February 2015

Dodgers Photo Day

Hyun-Jin Ryu steps in for a photo with team photographer Juan Ocampo.

Hyun-Jin Ryu steps in for a photo with team photographer Juan Ocampo.

By Matthew Mesa

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dodger players filed into makeshift photo studios around the Dodger facilities at Camelback Ranch this morning for the club’s annual Photo Day.

Players made stops with team photographer Juan Ocampo, SNLA, MLB Photos, MLB.com, MLB International, ESPN the Magazine, Topps, USA Today, Getty Images, Baseball Digest and the Associated Press. Take a look …

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In case you missed it: Kershaw fires out of February

By Jon Weisman

GLENDALE, Ariz. — No intensity in February? Forget about that.

Clayton Kershaw threw live batting practice today, and though it’s all about getting the work in at this point, he meant business, grunting on his pitches, shouting an exclamation when one missed its target and only grudgingly conceding the fun in Juan Uribe hitting a home run off him.

Uribe’s homer was really the only hard-hit ball off Kershaw in his opening session.

Elsewhere on a Spring Training day cloudy in the sky but sunny in the spirit …

  • Yasmani Grandal, who was firing rockets off his bat in batting practice today, gets an encouraging first assessment from Steve Yeager in this story by Lyle Spencer of MLB.com.
  • Kershaw finished No. 1 on MLB Network’s Top 100 players of the moment.
  • Non-roster pitcher Erik Bedard will start the Dodgers’ Cactus League opener Wednesday against the White Sox, with Kershaw on tap for Thursday. Neither is expected to go more than two innings. The team will then have a pair of split-squad games Friday. Eric Stephen has more on the starting pitching at True Blue L.A.
  • Stephen also provides this helpful reminder that Spring Training records don’t matter. Since 2008, the Dodgers have played no better than .500 in Spring Training, and no worse than .494 in the regular season.
  • This could hurt my plans for Austin Barnes to make history as the Dodgers’ first true catcher-second baseman. Farhan Zaidi told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com that the team wants Barnes to focus on catching for now.
  • Tampa Bay import Joel Peralta told Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles that he’s looking forward to getting out of the American League East. “I’m not a power pitcher,” Peralta said. “I have to trick guys to get them out and, after facing a guy 50 times, he has a pretty good idea what I’ve got.”

Scenes from a Spring Training Friday

Los Angeles Dodgers Spring Training

From the camera of Juan Ocampo, here are some vivid images of the day at Camelback Ranch. Click any to enlarge …

— Jon Weisman

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In case you missed it: Juan Pierre retires

By Jon Weisman

I didn’t know Juan Pierre, but he always seemed like a wonderful guy, regardless of the debate that surrounded him. He was a symbol of the divide between Old School and New School thoughts about value in baseball: lots of hits but low OBP, lots of steals but a mediocre success rate, lots of joy in the clubhouse but questions about how much that translated into wins.

His third year as a Dodger, in 2009, was his most interesting one. Beginning the season on the bench behind the burgeoning talents of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier and the massive presence of Manny Ramirez, he surged back into relevance once Ramirez was suspended, with a .365 OBP, and by the time the summer dust had settled, numerous people argued he was the team’s most valuable player, keeping them alive for what ended up being a run to the National League Championship Series.

A look back at that year through Fangraphs shows that even playing 41 more games than Ramirez, Pierre trailed him and five other Dodger position players in Wins Above Replacement for the season, retroactive evidence for those of us who felt thankful for the way Pierre had stepped up but didn’t quite see him as the MVP. But saying that he was overvalued doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t have been valued at all. Those are two different concepts, that I like to think we have a better understanding of today.

Pierre had four seasons in his career of more than 200 hits, and at one point was a legitimate candidate to get 3,000, at a not-so-long-ago time when 3,000 hits was a Hall of Fame guarantee. As it is, he retires today with 2,217 hits — no small feat — and 614 career steals, which is 18th in MLB history. He also leaves with a reputation as one of the nicest guys in the game … and with his sense of humor intact.

Not too shabby. Best wishes to him.

Elsewhere in Dodgeropolis., here’s what’s happening …

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Uribe, Turner could again form nice duo at third

Jill Weisleder/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jill Weisleder/Los Angeles Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers workoutBy Jon Weisman

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Much has been speculated about the upcoming timeshare arrangement for the Dodgers in 2015 at catcher, but third base might not be much different.

After batting .311 with a .337 on-base percentage and sterling defensive work, Juan Uribe is the clear starter at third. Justin Turner is the team’s No. 1 infield utility player, becoming the first Dodger since Jose Hernandez in 2004 and sixth since 1924 to play more than one game at first, second, third and short.

But injuries limited Uribe, who turns 36 in March, to 103 games (98 starts) last year, opening the door for Turner to approach the 59 games (45 starts) he had at third in 2014.

“I think we do give (Uribe) breathers,” Mattingly said. “Definitely, we watch Juan. … and he’s pretty honest with us. Sometimes we get a bad matchup, and J.T. makes it easy to give him some days off.”

While Mattingly is wary of overplaying Uribe, he also finds that Turner wears down if he plays too often. That being said, he raved about Turner’s physical condition heading into camp this year.

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Letter to Jackie, February 1947: ‘As I see it you are definitely going to get a chance’

WS to JR excerpt

Thanks to official MLB historian John Thorn for sharing this February 1947 letter from sportswriter and Jackie Robinson confidant Wendell Smith, addressing Robinson’s concerns for the coming year. An excerpt appears above, the full letter is below (click to enlarge) and at this link.

Also linked here: Branch Rickey’s January 1946 letter to Smith on the issue of making plans for Robinson to go to Spring Training in Florida.

— Jon Weisman

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In case you missed it: Soaking in Spring Training

By Jon Weisman

Man, it was a beautiful day in the neighborhood today. Here’s what’s percolating:

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The mid-80s pitcher’s hero: J.P. Howell

(Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

(Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

By Cary Osborne

Over the last two seasons, sinkerballer J.P. Howell’s fastball velocity of 86.8 mph is third to last in the big leagues among relief pitchers, according to Fangraphs.

And you know what? It doesn’t really matter that it’s “slow.” Guys still aren’t hitting it.

In fact, Howell’s grouping among relief pitchers with the “slowest” fastball is a pretty good one.

Check out the numbers of the bottom five relievers in fastball velocity from 2013-14:

  1. Brad Ziegler (Arizona): 85.4 mph, 2.83 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 3.55 FIP in 146 appearances
  2. Darren O’Day (Baltimore): 86.7 mph, 1.93 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 3.44 FIP in 136 appearances
  3. Howell: 86.8 mph, 2.19 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 3.07 FIP in 135 appearances
  4. Josh Collmenter (Arizona): 87.5 mph, 3.35 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 3.74 FIP in 82 appearances (28 starts)
  5. Sergio Romo (San Francisco): 87.8 mph, 3.12 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 3.38 FIP in 129 appearances

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Sandy Koufax holds court

Sandy Koufax and Rick Honeycutt watching Zack Greinke's bullpen. No big deal. #DodgersST

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(Matthew Mesa/Los Angeles Dodgers)

(Matthew Mesa/Los Angeles Dodgers)

By Jon Weisman

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Highlight of Spring Training/2015/Dodger life and Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax is at Camelback Ranch, and a reporter asked him today if the juices were still flowing when he put on the Dodger uniform.

“The juices have gotten very thick,” Koufax joked. “They don’t flow.”

Nevertheless, the joy of the annual ritual wasn’t lost on the great lefty.

“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s fun to be around the players. This is a nice time of year — nobody’s lost their job, everybody’s got a job coming. Everybody’s positive. It’s a good time to be around baseball players.

Koufax shared thoughts on a variety of subjects — here’s a snapshot …

On Clayton Kershaw and the 2014 postseason:

“If somebody had told me that anybody would beat Clayton twice in one series, I’d have said ‘No way.’ I probably would have cursed and said ‘No way.’ But it happens. And I have to say, I don’t know if you heard his (award) acceptance speech in New York, but that last line was as classy as it gets. On a night where you’re being honored, to bring up what didn’t go right is pretty classy, pretty special.

“I don’t know if he has any extra fire (heading into 2015), because I think he always has fire. I think he’s a great competitor. So would it be any extra? I hope not, because extra might destroy you. You can just go so far. … I think he’ll be in a lot more postseasons, and I think it’ll be totally turned around.”

On Julio Urias:

“He’s impressive. He’s very impressive. This is the first time I’ve seen him throw. It’s a long way from the driving range to the golf course, and it’s a long way from side sessions to the game. He has all the requisites — we just have to see what happens. Physically, he’s very impressive.”

On Yasiel Puig:

“I think probably he’s never played against talent that might be his equal, so he’s thought, ‘OK, they’ll make a mistake. I can keep running, and they’ll screw it up.’ It doesn’t happen here. I think he’s learned that. … I think there’s a lot of progress. When you’re struggling at the plate, everything looks bad.”

On Tommy John surgery:

“They just wouldn’t operate on an arthritic elbow in those days. It would be a simple surgery. I had arthritic hooks that would be scratching, and my elbow would blow up, fill up with fluid. Then they’d drain it, send you back out there. Surgery would have been easy, they would have done it when the season was over and be fine in Spring Training. They wouldn’t have cut anything — just hammer and chisel.

“I have a lot of theories (on the epidemic of surgeries). Mechanics. I think a lot of people don’t use the lower half of their body as much as people used to. They’re much more straight up and down. Plus, people are doing it prophylactically — before they have a bad elbow, they’re doing Tommy John.

On pace of play:

“I’m not sure what pace of play is bad. It’s slower than it used to be, but you get three more pitching changes than you used to get, so that takes time. I think the strike zone has changed shape — I think it’s gotten narrower and taller and lower. I think a wider strike zone and not necessarily and not necessarily higher and lower would speed up the game. That’s just my opinion — by no means humble opinion.

“It’s not so much the time of the game. I find it hard to watch a pitcher go two strikes and no balls and end up 3-2, and that happens much more than it should.

On the new front-office leadership:

“From everything that everybody’s said, they’re analytic but they’re listening to the players and manager and coaches. You talk about the analytic thing and this all started in Oakland, but no one makes mention of the fact that (Billy Beane) was a player. So he could see talent, and if the analytical was one thing, but if he didn’t like what he saw, he didn’t sign him. It’s a combination of both that’s important.”

On clubhouse atmosphere:

“People pooh-pooh clubhouse (issues), but I think clubhouses are important. I think it’s important players like each other. … You’re together probably eight months out of the year, so if you don’t like each other, it is a grind.”

On the tough finish to the 1962 season:

“It was a strange year. I missed three or four months, whatever it is. There’s a chance we might have won. Not saying that I was that good, but there was a chance we might have won and it would have been a different year. If you lose key players, it affects your team.”

On the absence of Maury Wills and Gil Hodges from the Hall of Fame:

“I think Maury changed the game. He revolutionized the game. He was the most dominant offensive force in baseball, even though (Hank) Aaron might have been the best hitter. Every time Maury got on, it was a double or a triple.

“Gil’s contribution was not only as a player, but as a manager, and a lot of people have been elected because they did both.”

And one more … on picking up a baseball and throwing:

“I don’t throw a thing. Never. That was a long time ago in a land far away. It does not happen. I don’t even throw first balls anymore without moving up to where Vinny is.”

In case you missed it: Strike one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine …

Los Angeles Dodgers workout

For more photos from today, visit LA Photog Blog.

By Jon Weisman

The picture above, of a ball thrown by Clayton Kershaw, efficiently shows he is able to strike out the side at any given moment.

That was then, this is … also then:

  • Kershaw had identical strikeout-walk ratios to righty and lefty batters in 2014, a development that intrigued Alec Dopp at Gammons Daily.
  • Joel Peralta, who is behind on his throwing program, could join Kenley Jansen and Chris Withrow on the Opening Day disabled list, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • Hyun-Jin Ryu was held out of workouts today but is expected back Thursday, reports Gurnick.
  • Newly signed Chad Gaudin missed the 2014 season after having a rare surgical procedure, unprecedented for an MLB player, writes Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.
  • Stephen also has an entertaining notebook of Week 1 Spring Training observations.
  • Ryu is the Dodgers’ fastest-working pitcher, and Peralta the slowest. Read more about it from Dustin Nosler at Dodgers Digest.
  • Paco Rodriguez talked about his offseason adjustments with Ron Cervenka of Think Blue LA.
  • Alex Guerrero’s thoughts about changing relations between U.S. and Cuba and his evolving status with the Dodgers can be found in this piece by Bill Plunkett of the Register.

"Goodbye LA. Off to Arizona #SpringTraining." –@tommy2lasorda

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