Dodgers Report: A.J. Ellis

Dodgers claim catcher Ryan Lavarnway

December, 5, 2014
Dec 5
12:56
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers claimed catcher Ryan Lavarnway from the Boston Red Sox and designated Drew Butera for assignment Friday as the new front office continues to tweak the fringes of the team’s roster.

General manager Farhan Zaidi said after tendering a contract to A.J. Ellis earlier this week that the team is considering a rotation at the catcher position, but Lavarnway, like Butera and Ellis, is a right-handed hitter.

In 97 major-league games, Lavarnway, 27, is a .201 hitter and has hit five home runs in 301 plate appearances. In the minor leagues, he batted .283 with an exceptional .375 on-base percentage. The Red Sox were so frustrated with Lavarnway’s catching ability that they had moved him to first base in his final games with them.

Lavarnway grew up in Burbank and attended Yale.

Butera, who appeared in 61 games for the Dodgers last year, is a career .183 hitter. Butera pitched in two blowout losses for the Dodgers last year and touched 94 mph on the radar gun in one of them.

Dodgers tender contract to A.J. Ellis, others

December, 2, 2014
Dec 2
9:40
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers elected to tender a 2015 contract to catcher A.J. Ellis, the team announced Tuesday night.

Ellis batted .191 last season, but the Dodgers value his ability to work with their pitchers, particularly with the National League's reigning Cy Young and MVP winner Clayton Kershaw, a close friend. Kershaw had made his feelings about Ellis' future clear in a series of interviews following the Dodgers' elimination at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs.

Ellis, 33, dealt with in-season knee surgery and a subsequent ankle injury last season, his worst since becoming the Dodgers' primary catcher in 2012. He is a .242 lifetime hitter who averaged 11 home runs and 52 RBIs in his two previous seasons. He's also known for having a discerning eye. His .343 lifetime on-base percentage is well above the league average.

The Dodgers also reached a one-year contract agreement with infielder Darwin Barney for $2.52 million, and tendered contracts to the remainder of their arbitration-eligible players: Kenley Jansen, Dee Gordon, Drew Butera, Justin Turner, Juan Nicasio and Chris Heisey, who was acquired earlier in the evening from the Cincinnati Reds for pitcher Matt Magill.

The catching situation gained the most scrutiny heading into Tuesday night's non-tender deadline because Dodgers catchers had the lowest batting average (.181) in the majors last year, but the top catcher on the open market, former Dodger Russell Martin, signed with the Toronto Blue Jays and there were few other options available.

Ellis almost certainly will make more than the $3.5 million he made in 2014. The biggest pay increase will go to Jansen, who made $4.3 million last season and converted 44 saves with a 2.76 ERA.

Hot stove primer: Catcher

December, 2, 2014
Dec 2
12:14
PM PT
Clayton KershawRichard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsClayton Kershaw has made his desire to keep catcher A.J. Ellis clear several times.
After a nearly three-year spending spree, the Dodgers seem to be retrenching this winter. That’s in part because they won 94 games last season and return a roster that is largely intact. But it also seems to be part of a wider organizational philosophy to rebuild the minor-league system and eventually bring the payroll under $200 million. Thus far, the only major headlines they’ve generated since being eliminated by the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs involve the front office. With the winter meetings looming next week, let’s explore some areas the Dodgers might look to improve:

LOS ANGELES -- The direction the Dodgers’ offseason takes will be determined in part by a decision the new front office makes today.

The Dodgers have to decide by 9 p.m. PT today whether to tender a contract to starting catcher A.J. Ellis and six other arbitration-eligible players. A few months ago, it seemed virtually guaranteed the Dodgers would non-tender Ellis, who batted .191. But since the season ended, the team’s ace Clayton Kershaw has made his desire to keep Ellis clear several times.

At last month’s general managers meetings, new GM Farhan Zaidi said president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman had spoken to Kershaw and that the decision makers value Ellis’ contributions.

“It’s clear he’s a big part of this team and a big part of the preparation and comfort level for the pitchers,” Zaidi said.

If the Dodgers wade into the arbitration process with Ellis, they’re practically guaranteed to pay him more than the $3.5 million they paid him last year, a sizeable sum for a catcher who struggled at the plate and showed some slippage in his defensive abilities who will turn 34 next year. He also doesn’t rate very highly in a skill Friedman valued highly in Tampa, pitch framing. Then again, Ellis has been a big part of the Dodgers’ excellent pitching for years and his struggles can be explained in part by in-season knee surgery and an ankle injury.

(Read full post)

New brass aware of A.J. Ellis' value

November, 11, 2014
Nov 11
2:51
PM PT
PHOENIX -- The changing of front office regimes wouldn’t seem, on the surface, to be great news for catcher A.J. Ellis.

New president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and new general manager Farhan Zaidi haven’t been around the team enough to get a sense for the importance Ellis played inside the clubhouse or in pitchers’ meetings. And, as we visited before, Friedman had a bit of a fixation on pitch framing when he was in Tampa Bay and that’s not a skill Ellis excels in.

Ellis, 33, batted .191 last year and the Dodgers must decide by Dec. 2 whether to tender Ellis a contract. If they do, they will be faced with the possibility of having to pay him more than his $3.5 million salary from 2014 since arbitration-eligible players virtually never take pay cuts. Paying Ellis $4 million next year might sound prohibitive, but not when indications are that ex-Dodger Russell Martin -- the only obvious starting option in free agency -- will get a four-year deal worth more than $50 million.

Clayton Kershaw, soon to be announced as the 2014 Cy Young winner and quite possibly as the league MVP, has made his opinion clear. He would like to see Ellis return. Zaidi said Friedman has spoken to Kershaw and both men are aware that Ellis’ value exceeds his 2014 batting average or what various pitch-framing rankings say.

“He’s a leader on this team, he has relationships with the pitching staff and we’re very mindful of that,” Zaidi said. “That’s been part of the process, understanding the dynamic of the relationships. It’s clear he’s a big part of this team and a big part of the preparation and comfort level for the pitchers.”

The Chicago Cubs, according to reports, have already met with Martin. Another reason the Dodgers might be hesitant to pursue Martin is that he would cost them their first-round draft pick since he rejected the Pittsburgh Pirates' $15.3 million qualifying offer. The Dodgers, who are trying to rebuild their farm system, have never surrendered a draft pick to sign a free agent. When they inked Zack Greinke to a six-year, $147 million deal two Decembers ago, they didn't lose a pick since Greinke had been traded midway through the previous season.

How one subtlety could seal A.J. Ellis's fate

November, 5, 2014
Nov 5
9:46
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- When Andrew Friedman was still working out of his office in St. Petersburg, Fla., he gave Ryan Hanigan -- a career .256 hitter -- a three-year, $10.75 million deal. He lived with the fact that his other catcher, Jose Molina, batted .178 last year while hitting no home runs.

The reason Friedman and the Tampa Bay Rays valued those two catchers where other teams did not comes down to one of the game’s most important subtleties, pitch framing, which could, in turn, frame the conversation about what the Dodgers do at the catching position this winter. For years, Hanigan and Molina were the masters at holding their mitt in the right position to convince the umpire pitches were strikes. Friedman’s group found a way to quantify the skill and, slowly, others have caught on, making pitch framing one of the frontiers in baseball analytics.

It might not be good news for one of the most popular players in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, A.J. Ellis. According to ESPN Stats and Info, when Ellis was catching, 80.1 percent of pitches inside the strike zone were called strikes. That ranked 35th out of 42 catchers studied. Ellis got strike calls on 8.3 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, well below the major-league average of 9 percent.

Let’s compare those numbers to the top free-agent catcher on the market, former Dodger Russell Martin. On pitches both inside the strike zone and outside the zone, Martin gets way more calls than the average catcher. On strikes, umpires called it correctly 85.5 percent of the time. On balls, they called it incorrectly 9.4 percent of the time.

While 80.1 percent to 85.5 percent might not jump out as the biggest chasm, it is when you consider that the average starting catcher frames more than 9,000 pitches a season.

What’s the value in one catcher getting 450 calls a year -- say, five a game -- more than the next guy? What's the value in stealing one pitch a game that should have been called a ball, but isn't? If you're striking somebody out to end an inning with the bases loaded, pretty important.

We’ll find out just how valuable it is, because early reports suggest Martin, 31, wants a deal in the four-year, $60 million range.

2015 Position Outlook: Catcher

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
11:18
AM PT
MartinDavid Maxwell/Getty ImagesThe Dodgers could take a run at Russell Martin in an effort to improve production behind the plate.
LOS ANGELES -- It’s hard to think of the Los Angeles Dodgers without A.J. Ellis. It’s also hard to think of them paying him more than the $3.5 million he made last season and, now that he’s eligible for arbitration the second time, that’s a risk they may be unwilling to face.

There might be a middle ground. Odds are the Dodgers will not tender Ellis a contract, but that doesn’t mean he’s gone. They could non-tender him and then negotiate with him and subsequently sign him to a lower salary. Maybe as a gesture of good will, they could offer him a two-year deal at a lower average annual value?

Ellis, who dealt with in-season knee surgery and a sprained ankle last year, batted just .191 before his bat came to life in the NLDS, where he hit .538 with a double and home run. He turns 34 in April.

He also played a vital role working with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and the starting pitchers, even on days he didn’t catch. It will be a tough call for new president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, in part because of the role Ellis plays in the clubhouse. One of the few players in the room who didn’t take the superstar route to the majors, he balances out some of the egos with a team-first approach and is accessible to the media, putting the team in a good public light.

One option is to retain Ellis as the backup catcher -- and Clayton Kershaw's personal catcher -- and then pursue a catcher with more pop.

Now that Friedman is running the show rather than outgoing general manager Ned Colletti, it seems more likely the Dodgers would take a run at the top free agent catcher on the market, Russell Martin. In fact it’s hard to fathom not exploring the option.

(Read full post)

Stock Watch: Kemp displaying old form

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
9:56
AM PT

RISING


Streaking
Clayton Kershaw, LHP: He doesn’t like talking about the MVP award, so maybe it’s time we just stop asking him about it until after the season ends? Or, even better, until the results of voting are released in November. Ballots are due from members of the Baseball Writers Association of America as soon as the regular season ends, likely Sunday. Kershaw certainly didn’t do anything in the last week to hurt his chances, picking up victories No. 20 and 21 with a couple of gritty wins, including the division-clincher. There’s not much more you need to say about the guy other than this: He’s the only pitcher ever to lead the major leagues in ERA four straight seasons.

Matt Kemp, RF: Had he started his turnaround earlier, he’d be in the middle of the MVP discussions as well. Since the All-Star break, the Dodgers’ right fielder is third in the National League in OPS behind Giancarlo Stanton, who is recovering from being beaned in the face and out for the year, and Buster Posey. In short, Kemp found the form that made him one of the most formidable players in baseball as recently as April of 2012, before a succession of serious injuries. He thinks that, with a full offseason of conditioning, he can keep it going next season. It’s a good thing the Dodgers didn’t trade him.

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B: A lot of the same things could be said for Gonzalez, whose slow May and June raised questions about whether the was beginning to decline at age 32. Gonzalez regrouped and has hit 11 home runs and driven in 52 runs, most in the league, since the break. Aside from Hyun-Jin Ryu's health, the biggest question for the Dodgers going into the playoffs is whether their red-hot lineup can stay that way with four days off before Game 1.

FALLING


Slumping
Brian Wilson, RHP: He was on the mound for the last out of the clincher, which might have been a bit of salt in the wounds of Giants fans. All they needed to do was look at the radar readings to feel better about losing their former closer. Wilson says he can get his mid-90s velocity back, but if so, what is he waiting for? In his only semi-high leverage situation in the last week, he gave up a two-run home run to blow a game in Chicago. He figures to make the postseason roster, but using him as the primary setup man seems like an iffy way to go given what he is throwing and the proliferation of base runners.

J.P. Howell, LHP: He might be the most unsung pitcher of the first five months. He and Kenley Jansen are the only Dodgers relievers who have done their jobs without stressing out Don Mattingly and everybody who roots for the team. But his last few outings have been shaky, raising some worries going into October. Howell has given up seven hits and six runs in his last three appearances. Bad timing for a little slump for an important member of the bullpen.

A.J. Ellis, C: If he went 12-for-12 this weekend -- and there’s no way he’ll get that many at-bats in the post-clinching aftermath -- he would finish the season with a .225 batting average. In other words, it might take a miracle for him to get over the Mendoza Line. You can tell the Dodgers love the way he calls a game or else they wouldn’t have ridden him so hard in the season’s final weeks. Everyone should understand that his poor hitting was the result, in part, of two leg injuries early in the season. He had knee surgery and then immediately sprained an ankle landing on a catcher’s mask during the celebration of Josh Beckett's no-hitter. Still, he’ll be 34 next season, so questions about his future with the team persist.

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 8, Dodgers 7

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
2:05
PM PT
CHICAGO – The Los Angeles Dodgers had been scoring enough runs lately that it was easy to ignore their starting pitching, which has struggled uncharacteristically all week and placed a heavy burden on the bullpen.

But the Chicago Cubs pulled back the veil Saturday and rallied for six runs in the final three innings to beat the Dodgers 8-7. The Dodgers, who haven’t had a starting pitcher go more than five innings since this past Sunday in San Francisco, have a magic number to clinch the NL West that remains stuck on six.

How it happened: It looked like Adrian Gonzalez would give the Dodgers another blowout win on a trip full of them when he launched a pair of home runs and drove in five in the first three innings to give the Dodgers a big early lead, but Roberto Hernandez continued to struggle, and the Dodgers had to empty the bullpen on a drizzly day at Wrigley Field. The Cubs rallied for four runs in the seventh inning, with the big shot being Arismendy Alcantara’s three-run home run off J.P. Howell. Then Chris Coghlan hit a two-run shot off Brian Wilson in the eighth to complete the comeback.

Hits: Gonzalez leads the National League with 111 RBIs, and he leads the Dodgers with 25 home runs. He had a hot April and a cold May and June, and he has been steadily productive ever since. He is batting .328 with 18 doubles, 11 home runs and 50 RBIs since July 21. He’s also one of the best throwing first basemen in baseball. He picked up Matt Szczur's bunt and threw on the run to second base to retire the lead runner, John Baker, at what appeared to be a crucial moment in the eighth inning before Wilson gave up the long ball.

Misses: One of the reasons the Dodgers have ridden A.J. Ellis so hard -- starting him at catcher in eight of the first nine games of this road trip -- is they aren’t overly excited about their other catchers. Drew Butera got the start Saturday and struggled. He went 0-for-4 at the plate -- with two strikeouts with runners in scoring position -- and was a little rough behind it. Dodgers pitchers had three wild pitches with Butera in there. Dodgers catchers collectively have a .553 OPS, second worst in the majors behind Tampa Bay.

Stat of the game: Dee Gordon has had at least two hits in eight straight games. The only Dodger with a longer multi-hit game streak in the past 100 years is Pee Wee Reese, who had nine straight in 1949, according to Eric Stephen of TrueBlueLA.

Up next: The four-game series concludes Sunday at 11:20 a.m. PT. The Dodgers have not announced their starting pitcher. The Cubs will start Jacob Turner (1-3, 6.93 ERA).

Dodgers skip wild-card celebration

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
9:48
AM PT
CHICAGO -- Some of the Los Angeles Dodgers gathered at an Italian restaurant in Chicago on Friday night for a party hosted by team chairman and billionaire Mark Walter, who lives in the Chicago area. By about 10 p.m., word began going around that the Milwaukee Brewers had lost, guaranteeing the Dodgers a wild-card berth.

And the reaction was … nothing. No toast. No back-slapping.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he wasn’t even aware the Brewers had lost. He was aware only that the Dodgers had clinched a wild-card tie when they left Wrigley Field on Friday evening. It’s fair to say the Dodgers, who lead the San Francisco Giants by 3 games in the NL West, have higher aspirations than to play in a do-or-die wild-card game. Their focus has been fairly steadfast in that regard for months.

The Dodgers, whose magic number is six, can clinch the division as soon as Monday, when they open a three-game series with the Giants at Dodger Stadium.

“It’s a great accomplishment and an honor to know you’re going to be playing baseball when the regular season is over, but we know we’ve got a big series coming up,” catcher A.J. Ellis said. “Hopefully, in that series we can celebrate something really special.”

Said Clayton Kershaw, “It’d be kind of a letdown to get just the wild card.”

Notes: Hyun-Jin Ryu played light catch from a distance of roughly 40 feet, the first step in what the team is calling a “sub-maximal” throwing program. Mattingly said Ryu likely will repeat the exercise Sunday and amp it up in coming days depending on how his sore left shoulder responds. The Dodgers would like to get Ryu one last regular-season start, perhaps against Colorado in the last weekend of the season, but they have said they would be comfortable if his next start comes in the playoffs.

Clayton Kershaw notches 20 the hard way

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
5:13
PM PT

CHICAGO -- By the time the Los Angeles Dodgers had scored six runs on five hits, forced a pitching change and waited out Chicago Cubs trainers while they checked catcher Welington Castillo's bruised ribs, Clayton Kershaw had spent about 30 minutes cooling down from his pregame routine and watching from the bench, antsy as always.

"I'm going to have to figure out ways to stay loose," Kershaw said. "Obviously, Wrigley's not the easiest place -- not a lot of places to go -- but I'll probably have to go up the tunnel or somewhere else and get loose again."

[+] EnlargeClayton Kershaw
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw had to struggle to get to his 20th victory of the season, but the Dodgers' offense helped bail him out.
Kershaw said he would be willing to sit around for two hours if it meant his team jumping out to a 6-0 lead, but the long Dodgers' first inning en route to a 14-5 win over the Cubs didn't make for the most elegant Kershaw performance. It was a 106-pitch grind with the wind blowing toward the lake. It was five innings the hard way. His fastball darted to unexpected places, and his breaking balls weren't breaking, but forgive his teammates if they weren't exactly rolling their eyes after Kershaw won his 20th game via a relative cheapie: five so-so but willful innings with a ton of run support.

It's fair to say Kershaw has a bit of good will in the bank with anybody who feels fondly about the Dodgers. He punctuated their season with that brilliant June no-hitter, had worked eight or nine innings in his previous seven outings and rescued this Dodgers season from the label of extravagant mediocrity, after all.

Years from now, all anybody is going to see are the marvelous -- borderline ridiculous -- numbers he put up in 2014. Kershaw joined Pedro Martinez (1999) as the only pitchers since World War II to pick up 20 wins in fewer than 30 starts. Kershaw (20-3) has taken the mound only 26 times this season, and the Dodgers have won 22 of those times. They're 19-1 in his past 20 starts, which has pulled them to the brink of postseason inclusion and put them in sturdy shape with a three-game lead in the NL West.

A pitcher's win-loss record doesn't necessarily paint a detailed portrait of his performance over a season. It has, in fact, become fashionable to label it a worthless measure, but that viewpoint isn't universal. To disdain wins sort of severs a bridge to the past. Who knows, somebody's dad or grandfather might like talking about the year Sandy Koufax won 27. Now a kid in 2014 can talk about the time Kershaw won 20 or 21 in just 27 tries.

"From my childhood, I remember you hear about Baltimore's five [actually, four] 20-game winners and stuff like that," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "That's a landmark. It's like 100 RBIs for a hitter. Twenty wins, I think, is something we've always put out there as a landmark and a great year."

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 14, Cubs 5

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
2:54
PM PT


CHICAGO -- The Los Angeles Dodgers finally repaid Clayton Kershaw for a season’s worth of picking them up.

The ace was far from his sharpest Friday, but the Dodgers bats pounded the Chicago Cubs' pitching, launching four home runs in a 14-5 win at Wrigley Field. In the process, Kershaw (20-3) became the first major league pitcher to pick up his 20th win this season.

With eight games left, the Dodgers extended their NL West lead to three games pending the result of the San Francisco Giants' game at San Diego later Friday. Later Friday, the Milwaukee Brewers lost to the Pirates in Pittsburgh to clinch at minimum a wild-card spot for the Dodgers.

How it happened: The Dodgers knocked Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson out of the game in the first inning, scoring six runs, but Kershaw struggled with his command early and gave half of those runs back in the bottom of the inning. He steadied himself and managed to get through the requisite five innings, but it was largely a grind; he needed 106 pitches.

The Dodgers continued to score off Chicago’s bullpen, however. Catcher A.J. Ellis, one of Kershaw’s best friends, launched a pair of two-run homers, tripling his season total. Kershaw’s ERA went from 1.70 to 1.80, but he did strike out nine, giving him 228 strikeouts in just 26 games.

Hits: Perhaps the most encouraging development on this road trip? Yasiel Puig is back. He appears to have emerged from his six-week-long slump. Puig walked, doubled and launched a three-run homer onto Waveland Avenue. Puig, who had not homered since July 31, is batting .412 with two home runs and six RBIs on this trip. Maybe it’s a matter of the ballparks the Dodgers are playing in or maybe it’s due to better at-bats, but the team needs Puig to be productive -- emphasis on the “horse” rather than the “wild” -- to be a deep offense.

Misses: The Dodgers were looking to get a few more innings out of Kershaw, with struggling starter Roberto Hernandez pitching Saturday and with the tentative plan to empty out the bullpen Sunday and push Dan Haren's start back to Monday. Friday’s start was the shortest for Kershaw since a rain-shortened game June 8 in Colorado. It was the shortest non-weather-related start since his one truly bad start of the season, May 17 at Arizona. Unless Hernandez can give the Dodgers six innings or so, they may have to use Haren Sunday and send Carlos Frias, who gave up 10 hits without completing an inning his previous time out, to face the Giants on Monday.

Stat of the game: Dee Gordon stole his 63rd base in the second inning. Gordon caught Dodgers first-base coach Davey Lopes (1976) for fifth on the team’s all-time L.A. Dodgers single-season steals list. He is one behind Juan Pierre (2007).

Up next: The four-game series at Wrigley Field continues Saturday at 10:05 a.m. PT with Hernandez (8-11, 4.06 ERA) and Felix Doubront (2-1, 1.50).

Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 4, Giants 2

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
4:00
PM PT


SAN FRANCISCO -- After trading blowouts in the most anticipated series of the year, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants returned to what they most frequently do when they meet. They fought each other hand to hand for nine innings.

But the Dodgers had Clayton Kershaw, which means they normally win those fights. Their ace went eight strong innings again to become the majors’ first 19-game winner in a 4-2 Dodgers win that padded their NL West lead to three games with 13 left.

How it happened: The Giants battled Kershaw in their at-bats and drove his pitch count up, so he was in jeopardy of having his streak of going at least eight innings snapped at six. Then he talked his way into staying on the mound in the eighth and cruised, striking out Buster Posey and quickly dispatching Joe Panik and Hunter Pence. The Dodgers used a couple of singles and a couple of Giants errors to score two runs in the second inning, but the game was tense until Matt Kemp launched a high, two-run homer to left-center field in the sixth inning.

Hits: Given the standard he set in 2011, Kemp’s season has been widely viewed as a bit of a disappointment. And yet his home run was his 20th and the RBIs were his 73rd and 74th. That means he has tied Posey in home runs and is just 10 behind him in RBIs, and Posey is viewed as a league MVP candidate. Since the All-Star break, Kemp has been the Dodgers’ most dangerous hitter, tallying 12 of his home runs.

Misses: It’s not often that a catcher will work a night game and then catch the following afternoon, but A.J. Ellis and Kershaw are a tandem. That meant the Dodgers’ No. 1 catcher went another tiring nine innings. He has started seven of the Dodgers’ past eight games, a reflection of the time of the season. Ellis might be wearing down. He drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, but had another oh-fer day at the plate. Late as it is, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly might want to mix in a day off here or there for Ellis to keep him fresh for the playoffs.

Stat of the game: Kershaw went into Sunday’s start with a 0.32 edge over Chris Sale for the major league ERA title. If he wins it, and it’s hard to imagine he won’t, he would be the first pitcher ever to win four straight major league ERA titles. Sandy Koufax led the National League five straight seasons but was edged out by the Angels’ Dean Chance in 1964.

Up next: The Dodgers head to Colorado for a three-game series with the Rockies. Roberto Hernandez (8-11, 4.04 ERA) goes for the Dodgers opposite Christian Bergman (2-3, 4.89) in a 5:40 p.m. PT game on Monday.

A.J. Ellis on board with clarifying collision rule

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
5:42
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Catcher A.J. Ellis got an e-mail Tuesday from the players association that relayed MLB executive Joe Torre's attempts to clarify Rule 7.13 to all 30 major-league clubs. Torre's memo also went out Tuesday. Ellis had time to review the new guidelines and says he thinks it could help avoid an embarrassing call in a pennant race or in the playoffs.

"The initial integrity of the rule was player safety. I think the questionable calls we've seen, player safety was not a concern in those situations," Ellis said. "It was correctly following the new rule, but these adjustments are going to clear some of that up. If the player was clearly going to be out at home, we're not going to be as stringent on the catcher's setup. It's going to use these umpires' judgment, their baseball IQ to read the play and determine if it had any impact on the runner being safe or out."

The Dodgers, like many teams have had brushes with the vagaries of the rule. After he was awarded a run last week in Arizona because the umpires reviewed a Rule 7.13 call and noticed that catcher Miguel Montero tagged him with his glove while holding the ball in his bare hand, Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford said, "I don't understand it, to be honest with you. I just try to get it to the plate. I know I can't run into the catcher."

The new guidelines, obtained by ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, instruct umpires not to call a runner safe if the catcher blocks the plate if there is no evidence the catcher "hindered or impeded" the runner's path to the plate. The new guidelines take effect immediately.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly got the e-mail shortly before he took the field for the team's batting practice and glanced at it on his phone but hadn't had a chance to read it in detail.

"I think it's good that you get it out there. Better before than after," Mattingly said.

Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 9, D-backs 5

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
10:03
PM PT

PHOENIX – The Los Angeles Dodgers continued their demolition job on the bottom-feeding teams in the NL West -- a pretty good method for reaching the playoffs -- on Tuesday.

They defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks 9-5, which gives Los Angeles 11 wins in 15 games against the Diamondbacks this year. They are 9-4 against both the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies, which means they’re playing .707 baseball against the three worst teams in their division.

The San Francisco Giants also won, which means the Dodgers remain five games up in the NL West.

How it happened: Roberto Hernandez wasn’t particularly sharp, judging by the five baserunners he allowed in the first two innings and the constant trouble he dodged, but he trudged through six innings and managed to confine the damage to three runs. Arizona tied it 2-2 in the second inning on Ender Inciarte’s two-run single, but the Dodgers staged a long fourth inning, bunched five straight singles and knocked Trevor Cahill out of the game.

Hits: It might be difficult for Andre Ethier to take, given that he’s the odd man out virtually every game, but the Dodgers seem to have found the right alignment of outfielders. Yasiel Puig has settled in and played strong defense in center field, for the most part, and everybody is hitting to varying extents. Crawford stayed hot with two hits and ignited the Dodgers’ big fourth inning with an RBI single to left. Kemp hit a two-run home run in the first inning to get the team off to a fast start, and Puig walked twice. Scratch one item (at least for now) off manager Don Mattingly’s things-to-stress-about list.

Misses: Hanley Ramirez is a big addition to the Dodgers’ lineup, but only if he hits. He snapped an 0-for-7 skid since his return from the disabled list when he hit a fly ball to left field that landed safely between the third baseman and left fielder, so maybe that will ignite him. He also had a nifty glove flip to nearly start a double play, but it’s well-documented that he’s not the Dodgers’ best defensive option at shortstop. How Ramirez performs these final weeks are crucial to his future and crucial to the Dodgers’ postseason fortunes.

Stat of the game: The most recent time Clayton Kershaw pitched at Chase Field, he -- amazingly -- allowed seven earned runs and was yanked in the second inning. That was back in mid-May and was just Kershaw's third start since coming off the disabled list.

Up next: If you remove that start from Kershaw’s season, he has a 1.42 ERA -- Bob Gibson-type stuff. He can’t remove it, of course, but he can make everybody forget about it with a good outing Wednesday night. Kershaw (15-3, 1.82 ERA) will be opposed by Arizona’s Wade Miley (7-9, 4.29) in a rematch of Opening Day. The game begins at 6:40 p.m. PT.

Back end of Dodgers' rotation remains in flux

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
6:27
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- If there is one constant in the way Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti explains the building of a championship roster, it’s that you can never have too much pitching. And when it comes to the playoffs, those arms are particularly precious commodities. The starting arms, even more so. Matchups on the mound can swing the course of a series, and there’s no such thing as being too flush with riches. Obviously, there’s more to a win or loss than who takes the hill first, but the potential advantage marked by a team’s respective starters can be huge.

[+] EnlargeDan Haren
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesThough he's been inconsistent since the All-Star break, Dan Haren's showing against the Mets on Friday bolstered his case to remain in the Dodgers' rotation.
With that in mind, by declining to surrender coveted prospects such as Joc Pederson, Corey Seager and Julio Urias in a deadline deal for the likes of Jon Lester or David Price, the Dodgers’ front office was implicitly expressing strong faith in the team's chances throughout the playoffs with the (presumably healthy) trio of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, plus a fourth starter.

Which fourth starter will that be? For now, no idea.

For most of this season, that role was Josh Beckett’s to lose, but a likely season-ending hip injury threw that plan for a loop. It’s ultimately manager Don Mattingly’s call to make, but to a large degree it’s also “dealer’s choice,” a choice made by the pitcher who proves himself most likely to deal when it matters most.

The field, for the time being, consists of Dan Haren, Kevin Correia and Roberto Hernandez, a trio that come Tuesday will have started three times over the Dodgers’ past four games. Their recent time on the mound also reflects the crapshoot nature of this situation.

Haren, whose post-All-Star-break showing has been turbulent enough to induce motion sickness, made a statement on Friday against the New York Mets, showing the Dodgers they should hold off on burying him just yet.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Clayton Kershaw
WINS ERA SO IP
21 1.77 239 198
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .296
HRA. Gonzalez 27
RBIA. Gonzalez 116
RY. Puig 92
OPSY. Puig .863
ERAC. Kershaw 1.77
SOC. Kershaw 239