Dodgers Report: Juan Rivera

Grading the outfield

October, 11, 2012

Bob DeChiara/US Presswire
Carl Crawford could be the final piece of the most dynamic outfield in baseball next season.

Perhaps the most important Dodger for 2013 has yet to make an appearance in the team's clubhouse or dugout. He has quietly begun physical therapy back home in Houston.

The Dodgers think Carl Crawford will be ready to start taking batting practice in late December. At some point in spring training, they hope, he will begin a throwing program to test his surgically repaired left elbow. If all goes according to plan, he'll be standing in left field at Dodger Stadium on April 1 when the San Francisco Giants come to bat for the first inning of 2013.

"I think Carl will be ready," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said.

If he is, the Dodgers could have the final piece of the most dynamic outfield in baseball. In 2012, things tilted awkwardly to the right, with left field the shakiest of legs in the tripod. Dodgers left fielders collectively hit six home runs in 630 at-bats. Their .674 OPS ranked 13th in the National League.

Even after they thought they had fixed the problem, they really hadn't. Shane Victorino didn't do any better as a Dodger than he had done as a Philly, finishing with career lows in batting average (.255), on-base percentage (.321) and runs (72). Victorino, a free agent, figures to move on this fall, but the Dodgers could replace him with an even faster alternative in Crawford, who led the majors in triples four times.

If Crawford proves healthy and thrives away from Boston, the Dodgers would have elite speed in two outfield spots, elite power in one outfield spot and elite hitting ability in all three. Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier have all won Gold Gloves.

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Grading Matt Kemp

October, 8, 2012
In the 34 games before his first hamstring injury, Matt Kemp batted .359 with 12 home runs and a 1.173 OPS. The Dodgers went 23-11.

He played in two games over the next two months (re-injuring his hamstring in late May) and the Dodgers went 24-29.

When he smacked into the center-field wall at Coors Field on Aug. 28, hurting his knee and shoulder, the Dodgers were eight games over .500 and trailing the San Francisco Giants by 3 games, and the St. Louis Cardinals by 2 games for the wild card.

He batted .214 with a .686 OPS the rest of the way and the Dodgers played two games over .500 and failed to make the playoffs. But they did make a frantic dash to get there, winning six in a row from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1, a period over which Kemp batted .458 with four home runs and a 1.583 OPS.

It all kind of leaves you with the impression that the Dodgers are a bit reliant -- perhaps overly so -- on their best player, doesn’t it? Even after adding Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez, Kemp is easily the Dodgers' most talented position player.

Few players of his size can run with such grace. Few hitters have such effortless power.

In a season in which the Dodgers were offensively overmatched when Kemp wasn’t playing early, then seemingly flummoxed by a series of trades in the middle, the team rose and fell with Kemp’s fortunes. When he was at full strength he was a major catalyst for the offense, when he was hurting the team was hurting too.

Given that the Dodgers came up short in September, some might ask whether it would have made sense to sit Kemp and treat his shoulder (an injury that proved serious enough to require a 60-minute surgery last week, complete with labrum repair) down the stretch. But the Dodgers had few promising alternatives.

By the time Kemp hurt his shoulder, Tony Gwynn Jr. was no longer on the roster, Jerry Hairston Jr. was out for the season with a hip injury. The only remaining options were a pair of former Angels cleanup hitters, Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu, with Shane Victorino sliding over from left to center field to accommodate one of them.

Rivera was in the midst of the worst season of his career, batting .244, grounding into 15 double plays and posting a WAR -- according to Baseball Reference -- of -0.9. Abreu, 38, had lost so much bat speed, his only real value was in his ability to draw walks. He batted .246 with a .344 slugging percentage and -0.3 WAR. And his outfield play?
There's a reason he'd become a full-time designated hitter with the Angels.

Playing Kemp just pointed out perhaps the Dodgers’ biggest failing in 2012: a lack of offensive depth. It’s possible they would have won a couple more games if he hadn't played. But it’s also easy to understand why a player coming off an MVP-caliber season who had carried his team for four months by then wouldn’t be able to check himself so easily out of the lineup.

Grade: B+

Ups and downs: Reds 6, Dodgers 0

September, 22, 2012

It's not that the Dodgers aren't going to be involved in any clinching parties. It's just that they probably won't be their own.

For the second time on this road trip, the Dodgers had to watch a team lock something up right in front of them. This time it was the Cincinnati Reds' clinching the NL Central with a 6-0 win, the Dodgers' offense once again missing in action. The Washington Nationals clinched a playoff berth by beating the Dodgers two days ago.

It was another costly loss. The Dodgers, who have just 10 games remaining, fell to three games back of the St. Louis Cardinals in the wild-card standings.

More downs than ups today, that's for sure.

The Good:

Spot duty. It's like a broken record. Good: pitching. Bad: hitting. Stephen Fife has been thrust into some pretty important games by a hip injury to ace Clayton Kershaw and he has done better than the Dodgers could have expected. Fife, 25, might not be an elite prospect, but the Dodgers would be foolish not to consider him in their plans next season. They know he can handle the pressure of pitching in big-time games. Now, if they could only get him a little run support.

The Bad:

Power outage. Adrian Gonzalez said last week that his swing has been "a wreck" all season. This is an inopportune time for a player to start talking about mechanical flaws. The Dodgers need production from the man who protects Matt Kemp, and they're really not getting any. Gonzalez has gotten some hits to fall here and there, sprayed some line drives around, but he hasn't driven the ball in weeks. He homered in his first Dodgers at-bat and hasn't hit one out since then (Aug. 25).

Bench rot. The Dodgers have an increasingly dysfunctional roster. The bench was bad to begin with and it appears to be getting worse with disuse. A prime example is Juan Rivera, who -- at times -- has had a prominent role on this team. After acquiring Shane Victorino, the Dodgers just kind of shuffled Rivera off to the bench. Before Friday, he had gotten one at-bat in the previous nine games. The result, of course, is that Rivera's swing isn't there when they need it. An injury to Victorino has thrust Rivera into the lineup and he's gone 0-for-5 the past two games.

Not scoring. The Dodgers have scored three runs or fewer in 16 of their past 21 games. They have been shut out in four of those games and scored one run three times. As slumps go, this one is ugly. Really ugly. What makes it so baffling is that the Dodgers added hitters with All-Star pedigrees around the trade deadlines. It looks as if they're caught without an identity. They went from a scrappy team without a lot of power to a team trying to hit for power without a lot of success.

The Slump. It's only one small piece of the puzzle, but it hasn't helped matters that the one catcher on the Dodgers' roster who can hit isn't. After grounding out a couple of times, A.J. Ellis is 0 for his past 28. This guy desperately needs a bloop hit or a ball to glance off somebody's glove, because this is the kind of oh-fer that can get in your head. Some of the blame for Ellis' slump probably resides with manager Don Mattingly for playing him so often earlier this month.

Wrong stuff. Reliever Jamey Wright has pitched as well as any Dodgers reliever for the past several weeks, but you can't have days much worse than he had Saturday. He faced five batters and didn't get any of them out. He gave up two hits, two walks and made a throwing error. That's some kind of cycle, isn't it? Every once in a while, a reliever is going to come in without his best stuff, but right now the Dodgers can't afford even moderate meltdowns from any of their pitchers because they can't score enough to cover them up.

Empty swings, wasted potential

September, 9, 2012
Juan Rivera lost track of the count. The umpire had to hold up four fingers to tell him he'd just walked.

Hanley Ramirez started to walk back to the dugout, thinking he had struck out. The umpire had to remind him he had called the pitch a ball, not a strike.

It's fair to say the Los Angeles Dodgers are a bit discombobulated at the plate these days.

In the weeks after adding two star-caliber hitters to their lineup -- at a hefty price -- they are just as prone to the kind of long, collective hitting slumps that can keep a team home in October. The Dodgers spent a beautiful weekend in San Francisco taking an endless string of ugly swings. In a way, it's amazing they won one of the three games.

They went 1-for-23 with runners in scoring position while losing two of three games to the San Francisco Giants, virtually knocking themselves out of the NL West race. Barry Zito, a pitcher who has to muscle up to reach 85 mph, tied them in knots Sunday night in front of a national TV audience.

"I don't know if it's pressing too hard or not caring enough or what," Andre Ethier said. "You try to go out there and relax, it doesn't work. You try to go out there and care, and nothing works. Maybe somebody needs to come on and give us all a good shake or something. I don't know."

Who knows, maybe Don Mattingly will try moving some players around in his lineup, hoping to stir a little life into an inert mix of ingredients. Probably the best thing he can do is write Matt Kemp's name back in there, and it seems like there's a pretty good chance of that happening Tuesday.

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3 up, 3 down: Dodgers 10, Rockies 8

August, 29, 2012

The Los Angeles Dodgers snapped their three-game losing streak, but not before they nearly blew a 10-0 lead.

The Dodgers hung on Wednesday at Coors Field for a wild 10-8 win over the Colorado Rockies, who scored all their runs in the seventh and eighth innings.

The Good:

Forgotten man. Remember Joe Blanton? The Dodgers made so many acquisitions before and after the trade that brought him from Philadelphia, he kind of has been out of view. He also had been the most disappointing new guy going into Wednesday, with a 7.71 ERA and three losses in his four starts. He had heard plenty of boos in his previous start at Dodger Stadium. But the Dodgers got him some early runs Wednesday and he ran with them, shutting down Colorado until things started getting a little messy in the seventh inning. He has a little work to do to make that deal look like a success, but it was a start.

Heating up. The Dodgers were killing them softly -- with an assortment of broken bats and infield hits -- in the third inning until they made a loud noise. Hanley Ramirez hit a two-run home run to center field, his eighth home run with the Dodgers and second game in a row going deep. Ramirez was ice cold when the Dodgers left town Sunday, but 5,000 feet of altitude seems to have done him good.

Knockout. Or at least it should have been. When A.J. Ellis hit his grand slam in the eighth inning, it seemed as if the Dodgers would cruise. Then the bullpen took over. Imagine where this Dodgers season would be without the unexpected contributions from their catcher. They knew he could catch. The power has been an enormous and pleasant surprise.

The Bad:

Fumbling away. Shawn Tolleson has been on a shuttle lately between the Dodgers and the minor leagues. If rosters weren't about to expand, he might be in jeopardy of taking yet another flight. The last thing you want when you build a massive lead is for your mop-up man to get hit around. Tolleson couldn't get an out -- he allowed four hits and a walk -- and suddenly it looked as if the Dodgers might make a little history.

Changed leads. Don Mattingly flip-flopped Shane Victorino and Mark Ellis in the No. 1 and 2 spots in his batting order, which is not a big deal, but a bit puzzling. Ellis handles the bat well, and Victorino is faster. Perhaps it will work out in the long run, but in two games, Ellis went 1-for-8 without a walk.

Rocky D. One of the reasons Colorado should provide easy wins for the Dodgers -- which has not been the case -- is that the Rockies are probably the worst-fielding team in the majors. They were the first team to 100 errors in baseball and they made their 101st Wednesday. It's not uncommon for balls to go clanging around the field when Colorado is on defense, and that was the case Wednesday. The Dodgers finally took advantage of it.

3 up, 3 down: Dodgers 11, Marlins 4

August, 24, 2012

LOS ANGELES -- On the cusp of one of the biggest trades in franchise history, the Los Angeles Dodgers gave their fans another reason to feel good with an 11-4 win over the Miami Marlins to snap out of a three-game losing streak.

The Dodgers, reportedly on the verge of a megadeal with the Boston Red Sox centered on All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, remained three games out in the NL West and 1 1/2 games out in the wild-card standings.

The Good:

Fisherman. Before the game, Andre Ethier showed reporters his new grip now that he's dealing with a painful blister injury on his right palm. He's choking up a bit. The way things are going, he may want to make it his permanent approach. Ethier hit a missile of a three-run home run in the first inning to help the Dodgers escape the cycle of falling behind early. Ethier, who had three more hits and another RBI later, likes fishing for Marlin. He is a .387 career hitter against Miami, best in the majors.

Take that. Since the Marlins traded Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers, he has made them pay a price. In four games against Miami, Ramirez is 6-for-18 with seven RBIs. He hit an impressive opposite-field home run off the guy he was traded for, Nathan Eovaldi, in the third inning. Does it get better than that for a traded player? The Marlins probably don't regret trading Ramirez since they were looking to change course, but he's doing everything he can do give them some doubts.

Well-timed relief. After an injury-shortened outing by Chad Billingsley, the Dodgers could have easily got into a back-and-forth, high-scoring game that can deplete a pitching staff. But relievers Jamey Wright, Scott Elbert and Brandon League held things down until the Dodgers could blow the game open in the seventh inning. Those guys aren't the most prominent names on this roster, but they played a key role Friday.

The Bad:

Uh-oh. Billingsley left the game in the fourth inning with what the Dodgers described as a "tender" elbow. It comes at an inopportune time for the Dodgers, but especially for Billingsley. He was pitching as well as he had all season, having not allowed a run in his previous 15 innings and riding a six-start winning streak. The Dodgers still need a solid No. 2 behind Clayton Kershaw and Billingsley looked as if he were emerging as that guy. Now what?

Shane's world. Assuming the Dodgers consummate the trade as it's reported to go down, with Carl Crawford as part of the package, it looks as if Shane Victorino won't get his wish to stay with the Dodgers after this season. Crawford could return as soon as midseason next year and Victorino is a free agent this fall. Meanwhile, the Dodgers would like a little more production out of their scrappy leadoff guy. Victorino is 2-for-16 on this homestand.

Last call? As usual, Juan Uribe was booed after his eighth inning strikeout. Dodgers fans may not Uribe to kick around any longer. If the trade is completed, the Dodgers will need three roster spots to make room for Crawford, Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto and it's highly likely Uribe would lose his spot. If he's not outright released, Uribe could accept a minor-league assignment and be back in September, a la Bobby Abreu, but his days of having a prominent role appear to be over.

3 Up, 3 Down: Giants 2, Dodgers 1

August, 20, 2012
The Los Angeles Dodgers lost the first game of what could be a thrilling start to this pennant race.

Madison Bumgarner out-pitched fellow Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw in the first of a three-game series with the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium on Monday night. The Giants' 2-0 win moved them ahead of the Dodgers, back into first place with a slim half-game lead.

The Dodgers managed just five hits, one of them Hanley Ramirez's solo home run off Sergio Romo with two outs in the ninth inning.

The Good:

As expected. When the opposing pitcher is going as well as Bumgarner was Monday, sometimes that second run is a back breaker. Kershaw allowed three straight singles to give the Giants a two-run lead in the sixth inning, but he was hardly hit hard. The first two guys reached on infield singles and Pablo Sandoval broke his bat singling to left. Kershaw pitched as he always does against the Giants, brilliantly, holding them to six hits and striking out 10 batters in eight innings. His problem was that the rest of the Dodgers' lineup didn't hit as well as he did (two hits).

Cr-uuuuuz. He's becoming a little bit of a folk hero around Dodger Stadium. Luis Cruz, the 28-year-old veteran of the Mexican winter leagues, has been one of the hottest hitters in the National League. Cruz looked like the only Dodger capable of seeing the ball off Bumgarner -- aside from Kershaw himself -- singling in his first two plate appearances. Cruz batted .448 on the Dodgers' last road trip, so every time he batted, fans chanted "Cruuuuz."

Untouched. Ronald Belisario, like a lot of relievers, isn't always the fans' most popular player. But he is difficult to make contact against and those guys can be useful in meaningful games. Belisario absolutely carved up the middle of the Giants' order in the ninth inning, striking out Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence.

The Bad:

The Big Chill. After going 0-for-Atlanta, Matt Kemp did something he very rarely does. He joined the bench players and young guys and took early on-field batting practice. He also studied video. Perhaps the extra work will pay dividends in the long run, but it didn't immediately break Kemp out of this slump. He went 0-for-4 and, after striking out to strand a runner at third, started to break the bat over his knee before thinking better of it. Kemp has gone 19 at-bats without a hit, a steep hole.

Cold catcher. A.J. Ellis was the most pleasant hitting surprise on this team before Cruz came along, but he has been in one of his colder stretches at the plate -- batting .206 since Aug. 5 -- and it has contributed to some broken flow in the Dodgers' lineup. Ellis' primary asset is extreme patience, but he has walked just four times in that stretch with a .595 OPS. When you're going bad, you get bad breaks. He had what looked like a sure leadoff single in the eighth inning, but Marco Scutaro made a lunging grab.

Reserve level. Don Mattingly might use his bench less than any manager in the National League these days. Then again, can you blame him? He might have the least-effective reserves of any manager. His first pinch hitter off the bench, Juan Uribe, struck out for the 35th time in 175 plate appearances. Before that at-bat, Uribe was batting .185, not exactly justifying his $8 million salary.

3 Up, 3 Down: Dodgers 9, Pirates 3

August, 15, 2012
The Los Angeles Dodgers are back in the kind of groove that carried them to the best record in baseball back in the cooler days of late spring. They beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-3 at PNC Park on Wednesday night as Clayton Kershaw registered his first victory against the Pirates in six career starts, setting up a Thursday afternoon possibility of a four-game sweep of their NL wild-card rival.

Also Wednesday, the San Francisco Giants lost 6-4 to the Washington Nationals -- and MVP candidate Melky Cabrera to a 50-game drug suspension -- putting the Dodgers alone in first place for the first time since July 13.

The Dodgers have beaten Pittsburgh nine straight times stretching back to last September.

The Good:

Kershaw cruises. Guess who was on the mound the last time the Dodgers were in first place by themselves? Too easy? Wednesday wasn't Kershaw's most artful performance. At times, he actually got hit hard. Andrew McCutchen snapped out of his power slump and hit a monster home run off him to straight-away center field. But the fact remains that when the Dodgers need to make a move, they often do it behind their lefty ace.

New guys. It's fairly obvious the Dodgers have a deeper lineup with Shane Victorino and Hanley Ramirez in it. What's even better for the Dodgers is that both players seem to be rejuvenated by moving to a winning environment. Victorino has been tugging the offense along for more than a week (nine-game hitting streak) and Ramirez has had a terrific road trip, with 11 hits in 25 at-bats and eight RBIs in six games. It looks as if the Dodgers' MVP thus far has been general manager Ned Colletti.

Balance. The Dodgers still don't have the type of murderers-row lineup you see more often in the American League, but it's deeper than it has been all year. Wednesday was the perfect embodiment of that, with seven of the 10 hitters who got to the plate driving in at least one run. And, yeah, we include Kershaw in that group.

The Bad:

Options? Should the Dodgers consider using Luis Cruz at first base from time to time? The right-handed side of their platoon isn't exactly giving them much -- just 3-for-24 this month -- but Don Mattingly has used Juan Rivera in all but three games this month. Not that he has all that many options, but Rivera doesn't look like a good one these days.

Drama. Brandon League hasn't exactly given Mattingly stress-free innings since he arrived in a trade from the Seattle Mariners. League has made six appearances for the Dodgers and has allowed at least one base runner in all but one of them. His outing Wednesday was fairly clean, but walking a guy in the ninth inning with a six-run lead isn't the best way to endear yourself to your road-weary teammates.

Matchup. If you were to pick a Dodgers starter to go for the sweep, Joe Blanton might be the last guy you would select. Four of the starters have been solid lately and Blanton is 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA since arriving shortly after the trading deadline. Meanwhile, the Pirates have A.J. Burnett on the mound. Burnett was awful for the New York Yankees, but he has found success in the National League. He has one home loss all season.


3 Up, 3 Down: Dodgers 5, Marlins 0

August, 12, 2012
For a long while, the Los Angeles Dodgers made Chris Capuano work hard to keep them from blowing a slim lead for the second straight day, but he was up to the task in a 5-0 win at Marlins Park on Sunday.

Capuano carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning and the Dodgers broke through for some late runs, giving the Dodgers a promising start to a 10-game road trip. The Dodgers won two of three games against the Miami Marlins and now travel to Pittsburgh for four games, a series that could have a major impact on the NL wild-card race.

The Good:

No-hit stuff. It kind of snuck up on you. Chris Capuano was cruising so efficiently, with a manageable pitch count and so few jams, it was a little surprising to see him pitching in the seventh inning with a no-hitter going. It didn't last for long, as Jose Reyes lined a clean single to center with one out, but he was only seven outs away. Capuano struck out 10 batters, allowed just two hits and needed only 102 pitches over eight innings. These are the kinds of performances that can lift a team in a pennant race. They also might put Capuano back on track. He had lost his previous three starts with a 6.75 ERA.

Key contributions. Hanley Ramirez hasn't been tearing the cover off the ball since he became a Dodger, but when it counts, he has come through. Ramirez has nine hits in 21 at-bats with runners in scoring position and he drove in 60 percent of the Dodgers' runs Sunday. It was a nice homecoming weekend for Ramirez, who was able to perform in front of family and friends and punish the Marlins for dealing him.

Bounteous table. Shane Victorino and Mark Ellis combined to get on base five times Sunday. They're starting to look like a nice combination at the top of the lineup. Victorino clearly is going to make Ellis better, because he gets on base and distracts the pitcher. Ellis handles the bat beautifully and is as fundamentally sound as they come, so he should get Victorino plenty of chances to score. He dropped a beautiful bunt for a hit to stoke an early rally. Ellis was college roommates with David Eckstein at Florida and you won't find two major-leaguers in recent seasons with a better grasp of the little things.

The Bad:

Costly whiffs. Matt Kemp struck out on a bad pitch to leave the bases loaded Saturday and he did it again Sunday. The difference is the first time there were two outs when he came up. The Dodgers managed to squeeze a run out of the rally on Sunday when Ramirez lined a sacrifice fly to left. Still, the rally should have been a little more fruitful and Kemp has appeared a bit overanxious recently in clutch at-bats.

Personal Treanor. Misty May-Treanor, the gold-medal winning wife of catcher Matt Treanor, was back from London and attending Sunday's game in South Florida. That had to inspire her husband, but it wasn't able to coax any hits out of him. Treanor has made his living with his catching skills, but even by the low standards of a .223 lifetime average, Treanor has struggled this season (batting .186). If the Dodgers had better production from the corners of their infield, they could absorb a light-hitting catcher, but there is a reason A.J. Ellis has been catching so many games. He's a big upgrade offensively.

Missing piece. Don Mattingly keeps plugging Juan Rivera into RBI spots in his lineup and sometimes -- like Saturday -- Rivera makes that look smart. But Rivera isn't coming close to matching his solid 2011 season for the Dodgers and he's clearly at the back end of his career arc. Rivera is only 34, but -- five years removed from a serious broken-leg injury -- he has aged faster than many players. He is one of the slower runners in the league and is only an adequate fielder. When he's not hitting, there's not much point in playing him.

3 up, 3 down: Dodgers 5, Marlins 2

August, 10, 2012

The Dodgers are hanging in there as they hit a pivotal stretch of their season.

After a disappointing homestand, they opened a challenging 10-game road trip with a 5-2 win over the Miami Marlins on Friday night behind ace Clayton Kershaw.

The Good:

Kershaw day. It has a different feel than any other day of the week. When Kershaw pitches, the bullpen typically isn't taxed and the other team is the one on the defensive. He overcame some awful luck in the sixth inning, with Miami bunching infield hits to load the bases, to give the Dodgers yet another quality start. When Kershaw has his slow curveball working, there may not be a pitcher alive with a bigger differential between his fastball and off-speed pitch.

Homecoming. It's not as if Hanley Ramirez pounded the ball. He hit a seeing-eye single through a drawn-in infield and dribbled a ball 15 feet from the catcher for another hit, but -- hey -- it says he was 3-for-5 with two RBIs in the box score. The fans in Miami booed Ramirez mercifully in every at-bat, but he had the last laugh. His team won and he was a big part of it.

Big shot. Juan Rivera isn't the most popular Dodger right now. He's having a poor season, the Dodgers have gotten scant production from their first basemen and he's slow, so he hits into more than his share of double plays. But he had one of the more meaningful hits of this Dodgers season thus far, a two-run laser shot of a home run to left field in the Dodgers' big sixth inning. Rivera can still do some damage, particularly against left-handed pitchers, so Dodgers fans may as well get used to him.

The Bad:

Lefty problem. The Dodgers' lineup would have a scarier look if Andre Ethier hit left-handed pitchers better. Manager Don Mattingly typically starts him against them anyway, because he's still a bigger threat than any of his other options, but poor results against lefties has been a problem for Ethier throughout his career. He went into Friday's game against Mark Buehrle batting .234 off lefties and then went 0-f0r-4.

Soft spot? With Ramirez and Shane Victorino inserted in the lineup, the Dodgers have a deeper look than they've had at any time this season. You wonder whether Mark Ellis is the soft spot in the key No. 2 spot in what is otherwise a productive Nos. 1 through 5 hitters. He still gives you a lot of good at-bats, but he's stuck on .260. Ellis saw 25 pitches and drew a walk, but couldn't come up with any hits.

Options. Mattingly would have an easier time managing this team if he had better options off his bench. Juan Uribe has been a non-factor and James Loney hasn't performed well as a pinch hitter. Loney is 3-for-17 in the pinch this season, meaning he doesn't exactly inspire Mattingly to call his name when he's looking for a late-game hit off a right-handed pitcher.

3 up, 3 down: Dodgers 6, Rockies 4

August, 8, 2012

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers are in hold-on-tight mode and Wednesday's 6-4 win over the last-place Colorado Rockies might have kept them from slipping to an uncomfortable place.

A loss would have given the Dodgers their second series sweep in this nine-game homestand and sent them off on a tough road trip with a 2 1/2-game deficit in the NL West.

The Good:

Aloha Airlines. You don't often see a player score from first base on a single, but Shane Victorino is the kind of guy who would do it because of his speed and relentless energy. He was running on Mark Ellis's single to right-center in the sixth inning and just kept going, urged on by third-base coach Tim Wallach. He has been sparking the offense for three straight games, but Wednesday was the first time it took. Victorino was in the middle of everything, singling three times and scoring three runs.

Hanging Chad. Chad Billingsley was shaky early, giving up two first-inning runs, but he did what you want your starter to do. When the Dodgers started scoring, Billingsley held the other team down. He cruised from the fourth through seventh innings, retiring eight straight batters to give the Dodgers' offense a chance to snap out of its deep funk. Billingsley is finally giving the Dodgers what they hoped he would, a solid No. 2 starter. He is riding a four-game winning streak, having gone at least six innings in all of them.

Quick bang. When a team is in a funk, it's time for the guy who gets the cover stories to wake everybody up. Matt Kemp did that, loudly yanking a Jeff Francis pitch into the third row of left-field bleachers in the first inning for a three-run home run, tripling the Dodgers' scoring output from the previous two nights with one swing. Andre Ethier isn't hitting with power, Hanley Ramirez hasn't quite settled in. It's Kemp's team to begin with, but never more than right now.

The Bad:

Not the Juan. In a way, the Dodgers are lucky. Their two biggest offensive holes are in left field and first base, the two easiest spots to stuff a big bat into. Whatever they do this winter, they simply can't continue to stick with a Juan Rivera-James Loney platoon at first base. Rivera used to have decent pop, but that seems to have abandoned him and his lack of speed often makes him an easy out. Dodgers first baseman ranked No. 28 in the majors in OPS coming into Wednesday and Rivera didn't help that with an 0-for-4 evening. Hitting into double plays is kind of his thing.

Third dimension. Now that we're on the topic, the Dodgers don't exactly get a lot of thunder from the other infield corner either. Jerry Hairston Jr. might be their best offensive option there right now and that kind of says it all. He's a scrappy utility guy who does a lot of things well, but he's hardly a force of nature in the batter's box. Other than the pop-up that DJ LeMahieu simply dropped, Hairston couldn't get his way on base. Add third base to the off-season to-do list.

A stretch. Ethier was out easily trying to stretch a third-inning single for an extra base. Maybe he was just desperate to get past first, because his bat hasn't been getting him there lately. Ethier had a couple of singles, but he hasn't homered in nearly a month -- since July 14 -- and he has just one extra-base hit since July 29. When he's right, he's a doubles machine so apparently he's not right.

3 up, 3 down: Rockies 3, Dodgers 1

August, 7, 2012

LOS ANGELES -- Any team that managed to get shut out five times in a six-game span has a different standard for futility, but the Dodgers have stumbled back into one of their mighty cold spells.

The Dodgers were stymied for the second straight night by the worst pitching staff in the major leagues in a 3-1 loss to the last-place Colorado Rockies on Tuesday night.

There's no in-between for this team. If the Dodgers lose again Wednesday, that will give them four straight series that ended in a sweep, two that were lost and two that were won.

The Good:

One-man band. Aaron Harang got a nice ovation when he left the mound in the seventh inning. He deserved it. Harang (7-7) has pitched deep enough into games and with good enough results that the Dodgers shouldn't be 2-7 in his last nine starts, but they are. The hulking right-hander couldn't get a shred of support as he battled through jams most of the night. He seemed to have a good game plan: don't come anywhere near Carlos Gonzalez. He pitched around him once and walked him intentionally twice. The Rockies loaded the bases off him in the first and fifth innings, but he minimized damage to set up a Dodgers rally that never came.

Walk along. One of the reasons the Dodgers could afford to designate veteran Bobby Abreu for assignment last week is that they have the right-handed version of him on their roster: A.J. Ellis. Both Abreu and Ellis take plate discipline to a whole new area, seldom flinching at anything outside the strike zone. Ellis walked twice Tuesday and has walked 52 times this season, nearly three times as many as teammate Juan Rivera in fewer plate appearances.

A spark. After a rough start to his Dodgers career, Shane Victorino is showing signs of bringing the top of the lineup to life. He has been on base five times in the past two nights, though -- tellingly -- didn't score once in those games. In six games with the Dodgers, Victorino has one run scored. That kind of defeats the point of trading for a premium leadoff hitter, of course, but lately it has not been Victorino's fault.

The Bad:

Big bats. Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are getting some hits to fall here and there, but neither of the Dodgers' two best hitters is driving the ball with any consistency lately. Ethier has one extra-base hit since July 29 and Kemp has three. That's not the kind of production that will jump-start this pennant race in the Dodgers' favor. Soon, the Dodgers will need these two to begin carrying the team or there may be nowhere to carry it.

Taking a toll. It's fair to say that Tuesday was not a good relief outing for Shawn Tolleson, but at least it didn't linger. Josh Rutledge slammed Tolleson's first pitch off the left-field wall to drive in two inherited runners and Dexter Fowler lined a single to center on his fifth pitch. That was it for Tolleson's night. It must be weird to have a work day that lasts three minutes and has such spectacularly bad (and public) results, but that sometimes is the life of a reliever.

Pace. How does it take nearly seven hours to score six runs? The teams took three hours and 28 minutes Tuesday in a 3-1 game and three hours and 22 minutes Monday night. It shows you the Dodgers had plenty of deep counts, but couldn't cash in with base runners or clutch hits.

The listlessness goes on

August, 6, 2012
Within the past two weeks, the Los Angeles Dodgers have traded for a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat and one of the game's best leadoff men.

That's not easy to do.

So, after the Dodgers were shut out for the second time in five games Monday night, falling 2-0 to a few (putting it nicely) undistinguished Colorado Rockies pitchers, you have to wonder: Is this team ever going to find a semblance of offensive chemistry? They don't need the occasional flareup of scoring. What they need, and haven't gotten, is sustained competence.

It might take a while for this lineup to begin to click with new additions Shane Victorino and Hanley Ramirez added to the mix, but so far the results are encouraging but far from convincing.

Manager Don Mattingly has been waiting for these guys to start hitting since those early April days, so he's not about to start expecting miracles now. The Dodgers are 26th in the majors in runs, 29th in slugging percentage and 22nd in OPS.

Two new hitters and two newly healthy hitters can do a lot to change things, but was the problem simply too big to fix? Even with Victorino and Ramirez, the Dodgers have been shut out twice in the past five games.

"I don't think it's really a matter of gelling. These guys are getting along," Mattingly said. "It's still baseball. You get a good pitch, hit a ball hard. I don't care where you're playing, this game doesn't change."

Against Drew Pomeranz and Adam Ottavino, both of whom had ERAs around 6.00, the Dodgers looked generally befuddled. When they weren't befuddled, things got muddled. The first two runners reached base in both the first and third innings and the Dodgers couldn't score. Other than that, there really wasn't much to talk about.

Afterward, Matt Kemp reflected some of the team's frustration, sighing loudly as he hastily dressed after the game. He helped defuse those early rallies with a strikeout and a double play ball.

"All I saw was fastballs. I didn't do my job," Kemp said. "We didn't come out flat. We just didn't score any runs."

On that much, everyone can agree.

3 up, 3 down: Dodgers 5, Phillies 3 (12)

July, 18, 2012

LOS ANGELES -- The game lasted so long, Matt Kemp forgot who the starting pitcher was for the Philadelphia Phillies when it started more than four hours earlier.

Not that it mattered as he stood outside the Dodgers’ dugout after his two-run walk-off home run to give Los Angeles a 5-3 win to turn around the fortunes of a team coming off a four-game losing streak.

It was the type of win the Dodgers enjoyed earlier in the season when they had the best record in baseball, one they hope will now turn around their season. “Don’t give up on us guys, we’re going to make the playoffs,” Kemp said. “We’re going to do it.”

The Good:

KKKKKKKershaw. It was a solid outing for Clayton Kershaw, who pitched eight innings, giving up only one run and five hits. The 24-year-old left-hander struck out seven and was in command from the start of the game. The Dodgers, however, were unable to give Kershaw any run support, as he exited the game after the eighth with the score tied 1-1. He has yet to beat the Phillies in his career, holding a 0-4 record against Philadelphia with a 4.95 ERA.

Kemp is back. He's officially back. After a seemingly never-ending 12-inning game, Kemp delivered his first home run since April 30, a walk-off, two-run shot to give the Dodgers the win. “I was struggling all game; I had to do something, man,” Kemp said. “We fought to the end and we got the W.”

Rivera homers. Dodger manager Don Mattingly joked before the game that he didn’t have many guys on his roster who could see Cliff Lee well, which was one of the reasons he gave Andre Ethier the day off (although Ethier did pinch hit in the ninth inning after Lee was gone). The one player who saw him best Wednesday was Juan Rivera, who homered on a fly ball to left-center field in the second inning to give the Dodgers an early lead. It was the Dodgers’ first home run in four days and only their third since the All-Star break.

The Bad:

Uribe at it again. Juan Uribe’s struggles have gotten so bad that simply watching him walk to and from the batter’s box at Dodger Stadium have become painful. Uribe was roundly booed Wednesday as he went 0-for-3 and now has just one hit in his past 37 at-bats. As if Uribe’s offensive struggles weren’t bad enough, he threw in an error as well against the Phillies.

Offense, again. The Dodgers’ inability to score runs, let alone get consistent hits, continued for much of the game Wednesday, as they wasted a one-run, five-hit game from Kershaw by putting up only one run of their own on three hits against Lee. Sure, most teams have a hard time producing much of anything against Lee, but the Dodgers looked far worse than most in doing so. Thankfully for the Dodgers, they were able to finally get going after Lee exited the game, finishing with five runs on 10 hits.

Loney strikes out. Much like Uribe, James Loney has been a punching bag for Dodgers fans for much of this season. He was hitless through 28 at-bats earlier this year, and the Dodgers have been trying to find his replacement before the trade deadline. So with the bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, there was more than a collective sigh from the crowd when Uribe went back into the dugout and Loney pinch hit for him and, of course, proceeded to strike out.

3 up, 3 down: Padres 7, Dodgers 6

July, 14, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Well, if it's any comfort for Dodgers fans, if the Blue are going to lose, at least let defeat come with serious points for originality. I mean, any closer (in this case, Kenley Jansen) can simply blow a save opportunity.

But to blow a save on a sequence where Everth Cabrera scores the tying run by stealing home, followed by Will Venable scoring the winning run off Jansen’s bad throw to the dish for a 7-6 Padres victory? I mean, c’mon, people. You haven’t seen that before.

Obviously, it would have been more fun if the “you gotta be kidding me!” factor were upped by a pair of unicorns scoring those final runs for San Diego, but we can only do so much here at ESPN LA.

The Good:

Blue batters 1-3. The top of the order (Bobby Abreu, Mark Ellis, Matt Kemp) combined to go 5-for-11 at the plate, with Abreu drawing a pair of walks. They also scored four of the team’s runs and always seemed to be in the mix to serve as spark plugs for a rally. It went without saying the Dodgers have missed the presences of Ellis and Kemp during DL stints, and tonight was pleasant reminder of the plainly obvious.

Blue batter 4. The Dodgers’ first run served as a sign Andre Ethier was in for a good night. His bloop “single” to shallow left was both fortuitous in the way it propelled Ellis across the plate and generous in the way it was scored. (From where I was sitting, it looked like Carlos Quentin and Alexi Amarista couldn’t decide who had it, which left Quentin to whiff a playable ball.) Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Ethier extended his good fortune with another RBI in the third, then a two-out, two-run dinger smoked into right field. The home run broke a 4-4 tie, and added another notch on a belt marked by oodles of clutch moments by the right fielder.

Aaron Harrang. For some reason, the games I’m assigned to cover always coincide with a Harang start. And unfortunately, I’ve typically been Kryptonite for the big lug in person. The righty tends to (at best) scuffle or (at worst) get drilled, whether at the Ravine or even The Big A. Thus, I was concerned a tough first inning with a run surrendered (albeit unearned), a few hard hit balls, and an uneconomic 26 pitches dealt meant I remained a jinx. Well, perhaps our partnership (of sorts) has taken a turn for the better. Harang’s night wasn’t brilliant, but a few of his innings were quite efficient and he only surrendered four hits over seven innings. Granted, two left the yard. And in the case of Chase Headley’s two-run, sixth inning bomb, Harang was actually ahead in the count 0-2. Still, he recovered well enough after the first homer to retire three straight batters. He also managed to convert an out after knocking down a scorcher comeback from Amarista with his bare hand. Given our track record together, that his hand wasn’t broken is worthy of celebration.

The Bad:

Rally killing. In the third inning, with the bags full and nobody out, Adam Kennedy, A.J. Ellis and Luis Cruz combined forces to produce zero runs. That’s really uninspiring, even for the bottom of the order.

Juan Rivera’s err-a. Say what you will about James Loney’s weaknesses with the bat (and most of y’all have by now), but the dude is still pretty slick with the leather. The drop off defensively with Rivera can be palpable, as demonstrated when he let a routine first inning grounder from Headley by him. The error allowed Logan Forsythe to reach third, where he eventually scored. Had the play been converted, the frame likely would have ended with a zero for the Padres. In a 7-6 loss, that matters.

Kenley Jansen. A pair of hard-hit singles opened the closer’s inning with men on the corners and no outs. This is a tough position to prevent a run from scoring, and unfortunately, this proved the predictable case, the bizarre path towards inevitability acknowledged.



Yasiel Puig
.296 16 69 92
HRA. Gonzalez 27
RBIA. Gonzalez 116
RY. Puig 92
OPSY. Puig .863
WC. Kershaw 21
ERAC. Kershaw 1.77
SOC. Kershaw 239