April 2014

Um, so, Yasiel Puig is having a good season

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 8.25.34 PMBy Jon Weisman

So yeah, Zack Greinke is amazing and yeah, Adrian Gonzalez keeps on rockin’ and yeah, Dee Gordon is greased lightnin’.

So who is quietly – that’s right, quietly, off the radar, with little fanfare or media attention – one of the Dodgers’ top contributors in 2014.

Some guy named Yasiel Puig.

According to Fangraphs, Puig was the 2014 Dodgers’ fourth most valuable position player entering play tonight, trailing Gordon, Juan Uribe and Gonzalez. He was also neck-and-neck-and-neck with Ryan Braun and Jason Heyward for third place among National League right fielders.

And that was before Puig went 2 for 4 in the Dodgers’ 6-4 victory over Minnesota, raising his on-base percentage to .364 and slugging percentage to .471.

But you wouldn’t know it, given that almost all the discussion about Puig this year has been about his shortcomings and other off-the-field stories.

Admittedly, with three home runs in 27 games, it doesn’t really feel like Puig has unleashed the power the way he did upon his arrival in 2013. On the other hand, we keep hearing about pitchers are adjusting to Puig, and he hasn’t exactly fallen apart. Far from it.

Tonight was Puig’s 190th game on American soil, including Double-A, Single-A and the Dodgers’ Arizona Rookie League team. That’s it. It’s still reasonable to say the guy is just getting started, and his career Major League OPS remains above .900.

With Clayton Kershaw passing his latest test, Greinke extending his authoritative pitching with a six-inning, one-run (unearned) outing, the offense amassing 16 baserunners and the franchise recording its 10,000th NL victory, it was a good night. Even if the bottom of the ninth was an adventure.

April 30 pregame: Splash mountin’

Philadelphia Phillies at Los Angeles Dodgers
Whatever the weather, someone’s getting wet. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

Dodgers at Twins, 5:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, 2B
Yasiel Puig, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, DH
Juan Uribe, 3B
Drew Butera, C
Carl Crawford, LF
(Zack Greinke, P)

By Jon Weisman

Two changes come to the active roster in time for today’s game against Minnesota. Lefty reliever Paco Rodriguez and catcher Miguel Olivo have come up from Albuquerque, while infielder Carlos Triunfel and catcher Tim Federowicz make the journey to Triple A.

Among players who have primarily been catchers in their careers, Olivo ranks 32nd all-time with 145 home runs. Ahead of him are eight former Dodgers: Mike Piazza (1), Gary Carter (6), Roy Campanella (10), Todd Hundley (13), Ernie Lombardi (17), Ramon Hernandez (23), Charles Johnson (24) and Mike Lieberthal (31).

Chad Billingsley, meanwhile, has been moved to the 60-day disabled list, which would still allow him to be activated in May. Billingsley, who made a rehab start April 6, received a platelet-rich plasma injection on Tuesday for elbow tendinitis last week.

The Dodgers can also add a 26th man to the roster for Thursday’s doubleheader, based on a Collective Bargaining Agreement rule that allows clubs a 26-man roster for day-night doubleheaders if scheduled at least 48 hours in advance.

More roster changes could be coming in the next few days, based on a) what happens with Clayton Kershaw’s rehab start with Double-A Chattanooga tonight and b) the potential need for a starting pitcher Sunday, so that Zack Greinke doesn’t have to come back on three days’ rest.

In other news and notes:

  • The Dodgers can expect to face a lefty in Minnesota after all. For their 26th man on Thursday, the Twins have called up Kris Johnson (not the former UCLA hoopster) to make his first Major League start.  Johnson pitched 10 1/3 innings in relief for the Pirates last year with a 6.10 ERA but 2.76 FIP. He has a 2.86 in 22 minor-league innings this year, with 20 strikeouts against 26 baserunners.
  • Carl Crawford makes his first start in the No. 9 slot of the batting order since September 20, 2003.
  • Adrian Gonzalez has been the top first baseman in the Majors in April, according to Jay Jaffe of SI.com. Dee Gordon was honorably mentioned at second base.
  • Greinke’s performance to date is analyzed by Dustin Nosler at Dodgers Digest.
  • Maury Wills is featured in the final posting from the great series of Union Oil 1961 Family Booklets, presented by Ernest Reyes at Blue Heaven.
  • From the Dodger press notes: “The Dodgers will fly more than 6,200 miles during this trip as they touch points to the extreme north, south, east and west of the continental United States.”

Dodger minor league report: Week 4 — Starting pitching power

Kersh_image007

The minor league tour continues and likely ends for Clayton Kershaw today with a start for Double-A Chattanooga. His first rehabilitation start was last Friday in Rancho Cucamonga and coincided with “Brian Wilson Bobblebeard Night.” Kershaw’s minor league venture also has coincided with a lot of promising news on the starting pitching front throughout the Dodger system. Here it is:

Albuquerque Isotopes (AAA)

Thus far: 14-11, 3 1/2 games out of first place in the Pacific Coast League’s Pacific Southern Division.

Albuquerque has turned into quite the escalator to the Major Leagues thus far. Paco Rodriguez was just recalled from Triple-A after a short stint in which he tossed a combined three innings without surrendering a run. He also saved a game.

Former Major Leaguers Matt Magill and Stephen Fife emerged from slow starts and pitched outstanding games in the last week. In a doubleheader on Saturday, both starters went six innings each and allowed no runs and just two hits. Magill came into the game with a 6.80 ERA, and Fife was at 10.99.

Joc Pederson has cooled down in the last week, with no extra-base hits since April 21.

Veteran outfielder Mike Baxter, who made the Australia trip with the Dodgers, was a perfect 5-for-5 on Tuesday with two triples.

Chattanooga Lookouts (AA)

Thus far: 11-13, 3 1/2 games out of first place in the Southern League’s North Division.

The powerful Scott Schebler is starting to turn it on. Since our last check-in, Schebler is 8-for-17 with two triples, three home runs and five RBI. Included in that was a two home-run game on April 24. His slugging percentage in that short time frame is 1.235.

Pitching-wise, Chris Reed continues to be the story. On Saturday, he went eight innings, allowing seven hits, no walks and one earned run, while striking out four. He is fifth in the Southern League in ERA (1.71), sixth in WHIP (0.98) and tied for fourth with 28 strikeouts.

Your first look at Kershaw's Lookouts jersey for tonight.

Your first look at Kershaw’s Lookouts jersey for tonight.

However, Reed might be slightly one-upped by a 29-year-old right-hander out of UCLA. Tyson Brummett has a 0.39 ERA through four starts, allowing just one earned run in 23 innings thus far. Batters are hitting just .181 against him, he has 19 strikeouts and a 0.913 WHIP. Last season with Triple-A Buffalo (Toronto Blue Jays), he had a 5.75 ERA and 1.449 WHIP in 87 2/3 innings.

The Lookouts’ newest starter, Kershaw, takes a 12-10 mark, 2.48 ERA and 1.109 WHIP in 225 1/3 minor league innings into tonight’s 4:15 p.m. Pacific start against the Tennessee Smokies – Kershaw’s first Double-A start since 2008.

Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (High-A)

Thus far: 8-18, seven games out of first place in the California League’s South Division

Despite the team’s struggles, the talented array of starting pitching is starting to assert itself. Rancho’s regular starters (throw out Kershaw’s five-inning, one-earned run performance last Friday) in the last five games have a combined 2.25 ERA.

Particularly eye-opening were the performances of Lindsey Caughel (Saturday: seven innings,  five hits, one walk, no earned runs, five Ks) and Fabio Martinez (Monday: six innings, no hits, five walks, one earned run and four Ks).

Martinez now has two starts in which he has gone five innings and not surrendered a hit (April 7). Opposing batters are hitting just .155 off him this season. However, he has walked 23 batters in 26 innings.

Corey Seager was out running today after a mild hamstring pull put him on the seven-day disabled list. He last played April 23.

Great Lakes Loons (Low-A)

Thus far: 15-11, 2 1/2 games out of first place in the Midwest League’s Eastern Division

Looks like we’ll be doing this all season – the Loons’ stolen base watch. Last time we checked in it was 50 in 18 games. Now it’s 65 in 26 games.

Malcolm Holland has 21, and now he has company in the double-digit category with Jacob Scavuzzo’s 10.

But stolen bases aren’t the only numbers the Loons are putting up in bunches – though they might help translate to this result. The team leads the Midwest League in runs with 154.

Outfielder Joey Curletta is second in the league with a .360 batting average and catcher Kyle Farmer is tied for second with 18 RBI.

Curletta was the Dodgers’ sixth round pick in 2012 out of Mountain Pointe High in Arizona. He’s an imposing player at 6 feet, 4 inches tall and 245 pounds. As a junior, he hit 21 home runs, but that number tumbled to four as a senior (in 2012, high schools went to BBCOR bats to lessen the force of the ball coming off a bat).

Curletta is slugging .453 thus far with no home runs, but he’s getting hits in bunches nonetheless. Coming into the 2012 draft, he was also said to possess a fastball that hit the low 90s.

We’ve focused a lot of attention on Mexican teenager Julio Urias, but another teenager has been stellar early on in Great Lakes. Victor Arano, just 19, has a 0.714 WHIP, 1.93 ERA, has a .145 BAA and 21 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings for the Loons.

Best of April:

Offense: Joc Pederson (ALB) .383/.491/.628, 5 HR (three in the first five games)

Pitching: Chris Reed (CHA) 1.71 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 28 Ks (April 16: 6 IP, no hits)

 

Photos: Eric Dearborn, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes; Chattanooga Lookouts

 

The ballad of Hee Seop Choi

Harry How/Getty Images Sport

Harry How/Getty Images Sport

By Jon Weisman

Nine years ago before this three-game series against the Twins, the Dodgers hosted Minnesota in a weekend set that became the Hee Seop Choi show.

The first baseman homered in six of his 12 at-bats against Twins pitching: two (including a bottom-of-the-ninth walkoff) on June 10, one on June 11 and then a hat trick on June 12. Though he was a polarizing player from practically the moment he came to Los Angeles in the summer of 2004, chants of “Hee! Seop! Choi!” reverberated around Dodger Stadium.

Choi finished his brief Dodger career with 15 homers in 382 at-bats and a .747 OPS. He eventually worked his way back to his native South Korea.

 

Tonight’s game postponed: Weather plays dominoes with Dodger schedule

By Jon Weisman

Here are just a few consequences of the Dodgers’ game at Minnesota today being postponed because of weather.

  • Two days’ rest for everyone — and that’s assuming they can get a game in Wednesday, for which the forecast is only slightly improved. For you Kenley Jansen watchers, that means that the next time he takes the mound, he’ll have thrown only 18 pitches in at least a week. And Hanley Ramirez’s thumb contusion gets an extra day of healing.
  • Conversely, there is some potential double duty for the bullpen Thursday, when the Dodgers are now scheduled to play a split doubleheader with games at 10:10 a.m. and 4:10 p.m. Pacific.  A strong outing Wednesday by Zack Greinke would help mitigate that burden.
  • And, the team will be that much more tired when they arrive in Miami for the weekend series against the Marlins.

Other than that, I guess the team has some time to sit back and watch TV. A new episode of “Fargo” is on tonight — that seems weather-appropriate.

 

Designated hitter eases Dodger outfield jam

Colorado Rockies at Los Angeles DodgersBy Jon Weisman

Oh, the weather outside might be frightful, and interleague play isn’t always delightful, but here are a couple of reasons to look forward to the Dodgers’ trip to Minnesota.

For one thing, the Dodgers put their AL misery behind them last year, going 12-8, including a 5-5 mark on the road.

For another, the designated hitter allows the Dodgers, if they so choose, to put aside the “Who’s playing in the outfield?” questions for a few days.

Los Angeles is scheduled to face three consecutive right-handers in Kyle Gibson, Mike Pelfrey and recent old friend Ricky Nolasco, who is off to a slow start with a 6.67 ERA in five games, with 52 baserunners against 13 strikeouts.

So expect Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig to all receive considerable playing time, with Scott Van Slyke a power bat off the bench to pounce on any left-handed relievers.

As a team, the Dodgers have a .769 OPS against righties in 2014, compared with .592 against lefties.

Scheduled to pitch for the Dodgers are Zack Greinke, Dan Haren and Josh Beckett. The Dodgers announced that Clayton Kershaw will next pitch a rehab game Wednesday for Double-A Chattanooga against Tennessee.

 

Dodgers head to the chill zone

Twins weatherMaybe the Dodgers will see a lot of May flowers in Miami, because it looks like they’re headed for a last (cold) gasp of April showers for their three-game series in Minnesota beginning Tuesday. Why, it might be even more inclement there than it was at Dodger Stadium on Friday.

— Jon Weisman

Claude Osteen: 1965 World Series hero vs. Twins

osteen_claude_65By Mark Langill

The only real connection between the Dodgers and Minnesota Twins is the 1965 World Series, won by Los Angeles in a thrilling seven-game classic. L.A. was in the middle of its most successful era on the field — three World Series appearances between 1963 and 1966 — after losing a heartbreaking playoff to the rival Giants in 1962.

Those early 1960s Dodgers rode the coattails of Hall of Fame pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, who between 1962 and 1966 combined for 209 regular-season victories, 267 complete games and 53 shutouts. Following a sixth-place finish in 1964, the Dodgers rolled the dice on a roster makeover by sending power-hitting outfielder Frank Howard to the Washington Senators in exchange for Claude Osteen, a 25-year-old left-hander who had blossomed into a solid starting pitcher for a second-division franchise. Osteen broke into the Majors with Cincinnati in 1957, but his career took off when acquired by Senators at the end of their inaugural American League season in 1961.

Could Osteen stand alongside Koufax and Drysdale and help L.A. become a contender again? (more…)

Don Mattingly bats left, threw left, throws right

Colorado Rockies at Los Angeles DodgersBy Jon Weisman

Let the record show that Don Mattingly threw left in the Major Leagues. Let the picture show that Mattingly throws right.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS AT ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

The former eight-time All-Star often finds his way to first base during batting practice, but lately, he’s been wearing a glove on what you’d expect to be his throwing hand. (At right, Mattingly throwing lefty on April 15.)

Mattingly explained that he’s ambidextrous, but after spending his career throwing left — including three games at third base in 1986 — wear and tear has turned him around.

“With my shoulder, I can’t really throw left-handed,” he said. “I can’t really pull it way back. So I’m getting my right hand going again.”

Mattingly said that in Little League, when he played positions including catcher and shortstop, he played right-handed.

“Once I got to high school, I pretty much stayed left-handed,” he said. “That was my stronger arm — always stronger left-handed. But I always threw right naturally.”

April 27 pregame: They walk among us

Rockies at Dodgers, 1:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, 2B
Yasiel Puig, RF
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
Scott Van Slyke, LF
Justin Turner, SS
Tim Federowicz, C
Hyun-Jin Ryu, P

By Jon Weisman

When Chris Withrow walked three batters and a veritable tightrope in the eighth inning of the Dodgers’ 6-2 victory over Colorado on Saturday before escaping with strikeouts of Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, it was part of a surprising trend. Dodger relievers have walked eight more batters than Dodger starters this season, in 57 fewer innings (4.7 walks per nine innings).

Withrow has struck out 18 and allowed only two hits in his 12 1/3 innings this season, but he has walked 10. Having the most trouble is Brian Wilson, who has walked six batters and hit two others in his four innings (along with eight hits allowed).

The relievers obviously aren’t trying to walk people, but as soon as they can reduce the free passes, the more streamlined innings should help ease the collective bullpen workload.

* * *

Carlos Triunfel, whom the Dodgers claimed on waivers from Seattle on April 2, has been called up as a reserve infielder. Hanley Ramirez, who has a right thumb bruise, had a scheduled day off today and isn’t expected to go on the disabled list, but the Dodgers wanted some more infield depth. Jose Dominguez has been sent back to Albuquerque.