Dodgers Report: Ian Kennedy

Do the Dodgers need to get Puig under control?

June, 14, 2013
6/14/13
11:31
AM PT
It has been suggested that Yasiel Puig's rage during Tuesday's brawl with the Arizona Diamondbacks is another sign of his immaturity and, in baseball terminology, questionable "makeup."

Could be, but if that's the case, why did Major League Baseball suspend Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Ian Kennedy 10 games and Puig none? The guy who doles out these sentences nowadays, MLB senior VP Joe Garagiola Jr., clearly gave Puig a pass because he'd just had a 92 mph fastball graze off his nose.

I've never had a 92 mph fastball anywhere near my nose, but I imagine whether it grazes or not, it leaves a major bruise in the fear portion of the brain. Most psychologists will tell you that anger and fear really aren't all that far apart.

The Dodgers got off relatively lightly with neither Puig nor ace Clayton Kershaw getting suspended. Puig was fined, but -- given his $42 million contract -- he can probably reach into his locker stall for the cash it will cost him.

I happen to think Puig was perfectly within his rights to fly off the handle Tuesday night. But that's not to suggest there aren't reasons to fret that he is a ticking time bomb in the Dodgers clubhouse.

After his past two games, Puig has refused to speak with reporters. It kind of sounds like no big deal. He hasn't had much to say anyway and the questions would have undoubtedly been repetitive.

But it's a bit troubling that, at age 22, with less than two weeks of service time, he thinks he can dictate the terms of his employment. I watched as a veteran team publicist -- one who used to work with Fernando Valenzuela when he was in far more demand than this young player is -- calmly tried to persuade Puig, through his translator, to change his mind. No dice.

Of his previous transgressions -- the minor league punishments, his arrest for reckless driving, the year the Cuban government made him sit out an entire season for an undisclosed infraction -- none of them alone appears to have been serious enough to tell us he doesn't deserve a chance to grow up on his own terms.

But if Puig carries himself like he's bigger than the game, even if he's still hitting close to .500 in a week or two, it won't take long for him to alienate the rest of the league. Incidents like Tuesday's will be just the beginning. Eventually, he will alienate his own teammates if he hasn't already.

In April, Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez, a fellow Cuban who got to know Puig in spring training, had this to say:
Here, you’ve got to be professional, know how to carry yourself and how to act around the older guys. You have to give them their space. He’s kind of wild, all over the place, but you have to understand that’s more of the culture of baseball in Cuba. Once he tones it down a little, you can tell he’s going to be a great player.

People will say it's up to Don Mattingly to get Puig to tone things down. I don't think so. Mattingly and hitting coach Mark McGwire can try to reach him, but it's going to take an older player Puig respects to get through to him. It doesn't even necessarily have to be a teammate. Maybe after the season, Yoenis Cespedes could take him out to dinner and explain the culture of major league baseball.

I doubt it will be a pleasant conversation, but it might be the most important baseball talk he ever has.

3 up, 3 down: Diamondbacks 2, Dodgers 0

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
10:51
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers are getting bullied in their own neighborhood and it's imperiling their postseason chances.

They lost 2-0 to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday, their seventh straight loss to Arizona. The Dodgers are four games under .500 against the NL West and 20 of their final 30 games are inside the division.

The Good:

Tightrope walking. Clayton Kershaw threw a slow curveball to Justin Upton that started outside at shoulder level and broke toward Upton's right knee, swooping through the strike zone. The Diamondbacks' right fielder didn't even pause on his way toward the dugout. That was one of Kershaw's nine strikeouts, but his one mistake cost the Dodgers the game. Chris Young's two-run home run just inside the left-field pole -- and Kershaw's high pitch count -- meant his six strong innings weren't enough. Kershaw is not pitching much differently than he did last year, but he's not getting the same luck.

Stopping power. Things could have gotten messier for Kershaw if not for his batterymate. Catcher A.J. Ellis threw out consecutive base stealers in the sixth inning after Kershaw had allowed back-to-back singles. Ellis also gave the big crowd its only real reason to get excited -- momentarily -- when he hit a drive to the warning track in left field that would have been a tying home run in the fifth inning. You could make an argument for Ellis as the team's fourth or fifth best player.

A little fight. The Dodgers looked about as lifeless as you can look through eight innings, scrounging up just three hits off Ian Kennedy and a pair of relievers. But they rallied in the ninth inning off closer J.J. Putz, with the first two guys reaching base on hits. It fizzled, but it at least gave the impression they're not going down easily. The fans who stuck around seemed to appreciate getting a little entertainment value out of their tickets. Up to then, it was more than three hours of nothingness.

The Bad:

Off again. The Dodgers would be in trouble if not for the contributions of Hanley Ramirez, who was second in the majors in August RBIs coming into Thursday. But there are times when he seems to be coasting. He looked unsure at shortstop again -- failing to charge a couple of slow rollers that resulted in infield hits -- and he went 1-for-4 with a strikeout. He has been a bit of an all-or-nothing proposition.

Slow starter. It's not as if the Dodgers expected much from utility guy Nick Punto when they swung their mega-deal with the Boston Red Sox, but Don Mattingly has given him two starts already, so he obviously is going to have a role. It hasn't started well at the plate for Punto, who was batting .200 at the time of the trade. He has struck out five times in eight at-bats and his other two swings produced a dribbler to the left side and a little pop-up to the shortstop. Seems like an odd choice to lead off.

No Kemp. Mattingly wasn't sure whether Matt Kemp would be available for late-game pinch-hitting duties before the game started. Considering Kemp never took off his jacket or emerged from the dugout when the Dodgers staged their ninth-inning rally, the answer apparently was "No." Kemp has an assortment of injuries stemming from slamming into that outfield wall in Colorado Tuesday night and you wonder, even when he returns, whether he'll be playing at full health. It's a big concern.

The cooling effect

June, 22, 2012
6/22/12
7:45
AM PT


In his start Friday against the White Sox, Clayton Kershaw allowed five runs in six innings, including two home runs. It was the second time this season Kershaw’s allowed multiple home runs in a game, already matching a career high.

Kershaw’s first home run came on an 0-2 pitch to Adam Dunn in the first inning. It was the second home run Kershaw has allowed this season on an 0-2 count; he had allowed only one such home run in his career entering 2012. Dunn now has four career home runs against Kershaw in only 13 at-bats. No other player has more than two home runs against Kershaw.

Kershaw, who’s already allowed 10 home runs in 15 starts, hadn’t allowed more than seven home runs in his first 15 starts of any season of his career. One reason for the increase in home runs might be the relative lack of effectiveness of his slider.

A season ago, Kershaw’s slider ranked among the best pitches in baseball. His 138 strikeouts with the pitch led the majors, and he allowed just three home runs with it. Opponents hit .121 against it.

This year, Kershaw’s slider, while still an above-average offering, has not been quite as dominant as it was a year ago. He’s already allowed five home runs with his slider, and he’s averaging almost a strikeout and a half less per start with it, compared to a year ago. At least some of the difference in effectiveness can be explained by how he’s using the pitch; he’s using his slider this year more often before two strikes than last year and less often with two strikes, when he’s looking to put hitters away.

Thursday’s start against Oakland is a good example of this. Despite throwing 25 sliders, Kershaw did not strike out an Athletics hitter with the pitch. It was Kershaw’s second start in the last two season in which he did not strike out a hitter with his slider; the other was last season against St. Louis, a start in which Kershaw threw the pitch just four times.

Against the Athletics, 21 percent of Kershaw’s pitches before two strikes were sliders. When he got to two strikes, 24 percent of his pitches were sliders. For the season, those numbers are at 18 percent and 40 percent, respectively. Although that may seem like a wide margin, consider last year. In 2011, a season in which he led the league in slider strikeouts, 13 percent of Kershaw’s pre-two-strike offerings and 46 percent of his two-strike pitches were sliders.

Even without his slider being quite as dominant as it was last year or as much of a strikeout pitch as it was last year, Kershaw has still been very effective. Thursday against Oakland, he struck out five hitters with his fastball, the second time in his last three starts in which he’s done that. He didn’t do it once in 2011. With or without his best slider, Kershaw will continue to rank among the league’s top starters, but a return to last year’s slider is key to bringing him back to last year’s dominance.

Thanks to Baseball-Reference, here are some other notes looking back on the past week for the Dodgers.

OFFENSE DOESN’T TRAVEL TO OAKLAND

The Dodgers were shut out on two hits in the first game of their three-game series before mustering only one run on three hits in each of the next two games. It’s the first time in the Live Ball Era that the Dodgers were held to three hits or fewer in three consecutive games. They’re the first team since the 1978 Rangers to be held to no more than one run and no more than three hits in three straight games.

ETHIER COOLS OFF

Andre Ethier was 4 for 21 (.190) on the week, which actually raised his June batting average to .171 from .163 entering last Friday. Of particular note are Ethier’s struggles against lefties. In 34 at-bats against southpaws this month, Ethier has four hits, no home runs, and 15 strikeouts. He’s swung and missed exactly twice as often as he’s put the ball in play against lefties in June (38 to 19).

Ethier faced White Sox lefty Jose Quintana three times Sunday, striking out swinging in each at-bat. Ethier swung and missed eight times in the game, all against Quintana, the first time in the last four seasons he’d missed on that many swings in a game. It was the first time in almost two years that the same pitcher struck Ethier out three times in a game; CC Sabathia did it on June 25, 2010.

LOSING CONTROL

Aaron Harang walked a career-high eight hitters Tuesday night, most by any pitcher since Ian Kennedy walked nine on June 26, 2010. The day before that, Kennedy's then-teammate Edwin Jackson walked eight in his no-hitter against the Rays. Jackson was also the last Dodger to walk eight, doing so on Sept. 27, 2003. Jackson allowed two hits and no runs in that start.

Harang threw 105 pitches over 3 2/3 innings. Going back to 2000, as far as pitch count numbers are complete, Harang is the first Dodgers pitcher to throw 100 pitches in an outing of less than four innings. No Dodger had walked eight hitters in a start of less than five innings since Sandy Koufax in 1955 in his first career start. Koufax walked eight over 4 2/3.

As a team, the Dodgers walked 10 hitters Tuesday, the second time this season they’ve walked at least that many (they walked 10 Padres on April 7). The Dodgers joined the Blue Jays and Rockies as the only teams to walk 10 hitters in a game twice. LA hadn’t done it since 2006, when they did it three times.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Zack Greinke
WINS ERA SO IP
11 2.73 127 118
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .306
HRA. Gonzalez 14
RBIA. Gonzalez 59
RY. Puig 52
OPSY. Puig .911
ERAC. Kershaw 1.78
SOZ. Greinke 127