Dodgers Report: Aaron Harang
Aaron Harang pitched five innings Tuesday night and gave up three runs to the Detroit Tigers.
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Remember when the Los Angeles Dodgers had so many starting pitchers, they couldn’t find enough places to keep them? In a matter of nine days, that embarrassment of riches is now just barely enough.
Without enough places to stash everybody, the Dodgers saw their pitching depth evaporate, and there wasn't much they could do about it. They traded Harang -- who had no role -- for veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez, who has scarcely played. They shuffled Chris Capuano off to the bullpen, where he got scant work and got rusty. Zack Greinke broke his left collarbone in a brawl.
Capuano got hit around Tuesday night in a 9-2 loss to the San Diego Padres, then exited the game in the third inning with a strained left calf.
Now, it looks like Lilly -- who hemmed and hawed about even showing up for his last minor-league rehab game -- will get his wish. He’ll be a member of the Dodgers' rotation once again, most likely. Capuano is getting an MRI Wednesday and, if he's healthy, the Dodgers will have to decide who gives them a better option moving forward. Luckily for them, off days mean they won't need a fifth starter until April 24.
So the Dodgers, who spent more than $200 million acquiring starting pitchers last winter, will be going with a 37-year old who pitched in eight games last year before blowing out his shoulder and who has struggled since March.
They’re one injury away from another rotation that includes Stephen Fife.
Not exactly an ideal set of circumstances, but there are plenty of teams out there that would gladly trade their pitching staffs for the Dodgers’, so this is no time for self-pity.
"Obviously, as a manager, your job is to worry about everything, but at least we're in a position that we have a guy, Ted, who's working his way back," manager Don Mattingly said. "So, we're kind of fortunate that we had an excess of starters."
Notice the tense: Had.
The Dodgers on Saturday traded pitcher Aaron Harang to Colorado in exchange for Hernandez, who had been designated for assignment a week earlier.
They envision using Hernandez a couple of times a week to keep A.J. Ellis fresh. It also allows catching prospect Tim Federowicz, 25, to continue to develop by playing almost every day at Triple-A.
Hernandez, 36, was an All-Star with Oakland in 2003 and hit 23 home runs in 2006, but his production plummeted last year. Hernandez batted .217 with five home runs and 28 RBIs.
"Last year was a tough year to judge anyone by if you're in Colorado," manager Don Mattingly said. "I mean, a lot of things went bad. [Troy] Tulowitzki gets hurt, a bunch of pitchers get hurt, then all of a sudden they went young and that's tough for a guy who's been around the league for 14, 15 years to all of a sudden be in a rebuilding process."
Hernandez was flying Saturday and expected to be in the Dodgers' clubhouse Sunday. Mattingly said Federowicz will catch Sunday's game. He figures to be sent to Triple-A Albuquerque when the Dodgers activate Chad Billingsley to pitch Wednesday in San Diego.
Here are lineups for Saturday's game vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates:
1. Starling Marte LF
2. Neil Walker 2B
3. Andrew McCutchen CF
4. Gaby Sanchez
5. Russell Martin C
6. Pedro Alvarez 3B
7. Jose Tabata RF
8. Clint Barmes SS
9. A.J. Burnett RHP
1. Carl Crawford LF
2. Mark Ellis 2B
3. Matt Kemp CF
4. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
5. Andre Ethier RF
6. A.J. Ellis C
7. Luis Cruz 3B
8. Justin Sellers SS
9. Clayton Kershaw LHP
Chad Billingsley made his final minor-league rehab start for Rancho Cucamonga on Thursday night and is scheduled to come off the disabled list to pitch Wednesday's game in San Diego. It will be Billingsley's first outing since Aug. 24 of last season. He missed the final five weeks because of an elbow injury.
Billingsley said all spring he has had no further trouble with the elbow, but he began the season on the DL after bruising a finger during a drill. Billingsley said he threw about a dozen curveballs Thursday and that his fingernail remained intact afterward. He gave up four runs and six hits, walking three and striking out three hitters.
Before he was injured last season, Billingsley was on a roll, going 6-0 with a 1.80 ERA in his last seven starts.
"It seems like it's been a while since I pitched in a game," Billingsley said. "I'm anxious to get back out there, compete and win some ballgames."
The rest of the Dodgers' pitching staff is in a bit of a logjam. Ted Lilly is scheduled to pitch for Rancho Cucamonga on Friday night and is eligible to come off the DL late next week. The Dodgers don't have much room for him, with two other starters, Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano, being stashed in the bullpen for now.
Manager Don Mattingly met with Harang before Friday's game with the Pittsburgh Pirates to discuss his role, which appears minimal.
"He understands our situation," Mattingly said. "That doesn't mean he's all that thrilled about it."
Wednesday they released veteran reliever Kevin Gregg, who had been reassigned to Triple-A a few days earlier. Gregg was in camp this spring on a minor-league deal, but he said Saturday he expected to be released if the Dodgers didn't have room for him on their major-league roster.
"It was the right thing to do," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said after Wednesday's move.
Gregg, a former closer with the Miami Marlins and Baltimore Orioles, pitched in more games than all but one Dodgers pitcher this spring and had a 0.82 ERA, with opponents batting .088 against him. With starting pitchers Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano moving into the bullpen and Paco Rodriguez giving them a left-handed option, the Dodgers had no room on their roster for Gregg.
They are still waiting to find out what veteran pitcher Ted Lilly will do. On the disabled list, Lilly is scheduled to pitch a minor-league rehab assignment Friday for Class A Rancho Cucamonga, but he has not said whether he will show up. He said he is healthy but would not comment on what his next step will be.
"That's the last plan I heard," manager Don Mattingly said. "I haven't talked to Teddy about if he's going or not."
The Dodgers found a way to keep all three of their extra starting pitchers when they cut down their roster, but it seems unsustainable in the long run.
Ted Lilly, on the disabled list, wouldn't even comment when asked where he would next pitch and clearly isn't happy about being on the DL. Manager Don Mattingly said the team isn't sure when Lilly will go.
Aaron Harang is as baffled as anyone. He said he doesn't know how he would approach relief pitching since he hasn't done it since a brief dalliance in his rookie season. Harang said his pre-star throwing program begins about 30 minutes before game time. It's doubtful Mattingly could know two innings before he needs him that Harang will pitch.
Chris Capuano can pitch in relief with little trouble, at least for now. Chad Billingsley will pitch Thursday for Rancho Cucamonga and likely rejoin the Dodgers' rotation around tax day.
By then, the Dodgers might need to do a little shuffling.
After signing a minor-league deal shortly before camp opened this spring, the former closer has been virtually un-hittable. In 11 games, he has a 0.82 ERA and opponents are batting .088 against him.
But the Dodgers are loaded with guaranteed contracts and, barring a late trade, they will need two extra bullpen spots to stash spare starters Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano. That means Gregg could be headed to the minor leagues, presuming he accepts the assignment (and that's no lock given the $20 million in earnings he has amassed in his career).
The Dodgers might not announce their final 25-man roster until Sunday.
"He definitely intrigues us. I think from top to bottom, we like Kevin Gregg," manager Don Mattingly said. "Trying to make that situation work out has been tricky."
To have gotten to this point is something of a triumph for Gregg, 34, who was released by the Baltimore Orioles late last season with a 4.95 ERA and bloated 1.695 WHIP. No major league team offered him a guaranteed contract, a fact he has quietly stewed over for months.
"The way last year ended, the way the offseason unfolded, you're not a competitor if you don't have a little fire to show your abilities," Gregg said.
Gregg is 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds -- another reason Mattingly likes the idea of having him on the team.
"He gets outs. He doesn't walk anybody. We've had zero issues. He comes in ready and quiet, takes the ball," Mattingly said. "He's big as hell, too. I wouldn't want to fight this guy. That's always good."
That could allow them to start him on the disabled list retroactive to his previous start and use his roster spot to stash their spare starting pitchers, Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano in the bullpen until a trade can be worked out. The plan is to begin the season with Ted Lilly on the DL.
Billingsley has been dealing with a torn fingernail on his right index finger. He had two stints on the DL last season because of elbow inflammation.
"The biggest issue is any kind of small changes messing with that elbow. That's our biggest concern with him," Mattingly said.
Last time I counted, that's three too many.
Chris Capuano pitched in a minor league game Monday and scouts from Cleveland, Texas, Seattle and Pittsburgh were there to see him, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
That doesn't mean the Dodgers are about to make a trade with one of those teams. It does mean, most likely, that those teams have some level of interest in adding Capuano. Teams have been taking long looks at Aaron Harang as well.
Meanwhile, Zack Greinke told reporters he expects to make his season debut on April 5. Chad Billingsley, who has been dealing with a broken fingernail, also thinks he can open the season on time, April 2.
The Dodgers are getting to the point where there will be nowhere to stash these guys. Ted Lilly also is not currently penciled in for a rotation spot, but -- owed $12 million -- he is harder to trade. He's also likely to open the season on the disabled list given the fact he has only pitched 6 2/3 innings in Cactus League games.
The easiest solution is to put Harang and/or Capuano in the bullpen, but that would take a spot from a pitcher with more bullpen experience, one who likely could contribute higher-quality innings. Former Baltimore Orioles closer Kevin Gregg, on a minor-league deal, has allowed just three hits and one run in eight games this spring.
So, one -- maybe both -- of the pitchers figure to be moved by Sunday, but what can the Dodgers expect in return? Manager Don Mattingly has said in recent days he would like a fourth outfielder and the Dodgers aren't likely to keep hot prospect Yasiel Puig for long unless they have a daily role for him. Alex Castellanos hasn't helped his cause in grabbing that spot by batting .227 this spring. So, that's one avenue general manager Ned Colletti likely has explored.
The Dodgers also likely are looking at other teams' rosters in search of a pitching prospect or two who might be close to major league-ready, but retains options and could be stashed in the minor leagues. This is the time of year when scouts -- both the Dodgers' and other teams' -- can put a stamp on their teams' seasons.
But manager Don Mattingly said Ryu's role has yet to be finalized this spring. There are eight veteran pitchers competing for five spots in the Dodgers' rotation. Two of those spots are locked up by former Cy Young winners Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
Mattingly doesn't view Josh Beckett, Aaron Harang or Ted Lilly as suitable bullpen candidates. Ryu pitched in relief for Korea in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
"We talked about it being competitive for those spots and, obviously, a couple of those are kind of spoken for," Mattingly said. "You can't say there are four spots open. Obviously, he's in the mix and we'll see ... what he looks like."
Ryu has pitched just three innings so far this spring, allowing six of the 14 batters he has faced to reach base, five by base hit. One of those baserunners was Josh Hamilton, who clubbed a two-run home run off Ryu on Friday.
But there are some under-the-surface issues that could roil camp for the next few weeks and make a similar impact on the season ahead. Let's explore some more obscure, but equally important, questions.
Is defense a liability? If the Dodgers are intent on keeping Ramirez at shortstop, it just might be. With the possible exception of catcher, a team's two most important fielders are the shortstop and center fielder, precisely where the Dodgers might be weakest.
Things could get tense for Dodgers pitchers if Ramirez is letting routine grounders eke into the outfield and Kemp is turning fly balls into doubles. Plus, Crawford's left arm probably won't be at full strength for months, so teams figure to take plenty of extra bases on the Dodgers.
By every advanced metric, Ramirez is a poor choice at shortstop: minus-39 defensive runs saved the past three seasons, minus-19 ultimate zone rating over the same stretch). Kemp has been a below-average center fielder, according to range factor and other measures, for the past two seasons. As his body matures, Kemp looks more and more like a right fielder playing center field.
The Dodgers have ace fielders at catcher, first base, second base and third base, but you wonder whether the soft spots might be poorly placed.
Can they find a spark? Andres Torres told reporters at San Francisco Giants camp Tuesday that the Dodgers were one of the team's pursuing him this winter. This news is interesting mostly because it reveals one of the Dodgers' main anxieties entering the season. If they were talking to Torres, they must be desperate for a top-of-the-order catalyst.
Don Mattingly says it here: He views table setting as the primary problem when the offense stalled out after the big trade last August. If the Dodgers can get people on base in front of Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, etc., they should be in pretty good shape.
But there's no obvious leadoff hitter, and Crawford's production is a mystery due to elbow and wrist problems, plus some pretty serious under-performance the past two seasons. If he struggles and the Dodgers have to move him down in the order (the Red Sox, for a while, batted him seventh), this issue will be compounded.
The Dodgers signed 32-year-old minor-league journeyman Dallas McPherson. I can still see him at his locker stall in Tempe, the baby-faced 24-year-old with the massive, upper-cut swing (and the back problems accompanying it), who was all but guaranteed the Angels' starting third base job when Troy Glaus departed.
He's a good reminder that nothing is guaranteed in baseball, aside from the beery, sticky coating on fans' shoes as they file out after a game.
The top question/issue/priority for this team going into spring training hasn't changed: sorting out the back end of the rotation. Who makes the cut, who gets traded, who gets shuffled off to the bullpen for safekeeping, etc.?
Let's assume Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly hold up all spring training and the Dodgers have this look as opening week rolls around: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Billingsley, Josh Beckett and Hyun-jin Ryu. That is both very exciting (ESPN's Buster Olney ranks it the third-best rotation in baseball) and very issue-raising. Let's assume Lilly could prove useful as another lefty in the bullpen as a long man/spot starter.
That leaves Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang as entirely expendable and otherwise largely useless. Why? Because as veterans without options, they can't be stashed in Triple-A. Neither figures to be either happy or particularly productive as a reliever.
So, at some point we'll probably see the Dodgers trade one or more of their starting pitchers, but you can make a good argument for keeping them all through at least mid-March. Why not get a sense of who you're going to have before you do something about who you don't need?
It's tempting to use a starter as a chip to acquire another useful piece -- say a veteran backup catcher or effective lefty reliever, maybe a right-handed outfielder -- but the Dodgers are looking at different math than you and I are. Guess how many teams got through 2012 using just five starters? Try none.
The Cincinnati Reds came close, but Todd Redmond made his major-league debut in August and they wound up using six, becoming the only team in the majors that used that few. The Dodgers don't have to look far to see how injuries can ravage a team's pitching plans. Two teams in the NL West led the majors in starters used. The San Diego Padres churned through 15 starters and the Colorado Rockies went through 14.
The Dodgers used nine, not bad considering they traded for two of those starters and saw injuries take three of their guys out for various lengths of time.
After Cincinnati, in fact, only two teams used just seven starters: the San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners. Twenty-one teams -- 70 percent of the league -- used more starters than the eight the Dodgers currently have on their major league depth chart. So, maybe they need more?
Absurd? Probably, but they've also recently been linked to Kyle Lohse.
But he may not have to keep all that many balls in the air much longer. Colletti acknowledged he has already had a couple of conversations with rival GMs about the possibility of dealing one or more of the eight veteran starting pitchers the Dodgers could take with them to spring training.
The team signed Korean left-hander Hyun-jin Ryu to a six-year, $36 million contract Sunday and is expected to finalize a six-year, $147 deal with former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke soon.
That means the Dodgers' rotation could look something like this: Clayton Kershaw, Greinke, Chad Billingsley, Josh Beckett and Ryu. Depending on how Billingsley and Ted Lilly come back from arm injuries, the team will have at least one -- and maybe three -- starting pitchers to trade between now and Opening Day.
Lilly might prove difficult to trade because he only pitched eight games last year before a shoulder injury shut him down. Capuano and Harang should draw some interest because they're both coming off solid seasons, are in the final years of their contracts and make reasonable salaries.
The Dodgers spent the first two-and-a-half months this off-season on the wrong side of a seller's market. Now, they could be in position to address their needs -- bench help, another left-handed reliever and a catcher -- via trade. They could also elect to replenish a farm system thinned by trades and financial constraints in recent years.
Having too much starting pitching is literally the best problem a major-league baseball team can have.
"You'd always rather have more than less," Colletti said.
Zack Greinke, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez are all going to slow down in the next few years, but their earnings are going to keep zipping right along. Aging, expensive rosters have a way of handcuffing teams eventually. The challenge will be finding creative ways to get younger.
But news that the Dodgers are closing in on a six-year deal with Greinke -- tossing about $147 million more onto what has been more than a half-billion dollars in expenditures since the Guggenheim group bought the team -- puts the right gift under Dodgers fans' trees. It's a pretty fancy way to kick off Hanukkah as well.
Greinke is about to get paid like the best right-handed pitcher of all time. He's not. He's probably not among the best 15 active pitchers in the major leagues. He is, however, easily the best available option. The drop-off to Anibal Sanchez was fairly dramatic, to Kyle Lohse even steeper, and the Dodgers were starting to get an uncertain vibe as they inquired about trade possibilities for R.A. Dickey or James Shields.
The Dodgers didn't need the best right-handed starting pitcher of all time because they have, perhaps, the best left-handed pitcher of a generation in Clayton Kershaw. Greinke immediately becomes the best No. 2 starter west of Washington, D.C. The rare lefty-righty power duo at the top of the Dodgers rotation could make them a nasty matchup come October. Just ask those teams that had to grapple with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling a decade ago.
The Dodgers' front office left Nashville in a sour mood Thursday, and contrary to what some people are thinking now, it wasn't a negotiating ploy. The numbers had been spinning out of control, with rumors of a possible seven-year, $175 million deal for Greinke causing them to examine the direction their winter would take.
Whether things changed so dramatically over 36 hours because the Texas Rangers pulled out or because Greinke suddenly realized Los Angeles is a pretty nice place to live and play, we might never know. The point is that the Dodgers -- with some of the nicest weather in the country, the richest owners on earth and a legendary past -- shouldn't have to overspend as if they were some bland city in the middle of nowhere.
Make no mistake, this move will have financial ramifications that won't just tick off the rest of the league's owners. They will also blow back on the Dodgers at some point, probably soon. It sent the cost of pitching skyrocketing. If Greinke is worth $147 million, what's to say Kershaw isn't worth more than $200 million when the Dodgers sit down with his agent?
Common sense, apparently, has gone out the window, because these aren't common cents.
But as they say, it isn't our money.
What's more outrageous: These owners sending costs soaring throughout baseball or pocketing the $6 billion or so they're about to get over the next 25 years in a new TV deal? I guess it depends on your perspective. Baseball fans in Oakland and Kansas City might say it's the former. If you root for the Dodgers, you prefer it this way.
It would all ring a bit hollow if the Dodgers weren't intent on bulking up their operations in Latin America and spending more on scouting and development. Signing free agents winter after winter rarely works, especially when you're adding pitching. But if they rebuild the pipeline from below, the occasional addition at the top becomes a lot more effective.
Now the Dodgers have two of the best 25 or so starting pitchers in baseball. If Chad Billingsley is healthy, they have three of the top 50. We'll find out by Sunday afternoon whether they've signed Korean lefty Ryu Hyun-jin, who could be a solid No. 3. Josh Beckett and Aaron Harang or Chris Capuano are better than OK at the back of the rotation.
And they might deal from a position of strength -- starting pitching -- to land their final pieces heading into the spring: a fourth outfielder, a left-handed reliever and a catcher. Or they could just hoard it all and be heavily insured against injuries.
Are the Dodgers the World Series favorite now? It's an absurd question. Not at all. Not when a team in their division, the San Francisco Giants, has won two of the past three and has essentially kept the team intact.
The other day at the winter meetings, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said the National League West is "starting to get nasty."
After this latest move by the Dodgers, no one else in the division would argue with that.
Manager Don Mattingly said Tuesday that right-hander Chad Billingsley has resumed his throwing program and very well could be healthy next season. Billingsley had two stints on the disabled list with a sprained right elbow.
He completed his throwing program three weeks after the season ended and has begun a new one, all the while pain free. The Dodgers were concerned earlier that Billingsley could be headed for Tommy John surgery, which would have wiped out his 2013 season and impacted 2014.
"At this point, we feel like we’ve kind of dodged a bullet with him," Mattingly said. "We're optimistic."
Asked if he was counting on Billingsley, Mattingly said, "I think we have to at this point. Obviously, every time you put a plan together, you're also planning for injuries to your starters and regular players. You try to build a team with some depth to protect yourself. We're counting on him, but also knowing he had a pretty serious injury."
If the Dodgers are able to land Greinke and have Billingsley healthy, they could have at least two starting pitchers available to trade this spring, such as Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang.
That means the Dodgers have to hope Kershaw can strengthen the joint through off-season exercises, then cross their fingers and hope it doesn't return in 2013. While they're at it, they may as well cross the rest of their fingers, too. They're hoping Chad Billingsley doesn't miss 2013 recovering from Tommy John surgery and that Ted Lilly's shoulder bounces back strong.
Add the mystery of whether they'll be able to land one of the top free-agent starters on the market over the next few months and you've got a lot of "ifs" for 2013. Then again, the Dodgers' starting rotation withstood a lot of doubt in 2012, as well, including injuries to each of the three pitches mentioned above, and soldiered on stoutly. Dodgers starters, led by a borderline Cy Young season from Kershaw, collectively had a 3.34 ERA, second in the National League to the Washington Nationals.
The only glaring difference between Kershaw's 2011 Cy Young year and last season was run and bullpen support -- in other words wins, which went from 21 to 14. For the second year in a row, he led the league in ERA, WHIP and hits per nine innings. His strikeouts were down modestly, from 248 to 229, but that can be accounted for by missing a couple of starts near the end of the season. Assuming he stays healthy, Kershaw might actually get better. Starting pitchers typically reach the apex of their abilities in their age 29 season, five years away for Kershaw.
Getting Kershaw signed beyond 2013 would have been a major priority this winter, but now the team might have to wait to see how his hip responds next season before ramping up those talks.
Colletti wasn't exactly widely praised when he signed Chris Capuano (two years, $10 million) and Aaron Harang (two years, $12 million) last winter, but now they look like relative bargains. Between them, they won 22 games and each pitched more than 175 innings and had sub 3.80 ERAs. Colletti might look at those two examples and decide to shop for a bargain rather than offering a five- or six-year deal to a No. 1 starter such as Zack Greinke. Long-term, nine-figure deals with starting pitchers in their 30s rarely work out well in the end.
The Dodgers have to plan this winter as if they'll be without Lilly and Billingsley. Losing them both would be a major blow, though each was only sporadically available to Don Mattingly last season. Lilly only pitched eight games, but he was 5-1 with a 3.14 ERA in them. Billingsley was on a serious roll when he injured his elbow for the second time in the season. He was headed for his best season since his second year in the big leagues, 2007.
The Dodgers should know within a couple of weeks whether Billingsley will undergo Tommy John surgery. They may not know Lilly's status until spring training.
Josh Beckett seemed to benefit from getting out of Boston and, by extension, the more-rugged American League. In 21 starts for the Red Sox, he was 5-11 with a 5.23 ERA. In seven starts for the Dodgers, he was 2-3 with a 2.93 ERA.
He did well for the Dodgers, but, at 33, is he a bona fide No. 2 starter any more? The Dodgers' inclination seems to be finding a No. 2 guy they can slip between Kershaw and Beckett. Depth isn't their major worry. Top-of-the-rotation talent is.
They'll likely lose Joe Blanton to free agency, but Stephen Fife pitched better anyway. They already lost Rubby De La Rosa in the deal with Boston and that could easily make them look bad in a season or two, especially if Beckett's struggles resume.
The Dodgers do have serious questions about their pitching going into next spring, but fewer than most teams. And they've already proven they're pretty adept at patching things together.