Dodgers Report: Kirk Gibson

Series preview: Dodgers at Diamondbacks

May, 15, 2014
May 15
4:30
PM PT
PHOENIX -- The Los Angeles Dodgers are coming off another losing homestand in which they got beaten in the final game by 10 runs, so why was manager Don Mattingly feeling so good about his team late Wednesday night? He said he liked the energy level better over the past seven games than he had while the Dodgers were finishing off a winning, and exhausting, road trip to three cities beforehand.

“The last five or six days, it felt like our club,” Mattingly said.

It will be even more their club Friday, when Juan Uribe is expected to return to the starting lineup, giving the Dodgers their healthiest roster of the season or, for that matter, several seasons. Aside from Hyun-Jin Ryu, who could return in a matter of days, and Chad Billingsley, who was never firmly in the team’s first-half plans coming off Tommy John surgery, they will be at full strength.

If ever there was a time when excuses count for nothing, it’s now, going into this weekend’s series at Chase Field. The Dodgers are 7-1 against the last-place Arizona Diamondbacks and they’ll be playing behind Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw in the first two games.

If the real Dodgers don’t show up soon, when will they?

“We’re healthy, and... we’ll see,” Mattingly said.

The Dodgers have outscored Arizona 46-28, but they might find the resistance a bit stiffer this weekend. Arizona is playing better even if the results haven’t been dramatically better. The Diamondbacks, who had the worst rotation in baseball for a month, have seen their starters go 6-2 with a 2.70 ERA in May.

For manager Kirk Gibson and general manager Kevin Towers, the hope is that this season is simply playing out in reverse from 2013. Last year, the Diamondbacks roared out to a 35-26 start by early June and had built a 4 -game division lead by July 7, but they struggled thereafter and finished with a .500 record, 11 games behind the Dodgers. The Dodgers, of course, started slowly before rattling off an historic 42-8 run starting June 21.

In the past few series, including one in Arizona, there has been little evidence of the bad blood the teams shared in 2013, perhaps in part because both teams felt they were underachieving and had little energy left for such hostilities. Six weeks into the season, the Diamondbacks still haven't won a series at home. They are 4-17 at Chase Field.

Friday the Dodgers face lefty Wade Miley, who -- amazingly -- will be making his fourth start this season against them. He was the opposing pitcher on Opening Day in Australia, getting soundly outpitched by Kershaw. He has generally fared fine against the Dodgers, going 3-3 with a 3.96 ERA.

One reason the Dodgers have handled the Diamondbacks so much more easily this season is they have figured out a way to limit the damage Paul Goldschmidt does to their pitching. In 38 plate appearances against the Dodgers this year, Goldschmidt is batting .229 with nine strikeouts and just two exta-base hits. Last year, he batted .388 with five doubles and six home runs against the Dodgers, good for a 1.105 OPS.

Catching up with A.J. Ellis, a Q&A

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
12:09
PM PT
A.J. Ellis might be the best Dodger player to check in with on the state of the team.

He takes a big-picture view of things anyway, but he’s also in an ideal position. As the starting catcher, he spends roughly equal time with the pitchers and hitters. We caught up with Ellis to check on some of the key themes rippling through Dodgers camp, the trip to Australia, the state of bad blood with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Clayton Kershaw’s new contract, among other topics.

Q. You guys open the exhibition season tomorrow against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team you brawled with last season. How would you describe the state of relations between the two NL West rivals in the wake of Pool-gate and everything else?

A. It’s 2014. I think the season’s turned over, so it’s going to be played on the field. What you have is two teams that really play hard. They’ve taken on the personalities of their managers. They’re both hard-nosed, play to win the game, protect their teammates type guys. We just know we’re in for a battle every time we get ready to play the Diamondbacks. They play us hard every time and we respect the way they play. We know they’re going to protect their guys and we’re going to protect ours.

Q. In November, both teams sent goodwill contingents to Australia in advance of the opening series there next month. Arizona sent Paul Goldschmidt and Patrick Corbin. You were the lone Dodgers player, prompting Kirk Gibson to say, “Who’s the other team got down there? Are they too (expletive) good? Honestly,” according to the Arizona Republic. Did that bother you?

A. It’s funny. We had a PR presentation today about not responding quickly when things happen. I think it was a blessing for me that I was in Australia when that happened and I didn’t have Internet access and I didn’t immediately go on my Twitter feed. The more I thought about it and stuff, it was just probably taken a little bit out of context. I’m just honored the Dodgers thought highly enough of me to send me.

Q. Are you the only guy in this clubhouse who has been to Australia?

A. Brian [Wilson] has been a couple times, for holiday.

Q. Of course he has. Have you talked to the guys about what the long flight is like and how it could affect the team’s bodies for playing games and then returning?

A. Some guys have asked and I’ve tried to give a little insight, alleviate any concerns they may have. Fortunately, MLB and the Dodgers put us in first class. You can get pretty comfortable. You sleep for most of the trip, watch some movies the rest of the time and move around a little just to keep moving. It’s just one of those things we have to do.

Q. Two of the starting pitchers, Zack Greinke and Dan Haren, have expressed some concerns about what it might do to their routine. What do you make of that?

A. Baseball players, we’re some of the most routine-oriented people out there. It’s going to be tough for guys who are very dedicated to that, but the way I looked at it, too, is that one of the greatest things about being a major-league baseball player is the life experiences you get. The people you get to play with from all over the world, from Korea and Cuba and Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, people I would have never met before. It’s also experiences like getting to travel to Australia, two years ago getting to travel to China. I feel fortunate and I feel like we should all feel really excited about embracing one of the perks.

Q. What did you think, specifically, about Zack’s comment about having “zero excitement” for going to pitch in Australia?

A. I love how Zack is himself. I love how Zack is very honest. When I get off an airplane in a city and I’m looking for somebody to have a meal with, I’m looking for Zack because it’s going to be a great conversation, he’s going to tell you exactly how it feels and it’s going to be a great time. He thinks outside the box. Zack is definitely a guy who sticks to his routine and I can definitely see how this is going to take him out of his comfort zone a little bit, but if he’s one of the guys picked to throw in Australia, he’s also one of the most competitive, professional people I’ve ever been around. So, he’s going to take the mound with one goal in mind, to win the game. We’ll have to manage all the logistics and adjustments to his routine.

Q. Knowing Clayton Kershaw as well as you do, how do you feel his new seven-year, $215 million contract will affect him?

A. I think it’s going to affect a lot. The main thing it’s going to affect is the amount of people he’s going to help out. It’s not going to change him at all personality wise. He and his wife are just amazing philanthropists who just have a passion for people. This is going to allow them to impact the lives of so many more people. Clayton is still driven by one things, a perfect season – 34-0 when he pitches and a World Series championship. Maybe after a season like that, which we all know is near impossible, we can talk about him changing how he is on the field. He’s not going to change.

Q. The big deal won’t take away his hunger?

A. It’s going to take away my hunger, because he’s going to be picking up every meal on the road now. Clayton’s from such a background of such deep faith, he knows this is just something he can use to help other people. He’s very simple, not a guy who’s big into accumulating things or into the life of luxury. It’s about being comfortable, but also about helping other people.

What's left of bad blood with D-backs?

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
5:39
PM PT
PHOENIX -- The Los Angeles Dodgers, it just so happens, open their exhibition season against the team they had so much strife with last year, the Arizona Diamondbacks. The teams begin their Cactus League schedules next Wednesday at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale.

Only then will we begin to find out whether the bad blood of last summer lingered through the winter.

It's probably fair to say Major League Baseball would prefer they get any hostilities out of the way in Arizona this spring rather than risk having things spill over at the Sydney Cricket Grounds in Australia on March 22, in front of a national late-night TV audience.

Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax joked that he doubted the teams would carry a grudge so far.

"After that long on an airplane, you don't have a temper left," Koufax said.

The teams' managers are downplaying the bad blood, which is exactly what they should be doing, of course.

"This is something, I think, that has been picked up a little bit by some of the media. It's actually overblown, I believe," Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said. "Over the course of my career, that's not the only time I've been on the field. It's part of the game. They did what they had to do. I understand why they did it. If you go back and look at the history, how it evolved into that, it's very easy to see."

Gibson said he has great respect for Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, his staff and the Dodgers players.

"They work their butts off, I can see that," Gibson said. "They're very good."

Mattingly had similar sentiments.

"I've seen that with the Boston-New York rivalry. It gets built up by the media," Mattingly said. "It only kind of flares up when it happens on the field. It's a good rivalry. They've got good clubs, they play hard. I know we're not going to back off or back away from anybody."

Grading the week

June, 17, 2013
6/17/13
11:34
AM PT
It will be remembered as the week their feud with the Arizona Diamondbacks devolved into violence, but in many regards, it was just more of the same.

The Dodgers haven't won more than two games in a row since the first week of the season. They had an emotional win over Arizona the night the benches emptied twice and the teams traded punches and shoves. The next night they competed into the 12th inning, but relievers Ronald Belisario and Brandon League blew the game.

The Dodgers had a good all-around effort behind Clayton Kershaw in Pittsburgh on Saturday night and felt good about their chances of going on a little run, but Zack Greinke made some key mistakes and they lost Sunday.

The minute you start to think they have a little traction, a wheel spins in the mud.

Scoring

In the long run, it will help to have Hanley Ramirez back. It will help to have A.J. Ellis back. Those guys returned from the disabled list over the weekend and the Dodgers now are short only Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford, each of whom could be back in about a week.

You would expect this lineup to get out of the three-runs-per-game rut it's been stuck in all year. Last week, there were some positive moments. They got to young lefty Patrick Corbin, who had been on a special run. They averaged 3.8 runs per game last week, a slight tick above their average offensive output.

The driving force for the offense in the past two weeks, of course, has been rookie Yasiel Puig. Pitchers seem to have found a formula they're more comfortable with. They are pounding him inside, hopeful that he won't be able to extend his long arms and drive the ball to right field.

The strategy has had mixed results. Puig batted .500, but all 10 of his hits were singles and he hasn't driven in a run since June 7.

Grade: C-

Defense (pitching and fielding)

Clayton Kershaw reacted angrily when reporters in Pittsburgh asked him about a report that his agent and the team were making progress on a seven-year contract extension worth greater than $180 million. Kershaw wants to keep such matters private.

Perhaps the people he should be upset with are the hitters and relievers who have unwittingly kept him stuck on 5-4.

The last time Kershaw got a win, on May 20, he had to pitch a complete game. In his five starts since, he is 0-2 despite having a 2.91 ERA, a 1.000 WHIP and holding opponents to a .240 batting average. The most wasteful aspect of it, though, is that the Dodgers aren't even winning when Kershaw pitches. They've gone 2-3 in those starts.

Stephen Fife seems to pitch well virtually every time the Dodgers call on him, though they rarely win when he starts. Greinke seems like he just can't quite get his season resumed since breaking his collarbone in mid-April. Hyun-Jin Ryu continued to be the Dodgers' most-consistent starter, though he fell victim to low run support in that 12-inning loss.

The relief pitching was better after League was demoted from the closer spot in favor of Kenley Jansen. The defense figures to suffer now that Hanley Ramirez is back at shortstop, but so far there have been no major meltdowns.

Grade: C+

Decision-making

You would hope, at some point, teams will find other ways to, in their words, "protect" their hitters after plunkings. But, in the current climate, it's tough to fault Greinke or manager Don Mattingly for throwing at Arizona catcher Miguel Montero after Puig had been hit in the nose by a 92-mph Ian Kennedy fastball.

The idea is that, if the Dodgers don't stand up to Arizona, its pitchers will continue to brush their hitters off the plate routinely.

After League couldn't protect a 3-1 lead Monday, Mattingly did what some Dodgers fans had been calling out for since Opening Day. He took League out of the closer role and gave it to Jansen.

I thought Jansen was a better choice going into the season, because his resume -- though not as long as League's -- suggested he was a better pitcher. Righties hit .143 off him. Lefties hit .183 off him. So, it seems fair to levy some criticism at the Dodgers for making this move more than one-third of the way through what has been a disappointing season.

We just don't know whom to pin it on, since their contracts (League is making nearly nine times more than Jansen) likely played a role.

Grade: C

Grit-meter

It must have been hard for middle-aged and older Dodgers fans to watch Kirk Gibson mix it up against their team last week. The Diamondbacks manager was the epitome of grit when he played for the Dodgers near the end of his career, famously challenging teammates to fight in spring training and instilling intensity to what was viewed as a laidback team in 1988.

The truth is, his Arizona team is probably winning on talent (a good young pitching staff) rather than any intangible factors. The Dodgers have shown more fight lately, scoring two 12th-inning runs off Heath Bell to nearly make that Wednesday loss interesting and backing up their teammates in the scuffles, but that hasn't translated to wins.

Grade: B+

State of Contention

The Dodgers were 7 1/2 games back when the week began. They are 7 1/2 games back today. Because the NL Central has had three hot teams, the wild card looks like it could be out of the Dodgers' reach.

At 10 games under, the odds of the Dodgers getting back to .500 by the All-Star break are virtually nil. If they don't at least move a bit closer by then, though, it's becoming pretty apparent this is a lost season. More than anything, the Dodgers need to somehow gain some momentum or, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, it will get late early out here.

Grade: D

Q&A with author of '88 Dodgers book

April, 22, 2013
4/22/13
12:48
PM PT
There have been better weeks to be a Dodger fan. The team lost all but one game last week, has seen its starting pitchers go down one after the next and has generally looked anemic when at bat. The cloud of a record payroll isn’t making expectations any easier.

If you need a reminder that hope is far from lost, you can pick up Josh Suchon’s new book, “Miracle Men: Hershiser, Gibson and the Improbable 1988 Dodgers,” which is trickling into stores now. It shows how teams can endure an endless string of adversity and still reach, and win, the World Series. Most people didn’t think that team was very good going into the season and most people didn’t think it stood a chance going into the World Series against the Oakland A’s.

Suchon, a radio co-host of postgame Dodger Talk from 2008 to 2011, is now the play-by-play voice of the Albuquerqe Isotopes, the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate. He’s also a former newspaper reporter and longtime friend. He and I worked together at the Oakland Tribune for about 10 years.

I caught up with Suchon by phone to talk about the book:

Q. So, you grew up three BART stops from the Oakland Coliseum and worshipped the A’s. How did you bring yourself to write this book and how did it come about?

A. I had the idea during the 2009 playoffs when I was flying on the Dodgers charter flights. I was reading Joe Posnanski’s book about the 1975 Cincinnati Red, which I loved. I wanted to write a book about a team that won the World Series. My first thought was to do the ’81 Dodgers, but there were already a number of books on that team. I assumed there had been a half-dozen books on the ’88 team, too, but to my surprise, nothing had really been written. It was a perfect opportunity.

Q. Did you find it bittersweet or therapeutic?

A. I was hoping it would be therapeutic. Writing the off-season chapter, the spring training chapter, all the Orel Hershiser chapters, the NLCS chapter, those were all really fun. But there were times writing the World Series chapters when the 39-year-old Josh turned into the 15-year-old Josh and I got angry. I watched all five games again and, a few times, it was very distressing the way they A’s didn’t play the way they had all year. I’m over it. I really am.

Q. Who was the first person you interviewed and how did you piece a 25-year-old narrative back together?

A. The first person was [ex-GM] Fred Claire. Without his help and his candid way, the book wouldn’t have been as good as it is. It was pure luck I happened to talk to Fred first, but because I did it helped me ask better questions later and bring stories alive. My favorite interviews were probably Steve Sax and Tim Belcher. They had great memories, great stories and were very enthusiastic. I talked to probably two-thirds of the players from that team, plus broadcasters Vin Scully and Jaime Jarrin. The key guys, like Orel and Kirk Gibson, Mike Scioscia and Mike Marshall, were all very helpful.

Q. One of the things that struck me was how honest the players were to the newspaper reporters back then. Just during spring training, you detail several team feuds and you cite newspaper clippings in which players publicly blast each other or management. How different was that world from the media world we live in now?

A. That was one of the bigger surprises. In some ways, it was a wakeup call about how baseball gets reported now. Because ESPN wasn’t in 24-hour news cycle, there wasn’t the dot-com presence, obviously things were still very much driven by newspapers. The quotes were fantastic. Guys ripped each other on the record every day, it seemed like. Maybe it’s because they didn’t have the Internet, so people didn’t see every quote and they didn’t get in trouble for it. They didn’t have their guards up as much.

Q. Did writing this book shed any light on why the Dodgers haven’t been back to the World Series since?

A. I tried not to delve into that, because I wanted the focus on ’88. Going into that year, they were struggling. They had had back-to-back losing seasons, attendance was down, the Lakers had taken over as the most important team in town. They had lost their way, which is why nobody expected much in 1988. Most of the media predicted they’d be in third or fourth place. Everything came together just right for them. They needed contributions from everyone on the roster. Obviously, Hershiser and Gibson saw most of the headlines, but a lot of guys did great things and had career years. They kind of went against the Dodger Way and signed free agents. Fred Claire got ripped for his trades, but those trades and the farm system were what got them through.

Q. We all have a conception of Orel Hershiser as “the Bulldog,” many people remember the scoreless-innings streak and hear him a lot broadcasting games nowadays. He writes the foreword for your book. Give us some insights we might not have.

A. Going back to Posnanski’s book, what struck me most when I read it is how much better I appreciated Pete Rose afterward. He showed just how intense he was as a player and how much he hated losing. I wanted people to really understand Orel Hershiser. He was not drafted very highly, he was mostly a middle reliever in the minor leagues. Because he was tall and skinny and wore glasses and was a Christian, a lot of people had doubts about whether he had the toughness to be a big-game pitcher. I think that drove him more than he admits to this day. Also, I don’t think people appreciate the 59-inning scoreless streak enough. It was overshadowed by the Olympics, by the start of the NFL season, with two teams in L.A. and USC and UCLA both having top 10 football teams. Four of the six starts were on the road.

Plus, it was mathematically impossible. He went into the last game of the season needing 10 scoreless innings, which meant not only did he have to throw a shutout, but the other guy did as well. It was Andy Hawkins of all people. Sure enough, it happened. Every Dodger hitter I interviewed for the book, I asked, “Were you trying to score?” They all said, “Yeah.” Just an unbelievable accomplishment.

Q. How much time did you spend researching Game 1 and all the intricacies of Gibson’s home run off Dennis Eckersley?

A. That was the challenge, because it’s the game everyone remembers and I wanted to bring it to life without boring people who already know the details. I have a page or two about the 3-and-2 backdoor slider, which has been talked about for years and years, but what is rarely mentioned is how often Eckersley went to that pitch against left-handed batters. Tim Leary showed me the scouting report from that game and I saw where it said he was going to throw that against lefties. But he only got to 3-and-2 to left-handed batters that year eight times. Four of them were in May, so the Dodgers based this entire scouting report on four pitches in the last four months of the season. Talk about a small sample size. Dennis always said it was a stupid pitch. [Catcher] Ron Hassey said no way, it was his best pitch to a lefty.

One of the best stories is from Vin Scully, who told me it was the only time in his life after a game that he couldn’t sit down, he couldn’t get in his car and go home. He had all this energy in his body. He was pacing around the O’Malleys’ suite. To hear Vin Scully say something like that is remarkable. He’s the picture of calm and he couldn’t sit down.

Q. What else stands out about that post-season?

A. I’ve always thought bulletin board material was overrated. If you need that to motivate you, you probably won’t win the series. But there was a ton of that stuff in those series and the players still talk about it. David Cone had ghost written a story in one of the New York tabloids and said a bunch of stuff about Jay Howell. Before the World Series, Don Baylor said the A’s wanted to play the Mets, because they were the best team in the National League and they wanted a challenge. That had an impact. Guys read the paper. Tommy Lasorda used that stuff to fire up the team.

Oh, and Hershiser wasn’t the original World Series MVP. They told someone else he was the MVP and he was walking to the stage to do an interview, when they told him they’d made a mistake. People have to buy the book to find out who it is.

Q. Nice tease. Any other cool tidbits?

A. The reactions I got about the Pedro Guerrero-for-John Tudor trade in August were interesting in how mixed they were, even to this day. Some guys said they were sorry to see Pedro go, but when John Tudor walked in the door, it gave them a lot of confidence. Other guys said they still don’t know why they made that trade.

Q. How do the Isotopes look so far?

A. Well, the Dodgers have already taken our three best pitchers, our Opening Day starter [Steven Fife] and our two best relievers, Shawn Tolleson and Josh Wall. We had Tim Federowicz and then the Dodgers took him back four days later. On behalf of the Isotopes, I’d love it if the Dodgers could stay healthy the rest of the year.

 

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Yasiel Puig
BA HR RBI R
.308 12 52 53
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 15
RBIA. Gonzalez 65
RD. Gordon 54
OPSY. Puig .915
WZ. Greinke 11
ERAC. Kershaw 1.92
SOC. Kershaw 134