Dodgers Report: Dodgers

Justin Turner proves invaluable to Dodgers

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
11:00
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SAN DIEGO -- It was Jan. 25, two weeks before the Dodgers’ pitchers and catchers were due to report for spring training, and Justin Turner was growing a bit nervous.

He had been non-tendered by the New York Mets two months earlier, and the offers hadn’t exactly flooded his agent’s cell phone. Turner had two offers for minor league deals, one with the Boston Red Sox and one with the Minnesota Twins, but he had his heart set on playing for the Dodgers. Not only were they his hometown team -- he grew up in Long Beach and has lived in North Hollywood the past two years -- but there appeared to be a golden opportunity at Dodger Stadium.

National League teams use bench players far more frequently than AL teams, and Turner knew that the Dodgers had lost all their reserve infielders, with Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto signing elsewhere and Jerry Hairston Jr. and Michael Young retiring.

That’s when Turner ran into Dodgers bench coach Tim Wallach at the Cal State Fullerton alumni game. Turner would soon be a Dodger, albeit a Dodger with no guarantees. The Dodgers had been negotiating to re-sign Young, but turned their attention to Turner when Young informed them he was calling it a career.

Wallach called manager Don Mattingly and Mattingly called general manager Ned Colletti.

“He asked me what was going on, like, ‘Why haven’t you signed with the Dodgers yet?’ “ Turner said. “I was like, ‘I haven’t heard anything yet,’ and then, some-odd days later, I get a phone call and the next thing I know, I’m a Dodger.”

As well as that worked out for Turner, it has worked out better for the Dodgers in the intervening months. Turner, who went into camp fighting for a roster spot, has, by one important measure, been the Dodgers’ second-most important position player this season. He has filled in at four positions while batting .321 overall and .420 with runners in scoring position. According to Baseball-Reference’s version of wins above replacement (WAR), Turner has been the Dodgers’ second-most valuable position player behind Yasiel Puig.

Better than RBI leader Adrian Gonzalez, better than spark plug Dee Gordon, better than superstar shortstop Hanley Ramirez.

“I don’t even know how you calculate [WAR] or what, exactly, it means,” Turner said. “I know sabermetrics is a big part of it nowadays and I know that’s a big sabermetric number, but I don’t really pay attention to it. Any time you have success, it’s gratifying, especially when you know how difficult the game is.”

It goes beyond those numbers, though. For the second time this season, Turner has filled in for one of the Dodgers’ most unsung players, Juan Uribe, and made his absence virtually invisible.

[+] EnlargeJustin Turner, Yasiel Puig
AP Photo/Alex GallardoJustin Turner and Yasiel Puig are the Dodgers' top two position players in wins above replacement.
“Shoot, to be honest with you, I’m not sure where we’d be if he hadn’t been here,” Wallach said.

If anything, the Dodgers feel like Turner has been more valuable to them than his WAR suggests. He has seen 4.17 pitches per plate appearance, putting him just behind catcher A.J. Ellis, one of the game’s most patient hitters, in that category. It’s Turner’s ability to grind out at-bats that first made him such a good fit for the Dodgers in Wallach’s mind.

“Every time we saw him, he’d always take a good at-bat. It didn’t mean he always got a hit, but it was never an easy at-bat for the pitcher,” Wallach said. “To me, there’s a lot of good in that. I think it always takes a little out of what they’re trying to do, gets you a little closer to that hit you’re going to need.

“When we look at our pitchers, especially our starters, you look at how many tough innings they have. If they have two or three tough innings early in the game, usually you’re going to be careful with how long you’re going to let them go. So, tough at-bats are important.”

Last weekend was one to savor for Turner. The Mets were in town and, each time he came up, the scoreboard indicated he was hitting .318 for one of the league’s best teams. The Mets’ front office, no doubt, took note. After the Mets non-tendered Turner, they leaked information to ESPNNewYork’s Adam Rubin that they had grown tired of seeing Turner not run hard to first base, a charge Turner finds ridiculous.

“It felt good, obviously. That’s one of the last reasons it feels good for me, but obviously when the team that lets you go comes in, you always have that little extra hunger or drive to want to do better and to want to prove them wrong,” Turner said.

When Uribe comes back from his hamstring injury, which could be a matter of a week or so, Turner will return to his previous role: filling in for Uribe, Ramirez, Gordon and Gonzalez. The Dodgers will upgrade the left side of their infield a bit since Uribe is one of the league’s best third baseman, but they will be taking a small step back offensively. In a way, it’s the reverse of what they’re going through transitioning Ramirez back to everyday shortstop.

“Is he Juan Uribe? Probably not, but he’s done a very good job wherever we put him,” Wallach said. “He’s done a good job at all of them and those guys are invaluable.”

Of all the Dodgers people figured to be calling “invaluable,” back in February, Turner might not have cracked the Top 25.

Dee's All-Star Journal: Taking it in

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
8:00
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Chris Sale, Dee GordonScott Rovak/USA TODAY SportsDee Gordon, who scored a run in his first All-Star Game, said the experience was a boost for his confidence.
Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon has agreed to offer occasional journal entries about his experiences at his first All-Star Game.

It was a great time, and I’m glad I got to be a part of my first All-Star Game and look forward to many more.

When I ran out to pinch run for Chase Utley, I was ready to go. I was like, "The world gets to see me play. I’m ready." I was ready to go do my thing. It was nice, because I got to score a run for our team on Jonathan Lucroy’s double to right field.

I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. It was a great time, I’m happy to be here and I’m ready to get the second half started.

I haven’t talked to my dad yet, but I’ll see him at the hotel.

On the ball I hit to Jose Altuve, I hit it well, he made a great play and I was out. These are the best players in the game, so it’s part of it.

Being around all these guys for a couple days just helps with my confidence. It helps me know I have the skills and I can play.

I picked up a lot of little stuff here and there. But when you’re a young player at your first All-Star Game, I was trying to just stay out of the way and do my own thing, just help these guys win.

I got to talk to Derek Jeter. I haven’t seen Jeter since he played with my dad, and he knew I was Tom Gordon's kid. He was like, “Man, I feel old,” and I said, “Well, you’re retiring, man.”

Who knows, maybe one day a young player will approach me like that. I don’t know, though. I'm happy I got to be here for it.

Rapid Reaction: Padres 6, Dodgers 5

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
10:27
PM PT


SAN DIEGO -- The Los Angeles Dodgers can't quite get over the hump.

Just when they were about to win their fourth consecutive game for the first time all season, closer Kenley Jansen gave up a couple of RBI doubles and blew a two-run save in the ninth inning. L.A. lost 6-5 to the San Diego Padres after Everth Cabrera hit a deep fly ball to right field to drive in the winning run.

The Dodgers missed another chance to eat into the San Francisco Giants' rapidly diminishing lead. They remain four games back after being behind 8 1/2 back eight days ago.

How it happened: Dan Haren pitched a solid game once again, although long fly balls continued to torment him. Seth Smith homered twice off Haren, who now has given up 12 home runs in his last eight starts. Haren seemed to have some harsh words for umpire Paul Schrieber in the sixth inning shortly before he was removed. Otherwise, Haren kept the Dodgers in the game while L.A.’s hitters harried another veteran starter, Ian Kennedy, for five runs.

The biggest hit was Yasiel Puig’s well-placed hard hopper that glanced off third baseman Alexi Amarista’s glove and carried into shallow left field to bring in a couple of runs. Puig took third on Amarista’s throwing error and scored on Adrian Gonzalez’s sacrifice fly.

Everything fell apart for the Dodgers in the ninth, however. San Diego’s big hits were doubles by pinch hitter Carlos Quentin and Will Venable.

Hits: Dee Gordon has been erratic with his bat lately. He went 4-for-4 Monday, but was otherwise 2-for-20 on the Dodgers’ last homestand. It’s still a delight to watch him hit one in the gap. On Friday, he pulled Kennedy’s seventh pitch of the game into the gap in right-center and just kept running. The relay throw hit Gordon as he slid into third, allowing him to score easily. It was the second time this week he had circled the bases on a triple-and-error combination. Gordon puts pressure on defenses like few players in the game. He also stole his 38th base in the second inning.

Misses: The Dodgers’ outfield situation has stabilized considerably with Carl Crawford on the disabled list. Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke have generally provided a solid platoon in center field, playing better defense than anyone would have predicted in spring training. Lately, however, Ethier’s contributions at the plate have been few and far between. He went 0-for-4 Friday and is batting .208 since the day he hit his last home run on May 27.

Stat of the game: Smith has played in four games against the Dodgers this season and hit four home runs against them.

Up next: The series continues in San Diego on Saturday night at 7:10 PT, with Josh Beckett (4-4, 2.49 ERA) opposing Tyson Ross (6-6, 3.27).

Rapid Reaction: Giants 3, Dodgers 1

May, 9, 2014
May 9
10:07
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LOS ANGELES – The focus of the Dodgers' hostility returned to its usual resting place.

A year after sparring with the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks, the Dodgers ramped up their bad blood with the rival San Francisco Giants in a 3-1 loss at Dodger Stadium on Friday night. San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner and catcher Buster Posey both had words for Yasiel Puig as he crossed home plate following his long sixth-inning home run.

Puig had taken his time leaving the box, but it was nothing he hadn’t done every other time he has homered. Puig took a step toward Bumgarner before plate umpire Will Little got in the middle of things. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was ejected for arguing with Little in the aftermath.

Yelling is one thing. The Dodgers’ bigger problem is an inability to beat San Francisco. They are 2-6 against the first-place Giants thus far this season.

How it happened: Bumgarner dominated the Dodgers, giving up only four hits over eight innings and striking out eight batters. Paul Maholm pitched well for the Dodgers, but Brandon Crawford hit a two-run home run in the fifth and that was all Bumgarner and the Giants’ rejuvenated bullpen needed.

Hits: The Dodgers have scored two runs in their past 27 innings, but you can’t lay it at Puig’s feet. Even after having to sit a couple of games after slamming into a wall in Miami, he has stayed hot. Puig is batting .405 with five runs scored during this nine-game hitting streak.

Misses: Aside from Puig, the Dodgers’ biggest bats have come up small in May. Hanley Ramirez is batting .205 this month and Adrian Gonzalez is hitting .114 with just two RBIs. You don’t really need to go much deeper than that to figure out what’s going wrong.

Stat of the game: The Dodgers have scored either one or two runs in five consecutive games against the Giants.

Up next: The Dodgers need to win the next two games or they will have dropped the first three series of 2014 to their rivals. They have the right guys on the mound to get it done: Zack Greinke (5-1, 2.35 ERA) and Clayton Kershaw (2-0, 0.66). Matt Cain (0-3, 4.35) will come off the disabled list to pitch for the Giants on Saturday. The game starts at 1:10 p.m.

Is Brandon League redeeming himself?

May, 6, 2014
May 6
10:00
AM PT
WASHINGTON -- Could Brandon League follow Juan Uribe’s path back into Dodgers fans hearts?

Barely more than a year ago, Uribe was the focus of the faithful’s wrath after the third baseman struggled through the first two seasons of his three-year contract, only to become a key contributor as last season developed. He parlayed that into a fresh two-year deal and now is one of the Dodgers’ stalwarts and a fan favorite.

League signed a three-year deal (for $22.5 million) as well, and gradually worked his way down the depth-chart ladder last season, from closer to setup man to mop-up pitcher. There was speculation earlier this season the Dodgers might simply release League to make room for one of their younger relievers.

But he appears to have steered his career back into the proper lane.

League has held opponents scoreless in his past eight appearances. He has been able to keep the ball down in the strike zone and cut down on giving up home runs. The results are back to his career norms.

After a 1.55 WHIP last season, he had a 1.04 WHIP this year entering Monday's game. After a 4.93 FIP (fielding independent pitching, on an ERA scale), he had a 2.89 FIP this year.

So does that mean fans will cheer him the next time the bullpen doors open and he comes jogging in?

He doubts it.

“Only time will tell that, right? I think 2013 is still fresh in everyone’s minds but mine,” League said. “This spring I said I’ve put it behind me and I just want to prove to myself that was an off year. All I can do is run out there and pitch well regardless of the results.”

League allowed eight home runs last year, tied for the most in his career. Aside from that, some of his teammates saw a pitcher who was working against the tide of bad luck -- something that can happen to a reliever, especially one whose entire body of work in a season adds up to fewer than 55 innings.

“The thing is he showed up every day. I almost felt like telling him to take a break, but he would never take a break. He was pushing through it,” Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell said. “He’s one of those guys who persevered. It’s tough, because you see the nasty stuff.

“I don’t know how many times I saw him give up three cheap hits and a run last year. It was pretty amazing the weak contact that would be made off him and what would happen.”

Regardless, Zack Greinke's streak is over

May, 5, 2014
May 5
8:41
PM PT
WASHINGTON -- The Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals were set to resume their game, which was delayed for more than three hours, at about 11:40 p.m. Monday night.

The Dodgers have five more innings to rally from a 2-0 deficit, but they've already lost something. Pitcher Zack Greinke allowed two runs on Anthony Rendon's first-inning home run and was knocked out by the lengthy rain delay. It means that, assuming the game becomes official, his impressive streak is over.

Going into Monday, Greinke had pitched at least five innings and allowed two runs or fewer in 18 straight outings. That was the longest such streak in the modern era.

One other notable accolade also was in danger. Greinke is trying to become the first Dodgers starter to begin a season going 6-0 since Kazuhisa Ishii in 2002.

Rainout, doubleheader create issues

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
12:26
PM PT
The Dodgers’ game in Minnesota on Tuesday night has been postponed by rain and snow, which means Kenley Jansen -- the major-league leader in appearances -- gets another day off for his overtaxed right arm. Otherwise, it’s far from good news for the Dodgers, who now have to play 15 games over the next 14 days.

Kenley Jansen
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsKenley Jansen-- the major-league leader in appearances -- gets another day off, but that's about the only good news.
Tuesday’s game has been rescheduled as part of a day-night doubleheader Thursday, with the second game starting at 6:10 p.m. CT, ahead of an overnight flight to Miami, where the Dodgers play a Friday evening game against the Marlins.

Worse, there is a 70 percent chance of precipitation (snow and rain) for both Wednesday and Thursday.

In other words, it’s a good time to re-insert ace Clayton Kershaw, who was second to Adam Wainwright in innings last season, back into the rotation. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, even after his second rehab start Wednesday night at Double-A Chattanooga, Kershaw probably won’t be allowed to throw more than about 90 pitches when he returns to the Dodgers next week in Washington.

According to MLB.com, Zack Greinke now will pitch Wednesday, with Dan Haren and Josh Beckett pitching the doubleheader games. This would be a good time for those guys to pitch deeper into games or for the offense to break out and give an overworked bullpen a break.

Dodgers-Diamondbacks feud over?

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
8:27
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SYDNEY -- They wouldn’t rumble Down Under, would they?

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks were chosen to be the 2014 ambassadors of Major League Baseball. They’re in Australia’s largest city preparing for their Opening Series games Saturday and Sunday. This is just the sixth time MLB has opened its season abroad and Australia is viewed as ripe territory to grow the game globally.

But there’s this nagging little worry out there, a potential embarrassment for the league: What if the teams fight?

“I think it’d be really bad for baseball if something were to spill over from last year, especially out here,” Arizona reliever J.J. Putz told reporters. “This country has welcomed everybody with open arms.”

It's over until something happens, you know what I mean?

-- Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell
It seems like a long shot, of course, for good reason. Both managers have spoken in conciliatory terms. Both teams say the bad blood of 2013 is in the past, that their conflicting World Series aspirations are the only reason for animosity. They’ve turned the page, they say.

But teams don’t typically spill their true feelings about one another through the media and, according to sources, there is some thought among the Dodgers that the Diamondbacks might, at some point, seek retribution for the little dip the Dodgers took in their pool when they clinched the NL West last September.

“It’s over until something happens, you know what I mean?,” Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell said. “You don’t anticipate anything, but hey, there’s obviously ... I don’t know how they feel. I don’t know what’s going on in their team, but over here we’re trying to win ballgames. If something happens, we’re definitely going to defend ourselves.”

The culmination of the teams’ dislike for each other was the ugly brawl at Dodger Stadium last June 11, just hours after Major League Baseball had announced the teams would open the 2014 season in Australia. The brawl erupted amid a beanball war sparked when Ian Kennedy grazed Yasiel Puig's nose with a 92-mph fastball. The brawl resulted in suspensions for eight players. Miguel Montero and Zack Greinke also were hit by pitches in that game.

[+] EnlargeDodgers-Diamondbacks
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillThe Dodgers-Diamondbacks brawl on June 11 resulted in eight suspensions and a dozen fines.
“No, it’s not over yet, not at all,” Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario said at the time. “I don’t think anybody thinks it’s over.”

The teams never left their benches again the rest of last season, but several Diamondbacks -- and Arizona Sen. John McCain -- blasted the Dodgers for celebrating their NL West title with a dip in the Chase Field swimming pool beyond the outfield wall. The Diamondbacks' management had asked the Dodgers to confine their celebration to the visiting clubhouse.

Hostilities between the teams stretch back to a 2011 incident that included a yelling match between Clayton Kershaw and Gerardo Parra, who had admired a home run off another Dodgers pitcher. The next game, Kershaw hit Parra with a pitch. Kershaw is the starting pitcher for the Dodgers Saturday night.

“I’m just going to play baseball. I don’t know what their sentiment is behind it,” Kershaw said. “For us, it’s just a new season. We’re just going to play the game. I don’t really know what could or would happen.”

The teams, who arrived in Australia on Tuesday, haven’t pretended they like one another. They’ve only said they’ll confine the competition to pitching, hitting and fielding. Some of the combatants from last June’s brawl, including Kennedy and Belisario, are now on other teams.

“When you play somebody 19 times in the course of the season, you get tired of seeing them. It’s pretty much as simple as that,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “Like [Kirk Gibson] said, we’re going to try to break up two. We’ve got to pitch inside, they’ve got to pitch inside. It’s just going to be baseball. Sometimes, it just gets a little heated.”

Diamondbacks management took several verbal shots at the Dodgers over the offseason. The team has emphasized toughness under Gibson and general manager Kevin Towers. Just last week, Diamondbacks pitcher Wade Miley -- who starts Saturday’s game -- plunked Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in the calf with a pitch. Colorado manager Walt Weiss said at the time he thought the pitch was intentional.

In separate interviews back in November and before spring training, Towers said he wanted his pitchers to strike more fear in opposing teams.

“I think, come spring training, it’s going to be duly noted that it’s going to be an eye for an eye and we’re going to protect one another,” Towers said.

Said Howell, “We know the difference between an accident and on purpose.”

Exploring the Australia Effect on 2014

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
11:08
AM PT
One of the great mysteries and nagging worries for the Dodgers all spring has been this: What will playing their first two games 7,500 miles from home do to the rest of their season?

It may not be a logistical nightmare, but it’s certainly a challenge: After playing their final Cactus League game Sunday, the Dodgers catch a midnight charter for Sydney, Australia.
They have a day to adjust to the time zone (16 hours ahead of PDT), a workout Wednesday, an exhibition game Thursday and real games against the Arizona Diamondbacks Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. In between, MLB has lots of sightseeing activities planned.

Following Sunday’s game, they bus to Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport and fly east for 13 hours. Oddly, they’ll land in Los Angeles Sunday about five hours before they took off in Australia. Then, they have four days off before any game, an exhibition against the Angels, and a week off before North American Opening Day in San Diego.

That layoff, of course, could do more damage than the trip itself. Jet lag is one thing. A stop-and-start season is equally worrisome.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was a coach on the 2004 New York Yankees, who opened the season against the Tampa Bay Rays in Japan, then came home and went 9-11 in early games before rallying and making it to the American League Championship Series.

“We came back with four spring training games and that was miserable and we started bad,” Mattingly said. “Those are the things I worry about. The bell rings, those two games count, then you come back and say, ‘Don’t matter.’ I worry about bad habits.”

The Dodgers’ players voted to go, so they have no one to blame but themselves (or their teammates) if it sends them into the season a bit sluggishly. Not everyone voted “yes,” of course, with the most public abstainer being pitcher Zack Greinke, who now won’t have to make the trek after injuring his calf.

History suggests that teams have been able to overcome the rigors of overseas openers, but there has been an early price to pay.

Major League Baseball has opened its season six times outside the continental U.S., but the first two were in Mexico and Puerto Rico, which offer only minimal travel and time-zone adjustments.

The last four were in Japan. One World Series team, the 2000 New York Mets, came out of such a series. Four of the eight teams reached the playoffs and two other teams, the 2004 Yankees and 2008 Boston Red Sox, went to league championship series. In other words, a lot of teams have started on the other side of the Pacific and gone on to great things, but it wasn’t easy.

Mattingly’s Yankees weren’t the only team to start a bit sluggishly after playing in Asia. Every playoff team that started in Japan got off to a losing start: The 2000 Mets started 5-8; the 2008 Red Sox went 5-6; the 2012 Oakland A’s started 4-7.

The only one of the eight teams to start with a winning record was the 2008 A’s, who lost 85 games that year. The 2004 Rays had the worst start: 9-23. There certainly seems to be some sort of lag effect.

A’s general manager Billy Beane doesn’t believe it’s a major concern, telling MLB.com, “We had no issues getting players ready.”

On the other hand, Beane said it did present some challenges. The A’s had to face Felix Hernandez twice in their first four games. The Dodgers could benefit from the weird schedule by using Clayton Kershaw three times in their first six games without asking him to pitch on short rest.

They haven’t decided whether they’ll take advantage of that option, though they did announce Kershaw will pitch the first game in Australia, so it’s open. There’s no reason he wouldn’t also pitch the opener in San Diego, considering he’d be working on seven days’ rest. If he pitches the Dodgers’ home opener, too, on April 4, he’d be working on the customary four days’ rest.

Kershaw told reporters earlier this spring he was preparing himself for the rigors of the off-kilter throwing schedule. He spoke with the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Brandon McCarthy, who pitched in Japan for Oakland.

“He said coming back is the hardest part, to get ready for the season,” Kershaw said. “It’s definitely not an ideal situation travel-wise, but I guess we’ve got to make it work.”

There’s always this to fall back on: If you think the Diamondbacks are the Dodgers’ biggest challenge in the division this year, they’ve got to try to make it work, too.
In less than a week, the Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks will board their chartered airplanes for their 15-hour flight to Sydney, Australia. In less than two weeks, they will have already played the first two games of Major League Baseball’s 2014 season.

With their two-game series at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground rapidly approaching, we thought we’d catch up with the perfect ambassador for Australian baseball, Craig Shipley. Not only was he the first Australian-born player in the modern era to compete in the major leagues, he broke in with the Dodgers. Oh, and he now works for the Diamondbacks, as a special assistant to general manager Kevin Towers.

Q. Craig, how would you describe the state of baseball in Australia in 2014?

A. It’s not a major sport. There is tremendous competition in Australia for the attention of sports fans. It’s one of the countries in the world where you have more competition for athletes and media attention than virtually any other. You have cricket, Australian-rules football, rugby, rugby union, field hockey, tennis, swimming. There are lots of sports in Australia and most kids play some type of sport. Baseball just doesn’t have the profile other sports have. It doesn’t have the participation base.

Q. So, what drew you to the game?

A. Thirty years ago, baseball was the winter sport and cricket was the summer sport. At some point around that time, baseball switched to a summer sport. My dad had played cricket, but when he was in his 20’s, he chose to switch to baseball. It was the first sport I was exposed to. He was heavily involved in the local club. I’ve been around baseball since I was born. I probably started playing when I was six or seven. I played other sports, too. I played soccer for a year, rugby for three or four years, including my last year of high school. Outside baseball, rugby was my favorite sport.

Q. So, how did on earth did the Dodgers find you?

A. At the time I left Australia, nobody scouted the country. Kids of my generation who wanted an opportunity had to figure out a way to get into a U.S. college. I’d made my first trip to the U.S. in 1979 on an under-18 national team that played at Georgia Southern. It was my first exposure to American baseball. At the end of that trip, I expressed an interest to one of the coaches who had just left Georgia Southern to be an Alabama assistant coach. I said I’d like to play college baseball and asked him what I needed to do to play in college. I came back the next year and stayed in touch with the coach. His name is Roger Smith and he’s now a scout for the Cardinals. Eventually, he caved in from me badgering him all that time.

Q. So, the Dodgers drafted you out of Alabama?

A. At the time, if you weren’t a U.S. citizen, you didn’t go into the draft. I was a free agent. I think they changed that the next year. But I had been exposed to the Dodgers 15 years before, when [Dodgers coaches] Monte Basgall and Red Adams visited Australia. I just remember them standing on our field in a Dodger uniform. It made a huge impact. We weren’t exposed to major league baseball. We didn’t get it on TV, nobody scouted the country. We knew it existed, but it was in this far-away place with no legitimate access to information. To see these guys on the field, that was a big deal. When I was in college, if I had an opportunity to sign with the Dodgers, it was pretty much a done deal.

Q. How do you expect this Opening Series to be received in Sydney?

A. I think there is going to be a huge reception. Australia is a sports-mad country. The games will be sold out, they’re at a historic venue. There’s a tremendous amount of attention on this series and it’s really starting to build as it gets closer and closer. It’s going to be a very successful event and, as you know, when MLB takes the show on the road, things will be done very well.

Q. Since you were a kid, has there been a lot of progress made in building up baseball in Australia?

A. I base a lot of whether we’re making progress on the amount of participation. I’m on the board of Baseball Australia and I’ve always been plugged into what’s going on there. I went in 2002, coaches the Australian team at the World Cup. I was on the staff during the first WBC, which was not a huge commitment but was fun. MLB has been influential and the reach is now global. In that regard, things have changed. They have an MLB academy there in the summer, which is a great thing for young players in the country. But participation-wise, the numbers have remained fairly stagnant. Hopefully, this series will give some impetus and attract enough attention to get more kids into baseball.

Q. You broke into the majors in 1986. Since that time, it certainly seems as if Australian players have become more commonplace in the majors. I’ve covered a few. The Dodgers had Peter Moylan. The Angels had Rich Thompson.

A. Yes, but Grant Balfour is the only player widely projected to be on an Opening Day roster this year. Travis Blackley spent some time with Texas and Houston last year. Ryan Rowland-Smith is trying to make our roster. The problem is no longer scouting. Australia has been heavily scouted for the last 15 years. If any country has a history of playing baseball, it will be scouted and Australia has a long, long history. What determines the number of players coming from a country is how many athletes are playing that sport. If you go to Cuba, the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, most young boys are playing baseball. You have a lot more athletes to choose from.

Q. Some players, most notably Zack Greinke, have grumbled about having to make the long trip to play games. Do you think the ones who go will have a better time than they think they’re going to have?

A. I would imagine. The culture is very similar to the U.S. There’s no language barrier. The foods are the same. The diets are very similar. You’ve got a beautiful city with one of the prettiest harbors, if not the prettiest harbor, in the world. The ballpark is 10 minutes from the hotel. I think the players will really enjoy the trip.

There’s no way around it. It’s a long flight. Fifteen hours on a plane for anybody isn’t a particularly fun thing to do. But once they hit the ground and are exposed to the city, I think most, if not all, of the players and the traveling parties will really enjoy it.

 

Dodgers might be shaky on defense

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
4:04
PM PT
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – It was the first game of the spring, not exactly the moment for sweeping generalizations. But it’s fair to say that the sloppy defense that made Clayton Kershaw’s first spring outing on Wednesday seem deceptively poor is a legitimate concern rather than a trifle.

Carl Crawford charged A.J. Pollock’s line drive and had it bounce off his glove and trickle to the wall, a misplay somehow ruled a triple. Yasiel Puig, who packed on more than 20 pounds in the off-season, chased down a double in the gap and had it nick off his glove, then nick off Joc Pederson’s glove for an error.

New second baseman Alex Guerrero looked awkward, to say the least, trying to field a Martin Prado infield hit in the third.

Shaky defense, particularly at key positions, might be the Dodgers’ biggest worry as we sit here in February.

Asked about it Wednesday, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly didn’t exactly summon a spirited defense of his players’ ability to catch and throw at an elite level. The Dodgers’ only premium defenders, Adrian Gonzalez and Juan Uribe, play on the corners. Puig is talented, but erratic in right field.

“We don’t want to give extra outs, but at the same time we know nobody’s perfect and we’re going to do the best we can with the guys we have,” Mattingly said. “Our guys are who they are. That’s the thing. We’re going to make the best decisions based on the best combination of guys.”

Guerrero, a career shortstop, remains the biggest question mark. The trouble is, the main rival to unseat him, Dee Gordon, also is a converted shortstop whose defense even at his natural position has been something of a concern.

Mattingly said, “At this point, I can’t tell you what second base is going to look like,” and said of Guerrero, “We see a guy who hasn’t played in a while. I’m not going to judge Alex on five innings.”

The rationale for Yasiel Puig as leadoff hitter

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
9:20
AM PT
GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Dodgers are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and, given the circumstances, that seems like their only play.

Yasiel Puig, a free swinger built like a middle linebacker, will be the team’s leadoff hitter, at least to begin the season, manager Don Mattingly has said. On some levels, this comes across as a ludicrous notion. Puig, who entered camp at 251 pounds, batted .319 last year, but that was aided by a .383 batting average on balls in play, perhaps suggesting some regression. He only stole 11 bases in 432 plate appearances. He’s fast, but inexperienced on the bases.

But if not Puig, who? Eighty-three percent of Carl Crawford’s plate appearances came in the leadoff spot last season, but it’s never been his thing. Crawford has a career .743 OPS batting leadoff and an 800 OPS batting second. Alex Guerrero might one day hit near the top of the order, but that’s out of the question for now. He might not even be in the starting lineup on Opening Day.

The loss of Mark Ellis, who did everything a manager could ask of a No. 2 hitter (aside from getting a lot of hits), has created the conundrum. Puig doesn’t really profile ideally as a No. 2 hitter because he doesn’t take a lot of pitches to give Crawford a chance to try to steal a base, and it almost seems absurd to ask him to give up an at-bat to move a runner over. Forget about bunting.

Puig profiles as a No. 3, 4 or 5 hitter over the long run, of course, but Mattingly had some interesting comments about that. He said Puig hasn’t proven he can be an “RBI guy.” Puig had 42 RBIs in 104 games.

“He’s emotional still,” Mattingly said. “For me, he needs to learn to slow down, calm down up there with men in scoring position. You see in those situations, he gets a little excited. That’s part of learning to be that guy.”

So for now, the Dodgers will allow Puig to develop in the No. 1 spot in the lineup. Not a terrible idea, when you look at it broadly. It worked out OK for Mike Trout.

Van Slyke, Gordon benefit by sticking it out

February, 23, 2014
Feb 23
12:28
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Scott Van SlykeBrian Kersey/Getty ImagesScott Van Slyke has battled his way back to a likely roster spot with the Dodgers.


GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Two of the Dodgers’ homegrown players look like they stand to benefit from their perseverance.

One year ago, Scott Van Slyke wasn’t even in major league camp. The team had taken him off its 40-man roster and outrighted him to the minor leagues. For a player who had touched the major leagues, that was as close to rock bottom as you could get. Now, manager Don Mattingly indicated Van Slyke is a virtual lock to make the team’s Opening Day roster because of his performance last season. Of the players on the roster vying for bench roles, Van Slyke is the only one who has played much first base.

“We don’t want anybody to think they’re in the clear 100 percent, but I feel like with what he did for us last year, we’d like to have him,” Mattingly said.

One year ago, Dee Gordon admitted he was as dejected as ever before in his career. He was a few months from seeing the Dodgers trade for Hanley Ramirez to take his shortstop job and didn’t have a clear path to the major leagues because he only played one position. Now, after learning to play center field and second base, Gordon not only could make the team, he has a chance to be the Opening Day second baseman.

Gordon hit a home run on the second pitch he saw from Hyun-Jin Ryu in the Dodgers’ intrasquad game. That, too, seemed new. Gordon put on 12 pounds of muscle in the offseason working out near his home in Orlando and said he thinks it could help him with the rigors of the long season, as well as with becoming a more well-rounded player. Gordon’s one major asset up to now has been his speed.

Gordon said he now weighs 172 pounds.

“Guys have always been bigger than me,” Gordon said. “I feel like now I can hit the ball harder and be more consistent, not let the ball overpower me as much.”

Will Tim Wallach's move affect strategy?

February, 22, 2014
Feb 22
9:45
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GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Dodgers put down 71 successful sacrifice bunts last season, more than any team in the National League other than the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers.

That might sound a bit odd considering the Dodgers’ manager, Don Mattingly, played his entire career in the American League, where bunting is a relative afterthought. Once Mattingly established himself as a star hitter by batting .343 in 1984, he had just three sacrifice bunts the remainder of his career.

Will the Dodgers’ bunt-heavy approach change now that Tim Wallach is the bench coach? The Dodgers’ front office clearly thought some change in the dugout decision-making chain was needed because it declined to renew the contract of Mattingly’s bench coach, Trey Hillman, and decided to move Wallach from the third-base coach’s box to the dugout. That was the only change in the coaching staff.

It’s a bit early to predict whether it will have an appreciable impact on in-game strategy. Both Mattingly and Wallach are downplaying the magnitude of the change so far.

If there is a perception that the move was foisted upon Mattingly and that there will be tension in the dugout, that can probably be put to rest now. The two men played golf together Friday afternoon.

“Wally and I get along, a lot like Trey and I,” Mattingly said. “Trey and I just knew each other long, so it’ll be comfortable either way.”

On the Dodgers, the bench coach essentially serves as a second manager. Both Mattingly and Wallach will cull the detailed scouting reports they get before every series into a single game sheet they can hold in the dugout each game. Mattingly’s game sheet will have different information than Wallach’s, so in that sense there could be a different feel to in-game moves this year.

“He’s got a lot of stuff he’s got to pay attention to, so I just have to be there for him to let him know ahead of time,” Wallach. “I’m a forward thinker, so my job is to help him be prepared as well as I can.”

The move also could help Wallach take the next step in his career. A former Triple-A manager, he has interviewed for multiple managerial openings in recent seasons.

Yasiel Puig's sore thigh holds him out again

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
8:53
AM PT
Yasiel Puig spent his morning heaving a 30-pound medicine ball against a concrete wall. Over, and over, and over.

Puig's baseball work was curtailed for a second day Friday morning due to inflammation above his right knee. He is expected back on the field soon, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said, but even small injuries are worth monitoring this spring with the short schedule.

The Dodgers board a plane for Australia, where they open their season -- three weeks from Sunday.

Pitcher Paul Maholm, who has had a sore left elbow, is scheduled to throw his first bullpen session Saturday. The Dodgers signed Maholm shortly after they arrived in Arizona as insurance in case Josh Beckett re-injures his surgically repaired right shoulder.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Clayton Kershaw
WINS ERA SO IP
16 1.73 194 161
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .301
HRA. Gonzalez 18
RBIA. Gonzalez 90
RD. Gordon 73
OPSY. Puig .882
ERAC. Kershaw 1.73
SOC. Kershaw 194