Dodgers Report: Paco Rodriguez

2015 Position Outlook: Relievers

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

Yeah, it was that bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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Carlos Frias, Scott Elbert make playoff roster

October, 3, 2014
Oct 3
11:30
AM PT
LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Dodgers loaded up with 12 pitchers on their roster for the National League Division Series. If they elect to bring back Clayton Kershaw on three days’ rest, that would give manager Don Mattingly nine relievers to choose from.

The only mild surprises were Carlos Frias and Scott Elbert making the roster and Paco Rodriguez, Darwin Barney and Joc Pederson being left off. The Dodgers will make do with two catchers, A.J. Ellis and Drew Butera, as Tim Federowicz didn’t make it either.

If Kershaw pitches Game 4 on short rest and Hyun-Jin Ryu pitches deep enough in his Game 3 start, Dan Haren would become the Dodgers’ long reliever.

Dodgers looking hard for another lefty

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
6:21
PM PT
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Los Angeles Dodgers have a good left-handed reliever, J.P. Howell, but they would prefer to have two.

In fact, in their last series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said the lack of a second left-hander made for some uncomfortable managerial decisions.

Time is running out, with just 16 games left, but the Dodgers are hoping that two left-handers working their way back from injuries could finally give them the second lefty they've been lacking in the bullpen, both for this month and, perhaps, the playoffs.

Paco Rodriguez, who had a strained muscle in his upper back, threw to some hitters before Friday night’s game at AT&T Park, and Mattingly said the team likely will decide on his fate Saturday.

Another option is Scott Elbert, a former first-round pick who once threw in the mid-90s but was taken off the roster in July as he worked his way back from three elbow operations, including Tommy John surgery. On Friday, the Dodgers selected Elbert’s contract from Triple-A Albuquerque and designated pitcher Red Patterson for assignment.

Elbert hasn't pitched in a major league game since August 2012. In 24 minor league games at three different levels, Elbert was 0-3 with a 5.85 ERA. Elbert said he has lost some velocity, down to about 90 or 91 mph, but he thinks he can get it back eventually.

"I'm able to compete with what I've got," Elbert said. "I feel 100 percent, but if it's back at 90 percent, it's still coming out pretty good."

Paco Rodriguez not on NLCS roster

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
10:27
AM PT
ST. LOUIS -- The Dodgers released their National League Championship Series roster Friday morning, and there were two mild surprises in the bullpen. Neither of two left-handers, Paco Rodriguez or Chris Capuano, made the cut, while Carlos Marmol and Edinson Volquez both were on the team.

J.P. Howell is the only left-handed reliever to make the roster, somewhat surprising since the St. Louis Cardinals had a .672 OPS versus left-handed pitchers, third-worst in the league.


Rodriguez was one of the stalwart relievers for the Dodgers most of the season, but he seemed to wear down with heavy usage. He had a 5.68 ERA and opponents batted .308 off him in September. Rodriguez also struggled in the NL Division Series, allowing the decisive two-run single to Jason Heyward in the only game the Dodgers lost.


Capuano pitched three scoreless innings after Hyun-Jin Ryu struggled in the Dodgers’ Game 3 win.


Marmol and Volquez were both midseason acquisitions.


Should the Dodgers advance to the World Series, they will be allowed to set a new roster. In the event of an injury, they can activate a replacement.

Dodgers continue their crawl to October

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
10:26
PM PT


SAN FRANCISCO -- The offense has stalled. They have frittered away a chance at home-field advantage. Their momentum heading into the playoff is virtually exhausted.

All of which means what, exactly, when the bright lights come on somewhere other than at Dodger Stadium next Thursday, when the Dodgers begin the postseason on national TV? Depends on whom you ask. To manager Don Mattingly, it's all meaningless -- though he used a stronger word for it.

[+] EnlargeGregor Blanco
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesGregor Blanco scores a run in a win Thursday over the Dodgers, who don't seem to be heading into the playoffs with any kind of momentum.
"You know, I'd like to see all kinds of things. I'd love to see us go out and get 10 runs a night and throw shutouts and everybody get their outs, but I'm going to be honest with you, I don't think any of it's going to matter one bit," Mattingly said. "What's going to matter is the game next Thursday."

If Mattingly's words don’t convince you, perhaps his lineups will. Yet Thursday was one of those evenings when Mattingly started nearly all of his frontline guys, with catcher A.J. Ellis the only healthy regular who wasn't in the starting lineup.

And still, they allowed Tim Lincecum to turn back the clock a couple of years in what may have been his final start as a Giant in a 3-2 Dodgers loss.

The Dodgers were eliminated from the race for best record in the National League. And, unless the St. Louis Cardinals implode this weekend at home against the last-place Chicago Cubs and the Dodgers sweep the Colorado Rockies, the Dodgers will begin the playoffs on the road.

The bigger worry is that the Dodgers can't generate any momentum going into October. Lately, they seem to be gazing ahead at the playoffs rather than focusing on these final regular-season games. They're 6-9 since Sept. 10.

Angel Pagan hit the go-ahead home run in the eighth inning off reliever Paco Rodriguez, who hadn't pitched in more than a week. One of the Dodgers' best relievers has been struggling for a solid month.

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Paco Rodriguez says he's OK

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
6:03
PM PT
SAN FRANCISCO -- Every afternoon, Dodgers left-hander Paco Rodriguez spends part of it lounging on clubhouse furniture with what looks like a massive ice pack wrapped around his left arm. The device is connected to a small computer.

According to the manufacturer, it provides "dynamic compression to limbs compromised by poor circulation." Other Dodgers players have used the the same device to help increase blood flow in various parts of their body.

Rodriguez, one of the key Dodgers relievers, hasn't pitched since the day before the Dodgers clinched the NL West, a span of eight days without entering a game. But he says he feels perfectly sound.

"It's just a matter of getting an opportunity," Rodriguez said.

The Dodgers, mindful of his heavy workload and the fact he is finishing his second full season in professional baseball, have tried to limit his use. He was told he was off limits for the Dodgers' Sept. 8 and 9 games. Since then, his role simply hasn't come up much.

Rodriguez has warmed up in the bullpen without getting into a game.

"We really do feel like we need to get him into a game," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "But we don't want to just put him in a game. We want to make sure it's the right situation."

* Mattingly said it's unlikely Andre Ethier, who has an injured left ankle, will play in a game before the end of the regular season Sunday, but that the team will try to set up a simulated game to get him at-bats and that it's possible Ethier could still make the first-round playoff roster.

Here are lineups for Thursday's game:

Dodgers

1. Yasiel Puig RF
2. Carl Crawford LF
3. Hanley Ramirez SS
4. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
5. Matt Kemp CF
6. Juan Uribe 3B
7. Mark Ellis 2B
8. Tim Federowicz C
9. Edinson Volquez RHP

Giants

1. Angel Pagan CF
2. Gregor Blanco LF
3. Brandon Belt 1B
4. Buster Posey C
5. Hunter Pence RF
6. Tony Abreu 2B
7. Brandon Crawford SS
8. Nick Noonan 3B
9. Tim Lincecum RHP

Grading the week: Tuning up for playoffs

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
10:58
AM PT
The game that sent the Los Angeles Dodgers to the playoffs wasn’t particularly reflective of the kind of season that got them there.

It wasn’t very well-pitched, with Ricky Nolasco melting down and allowing six runs in the third inning. Its biggest hit came from a player in a deep slump, catcher A.J. Ellis, who swatted the go-ahead home run.

And in the days following the win, much of the attention went to how the Dodgers celebrated -- with a romp in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ pool -- rather than on the accomplishment itself.

But the one shining moment from an otherwise blasÚ week for the Dodgers was that afternoon game in Arizona. It guaranteed that the rest of the week -- in which the Dodgers went a pedestrian 3-3 -- really didn’t matter all that much.

The minute Kenley Jansen got that final out, the rest of the Dodgers’ season became about preparing for the playoffs. They were the first team in the major leagues to clinch their division. So, yeah, it was a good week.

SCORING

It was fairly evident before last week, but it became even clearer in the past seven days. The Dodgers are really good when their star players are on the field and average when they are not. If you were to fret about one thing going into the playoffs and next season it would be the lack of depth, a problem created by a mediocre Triple-A team.

Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier all missed time due to injuries, most of them the nagging kind.

The day after the Dodgers clinched, they started a lineup entirely of Triple-A-caliber players and bench guys and they looked incapable of scoring a run while losing 2-0. The next day, the Dodgers started most of their guys with Clayton Kershaw on the mound and hit a pair of home runs to get Kershaw some rare run support in a 4-0 win.

Which lineup do you think is more likely to be on the field on Oct. 3, when the Dodgers begin the post-season? If they’re fortunate and if manager Don Mattingly manages to keep everybody healthy, it figures to be the latter.

In other words, the Dodgers are still a dangerous lineup even if they haven’t always looked the part lately.

Grade: B-

DEFENSE

Until his last two starts, Nolasco might have been a candidate to pitch Game 3 of the Dodgers’ first playoff series, perhaps nudging ahead of Hyun-Jin Ryu if the Dodgers faced a team adept at hitting lefties (eg., the Pittsburgh Pirates).

Now, it looks like Ryu is the right choice no matter who the Dodgers face. Nolasco allowed 11 earned runs on 16 hits in his last 6 1/3 innings and that raises red flags at this time of year, particularly because Nolasco has never pitched in the post-season.

On the other hand, the rest of the Dodgers’ starting pitchers stayed true to form and the bullpen at times was dominant. Kenley Jansen, entering his first post-season, and Brian Wilson, a closer on a World Series team, could be a solid combination at the end of games. Together, Jansen and Wilson struck out eight batters in six innings, simply shutting down the final innings.

Another area of worry, of course, is fielding, which has been slightly below mediocre all season. There will be times in the playoffs, when Hanley Ramirez and Michael Young are in the game at the same time, when the Dodgers have a highly permeable left side of the infield.

And, while Dee Gordon is tempting to keep on the roster because of his value as a pinch runner, it might be tough to carry him because he looks like such a defensive liability.

Grade: B-

DECISION-MAKING

Mattingly has had some embarrassing moments lately. Two weeks ago, he gave the umpire the name of the wrong left-handed pitcher, meaning Paco Rodriguez had to leave the mound without ever throwing a pitch. Last week, he tried to remove a pitcher shortly after Rick Honeycutt had already visited the mound and was sent back to the dugout.

In neither case did it cost the Dodgers, but Mattingly and his staff aren’t going to want to be in those kinds of situations in October.

The front office is on a tear, with Wilson and Young both looking like excellent acquisitions and Carlos Marmol and Edinson Volquez even chipping in here and there.

Some people have been upset at Mattingly for resting his regulars so much, but it’s hard to knock him if you’re not sitting in on his meetings with the medical staff. And given the evidence about homefield advantage in the playoffs – it’s a 50-50 proposition in both the division series and championship series – it seems like the right course of action.

Grade: B-

CHEMISTRY TEST

The day after the Dodgers clinched, a group of players was lounging around the clubhouse in San Diego as TV commentators were discussing – what else – pool-gate. When the network showed Brian Wilson’s Twitter response to Sen. John McCain’s pointed criticism, the room erupted in laughter.

The Dodgers really don’t care what other people think about their celebration.

Their animosity with the Diamondbacks ran deep even before that incident, so it will be worth monitoring when the two teams face each other in spring training.

The Dodgers have become accustomed to deflecting criticism as a group this season. They’ve dealt with it after a series of brawls, when it was coming at rookie Yasiel Puig hot and heavy and, now, this. It doesn’t seem to have dented their sense of camaraderie. In fact, just the opposite.

Grade: A-

STATE OF CONTENTION

If the Dodgers don’t start playing with a bit more urgency, they figure to open the playoffs on the road. And this is a problem, because…?

It’s not as if Kershaw and Zack Greinke aren’t perfectly capable of keeping a stadium quiet long enough to let the Dodgers offense come to life. Meanwhile, Ryu has a 2.23 ERA at Dodger Stadium, so he could be poised to finish an opponent off.

It’s far more important who the Dodgers play than where they play them, but since they have limited control over that, they’re better off getting their players as physically sound than worrying about home field.

Grade: A-

Better off focusing on health, not home field

September, 15, 2013
9/15/13
5:21
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Maybe it was because he had watched the other team score 19 runs the night before, then had to be back in his office early in the morning for the day game, but Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly seemed uncharacteristically impatient answering questions Sunday.

[+] EnlargeYasiel Puig
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesHanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig are just two of several Dodgers players contending with injuries.
He didn’t want to speculate on how long Yasiel Puig would be out.

He didn’t have an answer for why Paco Rodriguez has finally hit a rough patch in his strong rookie season.

He had no interest in discussing the Dodgers’ postseason plans, which suddenly doesn’t seem like such a pressing topic anyway.

So, if you’re wondering whether this latest batch of injuries is a major concern or more of a passing headache going into October, and you took your cue from the manager, you’d probably lean toward the former. If you went by the scoreboard, you’d probably lean toward the former, too.

The Dodgers have lost eight of their past 11 games as they stumble toward the finish line of clinching the NL West, depleted more and more by the day.

“This time of year, it’s tough to win games,” Mattingly said after the Dodgers’ 4-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants Sunday. “It’s like anything else, we had a bunch of guys out early in the year and we had trouble winning games.”

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More late magic, but at what cost?

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
11:06
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers took another step toward favorable playoff positioning, but they did so with a slight limp.

In front of another sellout crowd on Thursday night, they beat the San Francisco Giants 3-2 in 10 innings when Adrian Gonzalez laced a single into center field to score Carl Crawford. But earlier, one of their recurring injury headaches returned.

Hanley Ramirez left the game in the seventh inning because of a mildly strained left hamstring, a move the team termed "precautionary." Perhaps it is, but Ramirez missed most of May and part of June because of that same strained left hamstring.

The Dodgers reduced their magic number for winning their division to five games, meaning they could clinch as early as Sunday, and stayed only two games behind the Atlanta Braves for best record in the National League.

Closer Kenley Jansen blew his first save since June after converting 18 straight chances. But that just set up the Dodgers' eighth walk-off victory this season.

The Dodgers turned a difficult double play to erase a Giants rally in the eighth inning. Juan Uribe picked up a Hunter Pence grounder, stepped on the third-base bag and threw to first base, where Gonzalez dug an in-between hop out of the dirt.

The hitting hero, as is often the case, was Yasiel Puig. The Dodgers had largely spun their wheels against Matt Cain, but A.J. Ellis hit a sinking popup to right field that Pence misplayed into a single in the seventh inning. Two outs later, Puig yanked a ball into the left-center gap to drive in pinch runner Dee Gordon with the go-ahead run.

The Giants didn't actually score much against Zack Greinke, but they made him work hard to get his outs. Consequently, his pitch count was in the 70s by the fourth inning. The Giants' only run came on Pence's home run in the second inning, which sliced into the right-field stands just out of Puig's reach.

In the same inning Ramirez exited the game, the Dodgers had a strange mix-up on the mound. Paco Rodriguez threw his warmup pitches, but was then replaced by manager Don Mattingly before facing a batter. Apparently, Mattingly had told plate umpire Gerry Davis that J.P. Howell was coming into the game.

So Howell came in and pitched a scoreless inning. Rodriguez was still eligible and pitched an inning later.

Bullpen was a liability, now is an asset

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
10:51
PM PT
LOS ANGELES –- A couple of weeks ago, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was spending a lot of his time on the telephone searching for relief help before the trade deadline. Frustrated by teams asking for his best prospects, he decided to step away from what he viewed as an overheated market.

Relief pitchers did switch teams -- Scott Downs, Francisco Rodriguez, Marc Rzepczynski and Jose Veras among them -- but they were generally second-tier setup men, and, in one case -- Jesse Crain -- the pitcher wasn’t even healthy enough to pitch.

[+] EnlargeKenley Jensen
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsKenley Jansen has picked up two wins and converted all 11 of his save chances since July 3.
What seemed like a gamble at the time -– the Dodgers' only hedge against their questionable bullpen was to sign Brian Wilson, a pitcher coming off reconstructive elbow surgery -– has looked anything but ill-conceived.

If these past few weeks are any indication, the Dodgers had all the arms they’ll need. They might even have too many. Somebody’s going to have to go when Wilson finishes his rehab outing sometime in the next week or so.

The Dodgers don’t even have to play that well to win these days. They made four errors and won Sunday because Clayton Kershaw was pitching and their offense was clicking. Ricky Nolasco teetered on getting knocked out of Monday’s game in the second inning –- and the Dodgers were baffled by young Jenrry Mejia –- but they got breaks and rallied to win 4-2.

The constant has been the bullpen, which hasn’t allowed a run in five days. Ronald Belisario, Paco Rodriguez and Kenley Jansen got the final eight outs of Monday’s game, meaning the bullpen has now pitched 16 straight scoreless innings.

“At the beginning, we struggled. It takes a little time to get everybody right,” Belisario said. “We started winning. We started pitching good.”

Jansen has been virtually impossible to hit lately, stabilizing the back of games. Since July 3, he has converted all 11 of his save chances, and opponents are hitting .109 against him since that time.

“Everybody’s kind of getting together at the right time,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “We definitely feel good about it. Guys have been getting their outs. I think we went into the season feeling pretty good about it.”

Grading the week

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
10:32
AM PT
Who needs Hanley Ramirez when you have Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker, right?

OK, so consider that a rhetorical question.

Yet the fact the Dodgers managed to go 6-1 last week with the man who carried them for large stretches of July out with a shoulder injury, tells us something. It tells us the Dodgers are on the kind of roll that can only be produced collectively. It’s not about Yasiel Puig. Or Ramirez. Or Clayton Kershaw.

It’s about everybody.

Punto and Schumaker combined to bat .533 with eight RBIs last week. In other words, they gave them the production they would have expected from a player like Ramirez, who has the Dodgers’ third-highest WAR (3.7) despite missing 59 games with injuries this season.

The Dodgers won’t say this publicly, of course, but the fact they’re showing so much patience getting Ramirez back on the field probably has something to do with the fact they’re increasingly confident of making the playoffs. They’re more likely to play deep into October if Ramirez is playing at 95 percent health than at 70 percent.

GradeSCORING

Don Mattingly has only seen Kershaw frustrated by his low run support (third-worst in the majors) one time this year. He couldn’t recall the exact game, but it was some time in April or May.

“He didn’t say anything and he might say it really wasn’t, but it just seemed like he was having a bad day,” Mattingly said.

It happens to a pitcher on somebody’s staff every year. Mattingly remembers that Ron Guidry was always the guy who got low run support when he pitched for the New York Yankees. The fact it’s Kershaw isn’t sitting well with the Dodgers.

“We need to change it, that’s for sure,” Mattingly said.

And, just like that, the Dodgers did -- or, at least, started to. They jumped on the Tampa Bay Rays for eight runs in Sunday’s sweep-capping victory, allowing Kershaw -- for just the second time this year -- to coast.

The Dodgers are more about pitching than hitting, but unless Kershaw is on the mound, they do a more-than-adequate job of supporting their pitchers. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Zack Greinke have both gotten plenty of support.

The Dodgers scored 42 runs in seven games, though 13 of those were in one game in St. Louis, after Carl Crawford lined a ball off Shelby Miller’s right elbow, knocking him out of the game after two pitches.

Adrian Gonzalez had a solid week, but nobody had more moments than Punto and Schumaker, who commute to Dodger Stadium from Orange County on a daily basis.

Grade: B-

GradeDEFENSE

Dodgers starters lead the major leagues in ERA. No surprise there, considering they have two Cy Young winners and their No. 5 starter, Chris Capuano, is good enough to have pitched nine seasons in the major leagues.

But what has allowed Dodgers pitching to take off has been one of the hottest bullpens in the majors. Paco Rodriguez and Kenley Jansen have been impossible to score against and the other Dodgers relievers are handling their roles.

The improvement in relief could be key for the Dodgers’ chances in October. The bullpen all season has stood out as the area of most serious concern.

From the sixth inning of Wednesday’s game in St. Louis, the Dodgers’ bullpen pitched nothing but shutout innings. Going into Sunday, opponents were batting .100 off the relievers in that span.

From July 23 to Thursday, Jensen retired 27 straight batters. Were he a starter -- and had he done it in one night -- he would have had a perfect game. Rodriguez got a rare two-inning save in St. Louis. J.P. Howell got some big outs. Even Brandon League looks like he’s rebuilding his delivery. Carlos Marmol isn't a lost cause.

The Dodgers will be considered October threats because of their starting pitching, but their relievers could make them the complete package.

The Dodgers played awful defense early in Friday’s game and somehow came back to win it, rallying for seven runs in the final three innings. Dee Gordon continues to be a work in progress (putting it kindly) when he plays shortstop. If you're a fretful type and root for the Dodgers, fielding will be your only major worry these days.

Grade: A-

GradeDECISION-MAKING

One of the more puzzling Don Mattingly decisions was to use Ramirez as a pinch hitter Friday night with the Dodgers trailing 6-1 and with Schumaker on second. Ramirez looked bad striking out to end the inning, but more important, it set back his clock should the Dodgers elect to put him on the disabled list.

Now, any move would be retroactive only to Friday.

You have to also give Mattingly some of the credit for how well the bullpen performed. He put them in the right spots to succeed. In fact, it seems Mattingly’s feel for his bullpen and its roles is one of the more positive evolving story lines.

Brian Wilson made the Dodgers’ decision to sign him look smart, at least so far. In all three of his minor-league rehabhttp://proxy.espn.go.com/blogadmin/los-angelesdodger-report/wp-admin/upload.php outings, he has pitched perfect innings.

Grade: B+

GradeGRIT-METER

Punto and Schumaker were prominent, so the grit-meter was a bit higher than usual. Those guys must argue about who's more scrappy on their 45-mile commute. But let’s face it, when you’re this hot, grit's kind of a secondary concern. They'd rather have them hit.

GradeSTATE OF CONTENTION

While not completely falling out of things, the Diamondbacks haven’t kept pace, allowing the Dodgers to add two more games of distance between themselves and the second-place team. It also doesn’t help that outfielder Cody Ross, one of Arizona’s hottest hitters, had to be carted off the field and taken to a hospital after dislocating his hip in Sunday’s game.

The rest of the division has faded into a blob of irrelevance.

Barring a strange change of direction, the Dodgers soon will be jockeying for home-field advantage in the playoffs, rather than scrambling to get there. And, we're teetering on giving them an 'A,' but ...

Grade: A-

Paco Rodriguez: The most underrated Dodger?

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
5:49
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- You could run through a lot of names for National League Rookie of the Year before you landed on Paco Rodriguez, but the Dodgers have leaned heavily on their young reliever.

Rodriguez, who was the first player from the 2012 draft to reach the major leagues last season, has emerged as the team's primary setup man. When closer Kenley Jansen was given the day off Monday in St. Louis, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly turned to Rodriguez for the save.

He got it, by pitching two innings and not allowing a base runner.

Rodriguez has been so reliable -- he has a 1.60 ERA since May 1 and opponents are batting .123 off him -- that Mattingly has found it difficult to avoid going to him, particularly when a team's best left-handed hitters are due up. Rodriguez has appeared in 56 games, something of a concern given that he was pitching on a college schedule -- four games a week -- a little over a year ago.

Rodriguez pitched in just 21 minor-league games before joining the Dodgers last August. Two weeks ago, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt asked Rodriguez to cut back on his throwing routine before games.

"It's crazy. I've gotten to a point where I have coaches talking to me. I've asked players what they do when their body is wearing down, because sometimes you wake up the next day and you're dragging," Rodriguez said. "So, I've been talking to the guys to find out what their routines are when that starts to happen."

The two-inning save Monday was the Dodgers' first in more than four years. Mattingly said he and Honeycutt have been concerned for weeks about limiting the workloads of Rodriguez, 22, and Jansen, who has pitched in 57 games.

"It's a little bit of a double-edged sword for us, because you want to control their usage and stay on top of it, but if you have a chance to win a game, it's not like you're going to sit there like, 'Oh well, I'm not going to use him,' " Mattingly said.

Rodriguez is excited about his first trip with the Dodgers to his hometown of Miami later this month. His mother was able to secure 100 tickets from a family friend.

* Hanley Ramirez's jammed right shoulder wasn't well enough for him to return to the lineup Friday, but Mattingly said he may be available to pinch hit and could return during this three-game series.

Here are lineups for Friday night's game:

Tampa Bay
1. Sean Rodriguez LF
2. Ryan Roberts 2B
3. Evan Longoria 3B
4. Wil Myers CF
5. Ben Zobrist RF
6. Yunel Escobar SS
7. James Loney 1B
8. Jose Molina C
9. David Price LHP

Dodgers
1. Mark Ellis 2B
2. Nick Punto SS
3. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
4. Yasiel Puig CF
5. Jerry Hairston Jr. LF
6. Juan Uribe 3B
7. Tim Federowicz C
8. Skip Schumaker RF
9. Chris Capuano LHP

Little things loom large, Kershaw takes the hit

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
11:11
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw had an ominous tone in his voice when he talked about the raucous crowds that urged the Los Angeles Dodgers on during this six-game homestand. More than 300,000 people showed up and, for the most part, they were treated to a good time.

"If we start to lose, it's not going to be like that," Kershaw said. "We need to remember that."

[+] EnlargeYasiel Puig, Mark Ellis
Harry How/Getty ImagesMark Ellis, right, drops a ninth-inning pop-up as he nearly collides with the onrushing Yasiel Puig.
Those are the kinds of thoughts that start to creep into your head on a night like Wednesday. Kershaw pitched brilliantly, again, but a couple of shaky moments -- one by the manager, one by the second baseman and right fielder -- cost the Dodgers in a 3-0 loss to the New York Yankees.

The little things are hard to see when a team is as hot as the Dodgers have been. When things start to slow down -- and, though the Dodgers have been pulling out some wins, their bats have gone soft lately -- you can't miss the little things.

The trouble began when manager Don Mattingly lifted Kershaw in a scoreless tie after he had just laid down a sacrifice bunt the previous inning -- and after a manageable 97 pitches -- going into the ninth inning.

There was no video evidence of it, but the Yankees must have been dancing for joy inside. Up to that point, Kershaw had limited New York's activity to five baserunners, widely scattered. Mattingly said he made the decision after talking to Kershaw between innings.

He said he has learned to gauge Kershaw's energy level by reading between the lines of his comments.

"It's either, 'I'm good. I've got this,' or he gives you a different answer," Mattingly said. "He won't ever tell you that he won't go back out, but I could tell that he was out of gas."

Kershaw was in no mood to expand on Mattingly's comment or decision.

"That's fine. We'll leave it at that," he said ... twice.

The Dodgers might have been in position for one of their dramatic rallies -- though this time it would have come against the man they honored before the game, Mariano Rivera -- if not for a miscommunication between Puig and Ellis. They converged on a shallow popup and, just as they brushed into each other, Ellis dropped the ball. That gave New York a three-run lead with Rivera warming up. For a man with 642 lifetime saves, that's like a 4-inch tap-in putt.

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LOS ANGELES -- Two weeks ago, Brandon League was demoted from being the closer to pitching the eighth inning.

After nearly blowing a three-run lead Tuesday night, League now will be used exclusively in "less stressful," situations, manager Don Mattingly said Wednesday. Until pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and bullpen coach Chuck Crim can help "piece him back together," Mattingly said he doesn't anticipate using League in one of the last three innings when the Dodgers have a narrow lead.

The Dodgers are exploring every angle with League's struggles. Since going 8-for-9 in save chances in April, League is 3-3 with three blown saves in nine chances, a 6.75 ERA and an opponents OPS of .956.

Mattingly raised the possibility League could be dealing with a physical ailment though he said there are no indications of an injury yet. The Dodgers could be laying the groundwork for putting League on the disabled list, where he would have the leisure of working out his mechanical glitches.

The Dodgers gave League a three-year, $22.5 million contract last fall to be their closer.

His struggles have caused some uncomfortable shuffling at the back end of games. Kenley Jansen has been solid as the closer, but Ronald Belisario is just beginning to emerge from his early-season slump and the Dodgers didn't plan on using Paco Rodriguez as one of their late-inning shutdown relievers. They prefer to save him for favorable matchups against left-handed hitters.

At the very least, the Dodgers have learned something about their youngest reliever. Tuesday, Rodriguez -- who was drafted out of Florida last June -- came into League's ninth-inning mess -- tying run at first, nobody out -- and got out of it for his first career save.

It was a huge emotional swing for Rodriguez, who feared Marco Scutaro had hit the ball over Matt Kemp's head before the Dodgers center fielder tracked it down near the wall for the final out. Rodriguez erupted in wild, fist-pumping celebration.

"I was watching Matt step by step, just thinking, 'Please catch it, please catch it,' " Rodriguez said. "It's fun to come in a game and help the team get out of something like that."

* Matt Kemp, who came off the disabled list Tuesday after missing more than three weeks with a strained hamstring, was not in Wednesday's lineup. There is no health concern, Mattingly said. He's just easing him back into everyday action, as he did with Hanley Ramirez earlier.

Here are lineups for Wednesday's game, with the Dodgers trying for their second sweep of the season:

San Francisco
1. Andres Torres LF
2. Marco Scutaro 2B
3. Buster Posey 1B
4. Hunter Pence RF
5. Pablo Sandoval 3B
6. Juan Perez CF
7. Hector Sanchez C
8. Brandon Crawford SS
9. Tim Lincecum RHP

Dodgers
1. Mark Ellis 2B
2. Yasiel Puig RF
3. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
4. Hanley Ramirez SS
5. Andre Ethier CF
6. A.J. Ellis C
7. Juan Uribe 3B
8. Skip Schumaker LF
9. Clayton Kershaw LHP

Closer controversy? Please

May, 15, 2013
5/15/13
5:56
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Don Mattingly wasn't more than a handful of questions into his postgame media session Tuesday night when the topic abruptly shifted from Clayton Kershaw's dominance to whether he has a new closer.

In a way, it's amazing that issue didn't arise weeks earlier. Many people thought Kenley Jansen was a better ninth-inning option than Brandon League before the season even began.

Circumstances seem to have finally born that out. League never budged in the ninth inning as Kershaw began to run out of pitches. Lefty Paco Rodriguez got up, as did Jansen, who struck out the final batter to earn his second save.

So, yeah, the Dodgers probably have a new closer -- Jansen -- but in a way it's not a particularly important question. Mattingly had been using Jansen to get the other team's best hitters in earlier situations. If the No. 3 and 4 hitters were up in the seventh, Jansen pitched then. If it was the eighth, that's when he got the ball.

He might find pitching the ninth to be less stressful, not more.

Hitters apparently find it a challenge to make contact off Jansen these days. He has 15 strikeouts and three walks in his last nine innings. Contrast that with League's five strikeouts and three walks -- plus his 9.82 ERA, his blown save and two losses -- in his last seven games and it seems to be the right time to make a move.

Jansen said he doesn't care when he pitches.

"Whenever they say your name, just try to go out there and get the first out. Then, get the second out and the third," Jansen said. "That's all I'm trying to focus on. I'm not going to try to strike people out, but if I get two strikes, heck yeah, you try and put them away."

Here are lineups for Wednesday night's game with the Washington Nationals:

Washington

1. Denard Span CF
2. Steve Lombardozzi LF
3. Ryan Zimmerman 3B
4. Adam LaRoche 1B
5. Ian Desmond SS
6. Wilson Ramos C
7. Danny Espinosa 2B
8. Roger Bernadina RF
9. Ross Detwiler LHP

Dodgers

1. Dee Gordon SS
2. Nick Punto 2B
3. Matt Kemp CF
4. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
5. A.J. Ellis C
6. Andre Ethier RF
7. Scott Van Slyke LF
8. Juan Uribe 3B
9. Zack Greinke RHP

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Clayton Kershaw
WINS ERA SO IP
21 1.77 239 198
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .296
HRA. Gonzalez 27
RBIA. Gonzalez 116
RY. Puig 92
OPSY. Puig .863
ERAC. Kershaw 1.77
SOC. Kershaw 239