Dodgers Report: Brian Wilson

2015 Position Outlook: Relievers

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
12:17
PM PT
WilsonAP Photo/Jae C. HongSpending big money isn't necessarily the solution to fixing the Dodgers' beleaguered bullpen.
LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Dodgers fans might not have had to endure watching their least-favorite team celebrate its third world title in five seasons Wednesday night if their team’s bullpen had proven reliable. Ned Colletti might still be the general manager if the team’s bullpen had proven reliable. Kirk Gibson might not be the last Dodgers World Series hero if the bullpen had proven reliable.

Yeah, it was that bad.

Finishing games was a problem all season, but it was a nightmare against the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs. St. Louis, hardly a team of sluggers, hit home runs off a Dodgers reliever in each of the first three games of the series, and that reason is as good as any why the Dodgers didn’t advance.

Clayton Kershaw might not be remembered for his seventh-inning meltdowns if Don Mattingly had trusted his bullpen. In Game 4, he let Kershaw enter the seventh inning after throwing 94 pitches on three days’ rest, then left him out there after two straight hits because -- he basically admitted afterwards -- nobody else at his disposal was even close to as good.

As bad as the problem was, the fix can sometimes be worse. Bullpens are fickle, and if we learned one thing from watching the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals over the past few weeks, it’s that bullpens don’t have to be expensive to be effective. In fact, often the thrifty ones prove best. Good minor-league systems produce a lot of good arms, and a lot of good arms make for strong, homegrown bullpens.

When the Dodgers lost to the Cardinals, starting pitcher Dan Haren had moved locales from the dugout to the bullpen in case he was needed, meaning the Dodgers had $41 million worth of salary sunk in the area of the team that sunk their season. Again, it’s not about the money, which is why new president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman figures to follow a different path from Colletti and not throw money at aging former closers to try to chase stability late in games. Stability can’t be bought. It just has to develop and it usually happens organically.

There are some fine free agent relief pitchers available this off-season, headlined by David Robertson and Andrew Miller, but also including Pat Neshek and Sergio Romo. Koji Uehara is off the market after agreeing to a two-year deal on Thursday to stay in Boston. Some of them will be busts. Some of them will play crucial roles. None of them will be bargains. It’s possible the Dodgers could wade in on one or maybe even two of those guys, but they might be better off trying to develop some of their own young pitchers. It’s a roll of the dice either way. Why play at the $100 table when standing similar odds at the $5 table?

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Who pitches the eighth? Maybe Jansen

October, 3, 2014
Oct 3
1:30
PM PT
LOS ANGELES – Postseason games so often are decided by bullpens, and that, more than anything else, has been an unsettling thought for the Los Angeles Dodgers going into this series. A year ago at this time, manager Don Mattingly could bank on Brian Wilson pitching the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen the ninth.

[+] EnlargeKenley Jansen
Harry How/Getty ImagesKenley Jansen could be his own setup man if the Dodgers need six outs.
Those days are gone. Jansen repeated his success of 2013, but the eighth inning became a revolving door after Wilson had some elbow issues and saw his velocity decline. Brandon League and J.P. Howell were asked to get outs in the eighth, as was youngster Pedro Baez. It became about matchups, but it was rarely stress-free.

The bullpen might be the St. Louis CardinalsSt. Louis Cardinals’ one clear edge in this series. The Dodgers scored nearly 100 more runs than St. Louis and their starters allowed fewer runs. But St. Louis’ bullpen has been rounding into form – with flamethrower Carlos Martinez often pitching the eighth inning – while the Dodgers’ bullpen was struggling at the end of September.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly indicated that Jansen could, at times, be his own setup man. He said he wouldn’t hesitate to ask Jansen to get four, five or even six outs at the end of games in the postseason.

“You’re going to do what you have to do to win games at this point,” Mattingly said. “These guys didn’t come this far and go, ‘Oh, I’m tired, I really don’t want to get five outs, Donnie.’ They’re going to go, ‘I want to win.’ So, that’s what we’re going to do.”

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.

Bullpen troubles rise again for Dodgers

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
3:55
PM PT
CHICAGO -- When the Los Angeles Dodgers left San Francisco last weekend, they had reason to feel good about their offense, good about their pitching and hopeful about their trajectory. Not only had they held their ground on top of the National League West, but they were heading to play two of the worst teams in the National League.

The only problem is they were going to play those teams in their home stadiums, places that spotlight a team's pitching problems for all the world to see. So, if the loss of Hyun-Jin Ryu seemed survivable for a while, and the shaky bridge between the starters and closer Kenley Jansen seemed to offer decent footing for a bit, they seem less so now.

[+] EnlargeJ.P. Howell, Arismendy Alcantara
Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY SportsJ.P. Howell has been reliable for the Dodgers this season, but he gave up a three-run homer to Arismendy Alcantara on Saturday in a loss.
Giving up 46 runs in six games, as the Dodgers have done these past six games at Coors and Wrigley fields, tends to leave a mark.

"It's definitely not a road trip you're excited about unless you're into shopping," Dodgers reliever Brian Wilson said.

Coors Field is Coors Field, and over the past two games, the wind has been blowing out at Wrigley. It has been a lot of fun for the hitters, who have been peppering the stands with baseballs, but it has been misery for the pitchers. On Saturday, Roberto Hernandez gave the Dodgers only four innings, which is kind of what he has been doing lately, and J.P. Howell and Wilson -- the Dodgers' two primary setup guys -- gave up punishing home runs as the Chicago Cubs rallied for an 8-7 win.

And if you're looking for order to be restored Sunday, don't bank on it. The Dodgers are starting reliever Jamey Wright, who has made one start in seven years, in order to reserve No. 3 starter Dan Haren for the San Francisco Giants on Monday. Sunday will be a "bullpen game," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly announced after Saturday's game, but it was hard to see how that made it any different from any other game this week.

The Dodgers haven't had a starting pitcher go more than five innings since they left San Francisco and, yes, that includes Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.

If you have a thing for pitching changes, you must be loving this little stretch of Dodgers baseball.

Howell was watching TV in the clubhouse before the game when he noticed the Dodgers have a bullpen ERA that ranks 18th in the majors, "which is unacceptable," he said. Giving up six more runs Saturday didn't help matters any. Arismendy Alcantara hit an 86 mph sinker for a three-run home run to left field off Howell and, an inning later, Chris Coghlan hit a two-run shot off Wilson's 85 mph cutter to right.

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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).
LOS ANGELES -- At around 4 p.m. Friday afternoon, just about the time the rest of the team wandered out to the field to stretch, Dan Haren was resting on a couch, alone in the Los Angeles Dodgers' clubhouse aside from Josh Beckett and the dozen or so reporters surrounding him.

The topic, Beckett's season-ending hip injury and the chances he'll retire next offseason, couldn't have been lost on Haren, who, at 33, is about a year younger than Beckett but has piled up 200 more innings in his career. For pitchers at this stage in their careers in the post-PED era, the end comes quickly.

[+] EnlargeDan Haren
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillDan Haren battled through rough stretches this season but has since bounced back to go 4-1 with a 2.04 ERA in his last six starts.
About one month ago, Haren's career wasn't on the rocks, but it was getting uncomfortably close to the reef.

"Absolutely, I lost my confidence," Haren said. "Any pitcher would, having the stretch of games that I had. I've got how many starts left here -- three or four? And I've got to make them as good as I can for the team. Basically, every game, I'm just treating like a playoff game here on out."

If Friday's game had been a playoff game -- and that's hard to imagine since the Dodgers were facing an Arizona Diamondbacks team that is 23 games under .500 -- it would have put the Dodgers one step closer to their first World Series in 26 years. Haren (12-10) pitched six strong innings in the Dodgers' 2-1 win, giving up only one bad-luck run, the product of a dribbler off the bag and a ball squirted into left field against the shift.

Haren is 4-1 with a 2.04 ERA in his past six starts. And so, for now, his career is alive and well. Whether he is part of the Dodgers’ playoff plans or not, he says he has no idea. Whether he will pitch in 2015, he says he is undecided. But his goal is to exert as much focus and attention on every pitch to make them all open questions in the coming weeks.

It seems like a while ago that Haren was losing five starts in a row and giving up long ball after long ball, but it was July 5 through Aug. 1, a blink of an eye in baseball terms.

"When he's out of sync, his ball doesn't have that late life and the movement turns flat and then it gets hit," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "He's been working on a few things, and tonight and for a few starts now he had that life."

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In a circus game, the Dodgers' weak spot shows again

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
7:27
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals didn't exactly look like World Series contenders for much of Wednesday afternoon, considering the long line of dropped fly balls, errant throws, missed bunts and stranded runners, but they should be proud of one thing: They produced the "War and Peace" of box scores.

It features 51 players, including 18 pitchers. There would have been one more, except Dodgers outfielder Scott Van Slyke had to split in the fifth inning after he learned his wife had gone into labor. Who knows? By the time the game was over, Van Slyke might have been able to introduce the team to his newest child.

[+] EnlargeKenley Jansen
AP Photo/Jae C. HongKenley Jansen had a bad day Wednesday, but he's still one of the few relievers Don Mattingly completely trusts.
The major-league record for most players used in a game is 54, so the Dodgers' 8-5 loss in 14 innings was among the wackiest September, expanded-roster games of all time.

But when you pick through all those names -- some of them superstars, others minor leaguers tasting a cup of major league coffee -- you find the crux of the Dodgers' biggest weakness at about the halfway point of the line score. With two outs in the eighth inning, Don Mattingly elected to bring in closer Kenley Jansen for a four-out save.

"We don't want to do it a lot, but obviously you see it in the playoffs, and this is that time of year," Mattingly said. "You try to protect guys all season long, but as you get to this point of the year, you're trying to win every game."

There's nothing wrong with that rationale, and with a day off Thursday, there was reason to use Jansen, though he had pitched about 16 hours earlier in wrapping up Clayton Kershaw's gem Tuesday night.

The problem is, no one else in the Dodgers’ bullpen, aside from lefty J.P. Howell, has earned Mattingly's trust to get the ball reliably to Jansen in the ninth. So when the Dodgers had a long bottom of the eighth inning, complete with a video review of Dee Gordon's stolen base, Jansen came out a little cold in the ninth and wound up giving up three runs, which required a Dodgers rally to get the game into extra innings.

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Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 4, Giants 3

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
8:21
PM PT


SAN FRANCISCO -- The Los Angeles Dodgers did what they set out to do. They proved they can beat the San Francisco Giants head to head and they reclaimed first place. Not a bad weekend by the Bay, a three-game sweep at AT&T Park that ended with Sunday night's tense 4-3 win.

The Dodgers now lead the NL West by a 1½ games, a crucial cushion with the team still in the midst of its most challenging stretch of schedule this season.

How it happened: Jake Peavy pitched well a day after getting traded to San Francisco from the Boston Red Sox, but Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched a little bit better and the Dodgers used some speed and craftiness to beat Peavy. They scored three runs in the fifth inning, with Carl Crawford's triple down the right-field line the key blow. Ryu pitched six strong innings, giving up three runs and six hits and striking out seven batters.

The Dodgers' bullpen, much-maligned, had the right pitchers lined up after getting most of the week off. J.P. Howell, Brian Wilson -- who entered the game to heavy booing at his former home stadium -- and Kenley Jansen sewed up the final three innings without much incident. Jansen struck out the side in the ninth.

Hits: Dee Gordon got on base three times, none of them via the traditional walk or hit. He reached on Dan Uggla's error, got hit in the foot by a breaking ball and reached on a strikeout and wild pitch. Those were largely the product of luck, but what Gordon did with one of the chances was all about opportunism and speed. When another ball got away from Buster Posey and he threw to first to get Adrian Gonzalez, Gordon sprinted for home and slid in safely, scoring on the fielder's choice. It was a bold gambit and it sparked the Dodgers' rally.

Misses: The only impetus for trading Matt Kemp at the moment is to free up whatever money the Dodgers could and to alleviate whatever rift exists between him and the coaching staff. The outfield situation is as good as it has been all season. Kemp has looked comfortable playing right field, his original position, and he has been productive at the plate. In his past 16 games, he is batting .370. He's now batting .277 on the season with an above-average .775 OPS.

Stat of the game: The Giants scored three runs while Peavy was in the game. In his past eight starts in Boston, he got no more than two runs of support.

Up next: The Dodgers are off Monday before beginning a three-game series with the Atlanta Braves at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night.

It's obvious Dodgers in need of relief

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
5:43
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- It's July and, in a matter of weeks, the Los Angeles Dodgers will have at least one and probably several new players on their roster, acquired via trade. That player or those players might arrive before the non-waiver deadline of July 31 or they might come after.

But the Dodgers will make moves. Make no mistake. It's just what a front office of general manager Ned Colletti, who's not the sit-back-and-be-patient type, does.

[+] EnlargeBrian Wilson and Don Mattingly
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesBrian Wilson had a rough eighth inning Wednesday, and it's clear manager Don Mattingly would like other options.
And if you've been paying attention to the details this season, you can probably think right along with Colletti, who said recently, "I'd like to get our bullpen squared away, whether it's internally or externally."

The Dodgers need another reliever, preferably the kind you can hand the eighth inning to and feel as if it's in good hands. The latest demonstration was Wednesday afternoon's 5-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians, in which Brian Wilson turned a one-run lead into two-run deficit while getting one out and allowing five batters to reach base.

Not to pile on Wilson, though the fans certainly were as he left the mound to fairly prominent boos in the eighth inning. Since May 14, Wilson had pitched to a 0.54 ERA, held opponents to a .540 OPS and struck out 18 batters in 16 2/3 innings before Wednesday happened.

But Wednesday did happen and the National League isn't going to let the Dodgers win their division based on what they've done since May 14. Overall, Wilson has walked 21 batters and given up three home runs in 29 1/3 innings this season. Those aren't reassuring numbers and, judging by Wednesday's actions, it's pretty obvious manager Don Mattingly doesn't have total confidence in soft-throwing lefty J.P. Howell as his primary setup man.

Mattingly let Wilson, a right-hander, face left-handed hitting pinch hitter David Murphy though Howell was warmed up in the bullpen, saying, "I feel good with Willy. Willy's been good."

He has, for a while, but he really hasn't been consistently good since October 2013. His velocity isn't what it was in 2013. According to Fangraphs, Wilson's fastball is averaging 92.6 mph, the slowest it has ever been since he arrived in the major leagues in 2006. The command issues, sporadic but real, have been even more worrisome.

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Rapid Reaction: Indians 5, Dodgers 4

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
3:41
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- Just when it seemed everyone was sure the Los Angeles Dodgers were taking off and assuming control of the NL West, they played two of their worst games of the season. The sloppiness of Tuesday night spilled into the team’s first midweek day game, a slogging 5-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday afternoon.

How it happened: The Dodgers fielded a lineup without four of their regulars, with Adrian Gonzalez nursing a sore neck, Hanley Ramirez still bothered by an array of injuries, and Juan Uribe and Yasiel Puig getting days off. It showed, as Trevor Bauer -- who has had a far-from-smooth transition from UCLA to the major leagues -- cruised through the first four innings. But the Dodgers got to him with two outs in the fifth, scoring three times.

Reliever Brian Wilson, however, couldn’t preserve the one-run lead, walking the first two batters he faced during a three-run meltdown in the eighth. The Dodgers' search for a reliable setup man continues and might become a major focus before the July 31 trade deadline.

Hits: Ryu won’t be an All-Star once again. He’s the fourth-most deserving Dodgers pitcher and it’s doubtful Mike Matheny will take that many arms from one team. If he played on just about any other team, he’d have a shot. Ryu (9-4) has had only one truly bad start this season and has been on a roll for two solid months. He gave up a Ryan Raburn home run in the fourth inning, but was otherwise as smooth as ever. Without ever looking totally dominant, he always looks competent. Ryu has pitched nine consecutive quality starts, going 7-2 with a 3.14 ERA.

And the streak lives. Ryu didn’t walk anybody. Dodgers starters have walked two batters or fewer in 36 straight games, tying the 2005 Minnesota Twins for the longest such streak since at least 1914, per Elias.

Misses: It looked like the best left side of the infield the Dodgers have fielded all year, with two glove-first players in the starting lineup. But Carlos Triunfel booted a first-inning grounder. Then he dropped the ball while making a transfer, botching a double play. He also failed to turn around to receive a throw from Matt Kemp while covering third base in the eighth. Third baseman Miguel Rojas made an error on a fairly routine grounder. Considering neither player is hitting as well as .250, misplaying balls like that could lead to a quick demotion. Then again, Ramirez appears headed for the disabled list, so maybe not.

Stat of the game: Ryu went 2-for-3 with an RBI double to lift his batting average to .194. There are only 20 pitchers in baseball who have at least 20 plate appearances and are batting better than .154. That includes all five Dodgers starters.

Up next: The Dodgers were scheduled to fly to Colorado following the game. They begin a four-game series there Thursday with Zack Greinke (10-4, 2.78 ERA) opposing lefty Franklin Morales (4-4, 5.75).

Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 1, Cardinals 0

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
9:42
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- If you have an evening free and you'd like to take in a magical pitching performance, you might want to swing by Dodger Stadium one of these nights. Lately, they have been a relatively common occurrence.

The last time the Los Angeles Dodgers were in town, Clayton Kershaw threw one of the most brilliant no-hitters in history against the Colorado Rockies. The mound stayed warm after a week's hiatus, with Josh Beckett and Adam Wainwright hooking up in a battle of wills Thursday, pitching scoreless baseball deep into the night before the Dodgers pulled out a 1-0 win.

How it happened: One of the most electric moments at Dodger Stadium this year came in the seventh inning, when Matt Kemp threw out Allen Craig at the plate as he tried to score from second on Jon Jay's single. That's how good Wainwright was. One run there might have been the end for the Dodgers.

Instead, they kept it scoreless and finally got to Wainwright in the eighth inning. The guys at the bottom of the order did the damage. Juan Uribe, Miguel Rojas and pinch hitter Justin Turner bunched singles to finally break the ice against Wainwright, who looks like a lock to start the All-Star Game for the National League.

The Dodgers didn't come up with their first hit off the Cardinals ace until the sixth inning, when Rojas lined a single into left field.

Beckett does it with a different array of weapons, but he nearly matched Wainwright's dominance. The only thing he couldn't match was his longevity. Beckett's night was over after the seventh inning, having thrown 107 pitches. He gave up four hits and two walks, and struck out four.

Hits: The way Beckett pitched -- and given the fact the Dodgers handed out 48,624 Brian Wilson bobblehead dolls -- it would have been a shame if the eighth inning had gone poorly, but Wilson breezed through it, striking out two batters. After a poor start, Wilson is looking a little more like the dominant setup man he had been in 2013. He has given up one run in his last 15⅔ innings.

Misses: Andre Ethier has been playing with a nasty blister on his right palm, something he dealt with for a while last year as well. Thursday he fouled a ball off the inside of his right knee. Those ailments probably aren't going to help him break out of this prolonged slump he has stumbled into. Since May 24, he's batting .194. At what point will Dodgers manager Don Mattingly start using Scott Van Slyke more frequently when the Dodgers are facing right-handed pitchers? We could find out soon.

Stat of the game: Wainwright has pitched seven games this season in which he went at least five innings and gave up no earned runs. Beckett also has done so seven times. They lead the National League.

Up next: The teams continue the four-game series Friday night at 7:10, with Hyun-Jin Ryu (9-3, 3.06 ERA) pitching for the Dodgers and converted reliever Carlos Martinez (1-3, 4.33) going for the Cardinals.

Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 4, D-backs 3

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
10:42
PM PT

 
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers snapped a two-game losing streak behind their ace, Clayton Kershaw, who pitched without much of a safety net in a 4-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday night.

How it happened: For most of the game, the Dodgers offense continued its sluggish ways at home, which meant Kershaw (6-2) had to concentrate hard on every pitch. In fact, when Paul Goldschmidt lined a shot to center field with a runner on base in the seventh inning, it looked like all his hard work might have been for naught, but Andre Ethier was standing right there to catch it. Kershaw has never fared particularly well against Arizona and he got hit around in his previous start against the Diamondbacks, but he doesn’t take failure lightly and found a way to bounce back.

Brian Wilson had a rough eighth inning and nearly blew a two-run lead, but J.P. Howell, one of the game's underrated relievers, came in and bailed the Dodgers out of a two-on, one-out jam. Arizona also had action in the ninth, scoring a run, butKenley Jansen got out of it.

Hits: Moving Matt Kemp to left field created a more negative storyline in part because Kemp happened to be slumping at the time. Overall, he has not been productive at a position at which you expect one of your premium offensive players. Kemp’s .658 OPS as a left fielder ranked 34th in the National League entering Friday’s game, but Kemp did the kind of thing he used to do with frequency -- sent a soaring home run to center field -- in the second inning. He also had a sharp single and a bad-luck groundout. More of that from Kemp, or from any of the other slumping middle-of-the-order bats, could go a long way to moving the Dodgers along, at last.

Misses: Quietly, Yasiel Puig has cooled off considerably, which was probably to be expected considering he hit .398 in May. Puig is four for his past 26 (.154) with one extra-base hit, a double, in his past seven games. He nearly hit a slicing home run to right Friday, but it hooked foul. He struck out twice. Puig is entitled to cool off. The hitters around him, such as Kemp, need to make sure the Dodgers score enough runs now that Puig has become human again.

Stat of the game: Kemp’s home run snapped the second-longest home run drought of his career (101 plate appearances). The longest was in 2006-07 (139).

Up next: The teams continue the series Saturday night at 7:10, with Dan Haren (6-4, 3.49 ERA) going for the Dodgers and Josh Collmenter (4-3, 3.65) for Arizona.

Stock watch: Adrian, Puig fuel offense

May, 22, 2014
May 22
2:07
PM PT

RISING

Streaking
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B: He has been uncharacteristically streaky this season, but the upshot has been his usual elite production. Through May 17, Gonzalez had hit two extra-base hits this month. Now, he has homered in three straight games, driving in five runs. Even with his excellent credentials, it might be tough for him to make his first All-Star game in three years. Three NL first basemen -- Justin Morneau, Paul Goldschmidt and Freddie Freeman -- currently have a higher OPS.

Yasiel Puig, RF: When he forgot the number of outs and made an unnecessary throw in New York, everybody laughed it off. Last August, it would have been a national story. Why? In part because, when you’re playing this well, people tend to give you the benefit of the doubt. Puig is batting .403 in May with a 1.278 OPS. That’s good, right?

Brian Wilson, RHP: In recent interviews, Wilson has intimated that some of his earlier struggles could stem from pitching in lower-leverage situations. Seems a flimsy excuse considering the Dodgers are paying him $10 million. You would hope he could find a way to motivate himself regardless of the time of the game or the score. Besides, the 1-0 eighth-inning lead he blew in San Diego was plenty high leverage. Interestingly, Don Mattingly has been using him in important parts of games despite his 8.22 ERA and Wilson has delivered lately with three straight scoreless outings.

FALLING

Slumping
Clayton Kershaw, LHP: How determined is he going to be when he faces the Philadelphia Phillies Friday night, trying to bounce back from the second-shortest outing of his career in Arizona? The Phillies could be in for a long night. Then again, are the problems Kershaw is experiencing -- a lack of sharp command and an iffy curveball -- fixable in the short term or is it going to be a project? It’s hard to say, but the Dodgers have a lot riding on the answer being the former.

Dan Haren, RHP: One of the brightest story lines of April was the remarkable production from the back of the rotation. Haren got off to a 3-0 start and had four quality starts in five games. But May has felt like a grind for the veteran. Opponents are batting .288 against him this month, he has struck out just 14 batters in four games and his ERA is 4.56 in the month. As usual, he never walks anyone so the rallies have been controllable. If he can keep it together, it’s looking like a nice bounce-back year, but his stuff has raised some doubts lately.

Miguel Olivo, C: The most amazing thing about the dugout fight that led to the veteran catcher’s release (after he allegedly bit off part of Alex Guerrero’s ear) is that it reportedly started over an opponent’s stolen base. In a Triple-A game. The Dodgers released Olivo Thursday. It’s fair to say the blow to his career -- particularly since the Miami Marlins put him on the restricted list last year for reportedly walking out on them -- will be greater than the blow to the Dodgers as an organization.

Dodgers hope to reach red-hot territory

May, 21, 2014
May 21
9:06
PM PT
NEW YORK -- Hyun-Jin Ryu is back in the starting rotation, looking as good as ever. Brian Wilson is back in his set-up role, looking better than he has.

So are the Los Angeles Dodgers ready to look the way they were supposed to?

[+] EnlargeHyun-Jin Ryu
William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY SportsOther than giving up a home run, Hyun-Jin Ryu stepped right back into the Dodgers' rotation and looked sharp for the most part.
They'd like to think yes, and they used the evidence of a second straight win over the New York Mets to make their case Wednesday night.

"This is a team the division doesn't want to get too hot," Wilson said after Wednesday's 4-3 win. "If we can put it together, go to Philadelphia, we might get red-hot."

They're not red-hot yet, but they have guaranteed themselves a series win, after coming to New York having dropped four of the past five series. They own back-to-back wins for only the second time since the May 1 doubleheader sweep in Minnesota.

And the rotation and back end of the bullpen look a little more stable.

Ryu was pitching for the first time in 24 days, because of shoulder inflammation that sent him to the disabled list, but he looked far from rusty in going six innings and giving up only a two-run homer to Eric Campbell in the sixth. He gave up nine hits but walked only one and struck out nine.

"He looked sharp," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "He was what we thought he would be. This guy seems to be able to step right in and throw the ball where he wants."

The Dodgers had lost the last two times Ryu's rotation spot came up, with Paul Maholm filling in for him (although it wasn't all Maholm's fault). Then again, they've also lost four of Ryu's eight starts this season.

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 9, Mets 4

May, 20, 2014
May 20
8:29
PM PT


NEW YORK -- It shouldn't be this hard for this team to stay above .500.

The underachieving Los Angeles Dodgers made it back to two games over break-even with Tuesday night's 9-4 win over the New York Mets. But to do it, the Dodgers had to hold on after nearly blowing a five-run lead, with relievers J.P. Howell, Chris Withrow and Brian Wilson all getting big outs with the tying run either on base or at the plate.

Eventually, thanks to a three-run ninth inning, the Dodgers could breathe a little easier. They ended up with 15 hits, the most they'd had in a game since May 3. Even with the five-run lead restored, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly used closer Kenley Jansen, who made his first appearance in eight days.

How it happened: The Dodgers took over the game (or so it seemed) with four fifth-inning runs off Mets rookie Rafael Montero, who was making just his second big-league start. Adrian Gonzalez's two-run home run was the big hit in the inning, with Carl Crawford and Juan Uribe driving in the other two runs with back-to-back singles. Josh Beckett was good for the first five innings and not so good in the sixth, but Howell came out of the bullpen to bail him out.

Beckett, who went 20 months between wins, has now won two straight starts. This one wasn't as good as the last one (or the start before that), as Beckett gave up home runs to Curtis Granderson and Lucas Duda in the sixth.

Beckett then walked Wilmer Flores to bring the tying run to the plate, prompting Mattingly to bring Howell into the game. Howell got out of the sixth with no more damage, but got in trouble himself in the seventh. Then came Withrow, who loaded the bases with one out but got Duda to pop up and Flores to ground out.

Hits: Gonzalez, who had five hits in the last two games of the Arizona series last weekend, hit his second home run in as many games. Gonzalez leads the Dodgers with 11 home runs, fourth in the National League. He also had a long double to center field in the third inning. Crawford had two hits and reached base three times. Uribe also had two hits but had to leave the game because of an injury sustained while running out his ninth-inning double.

Misses: The Dodgers continue to be shockingly bad with the bases loaded. Yasiel Puig struck out to leave the bases full in the second inning, and Scott Van Slyke flied out to leave them full in the eighth. The Dodgers' team bases-loaded average, already worst in the majors, dropped to .091 (3-for-33).

Stat of the game: The win kept the Dodgers over .500, after they had fallen to only one game over break-even for the third time this month. As uninspiring as their season has been so far, they have yet to fall to .500.

Puig play of the day: Puig doesn't mind showing off his arm, but his teammates seemed more amused than impressed by his throw in the third inning Tuesday. The reason? The inning was already over. Puig caught David Wright's fly ball, but apparently didn't realize it was the third out.

Up next: Hyun-Jin Ryu (3-2, 3.00) comes off the disabled list Wednesday and will make his first start since April 27 when he faces the Mets in a 4:10 p.m. PT game at Citi Field. Rookie right-hander Jacob deGrom (0-1, 1.29) starts for the Mets.

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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