario. Once they were back, all would be well.

Last night both came into the game trying to hold onto a lead. Both exited without one.

After Garret Anderson hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer in the seventh to get the lead at 5-4, the bullpen had its latest meltdown in giving up four. The Reds took this one, 8-5.

It was another game in which the offense did their part, but the other side of the diamond really let them down. It's still very early in the season, but when the Dodgers find themselves with a team ERA of 5.52 and dead last in fielding, it's a definite cause of concern.

Andre Ethier gave the Dodgers an early lead, and he hit a laser out to right for a two-run tater. That's two straight games with a homer, and he's now hitting a whopping .388.

Vicente Padilla turned out to be his own worst enemy in the bottom of the first. His error let Chris Dickerson reach to lead off, and Joey Votto's sac-fly RBI put the score at 2-1.

The Dodgers manufactured a run in the fifth. Blake DeWitt singled to start. Groundouts by Russell Martin and Padilla put DeWitt on third, and Rafael Furcal's RBI single made it 3-1. Speaking of hot hitters, Raffy is now at .344.

Remember that error I just mentioned by Padilla? Well, it happened again, and it was even more costly in the fifth. Two singles by Daniel Stubbs and Ryan Hanigan with one out brought up pitcher Mike Leake. A simple bunt was hit to Padilla, but he threw it away. Orlando Cabrera's RBI single with two down made it 3-2.

From there, the two teams traded both two-run homers and temporary leads. Jay Bruce struck first in the sixth to go up 4-3, but Anderson's blast put the Dodgers back up at 5-4.

Kuo and Belisario were then called upon to do what they do best - hold a lead. Dickerson just missed getting a bunt single to start, but the Reds made up for it soon after. A single by Cabrera and a walk to Votto gave Kuo the hook.

Belisario came in and quickly got Brandon Phillips to line out to DeWitt. DeWitt then had plenty of time to double-up Votto at first, but rushed the throw and it was wide. It didn't go down as an error, but it was a play that definitely should have been made. Instead of escaping the inning unscathed, it ended up costing the Dodgers dearly.

A two-run double by Scott Rolen, and consecutive RBI singles by Stubbs and Hanigan gave the Reds the lead for good at 8-5.

The Reds still aren't a very good team, but they do have a good setup man-closer combination in Arthur Rhodes and Francisco Cordero. Both men got the job done when given the ball, something the Dodgers have obviously failed to do time and time again.

In addition to taking the loss, Manny Ramirez left the game after hitting a single in the sixth. It's unclear how long he'll be out, but it certainly didn't look serious. Oh by the way, he's hitting .415, so I'd say he still knows what he's doing.

The Dodgers are right back at it on Friday as they start a three-game series in Washington. The Nationals are actually pretty decent at 8-8, so they won't be a pushover like they may have been in the past. Charlie Haeger is coming off a lousy start, so he'll get another chance to get back on track.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dodgers hang two touchdowns on the Reds

The league's top offense flexed their collective muscle on Wednesday night, as they absolutely unloaded on some porous Reds' pitching in a 14-8 win. The win gets the Dodgers back to .500 at 7-7.

The Dodgers were able to score at least a run in every inning except the fourth. It all started in the first when Matt Kemp took a walk with one down. After Andre Ethier grounded out to get Kemp to second, Manny Ramirez scored him with an RBI single, and it was 1-0.

Hiroki Kuroda, however, could not hold the lead, as he was victimized by the longball. Joey Votto hit a two-run shot, and Scott Rolen added a solo blast to put the Reds up 3-1. It was only an inning, but it sure looked like a repeat of the previous night when the pitching couldn't hold a lead.

Thankfully, that wasn't the case, as the Dodgers knotted it up in the second. Back-to-back singles by Blake DeWitt and Russell Martin with one down led to a two-run single from Rafael Furcal, tying the game at 3-3.

Ethier put the Dodgers up for good with his fourth homer of the year, a solo shot against Aaron Harang to open the third. A soft RBI single from Manny in the fifth made it 5-3.

The sixth inning is when the Dodgers really put their stamp on this one. With two outs and Martin on second, Raffy continued his hot hitting with an RBI single, part of his 3-for-5 night. Ethier added an RBI single, and James Loney a two-run single, making it 9-4.

More runs were added on for good measure in the seventh, highlighted by an RBI triple from Raffy and a two-run homer from Kemp, his seventh already. RBI singles by Casey Blake and Reed Johnson closed out the scoring.

The hitting was just awesome, as they kept applying pressure all night. It reminded me of a good fastbreak offense, where a team just keeps pushing the ball and finding ways to score. Hey, I'm a Lakers fan, so obviously I'm in a basketball mood this time of year.

The big win wasn't without some negatives, though. Two more errors were committed, and on pretty silly plays. Both Raffy and DeWitt had routine grounders go right through their legs. I mean, they were hit hard, but definitely should've been fielded.

Then there's George Sherrill, who came in the sixth to get one out. Well, it took him three batters to do this, thanks to a walk and two-run single from Brandon Phillips. Granted, Raffy's error unnecessarily kept the inning going, but Sherrill is still lost out there.

Kuroda got the win, albeit with a pretty strange line. He finished with 5 2/3 innings pitched, seven hits, six runs (three earned), two walks, and four strikeouts. The bats made him look really good, but it wasn't one of his better starts. Still, he has a 2.18 ERA and is 2-0, so I'll take it.

It was good to see Ronald Belisario back, as he pitched a scoreless seventh. Jeff Weaver came on to pitch the eighth, but had to exit after getting an out. It looked like his back was giving him fits, so let's hope that it's nothing serious. Carlos Monasterios did a good job of finishing the game without giving up a run.

Thursday will be the rubber game, as these two teams have already scored 40 runs in two games. Yes, this is a National League game, not American League. Vicente Padilla is mercifully coming off a good start, so he'll look to keep it going.

This game was the season in a nutshell

Big hitting, lots of runs... and absolutely no pitching or defense.

If you haven't followed the Dodgers at all this year, all you had to do was tune into Tuesday night's game against the Reds, and that summed it all up. Chad Billingsley was rocked, the bats came back anyway, only to have the bullpen and gloves cough up the lead and lose, 11-9.

The offense tried their best, collecting 13 hits, five for extra bases, but it was the other end that flopped miserably. Three out of the four pitchers were terrible, and the defense committed two more errors. Their .972 fielding % is second-to-last in the entire majors. Ugly.

The start of the game looked good, as Rafael Furcal singled to lead off, and Andre Ethier and James Loney drew walks. Casey Blake unloaded the bases, netting a three-run double to go up 3-0.

Billingsley easily put the Reds down in order in the first. But, like he ALWAYS does, he found an inning where he could do absolutely nothing right. This time, he did it earlier than normal in the second.

Brandon Phillips led off with a solo shot, cutting it to 3-1. Four straight hits then came, an error by Billingsley on a bunt by Homer Bailey, a sacrifice fly, and another single totaled six runs. In all, 10 men went to the plate, and they just crushed anything Bills threw up there.

The lead for the Reds got up to 9-3 following Joey Votto's homer. That came off the great Ramon Ortiz. Have I mentioned lately how much I'm looking forward to the returns of Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario?

The Dodgers didn't quit, though. Instead, they came all the way back, scoring six unanswered runs. In the sixth, Manny Ramirez doubled to start. An out later, Blake scored him on a triple. Blake DeWitt added an RBI single, and it was 9-5.

The Reds' bullpen is just as bad, because the eighth inning for them was a disaster. Raffy hit a two-run single, and Matt Kemp deposited a three-run homer to tie it at 9-9. The shot was Kemp's sixth of this young season.

With new life, the Dodgers gave the ball to Ramon Troncoso. He had been pretty reliable thus far, but that changed. A two-run single by Paul Janish gave the Reds the lead for good. Of course, it didn't help that Ronnie Belliard dropped the ball while trying to throw home. It was pretty sad.

The Dodgers are hitting a collective .306, and are clearly showing why they have one of the top offenses in the game. But, it really doesn't matter if they continue to get beat up on the mound. Not only that, but 14 errors in 13 games just won't get it done. They can't outhit everyone each game. That's a dangerous way to keep going.

As for Billingsley, I have to wonder how much longer the Dodgers will be patient with him. I haven't heard of an injury with him, so that can't be it. It just looks like batting practice with him. The guy was an All-Star last year, and now he has a 7.07 ERA. He must be a mental wreck right now.

Hiroki Kuroda will get the start tonight, and he's been very good in his two starts. With the pitching staff in disarray, he'll need to be a calming influence that he normally is.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fathead product promotion

John over at is currently running a promotion for Fathead products. Here are some details he would like you to know about:
  • Coupon code to receive 15% off select Fathead products: SML15C
  • Coupon code to receive 15% off shipping: SMLSHP1
  • Click on this sweepstakes link where a free Fathead Junior is given away daily in the month of April:
I will be receiving a free sample from Fathead/ soon. It looks like some good deals here so check it out.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Russ Ortiz is designated for assignment

In move that anyone could see coming, the Dodgers have designated reliever Russ Ortiz for assignment on Sunday. In his place will be Jon Link, who was acquired as part of the Juan Pierre trade this winter.

I know I've done my fair share of Ortiz bashing, but I actually feel sorry for the guy. He had an excellent Spring Training, pitching 18 innings with a 2.50 ERA, striking out 15. With the injuries to Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario, he pretty much forced his way onto the team.

Unfortunately for everyone, he left his good pitches at Camelback Ranch, as he was miserable when the real games started. He gave up eight runs in seven innings, good for a 10.29 ERA.

The final nail in the coffin was this past Friday night against the Giants. After retiring the side in order in the eighth, he let four of six batters reach base, getting charged with four runs and turning a blowout into a close game. A similar situation occurred against the Marlins about a week ago.

There's a chance Ortiz could accept an assignment to Triple-A Albuquerque, so we'll see. I would highly doubt anybody would claim him off waivers.

As for Link, his stay appears to be short thanks to the impending returns of Kuo and Belisario. But, it's a move the Dodgers simply had to make to try and shake up an ineffective bullpen early in the season.

Manny! Manny! Manny!

This pinch-hitting thing is sure working out well for Manny Ramirez.

With the Giants clinging to a 1-0 lead in the eighth, Manny came up with one down and deposited a two-run homer to deep left, putting the Dodgers up for good, 2-1. The win gave the Dodgers two of three from the first place Giants.

Forced to sit out the game for the second straight day with a tight right calf, Joe Torre picked the perfect time to give him a shot to make a difference. And that he did. It was his second career pinch-hit homer. His first? Who could ever forget his grand slam against the Reds last July.

A pair of southpaws, Clayton Kershaw and Barry Zito, threw up blanks for the first six innings. Kershaw ended up going seven innings for four hits, one run, four walks, and seven strikeouts. Zito went 7 1/3 innings, four hits, one run, one walk, and three strikeouts. Both men were pretty dazzling all day long.

There's not much to report about for most of the game, as both teams would put a man on here and there, but get nothing. The third was the only time two men reached base, as Nate Schierholtz and Edgar Renteria got on, but Pablo Sandoval struck out to end that.

In the seventh, Juan Uribe was the first person to get his team on the board with a solo homer to left. Andre Ethier led off the bottom of the seventh with a single, but Matt Kemp, Casey Blake, and Ronnie Belliard left him stranded.

The eighth is an inning the Giants will be kicking themselves about, as they had a chance to really blow the game open. Kershaw started the inning, but was quickly yanked after walking Eugenio Valez. Jeff Weaver came in, and Renteria sacrificed Valez over to second, then Sandoval was given the intentional pass.

Out went Weaver, and in came George Sherrill, who's endured his fair share of beatdowns already this season. But this time, he got Aubrey Huff to fly out to left. Ramon Troncoso then came in and beaned Bengie Molina to load the bases. Thankfully, Uribe grounded into a force play to end that threat.

The Dodgers made sure that would come back to haunt the Giants, as they finally cashed in in the bottom half. With one down, Garrett Anderson drew a walk in what would be Zito's last hitter of the day.

Blake DeWitt came in to pinch-run, but it wouldn't matter. Sergio Romo was given the task of getting Manny out, but it didn't work. Manny's homer was No. 548, tying him with Mike Schmidt for 14th all-time.

Jonathan Broxton got his first save of the season after waiting nearly two weeks for a chance. He put the Giants down in order.

The Dodgers have only played .500 ball at this point with a 6-6 record, but this was a good weekend. They should've had a blowout win on Friday if it wasn't for Russ Ortiz, got crushed on Saturday, and won a squeaker today. The Giants came into this series with only two loses, so it's good to see the Dodgers take it to them.

After a 4-2 homestand, the Dodgers will once again make a trip out east. They'll use a travel day on Monday, then play for 13 straight days. The first nine days will be on the road against the Reds, Nationals, and Mets, before returning home for four against the Pirates. Chad Billingsley will take the hill on Tuesday.

Blue Views

*** So I complained in my post for Friday night's recap that I wouldn't be able to watch Saturday afternoon's Dodgers-Giants game because I live in New York, and I'd get the Mets-Cardinals instead. Well, it turned out to be a good thing. The Dodgers got rolled, and the game I saw lasted 20 innings. I can't say it was that enjoyable of a game, but it was one of those games that you just had to keep on waiting for something to happen.

I thought for sure the Mets were going to blow it, especially considering that Francisco Rodriguez couldn't even get the save. I found it funny that the potential last out was hit to Luis Castillo. I remember watching him botch the pop-up from Alex Rodriguez to blow that game last year. Thankfully for him, this time he made the easy play.

*** Congrats to Ubaldo Jimenez for throwing a no-hitter against the Braves. It's not exactly one of the better ones in history considering he walked six guys. But hey, no hits is no hits. All that matters is the bottom line.

*** Right now, Jimenez is 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA. Tim Lincecum is 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA. No surprise that in this early season, the Giants and Rockies are 1-2 in the NL West standings. And that's the difference between those teams and the Dodgers. They have a dominant ace they can turn to, and the Dodgers do not. Clayton Kershaw gets another start today, but he can't get deep into games. Chad Billingsley hits a wall seemingly every game. Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla are middle-of-the-rotation guys.

*** Currently, the Dodgers have a collective team ERA of 5.69, good for 13th in the NL (out of 16 teams). To put it in perspective, they were first at 3.41 last year and first at 3.68 in 2008. Both years they made the playoffs. I'm not saying they have to be in first again this year if they want to make the postseason, but it's not hard to figure out a correlation between great records those years and a so-so one this year.

*** Then again, maybe the Dodgers just need to get healthy. Think about it - would you rather have Ramon and Russ Ortiz pitching late in games or Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario? I thought so.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Lincecum, Giants steamroll Dodgers

Tim Lincecum could not be denied on Saturday. In addition to pitching six shutout innings with seven strikeouts, he went 3-for-4 at the plate with three RBIs. Guess it's not hard to figure out who won this one. Yup, it was the Giants by a score of 9-0.

Lincecum was so good that he had all of his RBIs before the Dodgers even got a hit. Joe Torre rested Russell Martin, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, and Manny Ramirez, and it showed. But let's be honest, all of those guys playing would have made no difference on this day.

The Giants struck in the second on Licecum's bunt single to score Bengie Molina. Charlie Haeger actually did a nice job getting out of that inning, striking out Edgar Renteria and Pablo Sandoval to strand the bases loaded.

In the third, two bad errors really cost the Dodgers, and both by reserves. Aubrey Huff took a walk to lead off, then went to third on A.J. Ellis's throwing error. An error by Jamey Carroll let Mark DeRosa reach and Huff score. From there, it was a two-run single by Lincecum and Nate Schierholtz scoring on a passed ball to make it 5-0.

The rest of the game didn't even matter, as the Dodgers stranded all 10 runners to reach base. Carroll and Ellis did have two hits apiece, but their errors early in the game really set a negative tone. With the way Lincecum pitched, though, the one run in the second was all he needed.

Haeger was coming off a great start against the Marlins, but he had nothing going for him today. He lasted only three innings, giving up seven hits, seven runs (five earned), five walks, and three strikeouts. Some days the knuckleball is a thing of beauty, others days it's not. Obviously, today it was not.

The bullpen was again a mixed bag. Carlos Monasterios pitched two shutout innings, giving up three hits. Ramon Ortiz gave up two runs in two innings, putting his ERA at 7.71. Believe it or not, Russ Ortiz and George Sherrill each allowed no runs in an inning. But their ERAs are 10.29 and 12.46, respectively. Wow.

This was going to be an uphill climb to win from the start, so it's hard to get too flustered about it. Lincecum is that just good. And only getting better. With a little more offense this year, that's why the Giants are a big threat to take the NL West. Early on, they sure look like the favorites.

It'll be a battle of southpaws on Sunday, as Clayton Kershaw takes on Barry Zito. Kershaw will need to find a way to get deeper into the game, as he hasn't escaped the sixth inning yet. A win tomorrow will mean two of three taken at home, so that would be a positive going forward.

Great news on Kuo and Belisario

It looks like next week will signal the return of Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario. And boy, can the Dodgers' poor bullpen use them.

Kuo threw for one inning in a rehab start at Single-A Inland Empire on Thursday, and felt really good coming out of it. He even played catch on Friday, a positive sign that his arm is feeling strong.

Belisario is still at Camelback Ranch in Arizona, and he threw a couple innings on Friday. That was his third appearance thus far. Since he's on the restricted list, he's not eligible for a rehab appearance in the minors. That wouldn't happen anyway since he's out of options, and there's no way the Dodgers would risk losing him to another team.

As I've said all season long, the bullpen is just lost without them. Basically, there's Jonathan Broxton, Ramon Troncoso, and nobody else. My guess is that Ramon Ortiz and Russ Ortiz will be designated for assignment, though Carlos Monasterios could as well.

Either way, both Kuo and Belisario would jump into late-inning roles, as George Sherrill just continues to be ineffective, to put it nicely. Sherrill has a given up six runs in 3 1/3 innings, good for a 16.20 ERA, worst on the team. Oh ya, and seven walks. Not good.

The Dodgers travel east next week with three-game series against the Reds, Nationals, and Mets.

Kemp and Ethier power the Dodgers to a W

Matt Kemp homered for the fourth straight game, and Andre Ethier added a solo shot and grand slam to lead the Dodgers to a win over the Giants, 10-8. It was a 7-0 game after two innings.

Vicente Padilla finally put together a good start, as he got the win after dropping his previous two starts. He went seven innings, four hits, three runs, two walks, and seven strikeouts. It was good to see him bounce back, as he's not nearly as bad of a pitcher as he showed to start the year.

So with a 7-0 lead early and Padilla pitching seven strong innings, you might be asking yourself how the score ended up 10-8. Well, if your answer was Russ Ortiz, then that was just too easy.

Needless to say, Ortiz was absolutely HORRIBLE again. Oh, he got the side in order in the eighth, but it went all downhill after that. Here's what his ninth inning looked like: single, double, strikeout, RBI groundout, RBI single, walk. With two on, Ramon Troncoso came on, but Eugenio Valez crushed a three-run homer to right. Edgar Renteria then bounced back to the mound to end the game.

This should be a night where the Dodgers easily won and I would be lauding Kemp and Ethier's big efforts, but no. I'm still wondering why in the world Ortiz is still in the bullpen. In his last three outings, he's gone three innings and given up eight runs. His ERA now stands at 21.60. My slow-pitch softball ERA is better than that.

Seriously, there's got to be someone in the minors that the Dodgers can bring up because this is just ridiculous. This guy is terrible! He's been given a chance, and it clearly hasn't worked. Cut your losses and bring in someone else. Please!

Anyway, now it's time to focus on the good, and there was plenty of it. The Dodgers were facing Todd Wellemeyer, who's the #5 starter for the Giants, and clearly showed why. He's not Russ Ortiz bad, but close.

Rafael Furcal walked to start the bottom of the first. Kemp hit a two-run homer to right, making it 2-0. Not to be outdone, Ethier lined one out to right, and it was 3-0. Kemp is now up to five taters and Ethier three.

The second inning is when the real fireworks happened. With one down, Padilla walked, Raffy singled, and Kemp walked to load 'em up. Ethier left no doubt as he hit a grand slam to dead center, and it was 7-0. In Ethier's last three at-bats, he hit a walk-off single, solo homer, and grand slam. That's video game-like stuff there.

The Dodgers tacked on a couple more in the fifth on Blake DeWitt's bases loaded walk, and Russell Martin's double play with the bases loaded to score James Loney. DeWitt later added an RBI single in the seventh.

It's a good thing those extra runs were scored considering it ended up only a two run game. But, it's not like Joe Torre would've handed the ball to Ortiz in a close game, right? I certainly hope not.

Another downer was Manny Ramirez leaving the game early in the third with a tight right calf. Of course, the score was 7-0 at that point, so perhaps Manny just wanted the rest. In a closer game, my guess is that he would still be in the game. But if he has to sit out a game or two, maybe it is legit.

Saturday afternoon's game will see Charlie Haeger go against Tim Lincecum. We all know how great Lincecum is, but Haeger was really good in his first start against the Marlins, striking out 12. It's a FOX game, and since I'm an East Coast guy, I'll be watching the Mets and Cardinals. ESPN Gamecast, here I come!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Andre "Walk-Off" Ethier does it again

Just when the Dodgers needed a big moment, they turned to their most clutch player from last season.

Andre Ethier's walk-off singled scored Blake DeWitt in the 10th inning as the Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks, 6-5. It was quite the exciting way for the series to end, as the Dodgers claimed their first one of the year after dropping the first two.

This game was quite similar to the night before when the Dodgers were up 3-0 early only to blow it. This time, the Diamondbacks built a three-run lead after five innings, but were unable to hold on once the bullpen entered.

Hiroki Kuroda got the starting nod, and was given the task of getting deep into the game to avoid using the already overworked bullpen. 107 pitches and seven innings later, he did his job. But, there were some bumps early on.

Two of the first three hitters of the game singled, but were stranded. In the second, the Diamondbacks cashed in. Following a leadoff double by Chris Young, which actually should've been an easy flyout had Matt Kemp not lost it in the lights, John Hester scored him with an RBI single. Connor Jackson added an infield single to make it 2-0.

After settling down a bit, Kuroda surrendered a double to Dan Haren to start the fifth, and Jackson hit another RBI single to put it at 3-0. Haren himself was dealing at that point, so things looked bleak.

The Dodgers finally cracked the scoreboard in the sixth. Manny Ramirez walked and James Loney singled for runners on the corners. Casey Blake grounded out to second to score Manny, and it was now 3-1.

Haren started the seventh, but gave up a single to pinch-hitter Ronnie Belliard, hitting for Kuroda. Following a flyout, Haren exited, and Aaron Heilman entered. It didn't work. Matt Kemp hit a two-run homer, and just like that, Haren's attempt at his second win was gone, as the score was now 3-3.

Jeff Weaver once again made an entrance, and he got hit right away when Justin Upton put the Diamondbacks up 4-3 with a solo shot in the eighth. It's hard to blame Weaver for being a little off considering he's already appeared in seven games. But he's the type of guy that will do whatever is asked of him, which is great.

Now in the ninth, George Sherrill was asked to keep it a one-run game. And, sure enough, he couldn't do it. Granted, Casey Blake's error was the reason Hester scored, but still. Sherrill only got one out while giving up a run on two walks and a hit. Horrible. Ramon Ortiz had to get the last two outs, stranding the bases loaded.

It was all up to Chad Qualls to get the save, something he couldn't do the night before. Well, he couldn't do it on this night either. Rafael Furcal walked to start, but Kemp and Ethier both got out. Manny's RBI single cut it to 5-4, and Loney's single put two on. Blake then hit an infield single to Stephen Drew, who promptly threw the ball completely away, scoring Manny to tie the game at five.

Jonathan Broxton went through the Diamondbacks in order to start the 10th. Blaine Boyer came in, and DeWitt started things off with a single. Raffy sacrificed him over to second, Kemp was giving the intentional pass, and both men advanced on a passed ball. From there, Ethier singled over Young in center to end it.

It was another roller coaster of a game, as both teams looked like they were from the American League scoring big runs and playing long games. But hopefully not long enough to piss off Joe West. But I digress. It was uncharacteristic for this to happen, but it did.

The Dodgers showed good grit by getting blanked in the first part of the game, then battling back in the second part. Kuroda lasted seven innings for 10 hits, three runs (two earned), no walks, and seven strikeouts. He's known for his pinpoint control, and it showed. Broxton still doesn't have a save (or an opportunity to get one), but at least got his first win.

So now the Giants come to town for three, and they've been fantastic to start the year. Hey, it pains me to say that, but it's true. Vicente Padilla and his 11.42 ERA gets the call in the first game. I still think he can be effective, but now he's got to show it. Let's just hope it starts tonight.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Poor pitching dooms the Dodgers

Chad Billingsley was cruising through the first three innings of Wednesday night's game. He gave up one hit, no runs, and struck out four. His offense spotted him a 3-0 lead. All was looking good in Dodger Stadium.

Then the fourth inning came, and like so many games last year, Billingsley hit a wall. Hard.

The lead was quickly gone, and despite the Dodgers tying the game in the ninth off of Chad Qualls, the Diamondbacks were the victors in 11 innings, 9-7. The Dodgers are now 3-5, and they can thank their sketchy pitching for that.

All in all, it was a pretty frustrating experience, as Billingsley just can't seem to shake the bad innings out of his system. You would think he was back on track after three, but then got chased in the sixth. In total, he went 5 2/3 innings, eight hits, six runs, three walks, and five strikeouts.

The offense did their part, scoring seven runs on 19 hits. But, they once again left way too many men on base, with 13 this time. That includes seven left on with two outs and in scoring position.

Manny Ramirez accounted for two of the first three runs scored with a sac-fly and single. After the Diamondbacks tied it up at three, Matt Kemp's two-run bomb gave the Dodgers the lead back at 5-3 in the fourth.

A two-run single by Adam LaRoche erased that lead, as it was now 5-5. Single runs were exchanged in the sixth on a Connor Jackson double and sac-fly from Kemp.

Justin Upton put the Diamondbacks back up with a solo homer in the seventh off of Carlos Monasterios, making it 7-6. With Qualls in to get the save in the ninth, Manny doubled to lead off. Casey Blake continued his hot hitting one out later with an RBI double, scoring Jamey Carroll, who was pinch-running.

Extra innings would not be kind, as Joe Torre had no choice but to give the ball to Russ Ortiz. And, once again, he was atrocious. An RBI single by Chris Young and sac-fly by Augie Ojeda put them up 9-7. James Loney singled off of Leo Rosales to lead off the bottom of the 11th, but nothing came of it.

Games like this make Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario look better and better by the minute. But, it also makes guys like Randy Wolf look better as well. This is not a game the Dodgers would have lost last year with so much run support. It would have been a slam dunk.

Instead, the problem is how to get the ball to Jonathan Broxton, because it's just not happening right now. Getting Kuo and Belisario healthy is more important by the day. But, Billingsley and the rest of the starters need to pitch deeper into games. And it's as simple as that.

Hiroki Kuroda is coming off an excellent start in Florida, and with the rest of the staff getting eaten alive, the Dodgers need another big effort from him tonight against Dan Haren. A win over Haren would be a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ausmus out until late summer

Tough news for Brad Ausmus today. He'll need to undergo surgery to repair a herniated disk in his lower back on Thursday. That will knock him out of action until at least late summer.

For a guy that just went on the 15-day DL for the first time in his 17-year career, this has already been a challenging season. At 41, he's contemplated retirement the last couple of years, but the Dodgers have convinced him to keep coming back.

At least this isn't for the rest of the season from all indications. But nonetheless, his veteran leadership will be missed during his time off. He's always been a great defensive catcher, but he actually was swinging a good bat too, hitting .295 in 36 games last season.

A.J. Ellis will be the main backup now, and he can finally settle in as a regular member of the big league roster. He'll have to make the most of it when called upon.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Big sticks come out in home opener

A little home cooking was just what the Dodgers needed.

After limping home following two straight loses in Florida, the Dodgers smacked four home runs to cruise over the Diamondbacks in the home opener, 9-5. The four homers was more than they had in the first six games combined to start the year.

Joe Torre juggled his starting rotation so Clayton Kershaw would get the start in the first game at home, and it worked. Of course, it didn't work that Vicente Padilla was the Opening Day starter, but I digress. Combined with Andre Ethier returning from a brief ankle injury, it was all a recipe for a big day.

James Loney doubled with one out in the second, and he eventually came around to score on Russell Martin's sac-fly RBI, making it 1-0. The Diamondbacks tied it up a couple innings later on Chris Young's RBI single.

The bottom of the fourth is when the Dodgers flexed their collective muscle. Manny Ramirez led off and unloaded on a solo shot estimated at 435 feet, his first of the year. Loney doubled again, and Casey Blake hit his first of the year for a two-run homer, and it was 4-1.

Two more long balls were hit by the rest of the starting outfield. Matt Kemp connected on his second of the year, a solo blast in the fifth. An inning later, Jamey Carroll and Kemp set the table for Ethier, who got on the board himself with a three-run long ball, and the Dodgers were firmly in command at 9-2.

Kershaw had a solid performance, but still was his own worst enemy at certain points. His final line looks good: 5 1/3 innings, three hits, two runs, five walks, and seven strikeouts. It was actually a pretty typical day for him with lots of walks and strikeouts. He walked two and hit a batter to load the bases with one down in the fifth, but somehow wiggled out of it.

He clearly ran out of the steam in the fifth and sixth, but was left in there because of the big lead. In a closer game, he probably would have been yanked, but who knows. The bullpen right now is in pretty rough shape, so Torre is just trying to get his starters as deep as he can.

Jeff Weaver got two outs to end the sixth, but gave up an RBI single to Chris Snyder. Ramon Ortiz, however, was terrible. He somehow gave up three hits, a walk, and three runs in 2/3 of an inning. Pathetic. I can only imagine that the Ortiz boys will be on the unemployment line once Ronald Belisario and Hong-Chih Kuo are healthy because they've done nothing to show they can still pitch at this level.

Despite that hiccup, it was a pretty easy win for the Dodgers, and just at the right time. The Manny-Kemp-Ethier connection all had a huge day, and that's where the Dodgers' strength is. The rest of the starting lineup (except Kershaw in the last spot) got on base. Blake DeWitt had the odd line of 0-for-0 with three walks and an RBI.

The home opener is now history, and the Dodgers will look to build some momentum by sending Chad Billingsley to the hill on Wednesday. He had a great start in Pittsburgh, but so did Rodrigo Lopez at home against the Pirates. So they both beat the Pirates, which we all know is really hard to do. Or not.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Haeger K's 12... but the bullpen crumbles again

It was a new day, but same result for the Dodgers.

Charlie Haeger struck out 12 in his season debut, but Jeff Weaver couldn't hold the lead in the seventh as the Marlins took the rubber game, 6-5. The Dodgers ended their road trip with a 2-4 record.

On a day where four regulars were resting (Manny Ramirez, Andre Ethier, Russell Martin, and Casey Blake), the Dodgers knew they'd have to get their bench to contribute for a win. It sure looked like that would be the case in the fourth.

Singles by Matt Kemp and James Loney started the inning. Ronnie Belliard then singled to center, and Cameron Mayben let it go right by him for a two-run error. One out later, Reed Johnson triple home Belliard, and A.J. Ellis's suicide squeeze scored another, and it was 4-0.

About the only blemish on Haeger's fine day came in the bottom of the fourth. Mayben and Hanley Ramirez walked to lead off. Jorge Cantu came through again for the Marlins by hitting a three-run homer, and it was now 4-3.

Both teams traded runs in the sixth. Ellis hit another sacrifice RBI, this time on a fly ball to center to score Belliard. Cody Ross's RBI single put the score at 5-4. Of course, had Kemp not dropped a simple fly ball by Ronny Paulino with two down, it would have never happened.

From there, with a depleted bullpen, Joe Torre chose to go with Weaver to keep the score as is. Well... he didn't. With two men on and one out, Cantu, once again, came through. His two-run double put the Marlins ahead to stay at 6-5.

That's not to say that the Dodgers didn't have their chances in the last two innings, because they did. They put two men on in both innings and came up with blanks. That was all part of a day in which they went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

So the Dodgers were once again done in by a lack of clutch hitting, bad defense, and horrible bullpen work. And it spoiled Haeger's great day of six innings, three hits, four runs (three earned), four walks, and 12 strikeouts. He really did all he could to win, but his team let him down.

I must point out that we can't be too hard on Weaver. His role isn't setup guy, it's long reliever. But with Ronald Belisario and Hong-Chih Kuo still out, Torre is still trying to find the right combination. While Weaver wasn't any good, he shouldn't be expected to be flawless in that role either.

Getting out of the East Coast will only be a good thing for the Dodgers. Maybe some home cooking is exactly what they need. There's an off day on Monday, then the home opener against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday. Clayton Kershaw will get the start, and he's looking for his first win after a so-so effort in Pittsburgh last Wednesday.

Marlins walk-off and all over Sherrill

So much for resting Jonathan Broxton and not having to worry about it.

George Sherill was given a two-run lead in the ninth, but was absolutely horrible in blowing the save. A 6-4 lead was quickly turned into a 7-6 defeat, dropping the Dodgers under .500 again at 2-3.

The Marlins struck in the first off of Vicente Padilla, which was not exactly the best way for him to prove that Opening Day was a fluke. Cameron Mayben singled with one out, and Hanley Ramirez doubled him home to go up a run.

In the third, the Dodgers put together four hits to score three runs. It started with Rafael Furcal's single. Garrett Anderson doubled to put two runners in scoring position. Matt Kemp took a pitch the other way for an RBI single to tie the game. A sac-fly RBI by Manny Ramirez and a run-scoring double by Casey Blake made it 3-1.

At this point, Padilla had settled in and was looking pretty good. Then a weird thing happened. The padding on the right field foul pole came off, delaying the game for several minutes in the fourth.

How would the delay affect Padilla? The next two batters saw a single by Cody Ross and a two-run homer by Gabby Sanchez, putting the Marlins up 4-3. So you be the judge if the delay was a bad thing or not.

With the Marlins nursing a one-run lead in the eighth, their bullpen again was shaky (don't worry, the Dodgers was too, and we'll get to that). A single by Blake and a walk to Blake DeWitt started the inning off of Tim Wood. Russell Martin sacrificed them over to scoring position.

Enter pinch-hitter Andre Ethier, who's still nursing a sore ankle. He greeted new pitcher Dan Meyer with a two-run single, giving the Dodgers a big lift and putting them up 5-4. A solo homer by Matt Kemp in the ninth made it 6-4, and things were looking up.

But, Joe Torre said before the game that he didn't want to use Broxton. Well, he didn't, and they paid for it. Ramon Troncoso pitched a perfect eighth, then started the ninth and surrendered a single to Sanchez. It all fell apart from there.

Sherrill simply was terrible, as he recorded one out from the five batters he faced. He beaned Wes Helms to start, then walked Chris Coghlan to load the bases. Ronny Paulino pinch-hit for Mayben and tied the game with a double.

An intentional walk to Ramirez put runners on the corners. Jorge Cantu lifted a fly ball to Kemp in center, and Coghlan was able to beat the throw home to take the win.

It was obviously a frustrating end to the night after such a nice comeback a couple innings earlier. The bottom line is that Sherrill is lost right now, and a 22.50 ERA in three appearances shows that. I'm not sure how he went from practically unhittable to entirely easy to hit from one season to the next.

I think Torre should use Troncoso in the setup role for now while Sherrill works the kinks out. The Dodgers really need Ronald Belisario and Hong-Chih Kuo back. Until then, Troncoso's the best option.

The Dodgers will turn to knuckleballer Charlie Haeger for a series win today. It's his first start of the year after winning the fifth starter's spot in the spring.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Blue Views

*** Note ***

Today I'm going to start a new feature here on Inside Dodger Baseball. It's called "Blue Views," and it's basically a running list of thoughts about anything to do with the Dodgers, or about baseball in general.

Quite often I have some opinions that don't exactly warrant a whole blog post, so this is my way of getting my views out there at once. Enjoy!


* It was good to see the bats get going last night against the Marlins. More specifically, the regular bats like Manny Ramirez and Rafael Furcal. It's not like the starting pitching has been that much to write about, but the bats were seemingly blowing chance after chance with runners on. That got pretty frustrating to watch.

* A guy who seems a little bit in limbo right now is Matt Kemp. It's not like he's having a bad year or anything, but he just doesn't seem all that comfortable to me. Remember during his breakout season in '09, the spot he appeared the most in the order was seventh (46 times). He also had 14 appearances in the #2 hole. Point being, he wasn't expected to do anything spectacular in those spots. Just getting on base was the goal.

In looking at his numbers hitting in the heart of the order from last year, they tell an interesting story: #4 - .216, #5 - .271, #6 - .240. Not exactly great numbers. Now look at these numbers: #1 - .400 (2-for-5 in one game), #2 - .291, #7 - .328, #8 - .421. I think it's safe to see why Joe Torre was so comfortable hitting Kemp up or down in the order. They won 95 games, so he must have figured that if it wasn't broke, don't fix it.

Going back to my original point, Kemp seems like he's still trying to adjust to hitting in an RBI spot. He has five strikeouts through four games, which is something he needs to address. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before he gets going, but I think we need to show some patience with him. He's still getting used to hitting in the heart of the order.

* Let's be thankful that Ramon Troncoso only missed the first game of the season. With Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario out, and with George Sherrill getting lit up on Opening Day, Troncoso has been the only steady option to get to Jonathan Broxton. Troncoso's only gone two innings and no runs, but he just looks like the best pitcher of the bunch. Once Kuo and Belisario are back and the Ortiz's are more than likely gone, the 'pen should be as strong as ever.

* Based on the handful of games I've watched from the other NL West teams, it's hard not to think the Giants are the team to beat. They swept the Astros in Houston, then got a huge comeback win over the Braves in their home opener. The knock on them coming into the season was their lack of production at the plate, but they've scored five or more runs in three of their four wins. It's early, but they have to like what they've seen thus far.

The Diamondbacks have had an easy schedule to start (Padres and Pirates), but they too have hit well. Like I said in my season preview, so much depends on the health of Brandon Webb. I still don't see them doing much without him, but they've more than played steady ball in his absence. They'll need to keep that up to stay competitive in this division.

I haven't caught as much of the Rockies for whatever reason, but I did see Jorge De La Rosa look fantastic against the Padres the other day. This is a team that scares me because they have their same team back from last year that went on that incredible run. They're a scary team.

* Vicente Padilla gets another start today, and the Dodgers really need him to turn it around. It's never good to overreact after one start, but he was so bad, you couldn't help but to be concerned. Still, I really think he can get it going at some point. Hopefully tonight.

Bad back lands Ausmus on the DL

Brad Ausmus's incredible run of never being on the disabled list in 17 years has finally come to an end. A pinched nerve in his lower back has landed him on the 15-day DL.

It's a pretty remarkable accomplishment for a catcher to never be on the DL. You've got to think that all of the wear and tear would have put him on the injured list at some point, but it never has until now. Talk about durability!

As a result of this news, A.J. Ellis has been recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque. Ellis thought he'd be in LA at the start of the season with the injury to Russell Martin in spring training, but Martin quickly recovered to prevent that from happening.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Late clutch hitting enough to down the Fish

The Dodgers and Marlins were locked in a scoreless battle through five innings in Friday night's game. Hiroki Kuroda and Chris Volstad were tossing blanks, and the opportunities the hitters had were never capitalized on.

Then the seventh inning came, and the Dodgers finally found some ways to break it open. The result was a 7-3 win to even their record at 2-2.

Both teams had men on third with less than two outs in the first, but came up empty. The Marlins were first on the board in the sixth thanks to an RBI single from Jorge Cantu to score Cameron "Tiki" Mayben (sorry, inside joke to those who live in Binghamton like me). Mayben reached on a bunt single, then went to second on Russell Martin's throwing error.

Manny Ramirez got the fun started in the seventh with a leadoff double to center. Matt Kemp got him over to third on a sac-fly. From there, Volstad was chased after an RBI double by Casey Blake, and a run scoring single from Blake DeWitt, making it 2-1. An error by Hanley Ramirez off the bat of Reed Johnson scored both Jamey Carroll and Martin, and it was 4-1.

A few more runs were tacked on in the ninth, thanks to some big hits and shaky bullpen work from the Marlins. Martin walked and Rafael Furcal doubled, part of his 3-for-4 night. A scorching double by James Loney scored them both, increasing the lead to 7-1.

About the only negative from the night was the work of Russ Ortiz, who was atrocious. His only job in the ninth was to get the game over with, but he then gave up a single and walked two. Jonathan Broxton gave up an two-run double, but struck out the final two to end it.

While the late hitting was nice, the real story of this night was Kuroda. He looked really, really good. He was throwing hard all night, with plenty of late movement. The final tally was eight innings, five hits, one run (unearned), one walk, and seven strikeouts. The other starters could learn something from him: you throw strikes and cut down the walks, you can have success. And that he did.

I'm glad to see the regulars pick up the pace late in the game, because they've struggled to start the year. Yesterday it was the bench players like Ronnie Belliard and Johnson that carried the load. It all started with Manny's double in the seventh, and the rest took off from there.

Saturday night's pitching matchup features a couple of Opening Day starters who struggled. Vicente Padilla was rocked by the Pirates, and Josh Johnson never got going against the Mets. They'll both look to rebound and get his team over the .500 mark.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ethier has a sore ankle, but should be back soon

Andre Ethier sat out this afternoon's game in Pittsburgh with a sore left ankle. The injury happened during Wednesday night's game when he rolled it stepping back onto first. He still played the rest of the game, however.

X-rays were negative, and he's not expected to miss much time. He's hoping to return in time for Saturday's game against the Marlins.

You never know with ankle sprains, but this doesn't at all look serious. I'm sure he'd at least like to play in the home opener next Tuesday against the Diamondbacks. That looks like a realistic goal.

Reserves give Dodgers win #1

The Dodgers were able to save some face today in Pittsburgh by putting together their best game of this young season, as they dismantled the Pirates, 10-2. It was a much needed win after two frustrating losses to open the season.

Being a day game after a night one (and a long one at that), Joe Torre had quite the different look for his lineup. Manny Ramirez, Russell Martin, and Blake DeWitt all got the day off, as did Andre Ethier because of a sore ankle.

As the Dodgers did many times last season, the bench guys did a great job. They were led by Ronnie Belliard, who started at second and went 3-for-5 with a homer, triple, double, two runs, and four RBIs. Usually when going for a cycle, the single is the easiest part, but Belliard got the harder hits instead.

James Loney was able to start the good day with a two-out RBI single in the first, scoring Reed Johnson. A sacrifice fly by Matt Kemp in the third plated Rafael Furcal, making it 2-0.

From there, Belliard took over. He hit a two-run shot to center in the fifth to increase the lead to 4-0. That came just after Chad Billingsley wiggled out of a bases loaded, one out situation by getting the last two guys swinging.

The seventh is when the game was blasted open. The Pirates cut the lead to 4-1 an inning before, and the Dodgers immediately responded. Raffy and Johnson hit singles off of Hayden Penn, who was horrible. Four straight RBIs were hit by Kemp's double, Loney's single, Belliard's triple, and Garret Anderson's single. Just like that, it was 8-1.

The scoring was wrapped up in the ninth on an RBI double from Belliard and sac-fly RBI by Anderson.

The hitting was great, but more encouraging was seeing Billingsley give a great effort. He finished the day at 5 1/3 innings, five hits, one run, four walks, and seven strikeouts. Yes, the four walks wasn't that great, but the seven strikeouts more than made up for it. His stuff looked hard and sharp all day. So far, so good.

The top five hitters in the order of Raffy, Johnson, Kemp, Loney, and Anderson combined to go 13-for-23 and scored all 10 runs. On a day where the regulars rested, it's a great sign to know that the guys off the bench will give good production.

With the first win finally under their belts, the Dodgers travel to Florida next. Hiroki Kuroda will get his first start of the season against Chris Volstad. After that, Vicente Padilla will look to get on track, followed by the season debut of Charlie Haeger on Sunday.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pirates trip Dodgers in 10

When the Dodgers saw they would open the season in Pittsburgh, they probably thought they'd ease their way into a few wins.

Instead, the Pirates are making life very difficult to start.

A combination of way too many walks, way too many men left on base, and a key error in the 10th was enough for the Pirates to take this one in 10, 4-3. The Dodgers dropped to 0-2.

Clayton Kershaw got the start, and he was anything but sharp. It all started in the first, when Garrett Jones picked up right where he left off on Monday. With the first two men on, Jones launched a three-run shot to center to make it 3-0.

It took until the fifth for the Dodgers' offense to get going. It started with a solo shot to right off the bat of Russell Martin, making it 3-1. Rafael Furcal reached on an error by Andy LaRoche (who made two nice diving plays to rob Matt Kemp on the night), and stole second. An RBI double by Matt Kemp scored Raffy, and Andre Ethier's RBI single tied it at three.

From there, both teams seemingly walked 100 guys, but never paid for it. In fact, the teams combined for a whopping 18 walks, split nine apiece. Time and time again men would get the free pass, but it didn't seem to matter.

The biggest chance for the Dodgers came in the ninth. Jamey Carroll pinch-hit and doubled. He then went to third on a wild pitch from Octavio Dotel. The top of the order was due up, so you would think that with nobody out and the big bats coming up, something good would happen.

You would think wrong.

Raffy grounded out and Kemp struck out. Ethier walked, but Manny feebly grounded out.

The Pirates took it in the 10th, and it all started with an error on a routine grounder to Blake DeWitt. The knock on DeWitt has been his glove, and he showed it tonight. The bases were eventually loaded with one down, and Ronny Cedeno hit a clean single off of Ramon Ortiz for the win.

In addition to walking nine guys, the offense left 12 men on base. That now makes 22 in two games, which is obviously way too many. Hopefully that changes soon.

Kershaw had a rough first inning, but found ways to get out of trouble in the next few. On the night, he finished with 4 2/3 innings, five hits, three runs, six walks, and four strikeouts. Like he has many times in the past, he was his own worst enemy. He simply cannot give so many free passes. But also like I've said in the past, he's still very young, so we'll have to live with these growing pains.

George Sherrill was a positive, as he pitched a scoreless inning, striking out two. Ramon Troncoso is back with the team, and he put up a blank in the ninth. At least they did well.

It's too early to freak out about any of this, but the Dodgers would really look pretty bad if they were to lose on Thursday afternoon and suffer a sweep. I mean, the Pirates do look better, but they're still on the bottom end of the National League. The Dodgers need to get a win.

Chad Billingsley gets the call on Thursday, and we all know how much he struggled to end last season. But, here's a good opportunity to get back on track by getting his team their first win of the season.

Belisario about a couple of weeks away

For those of you who are still trying to recover from George Sherrill's horrendous outing on Monday, there appears to be some good news on the horizon. Ronald Belisario is progressing enough that he may only be two weeks away from a return.

Currently, Belisario is in Camelback Ranch to throw live batting practice. He's already put in a week of bullpen sessions, and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt gave a good progress report. The next step is getting into live game action, then going on back-to-back days.

It's a good approach to take it slow after the Will Ohman debacle of last season. For those of you that have forgotten, Ohman was signed just as spring training was coming to a close to be the main man against lefties. Instead, he lasted only 21 games, had a 5.84 ERA, and was shut down for the year for shoulder surgery.

Belisario had a great '09, coming out of nowhere to post a 2.04 ERA in 69 games, striking out 64. Whether Sherrill figures things out or not, you've got to figure that Belisario will still play a key role late in games regardless.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Opening Day unkind to Padilla

Joe Torre raised some eyebrows when he named Vicente Padilla as his Opening Day starter.

Today's performance is a good reason why.

Torre went with his hottest hand at the end of last season, and it backfired. Padilla gave up seven runs in 4 1/3 innings, and the Pirates used three long balls to crush the Dodgers, 11-5. It was pretty ugly all day long.

The Dodgers were the ones to strike first to start the game off of Zack Duke. Russell Martin hit second and worked a walk with one out, and Andre Ethier doubled for two on. After Manny Ramirez flew out, Matt Kemp hit a two-run single to make it 2-0.

It sure looked like a good beginning, but Padilla walked Akinori Iwamura to lead off. Garrett Jones then launched a two-run homer to even the game at two. From there, the Pirates took off and never looked back.

Padilla wiggled out of a bases loaded, no out jam in the second, but Jones's second homer of the day made it 3-2.

It all unraveled in the fifth, when Andrew McCutchen was beaned to lead off. Lastings Milledge and Ronny Cedeno had RBIs, but the big blow of the inning was a bases clearing double from Ryan Church, making it 8-2.

The bats tried to make a game out of this, as Manny's two-run single and James Loney's RBI groundout in the seventh made it 8-5. Consecutive singles by pinch-hitter Garret Anderson and Rafael Furcal made for another threat in the eighth, but nothing came of it.

George Sherrill came in to pitch the bottom of the eighth, and he had struggled all spring. That continued, as Ryan Doumit unloaded on a three-run shot, putting the game away at 11-5. Octavio Dotel set the Dodgers down in order to end the game.

The offense did generate 12 hits, but left 10 on. That included leaving six on with runners in scoring position and two out. They got at least one hit every inning, save for the last one. So at least they didn't look wimpy at the plate.

On the mound, however, was a different story. I justified giving Padilla the ball in game one, but it's hard to now. He simply looked lost. It could have actually been a lot worse had the Pirates capitalized in the second. So in a weird way, he should feel a little lucky they didn't.

I'm not as worried about him as I am about Sherrill. One of the strengths I talked about in my season preview was the end of the bullpen. Well, that sure didn't look to be the case today. Sherrill had a 7.50 ERA in the spring, and looked every bit of it today. Yes, it's certainly too early to panic, but let's hope he shows some positive signs soon.

With Opening Day in the books, both teams will get Tuesday off before going back at it on Wednesday. Clayton Kershaw (who sure as heck looks like he should have been today's starter) will go against Ross Ohlendorf.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Opening Day roster is set

Here is the 25-man roster the Dodgers will have in play to start the season:

Catchers (2): Russell Martin, Brad Ausmus

Infielders (6): James Loney, Blake DeWitt, Ronnie Belliard, Jamey Carroll, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake

Outfielders (5): Manny Ramirez, Garret Anderson, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Reed Johnson

Starting Pitchers (5): Vicente Padilla, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Charlie Haeger

Relief Pitchers (7): Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Jeff Weaver, Ramon Troncoso, Russ Ortiz, Ramon Ortiz, Carlos Monasterios

Hong-Chih Kuo and Cory Wade will open on the 15-day DL. Ronald Belisario is on the 30-day Restricted List.

Strengths and questions for 2010

Opening Day is upon us! The Dodgers will travel to Pittsburgh to begin their defense of the NL West title. They'll be looking to win their third straight division crown.

Here, I will take a look at five areas of strength and five question marks heading into the '10 season.


1. Strong end of the bullpen
There might not be a better end-of-game combination than George Sherrill and Jonathan Broxton. Both men were simply electric last season, and pretty much turned games into seven-inning contests. In 27 2/3 innings, Sherrill gave up only two runs for an 0.65 ERA. Broxton saved 36 games while striking out 114. When two legit closers are available, it's hard for the opposition to stand much of a chance.

2. Powerful outfield
A full year of Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier is a scary thought. Kemp and Ethier enjoyed breakout '09 campaigns. Kemp hit 26 homers, 101 RBIs, and stole 34 bases. Ethier hit 31 homers, 106 RBIs, and was the walk-off hero all year long. If Manny regains his form that he had before his suspension, then the middle of the order will be perfectly set.

3. Clayton Kershaw, future ace
Kershaw didn't get much help from his offense, posting only an 8-8 record. But, a 2.79 ERA and 185 strikeouts showed what kind of electric stuff he truly has. He kept getting better as the season went on, another great sign. This could be the year he takes the next step in being one of the league's best hurlers.

4. Veteran presence
Key members of the run the last couple of years have been Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal, Ronnie Belliard, Brad Ausmus, and Vicente Padilla. Each player brought veteran experience and have really provided a lift where needed. Give GM Ned Colletti credit - he isn't afraid to bring in older players in order to provide a spark, and that's exactly what has happened.

5. Bench support
One of the areas of strength I believe was overlooked last season was the ability of the bench to be productive. Guys like Juan Pierre, Juan Castro, Belliard, and Ausmus were solid, and Charlie Haeger and Eric Stults gave good spot starts. The names are changed, but I like who Joe Torre can turn to. Belliard and Ausmus are back, and they are joined by Reed Johnson, Garret Anderson, and Jamey Carroll. All five have plenty of starting experience, which makes resting the starters easier. If the spring is any indication, then Ramon Ortiz and Russ Ortiz look ready to provide a spark as well.

Question marks:

1. Will the before or after Manny Ramirez show up?
When you think of the Dodgers, you think of the whole Manny scandal from last year, and rightfully so. Simply put, the Dodgers can't expect to go further in the postseason if Manny hits at a .255 rate like he did after the All Star break last season. He's still the focal point for every opposing scouting report, and he needs to deliver.

2. How will the Dodgers replace Randy Wolf?
Wolf was awesome last year, going 11-7 (no run support) with a 3.23 ERA. Then the Dodgers didn't offer him arbitration, something that greatly angered fans. He's taken his act to Milwaukee, and the Dodgers never did replace him. The main guy I can think of to step up in his spot is Chad Billingsley. If he can regain his pre-All Star form, then the Dodgers have their answer.

3. Will Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake hold up?
I've already mentioned how both men have brought a great veteran presence, but as the years go by, the injuries pile up. Furcal played in 150 games last year, but still was banged up at times and hit only .269. Blake battled a bad hamstring as the season wore on and hit a measly .167 in the playoffs. Joe Torre has stated that he intends to give both men more time off, which is necessary. The Dodgers have good backup options in Belliard and Carroll, but neither man can compare to a healthy Furcal and Blake.

4. Can Hong-Chih Kuo stay healthy again?
It's easy to continually ask health questions, but with Kuo already on the 15-day DL to start the season, it's an important one. He began last season almost identical to this one, as elbow problems had him out from May until July. Once he came back, however, he was great. Rarely, if ever, pitching on consecutive days, he used his powerful stuff to post a 3.00 ERA in 30 innings, giving a great lift to the bullpen. If he's healthy, he's a great option to bridge the gap to Sherrill and Broxton at the end of the game.

5. Will Ned Colletti make another big splash during the season?
The last two seasons have earned Colletti a contract extension. In addition to back-to-back NL West titles, some great maneuvering at the trade deadline have given the Dodgers a needed lift. Two seasons ago it was Manny. Last year it was Padilla, Belliard, Jon Garland, and Jim Thome. Who will it be this time? In looking at the roster, the biggest area of improvement would be starting pitching. So, look for the Dodgers to be linked to rumors about getting another big arm as the season progresses.

2010 NL West Preview: Closers

1. Jonathan Broxton – Dodgers
2. Heath Bell – Padres
3. Brian Wilson – Giants
4. Huston Street – Rockies
5. Chad Qualls – Diamondbacks

Broxton really thrust himself into one of the top closers in the game last year. He had 36 saves, pitching 76 innings and blowing away 114 hitters. That’s some scary stuff. His next step will be to finish the year strong, as he’s twice been burned by the Phillies in the playoffs.

Bell quickly and easily made people forget about the mess that was Trevor Hoffman’s departure with a spectacular season. In his first full season as closer, he was 42-for-48 with a 2.71 ERA. So of course, playing in San Diego and being good means he’ll be the subject of trade rumors as the season wears on.

Wilson quieted a lot of critics with a very good season. He had 41 saves in 2008, but gave up seven homers en route to a 4.62 ERA. But, he settled down last year for 38 saves (though seven blown) for a 2.74 ERA. He was rewarded with a nice two-year, $15 million extension.

Street is currently battling shoulder problems, which should keep him out of action in April. But, he’s proven since his rookie year with Oakland in 2005 that he knows how to slam the door in the ninth. He saved 35 games last year, while only blowing two. The Rockies need him at full health in a competitive division.

Qualls comes in last, but really, he’d be higher up on many lists in other divisions. He was given the full-time closer’s role last year, and responded with 24 saves in 29 chances. A dislocated kneecap forced him to miss the last month of the season, but he looks to be fully recovered.

2010 NL West Preview: Starting Pitching

1. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Barry Zito, Jonathan Sanchez, Todd Wellemeyer – Giants
2. Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Vicente Padilla, Hiroki Kuroda, Charlie Haeger – Dodgers
3. Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, Jorge De La Rosa, Jason Hammel – Rockies
4. Dan Haren, Brandon Webb, Edwin Jackson, Billy Buckner, Ian Kennedy – Diamondbacks
5. Chris Young, Kevin Correia, Jon Garland, Clayton Richard, Mat Latos – Padres

The strength of Lincecum and Cain are enough to earn the Giants the first slot. As great as they are, the rest of the rotation is pretty solid as well. Zito got better as the season went on last year, possibly showing that he’s finally settled down after being such a disaster when he first arrived. Sanchez threw a no-hitter (remember that?) and has great strikeout potential.

The Dodgers and Rockies are close, but I’ll give the slight edge to the Dodgers. Kershaw has the stuff of not only team ace, but league ace as well. A lot of their success will depend on Billingsley and his ability to bounce back from a horrible second half. Padilla has definitely enjoyed his time with LA, and they’ll need more big innings from him. Kuroda quietly is an effective pitcher.

The Rockies are a team on the upswing, and their pitching is a big reason why. Jimenez is just like Kershaw: young, hard throwing, and just ridiculously talented. Francis won 17 games in 2007, but is again battling injury problems. They need him to be at his strongest. De La Rosa gets a ton of strikeouts and finished the year strong. Cook will give them plenty of starts, but so-so numbers with it.

The Diamondacks could have been higher on the list, but once again Webb’s shoulder is a major problem. He’s looking at months off, and that’s a big blow. You know you’ll get great results from Haren, and Jackson should be a nice addition. But without Webb, there’s really only two starters to fear, and that’s it.

Young will be the key for the Padres. If he can be healthy and start 30 games, he’ll produce good results. Garland will give them innings and steady, but not spectacular, numbers. Correia is on the upswing, as he was one of the lone bright spots for them last year. Latos is looked at as the future, though he doesn’t seem like a major prospect.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The fifth starter's spot belongs to Haeger

The battle for the fifth starter's spot has come to an end, and Charlier Haeger has emerged victorious. Joe Torre made the decision on Thursday, the same day Blake DeWitt was named starter at second.

Haeger earned the job after an impressive spring. He made six starts and pitched 16 1/3 innings, posting a 2.20 ERA. He walked 11, but did strike out 15.

It's not like he was handed this job, because the other contenders did their part to make this a tough decision for Torre. Russ Ortiz had a 2.50 ERA in 18 innings, and Ramon Ortiz had a 1.02 ERA in 17 2/3 innings. With numbers like those, you would think they'll have some sort of role with the team going forward. At least one of them will.

In his young career with the White Sox, Padres, and Dodgers, Haeger has a 2-3 record with a 5.26 ERA. But, he was 1-1 with a 3.32 ERA last season, which earned him the opportunity this spring.

So the rotation is now set: Vicente Padilla, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, and Haeger. There's only one lefty in there, but Haeger's knuckleball is definitely a different look anyway.

Haeger's first start looks to be sometime in Florida next weekend. He could be available out of the bullpen until then.

DeWitt will get first crack at second base

Blake DeWitt was chosen to be the Opening Day starter at second on Thursday. He'll be backed up by Ronnie Belliard and Jamey Carroll.

DeWitt has already had quite the interesting career with the Dodgers, and he's only entering his third season. The hope is that knowing he'll be the everyday starter will make him relax and return to the form he found at the start of the 2008 season.

For those of you that have forgotten, DeWitt was the default third baseman to start the '08 season, mostly because of injuries to Nomar Garciaparra, Andy LaRoche, and Tony Abreu. It turned out to be a blessing, because he ended up hitting .303 through May.

He cooled off soon after that, however, and was then sent back down once Casey Blake came aboard. He did get to start at second for an ailing Jeff Kent in that year's playoffs, but hit .167 with six strikeouts in eight games.

Last year he spent only 31 games in the bigs, going back and forth between the minors and majors. It was pretty much a lost year for him because he never could get comfortable.

I came into this spring thinking Belliard would be the starter, but I can see Torre's thinking on this one. DeWitt is much younger, and the Dodgers are trying to think long-term here. We've seen the best and worst of him already, so like I said before, hopefully he can play well knowing that he's the main man.

I'm sure Belliard and Carroll will still see some starts and opportunities late in games, and they're both good options to have in those situations.

Stults packs his bags for Japan

The long-rumored deal to send Eric Stults to Japan has finally happened. Stults was sold to the Hiroshima Carp on Wednesday. He will report there next week.

Stults came into the spring with intentions on earning the fifth spot in the rotation. While he was one of the handful of guys given a look, he only pitched in 5 1/3 innings for a 5.06 ERA, striking out two.

These rumors of the Stults-Japan connection have gone on since last year. He was out of options coming into the spring, and once he saw he wasn't going to be a starter (eventually going to Charlie Haeger), he became much more interested in making the deal happen.

Stults has been starting here and there for the Dodgers since 2006. He finishes his Dodgers career with an 8-10 mark and 4.84 ERA. His highlight came in '08 when he posted a 3.49 ERA in seven starts.

Repko's days as a Dodger are over

Jason Repko's strange career with the Dodgers has finally come to an end. After being with the organization since 1999, the Dodgers have released him.

The main problem for Repko has always been a couple of key factors: injuries and overpopulation in the outfield. It seemed like there wasn't a season that went by without him being hurt. Unfortunately, earning the tag of "injury-prone" did him no favors, especially as a reserve fighting for playing time.

Repko played in 129 games in 2005, but posted a meager .221 average. He then played in 69 games the next year, hitting .254 with 10 stolen bases. But, 2007 was washed out with a torn hamstring, and his Dodgers career may as well have been washed out too.

He seemed to have stuck around for so long because of his potential, as he did have good speed and played anywhere in the outfield. But his hitting was just never there. My one big memory of him was when he got called up from Triple-A to replace an injured Juan Pierre on June 30, 2008. Joe Torre hit him in the leadoff spot in Houston against Roy Oswalt.

Repko then went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts, and he never seemed to recover.

There's always a chance Repko could be back on a minor league deal, but I would be very surprised if that happened.

The main outfield reserves are now Reed Johnson, Garret Anderson, and Xavier Paul. They looked to be locked in for Opening Day.