Monthly archives: May 2007
Lasorda's 'Got It' Too
New School meets Old School ...
Tommy Lasorda said he once did what Alex Rodriguez is accused of doing (no, not that thing - the other thing), according to The Associated Press.
"I was coaching first base in Miami two outs in the top of the ninth inning. We were losing by one run. We had a guy on second base," Lasorda recalled. "There was a foul ball. Gene Oliver was going over to catch it. I said, 'I got it! I got it!' He pulled back and the ball dropped. He's screaming at me. And the next pitch a guy hit a home run, and we won the game."
I'm perfectly fine with coming to no conclusion on the A-Rod incident.
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If Jason Schmidt returns to action soon, I predict a tag-team thing developing for Hong-Chih Kuo and Chad Billingsley, where the two are expected to combine for seven innings and it doesn't matter much who the starting pitcher is. If, on the other hand, Kuo can go six innings Saturday and Schmidt isn't ready, I see Billingsley stepping in for the tim-bered Mark Hendrickson.
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AAA Las Vegas outfielder Larry Bigbie is on his own and free to negotiate with any club, reports Kevin Baxter of the Times.
In case you missed it and want to see it, I'm linking to Jeffrey Anderson's L.A. Weekly feature on Scott Boras.
I feel a little obnoxious saying this, especially since the story is nothing if not well-written, but I read this about a week ago and didn't find anything particularly revelatory within the piece. But people are talking about it, so I figured I'd make a note of it.
I think I've said before on Dodger Thoughts that I don't demonize Boras the way others do. As far as I'm concerned, he's doing his job, and it's up to major league owners and general managers to do theirs. If they don't like what he's selling, all they have to do is say no. If they do like what he's selling, why shouldn't they pay what the market will bear. (It's not as if the Dodgers don't do the same thing to their fans. I don't see that cycle ending soon.) And as far as the players he represents, they just have to remember that they're the boss.
To me, aside from providing some atmospheric details and a few small pieces of information, the article mainly gives Boras a chance to spin his case and people such as Dodger general manager Ned Colletti to spin theirs. On both sides, the spin at times is perfectly sensible and other times stretches credibility. Meanwhile, what's the insight?
If you don't know Boras' story - and no doubt a good chunk of the Weekly audience doesn't - it's a good read. But if you do know it, I think this article will seem awfully familiar.
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Kate Sullivan's "Love Letter to the L.A. Dodgers" in the Weekly is disappointing for different reasons, but I suppose reasons just as personal. Consider this passage:
And I'm still a brand-new baseball fan, after all. And it's fun to be a new fan. One thing that bugs me about some veteran fans is their lack of foolish romance about individual players, and their tough-skinned acceptance that "baseball is big business." (Even Vinny, the eternal romantic, disappointed me with his dispassionate Zen reaction to the '04 trades.) Baseball is big business, all right, but that's because it's big entertainment, and entertainment is about much more than pure numbers.
I'll excuse her as a self-described new fan for not trusting enough in Vinny to see his attitude toward the 2004 trades as anything but a contradiction to his love of the game. Reading someone perpetuate the idea that if you didn't disapprove of trading Paul Lo Duca, you were no longer a romantic, that you no longer had foolish crushes on individual players, just makes me feel tired. Talk to me about R.J. Reynolds and Pedro Astacio. Talk to me about Buddy Carlyle. For that matter, talk to me about Lo Duca - I adored him. Even for those fans today who really are jaded, I'd be surprised if you could find many that didn't harbor a long lost baseball love. Irrationality and rationality can coexist.
I'm truly glad she's a new fan - I welcome her heartily to the club - and I can only hope her excitement is contagious. But she reopened some old wounds in an unpleasant way. Fortunately, she does end on a more agreeable note (for me).
Firstly, stadium staff need to shoot on sight anyone with a beach ball. Fans trying to start a wave should be forced to watch the remainder of the game in their underpants. Fans trying to perform a wave during tense late-innings moments should be lined up and tickled by the bullpen, then banished for the remainder of the season. Fans trying to start a chant that includes the word "suck" should be lightly beaten about the head and shoulders, and reminded that a truly great team doesn't need to insult anyone else.
Fans who choose instead to chant, "Let's go Dodgers, let's go!" should be given free ice cream as reward for their sportsmanship and good taste.
Let's go Dodgers, let's go!
The Price of Success
Six-foot-six left-handed Vanderbilt pitcher David Price, poised to become the No. 1 overall draft pick in major-league baseball next week, could have joined the Dodger organization in 2004 after he was drafted in the 19th round. But this wasn't necessarily a case of the Dodgers letting someone get away because they preferred to spend money on, say, mediocre major league talent.
From Teresa M. Walker of The Associated Press:
Improving his draft status wasn't why Price chose college over professional baseball. Price said he simply wasn't ready, a fact he made clear two weeks before that draft.
"I'm just 10 times the player I was whenever I came here. My stuff has gotten better. The most important thing for me is mentally. I was not ready for that out of high school. Now I feel like I can do anything," Price said.
Some people just want to go to college. It's very possible that out of high school, Price had his price, but it's hard to fault the Dodgers when it appears he's so much better off for having spurned them.
But we can certainly wonder what might have been ...
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In December, I suggested that despite their lack of star power, the Dodgers might be able to win with "supreme adequacy."
While the Dodger lineup doesn't look overpowering in the middle, it may be among the best in the National League top to bottom. While (Juan) Pierre will have one of the lowest on-base per-centages of a leadoff or No. 2 hitter, the Dodgers' No. 8 hitter (Andre Ethier? Wilson Betemit?) could be the best around. I am very open to the idea that with superstar talent at a clear premium, there may be something to the idea of trying to dominate with depth, with supreme adequacy. (Luis) Gonzalez might not be an ideal signing or even a sensible one, but there might be something to it.On a much broader and insightfuler level, Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus explores this idea:
There are two ways to build a winning baseball team. One way is to have a few players who are extraordinarily good. Alternatively, you can have few players who are extraordinarily bad. Conversely, there are two reasons that baseball clubs fail. They can have an absence of good players or an abundance of bad ones.
This distinction might seem at once too basic and too esoteric. Nevertheless, it is something that can get lost in our obsession with replacement level, which begins to assign value at a relatively low threshold, and seems to divide players into good, "gooder", and "goodest." If you take two teams whose offenses are both 180 runs better than replacement, for example, that doesn't tell you very much about how those teams are composed. You might have one team who has two stars with VORPs around 90, and a bunch of zero-value scrubs (in VORP) rounding out the roster, and another team that has no star talent at all, but gets a 20 VORP contribu-tion out of each of its nine regulars.
So, you're probably asking, is it better to be sharp or be flat? And is it better to be natural than either of the above? There are intuitive arguments either way. On the one hand, it's generally much cheaper to exchange replacement-level talent with average talent than it is to replace average talent with superstar talent, particu-larly if you have extra financial or scouting resources at your disposal. There's little chance that the Yankees will still be employing Doug Mientkiewicz, for example, if they've limped back into the race by the trade dead-line, and their marginal gains are going to be very high once they replace him. On the other hand, sharp teams do not do a very good job of diversifying themselves, and may be more vulnerable to injuries or other kinds of attrition problems. The Cardinals, who were an extremely "sharp" team heading into this season, are a good example of this; then Chris Carpenter gets hurt, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen start showing their age, and what you're left with is a team that... well, falls flat.
It's almost like you have two of Bill James' seminal concepts at loggerheads. The Talent Pyramid would tend to suggest that sharp teams have an easier job of improving themselves, while the Plexiglass Principle might favor flat ones. My hunch is that that the argument for sharpness prevails; in fact, I'm almost certain that being sharp is better than being flat, though I don't know if it's better than being natural. But I haven't run the numbers yet, and that's going to need to wait until next week.
Gonzalez, by the way, is third among Dodger hitters in Value Over Replacement Player so far this year. (Brad Penny is fifth!) Gonzalez's OPS+ of 119 is also third among Dodger regulars, according to Baseball-Reference.com. It's hard to argue that the Dodgers have had a supremely adequate lineup when four positions are below average offensively, but the pitching - with a staff ERA+ of 121 - has made up for it.
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Rafael Furcal has been a hitting machine of late, but it is interesting that he is in his longest stretch without a home run 241 plate appearances - since a 2001-2002 period in which he went 287 plate appearances without a homer.
Furcal's most recent home run was September 19, 2006 against Pittsburgh, the Dodgers' opponent this weekend.
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Today's 4:05 p.m. game:
C Is for Cookie; That's Good Enough for Me
Comment: Congrats to the three California teams of the National League West for their 17-0 shutout of the Nationals, Pirates and Mets.
Cuestion: Do the individual stats of players on poor offensive teams get diminished because those teams don't get into opposing bullpens as quickly or as often? Do better offensive teams boost their players' individual stats by getting more at-bats against mop-up men?
Chat: I hope you'll join me in chatting about the Scripps National Spelling Bee here Thursday. Semifinals are on ESPN from 7 a.m. Pacific to 10 a.m.; finals are on ABC, tape-delayed on the West Coast, at 8 p.m.
This post brought to you by Cuesta College. Cuesta College: Where lifelong learning happens.
I only stumbled across this by accident, but Tuesday marked the 20th anniversary of my professional writing career. On May 29, 1987, the Times published (after heavily editing) a piece I wrote while I was a Stanford junior on Cardinal defensive back/outfielder Toi Cook.
Twenty years feels like a long time to me. Of course, current New York Met Julio Franco was in his sixth season already, so who's to say?
On May 29, 1987, just like they did last night, the Dodgers shut out their opponent. (Bob Welch threw a three-hitter.) On May 30, 1987, the Dodgers reversed things and got shut out themselves. (Kevin Gross threw a seven-hitter.)
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Cal State Northridge senior Marisol Ramos passed along this minute-long video of her playing baseball with her father. There's nothing dramatic about it, but I thought it was kind of charming.
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Today's 4:05 p.m. game:
Schmidt Hurls Six Shutout Innings
In his first rehabilitation start, Dodger pitcher Jason Schmidt threw six shutout innings for Dodgers affiliate Inland Empire against Class A Rancho Cucamonga.
He faced 20 batters, allowing two hits and one walk while striking out seven. The other 11 outs came on eight flyouts, two groundouts and a caught stealing.
Update: "He threw 71 pitches, 51 for strikes and topped out at 91 mph while averaging 88," according to Josh Rawitch (via 66ers broadcaster Mike Saeger) at Inside the Dodgers. "Afterward, he said he felt great ..."
You might have thought that the only way the Dodgers would score a 10-0 victory was if major league baseball converted to Base 3. Nothing would boost the Dodgers' offensive totals like a little bit of new math - which still treats a shutout like old math would.
Instead, Base 3 refers to where Juan Pierre ended up on the first of his four extra-base hits Tuesday, kicking off a pristine Dodger victory. It was the feel-good night of the year, with once-and-future maligned Dodgers like Pierre, Luis Gonzalez, Nomar Garciaparra, Tony Abreu, Brad Penny, Yhency Brazoban and Brett Tomko providing peak performances in the very same game.
Say what you will about the roster of Tuesday's opponent, the Washington Nationals, but the team had won 12 of their past 17 heading into the game. The Dodgers deserve credit for taking it to their opponent even though it took them 6 1/2 innings to put the game out of reach.
I was kicking myself after the game for not buying low on Pierre and suggesting he was due for a big night soon. As much as I would like to see someone else playing center field, Pierre has been underperforming even our lowest expectations for him. He has always had this game in him, and it would have been a good time for a hunch bet. In any case, I'm thrilled that he did it but no longer holding my breath for the next one.
There was something sad about Tomko coming out to mop up (even in a good way) when 20 days earlier, he was throwing 5 1/3 innings of no-hit ball at Florida. But that's what the game is for mediocre players like Pierre and Tomko as always, it's not that they can never do well, it's that they can't do well consistently.
On a different scale, some will be wondering whether the second-half spike will again drop on Brad Penny, he of the season-long homerless streak and scintillating ERA. Dodger Thoughts commenter Bhsportsguy points out (in comment 428) that Penny has improved his groundball ratio to better than 2:1, so even without massive strikeouts, there is hope for him to maintain a good chunk of his effectiveness. My own feeling is that Penny's continued health will play as much a factor as anything. Penny can't go through the entire season without allowing a homer, but I'm hopeful that he can avoid the utter collapse of 2006 Part Deux.
One final note: Yes, Russell Martin should have been removed from the game in the bottom of the seventh. While he didn't need the rest coming off an off day, this was an opportunity to give him something extra at no cost. More importantly, had Martin gotten hurt in the final innings, it would have been the darkest moment of Grady Little's tenure here. There was no need to take the risk.
More prudent was Takashi Saito, who asked for some time off to rest a tired shoulder after pitching or warming up five consecutive days.
But the morning after 10-0 is not a morning I want to rain on anyone's parade. After so many close games, it was so nice to have a cakewalk.
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Jason Schmidt has his first rehabilitation start at 11 a.m. with the Inland Empire 66ers of the Class A California League.
Tuesday night, Rancho Cucamonga's Anthony Ortega took a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the 66ers, but Blake DeWitt's bloop single broke it up. The teams were scoreless until the 12th inning before RC colaed the IE, 7-4.
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Times beat reporter Steve Henson said he will be joining former colleagues Tim Brown and Dave Morgan at Yahoo! Sports. Whether Kevin Baxter, Ben Bolch or an outsider will replace him on the beat does not seem to have been officially determined.
All my best to Henson on this move.
May 29 Game Chat
Introductory and in-depth all at once, the 2007 MLB Draft roundtable hosted by Rich Lederer at Baseball Analysts with Jim Callis, John Manuel and Alan Matthews of Baseball America is a great way to get ready for the June 7 meat market.
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Today at SI.com's Fungoes, I try to let the rest of the world know that there's a pretty good race going on in the National League West.
Colorado has won six in a row. Arizona has won five in a row. San Diego has won six out of seven.
Kids 2, Dodger Thoughts 0
The game was not as close as the score indicated. I'm even a little taken by surprise by the one-sidedness of it all.
Two quick not-the-top-story notes:
"The Dodgers have signed switch-hitting catcher Griff Erickson, the team's 2006 15th-round draft pick who was a draft-and-follow player out of San Diego Mesa College," Diamond Leung of the Press-Enterprise reported. Griff sounds like a character out of Viking Quest.
A great recap of Friday's 9-8 Dodger victory comes courtesy of Rob McMillin at 6-4-2.
May 27 Game Chat
Don't want to hear any complaining about Russell Martin being in the lineup. He rested Thursday and he'll rest again Monday.
Rafael Furcal is back at shortstop, Olmedo Saenz is at first base, Andy LaRoche is at third base and Brady Clark is on right field.
Today's 1:10 p.m. game:
Dodgers 1,006, Cubs 1,005
May 25 Game Chat
Originally published May 23, 2003
Jody Reed never walked off the field with his head bowed in shame, bearing the crushing disappointment of a Dodger crowd robbed of glory.
But Reed deserves a place right beside Mickey Owen, Ralph Branca, Terry Forster and Tom Niedenfuer in the Dodger Chamber of Horrors. The sickening cringe engendered by the memory of Forster serving up Joe Morgan's home run in 1982 or Niedenfuer tossing Jack Clark's in 1985 is every bit as applicable if you truly understand the mischief of Jody Reed. The difference with Reed is that his catastrophe came not in the hothouse mania of October but the cool epilogue of November.
Branca cost the Dodgers a pennant. Owen cost them a World Series.
Reed cost the Dodgers Pedro Martinez. No, he wasn't traded for Martinez. He cost them Martinez, as simply and horribly as a slow roller through the legs with the title on the line.
The Greatest Ever
I had planned to make this a big research project, but then it occurred to me that this might be a fun groupthink for an off day.
What was the greatest ____________ in Los Angeles Dodger history?
Fill in the blanks. I'll start you off with some nominations. If you have other categories to suggest, feel free.
6 6 6 7
Thanks to Dodgers director of public relations Josh Rawitch for the reminder of the five-year anniversary of Shawn Green's four-homer day.
Kablam. Kablam. Kablam. Kaaaablammmmm. Seems like forever ago.
Other Dodgers to homer on May 23, 2002: Brian Jordan, Adrian Beltre, Dave Hansen and ... Hiram Bocachica!
These other notes came across from Rawitch earlier in the day:
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Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot
"We're looking for somebody who's going to get hot."
- Grady Little
Hotter than this? [16 for 62, four doubles, four home runs, 16 walks, one hit-by-pitch, one sacrifice fly, .259 batting average, .413 on-base percentage, .516 slugging percentage, .929 OPS]
Those are the combined statistics of Andy LaRoche and Wilson Betemit in May. It's nothing against Tony Abreu, but if the goal is for him to be a better-hitting third baseman than his two competitors in recent weeks, that's the standard he has to beat. And it's not entirely clear to me that the Dodgers are aware of this.
The only Dodger with a higher on-base percentage or OPS in May than Wilsondy LaRochemit is Rafael Furcal. The only Dodger with a higher slugging percentage in May is Jeff Kent.
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Baseball must like Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, because baseball pretty much lets him do whatever he wants. Monday, Verducci played five innings in right field for the Toronto Blue Jays at the Cooperstown, New York Hall of Fame Game and came away with a whale of a tale.
... I ran toward the gap. The flight of the ball took me nearer and nearer to the wall. It wasn't until I felt my spikes first hit the cinder warning track that I knew with some certainty that I was going to catch it. I reached up and across my body for a backhand catch, calculating that the ball would hit my glove and the wall would hit me at just about the same time. The ball was not more than three feet from my glove, and then, suddenly .. nothing. Darkness. Black. The sky gone. ...
Abreu A-Brewing, Tomko A-Skipping
A number of people have said they can't wrap their heads around the Tony Abreu callup. There is a simple explanation, which is that with two off days over the next seven, the Dodgers had no reason to keep 12 pitchers, so they sent down Hong-Chih Kuo and called up a position player with a high batting average.
"Brett Tomko will have his next start skipped," Diamond Leung of the Press-Enterprise reports, "and Grady Little is undecided on whether or not he will get another. Kuo will go back to starting in the minors, and Chad Billingsley will be stretched out as well."
Abreu is starting at third base tonight, but could also play second base and allow the Dodgers to move Jeff Kent to first base and rest Nomar. For all we know, the Dodgers might also be showcasing Abreu for a trade. So it's not as if the move lacks an explanation.
Now, whether Abreu was the best choice for a callup is debatable. Playing him there puts two of the Dodgers' bigger walk and homer threats, Wilson Betemit and Andy LaRoche, on the bench, and further strands Matt Kemp, among others, in Las Vegas.
Tony Jackson of the Daily News suggests that Abreu, batting eighth tonight, could flip spots in the batting order with Juan Pierre sooner than later if he outhits him. That's where things start getting a little confusing. It's easy enough to believe that the Dodgers will use Betemit off the bench when he's had such success there this month, but it's hard to believe that LaRoche is being permanently benched when he has been reaching base lately more than any other Dodger except Rafael Furcal. It seems a little soon to start speculating about Abreu for the long-term.
Update: From The Associated Press:
"To get another hot hitter in the lineup," Dodgers manager Grady Little replied when asked why the move was made. "We're looking for somebody who's going to get hot. He's earned the right to get an opportunity right now.
"The kid brings life, he brings energy, he brings productivity."
Little said it's possible the Dodgers will keep all three third basemen, adding LaRoche could be used in the outfield.
Well, it does appear the Dodgers are throwing darts a bit at this point. Can Abreu improve on LaRoche's .767 OPS to date? And who sits when LaRoche plays in the outfield. Any bets that it's Andre Ethier?
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The Dodgers have eight more hits than their opponents, 24 more walks, seven more stolen bases (with the same caught stealing), 111 fewer strikeouts and only three fewer total bases. As weird as they are, they're doing well.
Let's just see if they can do better.
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Thanks to Dodger Thoughts commenter Brian Y for the quick alert - and for Silverwidow to notice that Hong-Chih Kuo has been moved back to the AAA Las Vegas roster on Dodgers.com. (Of course, that site temporarily had Abreu as a pitcher, which would be interesting.)
Abreu has a .397 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage for AAA Las Vegas.
Update: It's official: With only five games in the next seven days, the Dodgers have sent Kuo down to reduce their pitching staff to 11.
Things that my father and I said at Monday night's Dodger game.
"Chad Billingsley is going to mow these guys down." - me.
"Luis Gonzalez looked overmatched on that swing." - me.
"I can't believe I've never caught a foul ball." - him.
And then Billingsley allowed two inherited runners and three of his own to score, Gonzalez homered on the next pitch and a foul ball came screaming at my father, through his fearless hands, off his 72-year-old stomach and into the possession of a man two rows in front of him.
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People worry too much about batting order. All the talk about whether Russell Martin should bat higher in the lineup and Juan Pierre should bat lower is just a smokescreen. It hardly matters. What's important is that the right guys play. Martin can bat eighth in my lineup if the guy batting second deserves to be in the game.
Fooling with the batting order is just a stall tactic. Though a new batting order might help a little, if it allows a team to postpone making critical decisions about the regular eight to begin with, it actually can be a negative.
Now, all that comes without any sort of thorough examination of the idea that moving Pierre to the leadoff spot or Andre Ethier to the No. 8 spot would somehow ignite the offense. To me, it's 52-pickup. If we make the conversation about batting order, even if it's framed in the context of making lemons out of lemonade, we're doing a disservice.
No one knows better than me that Pierre is here to play, which is why I try to spend as little time as possible talking about him. But batting him eighth won't help enough to make a difference. If we have to talk about Pierre at all, let's save our energy for what really matters. There are no consolation prizes.
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Milwaukee whacked the ball Monday night. Whacked it. You forget what it's like sometimes. Now, this was a night that the Dodgers hit two home runs themselves and send a couple of balls to the warning track, which all in all is good for this team. But the Brewer bats had the snap of a great Italian sausage. They clobbbered the ball. And that's with their leading hitter, J.J. Hardy, going 0 for 5.
And still, the Brewers almost lost. Manager Ned Yost left Jeff Suppan in too long, and despite trailing, 8-0, at one point, the Dodgers put the tying run in the on-deck circle with none out in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Even in what appears to be a rout, the margin between winning and losing can be so thin. Team fortunes can reverse so quickly. We see it happen all the time, yet the primal need to anticipate the future can suck us into seeing only what will validate our beliefs. This week, I've heard the Dodgers called hopeless. Does that make sense?
It may get worse before it gets better, if tonight's starting pitcher for Milwaukee, Ben Sheets, has any say about it. But Sheets will face other teams this season, too. The Dodgers' rivals will face adversity. It goes around.
A week ago, we were talking about how, beyond all logic, the Dodgers could not beat St. Louis. Then they beat the Cardinals twice in a row.
The dynamic of the Dodgers hasn't changed. They're still a team strong in parts and weak in parts, and when you add it all together, you have a contender.
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But the Dodgers do seem paralyzed by a belief system.
The initial analysis of Monday's pitching debacle was that Chad Billingsley didn't prove himself ready to take Brett Tomko's starting job.
But that ignores the question of why it's Tomko's job to lose in the first place? Why shouldn't Tomko have to prove himself worthy of keeping Billingsley out of the rotation?
Gonzalez homered and walked and Nomar Garciaparra singled in a run, which in theory means that we don't get to talk today about Matt Kemp or James Loney, which in theory is good because Kemp has holes in his game and Loney hasn't been hitting well himself. Meanwhile, home runs for Gonzalez and Garciaparra remain blue-moon occurences, and Pierre's on-base percentage fell below .300. Why do they get dibs?
Because they're veterans.
There isn't a doubt in my mind that if Billingsley, Kemp or Loney were promoted into bigger roles, they'd struggle at various times and turn in some downright horrible performances. Odds are, at least one of them could outright fail. That makes them no different from the vets. Not a stitch.
Meanwhile, if it clicks for the kids, you've got something spectacular. The vets, on the other hand, are out of clicks.
Wilson Betemit lost his grip on the third base job before Andy LaRoche appeared ready to take it. Is there anyone now unhappy that LaRoche is on the team? But the only reason it happened is because the Dodgers were willing to let Betemit lose the job. It was a debatable choice, but if that's what you're willing to do, why not do it with Tomko or Pierre? Heck, if it makes you feel better, follow Tony Jackson's suggestion in the Daily News and let D.J. Houlton, "who overhauled his mechanics in spring training and as a result is 5-2 with a 3.28 ERA for the 51s," have a shot.
The kids are better bets than the vets. They just are. I know the reality; I know vets have tenure. But the reality is wrong. And even if the Dodgers kick off a winning streak tonight, that won't change anything. The best bets are sitting and waiting.
The team's fortunes do not depend on these decisions, because in many spots, the right guys are playing. Most of the starting rotation and the bullpen is the best it can be. The Dodgers can win a division even if Pierre starts 160 games. This isn't about Pierre. It's about a belief system.
Not, as the opening to this post indicates, that I haven't been wrong before, but after the Dodgers forced us to be open-minded about so many uninspiring vets, now it's their turn to be open-minded about the youth.
I'd like to thank Maury Brown of Baseball Prospectus for remembering the legend that was Doug Pappas. Pappas belongs on Mt. Rushmore when it comes to Internet baseball writers.
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Another Land War in Asia
I write for a different audience at SI.com, one that presumably hasn't discussed certain topics to the pain. So it is with a heavy heart that I bring you the topic of today's Fungoes entry: Juan Pierre.
If that weren't enough, I also mention other polarizing names from our Dodger Thoughts past to make a point:
Ever since their team hired Billy Beane disciple Paul DePodesta as GM, traded Paul Lo Duca and acquired Hee Seop Choi and J.D. Drew in 2004, Dodger fans have been split in two camps: Those who believe that statistics predominantly tell the story of a player's value, and those who believe stats undervalue hustle and team chemistry.
I could have picked a better time to bring up these topics than after a weekend sweep by the Angels that embittered many of us. However, the sweep did little to change my feelings about the Dodgers. The Dodger offense is inconsistent - it pulsated in winning five of six from Cincinnati and St. Louis before hiccuping in Anaheim. Derek Lowe pitched well Sunday, but the ground balls he induced just weren't hit in the right spots, which is what's going to happen from time to time. (The image of Lowe flat on the pitcher's mound watching a ball just elude him will stick with me for some time.) I see that the Dodgers have taken over the league lead in errors, yet for almost the entire season the fielding from the left side of the infield has looked superb.
I'd like to see the team make some adjustments, but they're basically the same adjustments I've been rooting for since April. The Dodgers lost three in a row yet still remain in first place for at least another day - I'm not ready to throw in the rally towel yet.
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Differing accounts emerged from rehabilitating pitcher Jason Schmidt's side session Sunday. Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:
The rehabbing right-hander appeared to throw harder in a bullpen session at Angels Stadium than he has at any time during his brief Dodgers career, be it Spring Training or the three starts he made before right shoulder bursitis sent him to the disabled list.
Schmidt threw what amounted to a semi-simulated game, in that he warmed up before and stopped after each of four 15-20 pitch inning. Counting the eight warmup throws per inning brings the total throws to over 100.
With bullpen coach Dan Warthen standing in as a simulated batter, Schmidt began with primarily sharp breaking balls and changeups but soon added fastballs, and as the session continued, the velocity increased. A velocity decrease of nearly 10 mph in his earlier starts served as a red flag that something was wrong.
The fact that Sunday's session lasted as long as it did and increased significantly from the 50 pitches he made in a bullpen session three days earlier would seem to indicate Schmidt is getting close to facing hitters, either in a traditional simulated game or on a Minor League rehabilitation start.
This session was important enough for both manager Grady Little and general manager Ned Colletti to observe in person. Schmidt has been reluctant to discuss his five-week rehab in detail ...
Tony Jackson of the Daily News:
Although the session went well, Schmidt still isn't airing out his fastball and still isn't close to going on a minor-league rehabilitation assignment.
And for now, there is no way of determining whether the layoff has restored the velocity Schmidt had lost on his pitches earlier this season.
The reports converged when it came to Dodger manager Grady Little's wait-and-see reaction to the session.
From Gurnick: Little continued to understate the significance of this workout while speaking with reporters.
From Jackson: "Our No. 1 concern is him feeling good after these exercises," Little said. "He is progressing. But the whole key will be how he feels two days from now."
May 20 Game Chat
Tonight's 12:35 p.m. game:
Olmedo Saenz at designated hitter, Wilson Betemit at third base and Brady Clark in left field.
Kemp, Young Cool After Reported 'Shoving Match'
From Tony Jackson:
Dodgers outfield prospects Matt Kemp and Delwyn Young, who are close friends and roommates at Triple-A Las Vegas, got into a minor shoving match during batting practice before Thursday night's game at Portland. Multiple sources within the organization confirmed the incident Saturday, but apparently no punches were thrown and the matter was quickly resolved.
Although no one would comment on any disciplinary action, it appears the two were suspended for one game each. Neither played in that night's game, a 6-1 victory, but both returned to the lineup on Friday night, when the 51s again beat Portland 6-1. ... Both players are on the Dodgers' 40-man roster. By all accounts, they remain friends and roommates even after the incident.
Seems like just one of those things ...
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Mike Trask of the Las Vegas Sun writes about Octavio Martinez, who is considered the 51s' third-string or emergency catcher even though he has spent the year more as a uniformed ball boy or concierge than anything else.
Thirty-eight games into the Las Vegas 51s' season, Octavio Martinez still hasn't gotten an at-bat.
He hasn't been a defensive replacement or a pinch runner. Most nights, he doesn't even make it into the dugout.
Even so, the 27-year-old minor league journeyman and third-string catcher parks more balls in the stands every night than Barry Bonds does, becoming a fan favorite along the way.
His prolific performance will never show up in the record books, though. That's because Martinez draws cheers not because of his prowess with the bat or for a rocket arm, but by retrieving foul balls to toss into the crowd.
When he isn't warming up relievers in the bullpen or playing catch with the right fielder at the start of innings, Martinez shags foul balls from the right-field corner and decides which lucky kid goes home with a souvenir.
And even though the players aren't supposed to sign autographs during the long, hot nights at Cashman Field, that doesn't stop him from occasionally making a dream come true for a particularly polite youngster.
In between, he laughs at hecklers, smiles at girls and sits, in his clean No. 35 uniform, on a plastic chair perched atop the bullpen mound. ...
Willy Aybar in Rehab
Former Dodger Willy Aybar has entered a substance-abuse rehabilitation clinic, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
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Is the end of success nigh for Mark Hendrickson, or can he keep it going?
Tonight's 6:05 p.m. game:
Update: Tim Brown has a column on Willy and Erick Aybar:
Few current Dodgers players know Willy well. Willy's closest friend in the organization was Joel Guzman, who was traded last summer to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Catcher Russell Martin called him, "a good teammate," but knew him only as such. Dodgers officials know him as a decent, mostly quiet young man who'd had great offensive potential but lacked defensive skills.
First base coach Mariano Duncan coached Willy in several minor-league seasons. He said he once talked Willy out of quitting baseball over his frustration with learning to switch-hit, and that he'd had a girlfriend who'd adored Willy's twin daughters.
"He's a good kid, an easy-going kid," Duncan said. "It's so sad for me to hear this. I never saw anything bad about that kid. I never saw that side of Willy Aybar."
Duncan turned his head, looking for Erick across the field, unable to locate him. Duncan first met Erick while working at the Angels' baseball academy in the Dominican Republic six years ago. Two years later, then having taken a job with the Dodgers, he met Willy. He said he tried to reach Willy by phone in recent weeks. His messages were unanswered. It pains him that Willy never asked for help. ...
Don't Walk Over LaRoche's Walks
As more people have become aware of Andy LaRoche's preternatural walking ability since arriving in the major leagues, more people have written it off under the assumption that pitchers are working around him to get to the pitcher's spot.
So what's the explanation for LaRoche walking more often than any other No. 8 hitter in the National League?
Not only is LaRoche walking at a far greater rate than any other NL penultimate hitter, he is one walk away from being tied for the league lead in No. 8 walks - regardless of plate appearances.
Take away LaRoche's four intentional walks, and he'd still have five walks in 19 plate appearances at No. 8 - and three walks in nine plate appearances as a No. 6 hitter. The guy's a rookie who was batting .235 in AAA - with 11 walks in a little more than 100 plate appearances. Is there a reason opposing pitchers would be more careful with him than any other No. 8 hitter? Why doesn't Andre Ethier, usually batting No. 7, have more than 10 walks in 138 plate appearances?
It's not as if LaRoche's ability to walk came out of nowhere. LaRoche walked 66 times in about 500 plate appearances in the minor leagues last year. That doesn't make him Ted Williams, but it counts for something.
In addition, the No. 9 hitter isn't always a Dodger pitcher - sometimes, it's Olmedo Saenz or red-hot pinch-hitter Wilson Betemit. Overall, Dodger No. 9 hitters are fifth in the NL in OPS and OBP, so there isn't much more reason to pitch around the team's No. 8 hitters than any other team's.
So let's not be in such a hurry to write off La Roche's walks. Yes, batting slot has played some part, and he won't maintain a .488 on-base percentage for the season, but the walks are something legitimate to tout. After all, he could be chasing bad pitches rather than taking those jogs to first.
May 18 Game Chat
May 18 Open Chat
It's been a really busy week, punctuated by car trouble, so I appreciate your patience with my lack of compelling content here. Hope to get things back in gear in the next day or two.
Just your regular old press release targeted for you taco- and baseball-lovin' lovebirds:
TACO BELL® SAYS "I DO" TO ONE LUCKY SPORTS FAN
Taco Bell® Unveils All-New 7-Layer Crunchwrap® And Offer To Use
Irvine, Calif. Sports is all about the big moment, celebrating the love of the game and sharing some great food between friends. Now, to launch the all-new 7-Layer Crunchwrap®, Taco Bell will bring all three to life by giving one lucky sports fan the opportunity to pop the big question during a Major League Baseball game nationally televised on FOX on the luckiest day of the century: 7/7/07.
In an ultimate expression of user generated content, a consumer will be able to utilize, for the first time ever, the 21st century technology of virtual signage behind home plate and tailor a specific wedding proposal to their significant other. Forget hiring a sky writer or plane towing a banner to grab someone's attention, this virtual signage will be displayed on every television broadcasting the Major League Baseball game and seen by millions, making it one of the most watched proposals in history.
To enter, log on to www.tacobell.com and click on the "7 Layers of Love" icon from April 26 through May 27 for your chance to win. Once there, submit "7 reasons why your significant other would be lucky to marry you" as the winner will be chosen on the basis of creativity, appropriateness to theme and the ability to display true love.
The 7-Layer Dip has long been a party favorite, displayed for all to sample during the big game and Taco Bell has reinvented it, making it easy to eat for those on the move. For on-the-go Taco Bell lovers, the 7-Layer Crunchwrap® is dip made portable, filled with hearty beans, warm nacho cheese sauce, zesty red sauce, chunky guacamole, fresh tomatoes and cool sour cream, wrapped up and grilled to go.
One Grand Prize Winner will be able to propose marriage, using virtual signage behind home plate, during a nationally televised Major League Baseball game on FOX on 7/7/07 (weather permitting and subject to scheduling) and one year's supply of Taco Bell food (awarded in the form of $500 in Taco Bell Bucks). Six Runners-Up will each receive a year's supply of Taco Bell food.
No purchase necessary to enter. Ends 11:59 P.M. ET on May 27th, 2007. Must be 18 years or older and a legal resident of U.S. and District of Columbia to enter. Subject to official rules at website. Void where prohibited.
Taco Bell is the "Official Quick Service Restaurant of Major League Baseball."
Who Needs a First Baseman?
From the Dodger game notes:
In Randy Wolf's last start on Friday, Nomar Garciaparra did not record a single putout in a complete nine-inning game, becoming the 24th first baseman in Major League history and first player in Dodger franchise history to accomplish that feat. The last big leaguer was Raul Ibanez on April 18, 2005, who played eight innings in the field that day, as did eight others on the list.
That makes Garciaparra one of just 16 first basemen to play nine full innings without recording a putout in a big league game. Other former Dodgers to share the record are Dolph Camilli, Bud Clancy, Gary Thomasson, Bill Skowron, Frank Robinson, Len Matuszek, Franklin Stubbs, Fred McGriff and Greg Brock, though none actually did it in a Dodger uniform.
Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News has more:
Just for those (like us) who are curious, here's how the 27 outs that the Dodgers recorded Friday against the Cincinnati Reds were made:
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We're gonna Furcalate and have a good time - come on now ...
Didn't get a chance to see tonight's game, but heartened by the news of the Dodger victory and Rafael Furcal's historic hot streak (first Dodger to have three consecutive four-hit games since Milt Stock had a major-league record four in 1925 - who knew?). Whew!
Stock had 202 hits in 1925 at age 32 and none for the rest of his career.
I'm also heartened by Hong-Chih Kuo's recall. I know it didn't go well for Kuo, and I'm still hoping he ends up as a starting pitcher, but knowing that so many will rush to the conclusion that he can't contribute as a reliever, let me remind people that the same was said about Chad Billingsley so very recently. In his major-league career, Kuo has still pitched only 36 relief innings. I still believe that if Kuo can succeed, he will succeed in whatever role the Dodgers need him to. If that comes as a starter, so much the better, but hide the jump-to-conclusions mat.
Wilson Valdez, thanks for all your contributions.
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New post at Screen Jam: "How Has No One Made a Movie About Kate Webb?"
Bat Company, 'Til the Day We Die
Taylor Negron, one of my favorite TV character actors (e.g, the bad-hair-smell remover on Seinfeld), penned the following wild-and-wooly family remembrance for Fresh Yarn - complete with baseball content to justify my linking to it:
... My father was a charismatic sportsman who played shortstop for the Watts Giants farm team and lived all sports.
The gloves he wore as a middleweight championship boxer hung proudly in our garage, the ancient cracked leather reeking of a million bloody punches.
Growing up in the permanent summer of Los Angeles, I used to tell the change of seasons by the change of gear in the front room: baseballs meant summer, footballs meant winter and jock straps meant Indian summer and in this, a time of shellacked baguettes and Virginia Slims, with the help of my mother, my father did very well. We moved into a great ultra-modern Tudor house in the hills of Glendale, California. Glendale, which is so boring it makes Burbank seem like Berlin in the early '30s. And it was here, like Mildred Pierce before us, that we had our new family business! The first batting cages in the Verdugo hills.
The pitching machines sat under a gargantuan chain link cage and spit out the balls at lightning speed. Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford. Fifty cents for twelve pitches.
Mom ran the place. I was her slave. Selling candy, hosing down the street, and performing the most dreaded of all jobs: feeding the pitching machine with balls.
I refer to this as my black and blue period. When the counselors at school began to question the bruises all over my upper torso, they asked if there was anything I "would like to report."
When I told my mom, she went nuts. "Who the hell is going to abuse you? You tell that Vice Principal that if he thinks there is funny business going on in this house, then he should come down here and try loading up that Don Drysdale machine ... Hit you?" ...
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Love That Third-Base Play
Problem? What problem? This month, Dodger third basemen Wilson Betemit and Andy La Roche are a combined 13 for 42 with three doubles, three homers and 10 walks. That's an OPS of well over 1.000.
Who's the starter? Who cares? It's an embarrassment of riches!
(I know, I know. It's all fun until someone loses an eye - or gets traded.)
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I've heard that Dodger Thoughts T-shirts are arriving this week - though I don't have mine yet. If you ordered one, give yourself the week for it to come before you come a hollerin'. And yes, we will hopefully provide a new opportunity to order shirts later on.
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As always ("always" being a slight fib we're trying to rectify), there's entertainment talk at Screen Jam.)
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Update: My latest at SI.com talks about what some major league teams have going for them as Plan B when Plan A went off-course.
When injuries and ineffectiveness disintegrated their starting rotation, the Yankees implemented the mother of all Plan Bs by allowing Roger Clemens to resume his summer job as major-league ace.
Update 2: Dodger Dog controversy.
Still Haunted by Bobby Bryant
Even though the St. Louis Cardinals have fallen on rock-hard times, I won't believe they're an easy foe until I see it. In recent years, the Dodgers have seemed more hopeless against the Cardinals than the Rams against the Vikings in the 1970s. Like this.
John Hadl, Pat Haden, James Harris, Vince Ferragamo, Ron Jaworski - could any of them get even a slumping Albert Pujols out?
The Dodgers did a nice job sweeping the Reds this weekend, but when it comes to St. Louis, I'm throwing the records out and going on hope.
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.400 or Bust
To an extent that even surprises me, I rarely look at the batting average leaders anymore I've shifted my focus that much to other stats. But I couldn't help feel a little twang of excitement Saturday when I stumbled onto the fact that Todd Helton was hitting .397. It was enough to make him the focus of my weekly Fungoes piece for SI.com although to illustrate the fragility of anyone in the .400 chase, his average fell 14 points over the next two days.
Lineup of Color
From faithful Dodger Thoughts supporter Eric Enders:
On Saturday night, I believe the Dodgers became just the second team in MLB team history to have an all-minority lineup on the field. When Martinez and Tsao entered the game in the seventh, the lineup looked like this:
C Russell Martin (African-Canadian)
Famously, the 1971 Pirates were the first team in baseball history to have an all-minority lineup, which occurred in only one game, on September 1, 1971. As far as anybody knows, this past Saturday marked only the second time in baseball history this had happened. I suspected it hadn't happened since the Pirates, and confirmed this with Bruce Markusen, a former colleague of mine at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown who is an expert on those '71 Pirates. Here's a blog entry Bruce wrote about that first occurrence in 1971. Anyway, I thought it might be an interesting piece of trivia to pass along.
Bring Him the Head of Juan Pierre (For Fun, That Is)
"So in a fit of temporary insanity or is that sanitation? I arranged to have Juan Pierre's head moved to my yard. ...
[Very relevant sentence deleted for effect.]
A Clear Channel employee hauled the head to my house during his lunch break. It's 5 feet high and nearly 8 feet wide to where the billboard ended at his shoulders. At the edge of the driveway, I grabbed Juan by the chin and dragged him into the yard, his shoulder tearing through the lawn.
My fiancée, Elisabeth, emerged from the house to find Juan Pierre's head sitting at a bistro table beneath the wind chimes. It wasn't a page from Martha Stewart Living, but Elisabeth wore a stunned yet approving smile.
It took maybe a minute for the novelty to wear off, and we wondered if Juan Pierre's head was an error in our yard. He had spent a season looming over the intersection of U.S. 441 and Sterling Road near Miami, but his oversized head in our front yard was an eyesore ... and we couldn't hide him.
We propped the head against the outside wall of the garage and covered it with potted palm trees. We slid our Adirondack chair in front of its shoulders. We moved the potted mother-in-law tongues in front of Juan's face, adjusted the orchids over his head and ...
Wait a minute ... There was a Martha moment... Clubhouse chemistry was forming in our yard! Juan Pierre's head, with its nicks, dents and boot prints, was blending in with the colorful surroundings. The head belonged. ...
- Joe Capozzi, Palm Beach Post
Old 'Air Spieler' Doggett Uses Binoculars
This one will wreak havoc on your eyes, but it's worth it. Jerry Doggett was a great No. 2 broadcaster for a kid to grow up listening to. (Doggett retired in 1987 and passed away in 1997.)
Thanks, as always, Bob.
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May 11 Game Chat
Commendably, the Dodgers are donating $100,000 toward the rehabilitation of Griffith Park. Hopefully, tonight's fireworks show at the stadium will avoid kindling that donation with irony.
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Screen Jam Midterm Report
Screen Jam hasn't been a screen gem, but I still have hopes for it.
Three Runs, One Hit, Two, Maybe Three, Errors
Most everyone has already talked out the decision today to have Derek Lowe pitch with first base open and runners on second and third in the bottom of the ninth of a scoreless game today. I've been trying to figure out why I wasn't as bothered by the choice as everyone else, but still bothered.
So here it is. It was that Lowe gave up the homer on a fat first pitch in the meat of the strike zone. If you're going to make the case that it's better to keep the bases unloaded, you'd hope to use that to your advantage. You want the hitter to work for his glory.
It was a mistake pitch - an honest mistake pitch. Honestly, you could almost call it a four-base E-1, because it was easily as big a flub as the previously error-free Wilson Betemit's miscue on the previous batter - especially after Lowe talked Grady Little into facing Josh Willingham. And that, more than anything that Little did or didn't do, killed me. Bad time for it, but it happens. Lowe pitched a super game up to the ninth, when everything went wrong, so how can you not pat him on the back.
As for Little's decision not to load the bases (after all, it's up to him in the end) ... though I probably would have walked the batter, I believe there's a case to support it. Lowe just needed to execute. But in any event, the Dodgers had 8 1/3 innings to make the point moot, and they didn't.
It could have been a much more successful road trip, but at 3-4 the Dodgers arguably held serve.
Old Dodger Photos
... among other treasures from the UCLA Library digital collection.
Kevin Roderick at L.A. Observed has more info.
Magic Saito (and Early Morning Game Chat)
As the Dodgers finished off their victory tonight in Florida with what in a parallel universe could have been their infield in the 19th inning of a game at Colorado last September - Ramon Martinez at first base, Wilson Valdez at second, Rafael Furcal at short and Andy LaRoche at third - I wondered several things during the celebration.
Saito lowered his Dodger and MLB career ERA to 2.00, with 126 strikeouts in 94 1/3 innings. This season, he has struck out 19 and walked one.
And then there's that smile. Honestly, has the Dodger franchise ever enjoyed a better smile than Saito's? It really might be the greatest grin in this town since Magic's. With those stats, sliders and smiles, I look forward to seeing Saito more than any Dodger pitcher since Gagne.
Not that Betemit is competing with Pierre for playing time, of course, but is there anyone who thinks that the Dodgers need both Ramon Martinez and Wilson Valdez on the roster, especially with Tony Abreu and Chin-Lung Hu presenting themselves as viable callups should a starting infielder get hurt?
Betemit's on-base percentage is even higher than Nomar Garciaparra's, and his slugging percentage trails Garciaparra by a surprisingly slim .037. Garciaparra was rested for performance reasons today, according to Grady Little's comments in Ken Gurnick's MLB.com piece today, showing that the Dodgers have noticed Garciaparra's declining production.
So how do we know whether LaRoche has pulled a Russell Martin or an Andre Ethier, or whether he will follow Kemp back into the minors for more seasoning? I guess we don't know, yet: The pessimistic side of me thinks that once LaRoche is challenged more, he will suffer in the short term, but the optimistic side of me is finding itself hard to be tamed.
I'm no fan of 12-man pitching staffs, but if that's what it takes to allow Little to be proactive in his middle-inning pitching changes, let's do it.
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Thursday's 9:05 a.m. game:
May 9 Game Chat
2007 Shrine of the Eternals Honorees Announced
Bill James, Yogi Berra and Jim Brosnan have been elected to the Baseball Reliquary Shrine of the Eternals, executive director Terry Cannon announced.
Readers of this site probably know the most about James and Berra. Here is Cannon's writeup of Brosnan:
Nicknamed "The Professor" by his peers, the spectacled and scholarly JIM BROSNAN was not only a consistent relief pitcher during his nine-year major league career (1954-1963), but also the author of two best-selling baseball autobiographies that traded not on the lascivious or outrageous but on the simple daily grind the camaraderie, humor, surprises, and disappointments of life in the big leagues. His 1960 book, The Long Season, a diary of Brosnan's 1959 season with the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds, took readers inside the world of the professional ballplayer in ways that had never occurred before. The Long Season didn't rely on sex, drugs, and bad behavior to sell (euphemisms, anonymity, and decorum prevailed throughout), but rather on the quick wit, irreverent appeal, and keen observances of Brosnan, a constant reader and self-proclaimed bibliophile. The book received raves from the public and sportswriters, though some ballplayers were not as generous and saw the book as a betrayal of fraternal rules. Brosnan never viewed the book as a betrayal; he simply wrote the human side of what he saw. After his 1959 trade to Cincinnati, Brosnan teamed up with lefty Bill Henry to create one of the most lethal one-two punches in bullpen history. He also found time to write another book, Pennant Race, a diary of the 1961 season in which the Reds won the National League flag. Brosnan retired in 1963 with a record of 55-47 and 67 saves (figured retroactively) and has continued to write newspaper and magazine articles along with baseball books for young readers.
Previous Shrine inductees include Jim Abbott, Dick Allen, Moe Berg, Ila Borders, Jim Bouton, Roberto Clemente, Rod Dedeaux, Dock Ellis, Mark Fidrych, Curt Flood, Josh Gibson, William "Dummy" Hoy, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Bill "Spaceman" Lee, Marvin Miller, Minnie Minoso, Satchel Paige, Jimmy Piersall, Pam Postema, Jackie Robinson, Lester Rodney, Fernando Valenzuela, Bill Veeck Jr., and Kenichi Zenimura.
Update: Former Dodger catcher Steve Yeager is recovering from a serious auto accident that nearly took his life, reports Tony Jackson of the Daily News:
Former Dodgers catcher Steve Yeager, now the hitting coach for the club's high single-A Inland Empire affiliate in San Bernardino, received close to 300 stitches in his right arm, neck and ear following a two-vehicle accident on the 134 Freeway as he was returning home from Saturday's game with Rancho Cucamonga.
According to various sources, Yeager swerved at the last moment to avoid being crushed by another vehicle, which had struck the median on the opposite side of the freeway, had gone airborne and was about to come down on top of Yeager's vehicle. Yeager has been released from a hospital and is expected to be sidelined for at least another week or two.
"I talked to him, and he is in great spirits," Dodgers player development director DeJon Watson said. "He is going to go back and see a plastic surgeon about the scarring on his arm. He is still very sore, and every day, he feels different aches and pains."
Update 2: This post about Eric Gagne at ShysterBall contains a classic passage:
"He knows how to close a ballgame down," manager Ron Washington said before his team played the New York Yankees. "So, even though he may have been in and out, he has knowledge. You can't teach that."
The author is rightfully intrigued by Washington's "curious suggestion that one can't teach knowledge."
Update 3: Russell Martin gets a feature all his own from John Donovan at SI.com:
It wasn't long after Russell Martin first strapped on the shin guards for his Major League debut last May that the Dodgers found out just what they had in their new kid-faced catcher.
Some say it became evident in the very first game, at Dodger Stadium, when Martin lined a two-run double into right field in his second big-league at-bat, then stuffed Milwaukee's Corey Koskie on a play at the plate a couple of innings later.
Some remember his mound showdown with Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe later in the year, when Martin told his overheated starter, in words maybe not this nice, that he wasn't leaving until he calmed the heck down.
Still others tell the story of a dugout dressing-down he gave an infielder who was a little tardy covering the bag for an on-a-rope throw down to second base. All of those instances proved eye-opening to people in Los Angeles -- if not elsewhere, still -- especially considering that they came from an otherwise unassuming 23-year-old who was drafted as an infielder.
"He," Dodgers manager Grady Little says of his catcher, in the loftiest of baseball terms, "is a dirtbag." ...
Martin, in just about every way, is to the Dodgers exactly what Joe Mauer is to the Twins and what Brian McCann is to the Braves. They are the three best young catchers in baseball, all dangerous hitters, all considered at least pretty good behind the plate (and probably more than that), all critical parts of their teams' futures. ...
An Arm for a Leg
With the bullpen throwing about four innings tonight, an untrustworthy Brett Tomko pitching Wednesday night - immediately followed by a day game Thursday - and no off days until May 17, I would expect the Dodgers to call up a 12th pitcher by gametime. That should mean Wilson Valdez's journey into limbo.
Anderson To Have Surgery
"The MRI on Marlon Anderson's right elbow revealed more bone chips and the need for a second arthroscopic surgery to remove them," reports Tony Jackson of the Daily News. "That procedure will take place on Friday in Los Angeles, after which he is expected to miss at least two months."
Jackson points out that this leaves Wilson Betemit for now as the team's top left-handed pinch-hitter. But certainly, with Betemit on the bench, there is nothing preventing the Dodgers from trying to slip Wilson Valdez through waivers - perhaps losing him, perhaps not - though that could be to make room for a Yhency Brazoban call to the bullpen, rather than a Larry Bigbie promotion.
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Dodger team historian Mark Langill will speak at the downtown Central Library on May 20 at 2 p.m. The topic: "How the Dodgers Got L.A." The event is sponsored by The Los Angeles City Historical Society.
Tickets are free, with refreshments served following the presentation. Parking is $1 with a Los Angeles Public Library card.
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Today's 4:05 p.m. game:
Andre Ethier To Sing Anthem in Front of Andre Ethier
Namesakes of the world unite!
"Former Deadly Snake Andre Ethier has been invited to sing 'Oh Canada' at an upcoming Los Angeles Dodgers game," reports the Canadian website Exclaim!
The site goes on to say that the Dodgers invited the singing Andre through a message on his MySpace page - and that the answer was yes. (Dodger Stadium organist Nancy Bea Hefley plays with both hands, eliminating the need to platoon the singer.)
Ethier's publicist Amanda Newman of Little Sister Management & Publicity was nice enough to pass on the message for your reading pleasure.
The timing couldn't be better for the singer-songwriter as Ethier will release his third solo album this summer on Toronto-based indie label Blue Fog. The album, oddly enough, will be called On Blue Fog.
This only increases the urgency for me to cover a Wayne State baseball game.
Update: A quick quote from the aformentioned Dodger broadcasting and media services coordinator Signe Hilton:
"Our director of PR, Josh (Rawitch), had heard of this Andre Ethier and thought it would be great to have him come out and sing," Hilton said. "I got in touch with Andre (the singer) over MySpace (the only form of contact we could find for him!), inquiring whether or not he would be interested in performing 'Oh Canada' before our game, seeing as we are playing the Toronto Blue Jays, and he is from Canada himself.
"He seemed super excited about the prospect. He mentioned his friends thought it was hilarious, and I can only imagine getting an e-mail out of the blue, inviting you to sing at a major sporting event. It happened very quickly once I got a hold of him, and within a few days we were making his travel arrangements. I think it will be a lot of fun when he performs here on June 9th."
Update 2: Tom Candiotti - the actual former Dodger pitcher, not some facsimile - next month will be inducted into the Celebrities Bowling Hall of Fame, according to Bowl.com.
"Bowling remains the largest participatory sport in America, enjoyed by more than 66 million people of all ages every year. Tom embodies all that is great about bowling and his commitment and love of the game makes him an ideal ambassador and a perfect addition to the Hall of Fame," said Joe Schumacker, president of BPAA.
In Candiotti's honor, the BPAA has established the Tom Candiotti Youth Bowling Initiative to support youth bowling. The program will award grants to bowling centers and youth-focused organizations to encourage bowling among today's youth and provide them with the necessary skills to enhance the fun and competitiveness of bowling.
"Bowling has always been an important part of my life. I spent much of my youth at bowling centers, and even as my career took me to cities across the country, I always made time to bowl. I hope that through the Tom Candiotti Youth Bowling Initiative, more children will have the opportunity to fall in love with bowling like I did," said Candiotti. "Being inducted into the Hall is an incredible honor - it is surreal that I will be enshrined along with so many of my bowling idols."
"Tom's deep enthusiasm for bowling mirrors the passion shared by millions of Americans," said Gerald W. Baltz, IBMHF executive director. "His induction as a celebrity bowler recognizes his efforts to advance awareness of bowling among younger generations and it is gratifying that he is also such a skilled bowler. He has averaged above 200 for many years and just last month rolled a 729 series that included a 300 game.
Candiotti joins former National Football League great Jerome Bettis in the Celebrity Hall of Fame.
14-K Gold Penny
Brad Penny in Florida: 14 strikeouts, no walks, five hits, no runs in seven innings. He lowers his ERA to 1.39, second in the major leagues. Dodgers lead in the eighth inning, 6-0. (Penny drove in two runs with a single and didn't strike out at all.)
Penny's game score: 81.
Game score is a metric devised by Bill James to show how dominating a pitcher was in any particular game. To determine a starting pitcher's game score: (1) Start with 50 points. (2) Add 1 point for each out recorded, so 3 points for every complete inning pitched. (3) Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th. (4) Add 1 point for each strikeout. (5) Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed. (6) Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed. (7) Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed. (8) Subtract 1 point for each walk.
The top game score in the history of baseball was Kerry Wood's one-hit, no walk, 20 strikeout performance against the Astros on May 6, 1998. His game score was 105.
Broadcaster Jerry Reuss said seven of the strikeouts came on pitches chased out of the zone.
Update: From Tony Jackson:
Remember the way everyone used to hammer poor Paul DePodesta for that six-man trade with the Marlins? ... Almost three years later, I think we all have to admit that from the Dodgers' standpoint, that was an outstanding trade.
The last thing I want to do is have all of us start rehashing this trade today. So much has been written about it. But I figured people would see this and want to comment about it.
The fact is, people judge trades two different ways - how likely they were to pan out at the time they happened, and how they panned out. Jackson here is going with the latter. Note the distinction.
His analysis of the trade is off the cuff, to say the least - but his main point is to say that in the end, Penny was worth it, and to praise Paul DePodesta for getting him. The latter is a shocking thing to come from the mainstream media.
I think it's safe to say that for a lot of reasons, people today still disagree about whether it was an outstanding trade. My position, in case you've forgotten, has always been that it was a worthy gamble with big upside - that I wouldn't have had the guts to make. And that was with me even underestimating the tremendous backlash it would engender. (Believe me, I expected backlash, but this thing went nuclear.)
It was an incredibly complicated trade to digest - it still is. The trade cost the Dodgers Paul LoDuca, but brought them Steve Finley's grand slam. It gave the Dodgers first-half 2006 Penny and second-half 2006 Penny. And again, that's all with the benefit of hindsight. If you're like me, you judge the merits of a trade at the time it happened.
The worst thing about the trade was how hateful some people got when they talked about it. It became something you couldn't even talk about - to this day, it's still hard for people to talk about. It was enlightening to see how emotional people could get about the Dodgers, but also very disheartening. Nothing beats a good baseball conversation - but the venom, not surprisingly, just kills it. (After all, part of the reason the organization became an "industry-wide laughing stock," as Jackson calls it, was that it gave too much credit to the unbridled, over-the-top attacks inflicted by some members of the media.) Frankly, I'd be happy never to be in a conversation about it again.
Update 2: From the Elias Sports Bureau via ESPN.com, Penny was the "first Dodger with a 14-strikeout, zero-walk game since Sandy Koufax's perfect game (1965)."
May 7 Game Chat
The Dodgers aren't the only Southern California team with a sub-2.00 ERA starting pitcher - and in fact, the one on the Padres has a bit more street cred. Goes by the name of Jake Peavy, as I remind readers of SI.com's Fungoes this morning:
Jake Peavy is back.
Looking desperately for help at third base, the Dodgers announced on Sunday the promotion of Andy La Roche from Triple-A Las Vegas and made room for him by placing Marlon Anderson on the 15-day disabled list with a sore elbow. ...
La Roche, 23, was given a chance to contend for a roster spot in Spring Training, but batted only .175 with no homers and one RBI. He was promoted over Tony Abreu, who is hitting .357 and has begun playing third base.
Anderson spent most of the spring sidelined with the lingering effects of off-season elbow surgery. He was 4-for-22 this year with no RBIs batting almost exclusively as a left-handed pinch-hitter.
Yeah, who knew that Anderson's elbow was still sore? Anyone?
On the up side for LaRoche, he has shown a decent eye at the plate, with 11 walks against 14 strikeouts. He will bat sixth, writes Josh Rawitch at Inside the Dodgers. Members of the Rest Russell club can also celebrate, as Mike Lieberthal will bat eighth.
Although all eyes will appropriately be on LaRoche, who gets promoted a year to the week after Martin and Andre Ethier's major league debuts, I think it's significant to note, as Gurnick does, how the Dodger bench is on the left-handed side. In a tight game against righties, these are generally the team's pinch-hitting options: lefty Betemit and righties Olmedo Saenz, Ramon Martinez, Wilson Valdez, Brady Clark and Lieberthal. That's a situation that's asking to be rectified, though I suppose the hope is that now the starting lineup will hit, the pitchers will pitch deep and pinch-hitters won't be needed much.
We'll see. Good luck, Andy. Here's hoping you're the latest of the greatest.
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Today's 10:05 a.m. game:
5-5-55 (-48) Game Chat
Challenge: Without looking, name who scored the past six Dodger runs.
Today's 4:05 p.m. game:
The Bottom Drops Out on Betemit
The sad irony of my ongoing plea for patience with Wilson Betemit is that the fact that I wasn't really happy about his acquisition.
Letters of Transit and All That
Dennis Cozzalio had a fun post the other day at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule:
I was in the stands Tuesday night listening to the radio - it was the second game of the Dodgers/Diamondbacks series - and Hall of Fame play-by-play announcer Vin Scully decided to latch onto the compelling story of that night's opposing pitcher, Livan Hernandez, and how Hernandez dramatically defected to the U.S. from Cuba.
"This'd make a great movie," Vinnie exclaimed, and then went on to explain how the pitcher, whose desire to leave his homeland was apparently widely known, was throwing in a game in Monterey, Mexico, when he was approached by an apple-cheeked young lady with an autograph book. She extended it and Livan opened it, ready to sign.
What he discovered inside, instead of a blank page, was an open-faced note which said somewhat ominously, "El gordo quiere verte (The fat man wants to meet you)." (In the story, El Gordo turned out to be the man who facilitated Hernandez's escape from Cuba via life raft. Cue dramatic stinger.)
You could hear Vinnie getting kind of starry-eyed as he thought about the possibilities, as well as getting a trifle annoyed that the game kept interrupting his reverie. But he kept on (with both threads) and began to speculate as to who could be cast in the movie.
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Today's 4:35 p.m. game:
'It's Downright Weird'
Dusty Baker had been acquired in November 1975 to be the Dodgers' center fielder of the present and future. But as Ross Newhan wrote in the Times on July 4, 1976, while the nation celebrated its Bicentennial, Dusty Baker and the Dodgers wondered what had gone wrong.
Four years earlier, Baker had received MVP votes after an outstanding first full season in the majors: .383 on-base percentage, .504 slugging percentage, 142 OPS+. At the end of that season, he was an outstanding 23-year-old in a lineup with Hank Aaron - and things could only get better, right?
Well, though Baker remained productive, his offense tapered over the next three seasons, with OPS+ marks of 117, 108 and 109. Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home run record, then headed back to Milwaukee and eventual retirement. The Braves sank into the depths of the NL West.
But then a trade to the Dodgers, near Baker's hometown of Riverside, seemed to be just the thing to rejuvenate his career.
As Newhan noted, Baker homered in his first at-bat with the Dodgers, then went silent. He OPSed .680 in April, .587 in May and .546 in June. From May 1 to June 30, he slugged .270.
Having racked up 296 plate appearances in the first half of the year, Baker only got 125 in the second half. His stats bounced back slightly in July - .375 on-base percentage, .383 slugging percentage - but he also began battling injuries. From August 1 on, Baker went 12 for 64 with three walks, two doubles, two homers and nine strikeouts. He finished 1976, the year he turned 27, with a .242 batting average, four home runs, a .605 OPS and a 74 OPS+.
And that offseason, the Dodgers traded left fielder Bill Buckner to get another slugging center fielder: Rick Monday.
But the following season, all the problems vanished. If anyone had predicted Baker would do in 1977, they wouldn't have rounded up many believers before the season. Baker's on-base percentage of .364, career-high slugging percentage of .512, OPS of .876 and OPS+ of 133 smashed his previous year's numbers, and were key in sending the Dodgers into the World Series. And after one more slightly subpar year in '78, Baker racked up strong offensive seasons from 1979 all the way through his final Dodger season of 1983 (and acromonious departure).
Sometimes, a slumping player is just done. But other times, even when the slump seems to have no end, a solution waits - even if it takes a month, even if it takes a year. Sometimes, you have to have the faith that the promise you've seen in a young player at the major-league level was not just in your imagination. It's a clumsy process, without a doubt, but life is nothing if not clumsy.
Wilson Betemit will never be Dusty Baker as a hitter, but it's something to think about as we wait for him to hit his first home run of the season.
* * *
I think this is Bill Plaschke's best column in years. It's not Jim Bouton and Ball Four, but it's a real eye-opener about clubhouse life - while the general thrust may not surprise you, the details are fascinating.
When the star Dodger routinely showed up for day games still drunk from the previous night, the clubhouse guy knew his role.
"It was my job to protect the team," Dave Dickenson said. "That's what I did."
Dickenson said he would pour a cup of beer and place it in the dugout bathroom. The star player would sneak there between innings for a drink, and continue drinking throughout the game.
"The guy couldn't play with a hangover, so we had to keep him going," Dickenson said. "Hey, he played great, and nobody complained." ...
* * *
Awesome: The ever-evolving Baseball-Reference.com will now present Dodger organizational statistics, major and minor leagues together, organized by position as well as level. Hitting has already arrived; pitching is coming soon.
Dodgers Navigate Tough Schedule
According to Baseball-Reference.com, the Dodgers have been doing very well with a challenging schedule. Going into today's games, they have more wins against teams with winning records than any other team in baseball. But that's not surprising, because the Dodgers have played more games against teams with winning records than anyone except Colorado which has only played teams with winning records so far.
It's a result of NL West teams performing well outside the division.
NL Records vs. Winning Teams
Every NL West team (besides Colorado, of course) has a winning record against sub-.500 teams. Look for Colorado to get a boost once its schedule eases up.
ESPN.com has the Dodgers first in opponents' strength of schedule and in the site's RPI rankings. ("The basic formula is 25% team winning percentage, 50% opponents' average winning percentage, and 25% opponents' opponents' average winning percentage.") Taking one of three on the road at Milwaukee, which boasts a MLB-best 18-9 record, now doesn't seem so bad for the Dodgers. (On the other hand, it's worth noting that the Dodgers are the only team currently with a winning record that the Brewers have played this season.)
It doesn't get any easier for the Dodgers this weekend, with a road series at 17-10 Atlanta.
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With the Dodgers off tonight, take a listen to tonight's 7:11 p.m. game between AAA Las Vegas and Sacramento and let me know what you think of 51s broadcaster Russ Langer.
Hendrickson Is Insane! (Okay, Maybe That's Not the Right Word)
On September 5, Mark Hendrickson allowed four earned runs in four innings of a 9-0 loss at Milwaukee, and was sent to the bullpen, confirming for many, including yours truly, his worthlessness.
In regular season play since then, Hendrickson has posted the following numbers:
IP H R ER BB SO HR Pitches Strikes Pct. ERA 37 1/3 20 6 5 8 35 1 540 349 64.6 1.21
Now, that's not a full season - in fact, it only amounts to one great month, but that's a little hard to ignore. He threw six shutout innings today - with one more out, Hendrickson would have enough innings to be the major-league leader in ERA.
My first theory was that Hendrickson is throwing more strikes - by virtue of his sports psychologist or desperation - but his strike percentage from 2005 through September 5, 2006 was almost exactly the same: 62 percent.
However, it is worth pointing out that in 2006, he walked 3.6 batters per nine innings from April through September 5. Since then, he nearly cut that rate in half. And he's managed to do that while drawing and quartering his home run rate from one every nine innings (2005-9/5/06) to one every, well, 37 1/3 innings. So he's getting more done with his strikes.
This season, for crying out loud, Hendrickson is allowing a slugging percentage of .193. He has allowed one extra-base hit. It's like he's been facing a team of Wilson Betemits. And it's a shock. Here are his opponents' slugging percentages from his previous five seasons:
He has taken a middling trend and turned it into a bleedin' rainbow.
Now, take a look at Hendrickson's ratio of groundouts to air outs. Before this season, it had never been above 1.30. This season, it's at 1.95. For the first month of 2007, Hendrickson has been like a sinkerballer who strikes out a batter an inning.
"We were mainly using his cutter, trying to get guys out by throwing it in under their hands," Dodger catcher Russell Martin told Jayson Addcox of MLB.com today. "[Hendrickson] is pitching with a lot of confidence and he's using the inside part of the plate well."
Hendrickson is due for some bad luck - his batting average allowed on balls in play is below .200 - meaning the balls batters have hit have been going to the right place for him. But with those strikeout and groundout rates, he can afford some bad luck and still remain an effective pitcher.
Can Hendrickson maintain the form that has allowed him to establish these superb strikeout and groundout rates? It would be truly remarkable. Unbelievable. It doesn't seem possible. Somehow, hitters will adjust, throw him off his game. Somehow, the midsummer sun and increased pitch counts will wilt him.
You don't get Bob Gibson from Bob Denver thanks to a psychologist's couch.
But the fundamentals behind Hendrickson's hot streak indicate that it's less of a mirage than, say, Aaron Sele's bright shining Dodger moment was. It is possible that Hendrickson may have found a small window to apply newfound wisdom before his physical decline saps him of the ability to do so. You don't expect improvement at age 32, but it can happen on a short-term basis.
It may not last the year or even the month - we'd be fools to expect it to - but I'm going to enjoy it while it does. I already am. I tip my cap. Up to now, what has happened has happened. And frankly, if we have to settle for mere adequacy, that'd still be a step up from what I expected from Hendrickson this season.
* * *
Meanwhile, Chin-hui Tsao has retired 24 consecutive batters. The major league record is 41, set by Jim Barr of the San Francisco Giants in 1972.
We Had a Deal!
You know when you get to the crosswalk of an intersection when a pedestrian is already there ahead of you, and you're tempted to press the button, but you don't do it, because you feel it would be insulting to the person who got there ahead of you? Or you press the button, but you feel a little guilty or stupid about it?
Anyway, the last two times I've gotten to the crosswalk with other preople there, they haven't pushed the button. They've just been standing there, waiting to cross - thus forcing all of us to scramble through the intersection against a red "don't walk" sign. Talk to the hand, indeed.
People, I implore you, keep up your end of the deal. Trust begets trust. It's like the squirrels getting out of the way of your car. We live in a society, you know.
* * *
Today's 12:10 p.m. game:
Get Me Home to the Babysitter on Time
Olmedo Saenz beat the Diamondbacks and my 11 p.m. curfew with his game-winning pinch-hit single tonight. Well struck, Olmedo!
He saved the Dodger bullpen from a potential nightmare, and he did it even with Jeff Kent running on the pitch. Well focused, Olmedo!
Livan Hernandez looked like he would throw 200 pitches tonight, but the biggest disappointment when he was taken out was that we didn't get to see him break the 50 mile-per-hour barrier. The scoreboard put one of his pitches at 52 and another at 51 - leaving me wondering if time would reverse course if he threw anything slower.
I think what we may be witnessing in Juan Pierre is the outfield version of Steve Sax throwing disease. I don't know that this is true, but I think it's in his head. I think he's lost any sense of how to play a fly ball hit in front of him - I think he's lost all confidence. And his footwork is so bad on balls hit to the side of or behind him, it's hard to imagine it was always so.
Andre Ethier cost the Dodgers two bases and ultimately the tying run with his ill-fated dive for an eighth-inning drive by Eric Byrnes (who might have had an inside-the-park home run if Orlando Hudson had not been on deck), but Ethier has been on such a good run defensively for the Dodgers lately, it's hard to hold it against him.
Meanwhile, Byrnes showed the Dodgers the advantage of a speedy left fielder by running to catch two sinking, bases-loaded drives by Pierre, in the second and sixth innings.
Several are passing along the news that with a perfect inning tonight, Chin-hui (lower-case "h") Tsao has retired 21 consecutive batters. This season, he has faced 30 batters and allowed one hit and two walks.
Russell Martin hit into a double play with two runners on. I was caught off guard.
Everyone's asking what the Dodgers are going to do about Wilson Betemit, but I don't hear anyone asking what's wrong with Betemit. Even if you aren't high on his potential, clearly he has always been better than this. Forget about what power he might someday have - where is any of his power? If we knew what was going on, we might have a more informed discussion about where he should go.
Meanwhile, people who have been hestitating are welcome to join me off the Wilson Valdez bandwagon. Valdez is 1 for his last 19 - he can obviously do better than that, but I think he's lost the pixie dust.
I don't want to jinx anything, but I've been to four games this year and there have been fewer beachballs around than in my memory. Their absence has been a pleasure.
Rafael Furcal has reached base 15 times in his past 39 plate appearances (.385).
An impromptu invitation yielded a ballgame outing with Eric Neel of ESPN.com, Rich Lederer of Baseball Analysts, Dodger Thoughts commenters Suffering Bruin and GoBears and me. It was like a great online conversation, only with holograms representing each of us, and each of the holograms were actually flesh and blood. The line of the night was when someone suggested that a certain hitter owned former Dodger Jeff Weaver, GoBears said everyone's got a timeshare.
I said something funny too - Suffering Bruin will verify this - but neither of us can remember what it was.
May 1 Game Chat
I'm a little stunned to find that the Dodgers have had only one losing April since 1994. Frankly, I'm a little stunned to remember that they have had only one losing season since 1999, two since 1992 and four since '88. The Dodgers may not do much in the playoffs, but they've given us some good runs.
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Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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