Dodgers Report: Los Angeles Angels

Haren sketchy in start; Figgins promising

March, 29, 2014
Mar 29
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Starting pitchers are quickly becoming a sore spot rather than a strength for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Before they lost to the Los Angeles Angels 6-2 in their final exhibition game Saturday night at Angel Stadium, the Dodgers placed ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw on the 15-day disabled list with a swollen muscle in his back, forcing the coaching staff to push back his second start of the season for a second time this week.

Dan Haren has one of the arms that will be counted on to help keep the pitching staff humming along -- both in the coming week and once Kershaw returns. However, he appeared anything but worthy against the Angels, giving up three doubles and two home runs in just two innings of work.

Haren’s numbers have inflated significantly in the last two seasons, a cause for concern even before Saturday night. After posting a 16-10 record and a 3.17 ERA in his first full season with the Angels in 2011, he took a step back with the same club the following year, finishing 12-13 with a 4.33 mark.

The Angels chose not to pick up his $15.5-million option for 2013 and bought him out instead, allowing Haren to sign with the Washington Nationals. His numbers slipped even further back East, but the Dodgers, hoping he’ll flash some of his past, signed him for one year at $10 million.

His appearance against the Angels started harmless enough, as Kole Calhoun grounded out to start the game. But Mike Trout followed with a single up the middle, Albert Pujols doubled into the left-field corner to drive in Trout and, one out later, David Freese doubled into the same corner for a 2-0 lead.

With a new defense behind him to start the bottom of the second, Haren allowed Howie Kendrick to lead off with a double, then walked No. 9 hitter Erick Aybar, putting runners on the corner with one out.

Calhoun then drilled a three-run homer down the right-field line, and Trout followed with a solo shot to left, putting the Angels ahead 6-0.

The long ball has always been a problem for Haren, but it has been more prevalent in recent years. Haren gave up the second-most home runs in the National League last season (28) -- the same number he surrendered the year before, in seven more innings.

There were some bright spots for the Dodgers, however.

Chone Figgins, trying to make a Major League roster after being passed over last season, delivered a bases-loaded, two-out single on a 3-2 pitch in the third inning, driving in two runs to cut the deficit to 6-2.

And the relief pitching locked in following the second inning, shutting out the Angels over the last six innings. Their performance was even more impressive considering the Angels didn’t replace their starters until the top of the eighth.

LA Beat Report: The Puig-Trout debate

September, 18, 2013
ESPNLA's Mark Saxon chimes in on a debate that is on the minds of many Southern California baseball fans: Mike Trout or Yasiel Puig?

Yasiel Puig has begun to run amok

June, 4, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- There is a temptation when you see a young player with such explosive tools and such raw edges to wonder how good he can be with a good coat of polish.

Then again, when you put varnish on a work of art, you only diminish its value.

[+] EnlargePuig
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesYasiel Puig, left, is greeted at home by Adrian Gonzalez after Puig belted his second homer of the game on Tuesday night.
The Los Angeles Dodgers seem perfectly willing to accept some rough edges in this Yasiel Puig-to-the-rescue experiment. His upside is so enormous, it's already breaking the surface. Puig took over Tuesday's 9-7 win over the San Diego Padres, belting two impressive home runs, driving in five runs and electrifying Dodger Stadium for a night.

The Dodgers knew he had this in him. They'd seen him do exactly the same things for one month in Arizona. So, when manager Don Mattingly watched Puig freeze on Adrian Gonzalez's sharp grounder to second baseman Jedd Gyorko -- playing practically in right field, ceding the run -- and not score in the first inning, he didn't get mad. He sent coach Tim Wallach over to make sure Puig kept his head up and didn't fret over the mistake.

Who knows? The way the Dodgers are going this season, giving up a run could have easily cost them a game. But Mattingly knows what he's got in Puig. He has a player with, it would appear, as much raw talent as anyone in baseball under the age of 23. Davey Lopes practically snapped when I asked him if he reminded him of anyone.

"He's right down the I-5," Lopes said, an obvious reference to Mike Trout.

He's far less polished than Trout, which is not to say he can't be as good. Baseball tests everything and everyone with time.

(Read full post)

Can Puig help the Dodgers break into a jog?

May, 30, 2013
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Asked about how people should read into the fact that uber-prospect Yasiel Puig played center field Thursday for one of the few times this season in a Double-A game right when the Los Angeles Dodgers need a center fielder, Don Mattingly smiled.

"Whatever you want," Mattingly said. "It's fun doing that anyway. You can imagine what he might be doing tonight or whatever."

It appears to be down to Puig or former big leaguer Tony Gwynn Jr., who has been playing at Triple-A Albuquerque, for the race to take Matt Kemp's spot while he's on the 15-day disabled list. According to a source, the Dodgers are not considering the other hot outfield prospect at Double-A Chattanooga, Joc Pederson.

So, perhaps the Dodgers are about to get the jolt of energy a young, vibrant player can provide. Puig batted .517 in spring training and is hitting .322 at Chattanooga.

But even if the team opts for the more conservative choice, Gwynn -- a strong fielder with limited offensive impact -- they're set up for a promising weekend in Colorado. Their three best starters, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu are all going against a Colorado team that has cooled off quite a bit since a hot start.

The Dodgers are 17-10 in games started by their top three and 5-20 in games started by anyone else, including Thursday's 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels with Ted Lilly on the mound.

And, yeah, the Dodgers have been feeling more energy since Mattingly's stern words in Milwaukee about a week ago.

Add it all up and ... who knows, maybe a step or two of momentum, finally? Have you heard that one before this season?

"You say that daily," Mattingly said. "It's a good place to start. Today was a good place, yesterday was a good place, we'd won two in a row. ... Every day is a chance for us to sustain it, get going and put wins together."

Every day is a chance, and these are as good as any others. Let enough of them pass, though, and they add up to a wasted season.

Quick take: Angels 3, Dodgers 2

May, 30, 2013

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Every time it looks as if the Los Angeles Dodgers are getting unstuck, they hit another snag.

They managed to cool off the Los Angeles Angels by snapping their eight-game winning streak with a couple of energetic wins at Dodger Stadium earlier this week. Then, they got on the freeway and hit heavy traffic.

They lost two tough, one-run games at Angel Stadium -- Thursday's by a 3-2 score -- and they're right back where they started, eight games under .500 and mired in last place in the NL West.

Had the Dodgers managed to win one of these two games in Anaheim, they would have won their first season series against the Angels since 2006. Because of realignment, the Dodgers and Angels don't play again this season.

The Dodgers got a second straight nice outing from veteran Ted Lilly, who got into the sixth inning and gave up three runs and five hits. It was a bit of bad luck that helped the Angels push the go-ahead run across. Chris Nelson hit a slow roller that reliever Ronald Belisario deflected to second baseman Mark Ellis, who had no play at first. Howie Kendrick scored from third on the infield hit to give the Angels a 3-2 lead.

Against lefty Jason Vargas, who had been on a roll, and without Matt Kemp, the Dodgers fielded a hodge-podge lineup. Ramon Hernandez, batting .111 coming in, was the designated hitter. Scott Van Slyke, Jerry Hairston Jr. and newly arrived catcher Tim Federowicz all played.

The Dodgers scraped across a couple of runs early, with Carl Crawford scoring after leading off the game with a triple and Hernandez hitting his second home run with the Dodgers. After that, it was quiet. Vargas won his sixth straight decision.

Injuries shuffle the deck again

May, 30, 2013
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- An assortment of injuries, minor and less-minor, have put the Los Angeles Dodgers' roster in limbo.

Catcher A.J. Ellis strained a rib-cage muscle swinging before Wednesday's game and won't be available for a couple of days, so the team recalled Tim Federowicz from Triple-A. However, Federowicz might not stick around long.

The Dodgers also will need an everyday center fielder to replace Matt Kemp while he's on the 15-day disabled list and the most likely candidate is Tony Gwynn Jr. Manager Don Mattingly said the team isn't considering Double-A outfielders Yasiel Puig or Joc Pederson, both of whom are viewed as longer-term prospects.

Andre Ethier moved over to play center field Thursday, but that was a stop-gap solution until the Dodgers recall a minor-league center fielder, Mattingly said.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers held out Matt Magill from Thursday's start in Albuquerque in case he's needed to replace Hyun-Jin Ryu in Colorado on Sunday. Ryu took a grounder off his foot while pitching a two-hit shutout Tuesday, but Mattingly said it's unlikely he'll miss Sunday's start.

Got all that?

OK, here are lineups for Thursday's game in Anaheim:

1. Carl Crawford LF
2. Mark Ellis 2B
3. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
4. Scott Van Slyke RF
5. Jerry Hairston Jr. 3B
6. Andre Ethier CF
7. Tim Federowicz C
8. Ramon Hernandez DH
9. Nick Punto SS

1. Erick Aybar SS
2. Mike Trout CF
3. Albert Pujols 1B
4. Mark Trumbo RF
5. Howie Kendrick 2B
6. Alberto Callaspo 3B
7. Chris Iannetta C
8. Chris Nelson DH
9. J.B. Shuck LF

Quick take: Angels 4, Dodgers 3

May, 29, 2013

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Dodgers rarely look competitive in interleague road games -- especially when they drift south to Anaheim -- and Wednesday night was no exception.

The Dodgers were dominated by returning ace Jered Weaver and lost 4-3 to the Los Angeles Angels, snapping their modest two-game win streak. They were attempting to build their first three-game winning streak against the Angels since 2006.

The Dodgers now must worry about the health of struggling superstar Matt Kemp, who left the game in the seventh inning accompanied by a trainer after chasing a Mike Trout double into the right-center field gap. He was also hit in the right elbow by a pitch Tuesday night and had been feeling some numbness in his fingertips. Kemp was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts before that and has 15 strikeouts in his last seven starts.

Chris Capuano managed to keep the Dodgers in the game while the offense grasped at straws facing Weaver, who was making his return to the mound after a broken left elbow.

The Dodgers didn't get on base until Andre Ethier led off the fifth inning with a double off the right-field scoreboard. The Dodgers looked as if they might strand Ethier when Kemp and Scott Van Slyke struck out, but Skip Schumaker broke his bat while softly lining a hit to center field and the score was tied 1-1.

After A.J. Ellis followed that with another bloop, hit Weaver looked a little upset, yelling in the direction of Angels left fielder J.B. Shuck.

Capuano, like a lot of soft-throwing pitchers, has a problem. Hitters tend to do damage the third time through the lineup. With Albert Pujols on after a walk, Mark Trumbo belted a high fastball over the left-field fence to give the Angels a 3-1 lead.

Capuano walked four batters, a season high.

Ryu rewards Dodgers' patience

May, 28, 2013
LOS ANGELES – First, there was the picture that circulated on the Internet of Hyun-Jin Ryu at In-N-Out Burger with a platter of three hamburgers in front of him and one in his hand. Then, he got to Arizona and couldn’t keep up with the other Los Angeles Dodgers pitchers in their first conditioning runs.

Once he’d been there awhile, he approached pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and said he preferred not to throw between starts. Typically, major-league starters throw a fairly strenuous bullpen session two days after they pitch.

[+] EnlargeRyu
Harry How/Getty ImagesHyun-Jin Ryu is 6-2 with a 2.89 ERA. On Tuesday against the Angels, he recorded his first shutout, allowing just two hits.
The Dodgers’ $62 million investment must have had some people wondering if he was going to work for the money when he first showed up.

“He came in with his way of doing things and wanted things a certain way,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “When you’ve had success, why would you change it. It’s been a pretty good decision not to push our way on him.”

The lax treatment of the Dodgers’ rookie left-hander from Korea has its limits, though.

“We can’t just let them do whatever they want or they would be doing nothing, really, for the most part if you just let them,” Mattingly said. “Certain parts of the program he has to do like everyone else.”

He may not have a chiseled physique -- the first comparison Dodgers scouts made of him was to a young David Wells -- but who really cares so long as he keeps pitching like him? He’s two months through his first season as the pioneer Korean professional leaping straight to the major leagues, and it couldn’t have gone much more smoothly.

Ryu is 6-2 with a 2.89 ERA, and Tuesday was the epitome of his surprisingly breezy cultural exchange. He may be a rookie technically, but be real: He's an eighth-year pro and you can tell he knows how to set hitters up.

He has noted the primary difference between major league hitters and those of the Korean Beaseball Organization is that the Americans are “very aggressive” and “just have brute strength.”

That certainly was the case Tuesday with Ryu facing a muscular collection of Los Angeles Angels hitters, all right-handed: Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo and Howie Kendrick. It didn’t matter, because Ryu can use aggression against the perpetrator. He mixed a popping 93-mph fastball with a high-70s changeup and low-70s curveball to baffle them all night.

Ryu allowed just two hits in nine innings.

“I didn’t think my first shutout would come this early in the season,” Ryu said.

Just stay out of his way and this could be just the beginning.

LOS ANGELES – Derek Jeter slid into second base, called timeout and had a few seconds to chat with Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jerry Hairston Jr.

Like the rest of baseball at that time -- late May of 2004 -– Hairston was aware of how badly the New York Yankees captain was struggling.

Through 184 at-bats, Jeter was hitting .190 and -– yes -– getting booed at Yankee Stadium.

“I turned to him and said, 'DJ, you all right?,'" Hairston said. “He goes, ‘Oh yeah. I’m a bad boy.’ And that’s the mindset you want.”

Matt Kemp said he has had conversations with several future Hall of Fame players as his struggles have dragged through the season’s first two months. He wouldn’t say who he has spoken to, but he said they’ve all given him the same advice.

“That I can hit and you’ve got to believe you can hit and it’ll come back,” Kemp said. "All I’m going to do is continue to work, grind this thing out and continue to try and help my team in any way possible.”

Kemp, 28, is batting .253 with two home runs, 17 RBIs and a .637 OPS in his first 186 at-bats. On Tuesday, for the first time since 2010, Kemp was not hitting second, third or fourth for the Dodgers in a game he started. Don Mattingly moved him into the No. 5 hole.

If he wants to have another such conversation with a Hall of Fame-caliber player, he won’t have to get all the way to second base tonight. Angels first baseman Albert Pujols was batting .227 with a .646 OPS after his first 185 at-bats. He didn’t hit his first home run as an Angel until May 6.

A year ago, reporters were asking Kemp about Pujols’ struggles and whether he had become a better player than Pujols.

“I was like, ‘Hell no, are you serious?’" Kemp said.

By the end of last season, Pujols was batting .285 with 30 home runs and 105 RBIs -- career lows, but far from shabby.

“That’s not bad,” Kemp said. “If I can do that, that’s a successful season right there, I think.”

In 2004, by the way, Jeter rebounded to bat .292 with 111 runs scored.

Hairston took to Twitter Tuesday afternoon and sent the following message to his followers: “Our CF is coming off a tough surgery. keep believing in @TheRealMattKemp and all us.”

Hairston has had surgery on his left shoulder and said it can take months to regain full trust in it. He said he tweeted support because he didn’t want the booing to get out of hand.

“I didn’t want it to become the chic thing to do,” Hairston said. “Matt has given this city so much at such a young age. I see how much Matt puts into it.”

Here are lineups for Tuesday night's game against the Angels:

1. Erick Aybar SS
2. Mike Trout CF
3. Albert Pujols 1B
4. Mark Trumbo LF
5. Josh Hamilton RF
6. Howie Kendrick 2B
7. Alberto Callaspo 3B
8. Chris Iannetta C
9. Joe Blanton RHP

1. Carl Crawford LF
2. Mark Ellis 2B
3. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
4. Andre Ethier RF
5. Matt Kemp CF
6. A.J. Ellis C
7. Juan Uribe 3B
8. Luis Cruz SS
9. Hyun-Jin Ryu LHP

Quick take: Dodgers 8, Angels 7

May, 27, 2013

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers showed plenty of fight Monday night.

The Dodgers clawed their way out of a 6-1 hole by steadily chipping away against lefty C.J. Wilson and the Los Angeles Angels’ unpredictable bullpen. It was the Dodgers’ biggest rally of the season and led to an 8-7 win at Dodger Stadium that snapped the Angels' eight-game winning streak.

The big inning was the fifth, when the Dodgers scored four times to tie it. Mark Ellis had a clutch two-run double and Adrian Gonzalez and Scott Van Slyke had RBI hits.

Jerry Hairston Jr., in his first day back after missing three weeks with a strained groin, singled to drive in Gonzalez in the seventh to give the Dodgers the decisive run. Gonzalez is among the hottest hitters in baseball. He scored four times -- including huffing and puffing all the way from first on Van Slyke’s double off the left-field wall -- and has nine hits in his past 11 at-bats.

The game began at 5:10 p.m., when the Dodgers normally would be taking batting practice. It looked a lot like their body clocks never caught up. Matt Kemp got back on Albert Pujols’ deep line drive, but it clanged off his glove for a charitably-ruled double. Ramon Hernandez allowed a passed ball, then appeared to forget to throw to first base and, by the time he did, he rushed it and threw high to Adrian Gonzalez.

The ball bounced off Gonzalez’s glove, too. That started the Dodgers off in a 2-0 hole, which grew deeper as Zack Greinke struggled for a second straight start, both against teams he played for last season. Greinke allowed six runs on 10 hits and couldn’t get an out in the fifth inning.

The Dodgers these days are largely playing around Kemp, who looks lost in the batter’s box and gets roundly booed every night now. Kemp struck out four more times and has struck out in 13 of his past 23 plate appearances.

The teams combined to hit 11 doubles, a new Dodger Stadium record.

Dee Gordon goes back to Triple-A

May, 27, 2013
The Los Angeles Dodgers aren’t ready to give up on Luis Cruz, and that meant they had to break some bad news to Dee Gordon.

They activated veteran utility guy Jerry Hairston Jr. from the 15-day disabled list Monday, and, rather than designate Cruz for assignment, they optioned Gordon to Triple-A Albuquerque.

Cruz is batting .096 and has scarcely played for weeks, but he is out of options and could be lost to another team if L.A. demotes him. With Hanley Ramirez’s return on the horizon, the Dodgers decided they can get through the next week or so with a combination of Cruz and Nick Punto playing shortstop. So, Gordon had to go back to Albuquerque, and he seemed far from pleased, chucking his batting gloves at his locker stall.

“I don’t know how happy he was about it, but I told him he made a lot of strides defensively,” manager Don Mattingly said.

According to Mattingly, the Dodgers still see offensive upside in Gordon, although he is a .251 hitter (with a .296 on-base percentage) in his first 590 major league at-bats. Mattingly compared Gordon to Michael Bourne, a late bloomer known for his blinding speed.

Ramirez, on the disabled list since May 4 with a strained left hamstring, likely will begin a minor league rehab assignment next weekend. He figures to join the Dodgers some time next week.

Here are lineups for the opener of four straight games against the Los Angeles Angels:

1. Erick Aybar SS
2. Mike Trout CF
3. Albert Pujols 1B
4. Mark Trumbo LF
5. Josh Hamilton RF
6. Howie Kendrick 2B
7. Alberto Callaspo 3B
8. Hank Conger C
9. C.J. Wilson LHP

1. Nick Punto SS
2. Mark Ellis 2B
3. Matt Kemp CF
4. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
5. Scott Van Slyke RF
6. Ramon Hernandez C
7. Jerry Hairston Jr. LF
8. Luis Cruz 3B
9. Zack Greinke RHP

Dodgers, Angels share many parallels

May, 26, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers couldn’t help but notice a few parallels with the team that plays approximately 30 miles down the freeway from them.

Massive expectations after an offseason splash, two franchises trying to plug the hole on declining attendance from three straight seasons out of the postseason. A slow start, mounting injuries, a manager rumored to be on the hot seat. You could go on.

[+] EnlargeMike Scioscia
Ed Zurga/Getty ImagesMike Scioscia won the 2002 World Series with the Angels and has made the playoffs six times, but even he is not immune to job security rumors.
The Dodgers hope they soon have one more thing in common with the Los Angeles Angels. While the Dodgers have shown only glimpses of getting their disappointing season moving ahead, the Angels are in full-scale recovery mode, having won eight straight games.

“You always knew they had a talented club, and they were going to put it together,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “I wish they would have just waited a little longer.”

Southern California’s two expensive, sub-.500 teams meet this week in a new home-and-home format that features two games at Dodger Stadium Monday and Tuesday, followed by a couple of games at Angel Stadium. It will be a chance for the Angels to stay on a roll and for the Dodgers to finally get on one. The energy in those games is always elevated.

“We’re not done yet,” Angels catcher Hank Conger told reporters this weekend in Kansas City. “We’ve got things rolling, but we need to continue this momentum in order to be where we want to be down the road.”

The parallels eventually peter out, of course. While Angels manager Mike Scioscia was rumored to be on the hot seat, few people doubt that Mattingly actually is. In just his third season as manager, Mattingly realizes it. The Angels had high expectations, but not as high as the Dodgers, who are spending a National League record $217 million on salaries, $75 million more than the Angels.

Mattingly said he considered the rumors about Scioscia’s shaky hold on his job to be “absurd.” Scioscia is in his 14th season in Anaheim. He won the 2002 World Series and made the playoffs six times.

“Playing against his teams from the AL, I always hated it,” Mattingly said. “They’re tough to play against. They’re a little different now, not quite as speed-oriented, but they’re well managed and prepared.”

Angels owner Arte Moreno gave Scioscia a sturdier vote of confidence 10 days ago than Dodgers president Stan Kasten gave Mattingly Friday. Moreno told that the chances of an in-season managerial change for his team are, “right now, zero,” and that was before his team caught fire.

Meanwhile, Kasten said he was not thinking of pulling the plug on Mattingly any time soon but reserved the right to do so on fairly short notice.

“I expect this to work, but if it doesn’t, I guess there maybe will be a day where we have to look at a different solution,” Kasten said.

Mattingly is in the final year of his contract, and the Dodgers have declined to pick up his 2014 option, saying they’ll wait until November to make that call. Scioscia is halfway through a 10-year deal that reportedly pays him about $5 million per year. It would be a far more financially painful move for Moreno than for the Dodgers.

National writers have speculated that the Dodgers could cut ties with Mattingly and try to work out a deal with Moreno to get Scioscia, a Dodgers catcher from 1980 to 1992. That speculation probably isn’t going to entirely disappear, particularly after Kasten brought up Scioscia as an example of how the length of a manager’s deal won’t quash rumors about his job security.

“Down the road from here, there’s a pretty damn good manager -- one of the best, maybe, ever -- who also won a world championship and, until the last week or so, I’ve been reading his death watch,” Kasten said. “And he’s got five years left on his contract.”

The Angels are 23-27 and in third place in the AL West. The Dodgers are 20-28 and in last place in the NL West. Both teams, though, are on the mend. The Dodgers now have a formidable top of the rotation with Zack Greinke back after he fractured his left collarbone in a brawl with San Diego’s Carlos Quentin in his second start. All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez could start a rehab assignment this week and will likely join the Dodgers next weekend.

Angels ace Jered Weaver is expected to return from a fractured left elbow and pitch Wednesday or Thursday against the Dodgers.

It just might be ‘go’ time for both teams, but for the next four days, somebody’s going to have to be the launching pad.

Freeway Series viewer's guide

March, 28, 2013
These next few games wrap up spring training. Nothing less, nothing more. For players still fighting for roster spots, they're important final exams. For Matt Kemp, Albert Pujols and other established players, the Freeway Series games represent just a few more tune-up at-bats for the regular season. Pitchers will try to get a feel for all their pitches, but likely won't be out there long as managers peel them back to rest for their season debuts.

If nothing else, the Dodgers will acclimate to playing under the lights in front of big crowds and in stadiums with three decks.

There are some things worth monitoring over the next few days as the Dodgers get ready to play the San Francisco Giants on Monday:

The Puig express

The Dodgers optioned their most dynamic player this spring, Yasiel Puig, to Double-A Chattanooga on Tuesday. Makes sense, considering he is 22, missed all of 2011, and has just 95 professional at-bats in the United States.

But the Dodgers did their fans the courtesy of bringing Puig with them to Southern California after he batted .526 in the Cactus League. He'll play Thursday night in Rancho Cucamonga, Friday at Dodger Stadium and Saturday in Anaheim.

He's massive (6-foot-3, 245 pounds), athletic and shockingly raw. According to ex-major league general manager Jim Bowden, who now works for ESPN and scouted Puig, the Cuban defector didn't seem to know what to do when he was on first base and the batter drew a walk. Bizarre as that sounds, maybe it makes sense. Puig still hasn't drawn a walk this spring. Maybe when you're getting hits 52 percent of the time, you don't need to bother walking.

Outfield shuffle

With Puig out of the mix, there now is a fairly robust competition to win the final roster spot as a fourth (or fifth) outfielder. Alex Castellanos would seem to have an edge since he's on the roster and the most powerful of the final contestants, but he has struggled and Alfredo Amezaga (.278) and Elian Herrera (.306) have made strong pushes.

In all likelihood, the Dodgers will use a combination of Jerry Hairston Jr. and Skip Schumaker when Carl Crawford needs a break, but any of these guys could also get in the mix if they can just make the team.

Health tips

Pay attention any time a ball is hit to Crawford in left field over the next few days. If his throwing motion looks natural and fluid, you'll have a pretty good idea he's fully recovered from his August elbow surgery. If he drop-kicks it to the shortstop, be worried.

To the surprise of many, Crawford looks like he will be on the active roster Monday despite a week-long setback with nerve irritation earlier this month. When game adrenaline kicks in and Crawford feels challenged to throw out a base runner, he'll truly test it.

Also, watch Matt Kemp's at-bats closely. Is he swinging with the same devastating force he normally does? Sometimes, it takes a player a while to let loose with his swing when he is recovering from front-shoulder surgery. Kemp batted .186 in the Cactus League, but if he looks comfortable in the batter's box, Dodgers fans shouldn't have much to worry about.

(Read full post)

Zack Greinke hoping to settle in quickly

January, 30, 2013
Most players find it annoying, if not upsetting, to be traded to a new team in the middle of a season. For a while, they're surrounded by strange faces and, often, are thousands of miles from their family and friends.

For Zack Greinke, a pitcher who has been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, it had to be especially difficult. The trade that sent him from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Angels last July was his second trade, but the first in the middle of a season.

How did that work out?

"The first month was the worst I ever pitched in my life, I feel like," Greinke said Saturday. "One time, in 2005, my numbers were terrible, but I didn't pitch as bad as this. When the game was over, I couldn't believe how bad I was. It was crazy. Finally, it got better. It was definitely nice to get over that bad stretch."

It got better all right, beginning about a month after the trade, as he said. In his last eight starts, Greinke went 5-0 with a 2.04 ERA and 50 strikeouts, helping the Angels make a late playoff push. Half of those starts came against two playoff teams with big offenses, the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers.

The Dodgers' addition of Greinke, whom they signed to a seven-year, $147 million contract in December, might be the best reason for excitement heading into 2013. With a deep rotation topped by Clayton Kershaw and Greinke, the Dodgers figure to be a tough team to face virtually every series.

It's probably a good thing, then, that Greinke is planning to show up in Glendale, Ariz., well before pitchers and catchers are to report, Feb. 12. With Greinke, it seems, it's all about finding, or creating, a comfortable place to work.

"I can spend the first couple weeks trying to get more comfortable with everyone and then, by the end, you could completely focus on the pitching stuff and already know everyone pretty well," Greinke said.

He'll be shaking a lot of hands in those first two weeks. The only player Greinke knows on the Dodgers' roster is utility man Jerry Hairston Jr., a teammate on the Brewers. As a kid, Greinke spent a week on a traveling tournament team in Florida with Chad Billingsley.

His impressions?

"I thought he was a bit fat at the time," Greinke said. "Then, we asked the coach who had the best pitcher's body on the team and he said Billingsley. I was like, 'Are you serious?' That's where I learned it's not necessarily fat. It's a good, strong base."

He's charming his new co-workers already.

Dodgers vs. Angels: Who has the edge?

January, 24, 2013
Who knows, maybe this is the season it finally happens. The Dodgers, having spared no expense, will field a balanced, dangerous team and feel like they are positioned for a World Series run. The Angels, who jacked up their already formidable power with the surprise acquisition of Josh Hamilton, have similar aims.

If there really is to be a Freeway Series in 2013, a lot of things have to go right for both teams. But the team that made -- and makes -- the best personnel decisions likely will go further into October.

Let's break down the key areas of both rosters to try to decipher which team is better constructed to play longer into 2013.

Starting rotation

This is the part of the discussion in which Dodgers fans get to gloat and Angels fans have to just sit there and marinate. You could argue -- in fact, you don't really even have to -- that the Dodgers have better pitchers in all five spots.

We know this because one of the Angels starters, Joe Blanton, couldn't have cracked the Dodgers' seven deep. We also know this because one of the Dodgers' starters, Zack Greinke, almost helped the Angels make the playoffs.

Jered Weaver is perfectly ace-like. About 25 teams would put him at the top of their rotation. He has finished in the top five in Cy Young voting three years running and even got a couple of MVP votes last year -- always a cool accomplishment for a pitcher. He won 20 games, had a sub-3.00 ERA for the second season in a row and usually gives you more than 200 innings. And we won't even hold the .250 and .241 BABIPs from the past two seasons against him. Weaver is a fly ball pitcher and he relies on mishits to pitch deep into games. He gets strikeouts when he needs them, which is quite often, actually.

The only reason he doesn't get the edge is that Clayton Kershaw might be the best pitcher in baseball. We don't need SABR to tell us that. It's not that scientific. For the past two seasons he led baseball in ERA and was in the top three in WAR for pitchers. If he's not the most dominant pitcher in baseball, he's in the team photo and it's a small team (probably Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander).

So, the Dodgers get an edge in the No. 1 department, though it's a fairly slight edge because of Weaver's competitiveness and consistency. "Slight" isn't the right word for the rest of the Dodgers' edge in starting pitching.

Greinke has never come close to touching his 2009 Cy Young season, but neither has just about any other active pitcher. Greinke flirted with a sub-2.00 ERA, led the league in ERA+ and WHIP. Nobody could square him up. He gave up 0.4 home runs per nine innings. He was mediocre the following season, probably in part because of a personal crisis, but has gone 31-11 with a 3.63 ERA the past two years. Is he worth $147 million? Is any pitcher? He's as good a No. 2 starter as there is out there.

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Dee Gordon
.365 1 6 5
HRA. Gonzalez 5
RBIA. Gonzalez 15
RA. Gonzalez 11
OPSJ. Uribe .980
WZ. Greinke 3
ERAH. Ryu 1.93
SOZ. Greinke 29