Dodger Thoughts: Jerry Sands

Remembering 2011: Jerry Sands

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
8:23
AM PT

Kelvin Kuo/US PresswireJerry Sands (44)
The setup: The Dodgers' top minor-league hitter in 2010 (with a .395 on-base percentage, .586 slugging percentage and 35 homers in 590 plate appearances combined at Single-A Great Lakes and Double-A Chattanooga), Sands was in position to make his big-league debut in 2011. His timetable depended on his continued development in Triple-A and the effectiveness of the Jay Gibbons-Marcus Thames-Tony Gwynn Jr. left-field combo.

The closeup: Much sooner than expected, on April 18, Sands was called up as Xavier Paul was designated for assignment. That night, Sands had an RBI double in his first major-league at-bat, one of 10 doubles he had in his first 87 plate appearances. He had a three-hit game April 25, a four-hit game May 22 and a grand slam May 24, his second home run in four games. Following the slam, however, Sands slumped, going 3 for 33 with two walks and no extra-base hits. With Gibbons, Thames and Gwynn making a rare simultaneous appearance on the active roster, the decision was made June 9 to send Sands back to Albuquerque, where he could not only play every day but work on some long-term adjustments with his swing.

Sands did take a step back as he redeveloped himself, with his Isotopes OPS falling to .670 during July, but after August 1 he had a .900 OPS with 11 homers in 33 games in Triple-A. Then, when he came back to the Dodgers in September, Sands kind of caught fire, batting .342 (25 for 73) with a .415 on-base percentage, .493 slugging, .908 OPS, eight walks, five more doubles and two home runs.

He finished his rookie Dodger season on his 24th birthday, with a .338 on-base percentage, .389 slugging percentage and 15 doubles in 227 plate appearances.

Coming attractions: With only four home runs in the majors, Sands still has something to prove in the power department, but that doesn't mean he isn't right now the franchise's third-best outfielder behind Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Rivera, who received millions from the Dodgers this offseason, had an OPS in Los Angeles of .740 last year compared to Sands' .727 – you tell me how you think those will trend next year.

Nevertheless, pending the official signing of a 2012 contract by James Loney, there's no place in the regular 2012 Dodger lineup for Sands. At best, he could platoon against left-handed pitchers with Ethier or Loney, if the Dodgers had the cutthroat approach to play things that way with two of their longtime starters. Sands went 22 for 60 with seven walks, seven doubles and three homers for a 1.066 OPS against lefties for the Dodgers.

Otherwise, it seems quite possible that Sands will begin 2012 as he began 2011 – in the minors, waiting for an opening – but with more confidence that he can handle the promotion once it arrives.
Major League Baseball has put a number and a name to what Frank McCourt has done with the Dodgers: "$189.16 million" and "looting." ESPNLosAngeles.com and Bill Shaikin of the Times have more.

I want to call out the last two paragraphs of Shaikin's story:
... The Dodgers also charge Selig with bad faith in declaring he would reject any television contract proposed by McCourt. The league claims any deal would necessarily require McCourt to divert some team revenue for personal use, including a $130-million divorce settlement.

That claim, the Dodgers said, is "simply make believe."

We have been down this road before ...

Dodger Thoughts, April 27:
... In a nod to the concerns over how much Dodger revenue he and his now-estranged wife had allocated for personal spending, McCourt said today that the proposed Fox deal would include an immediate payment of $300 million going directly into the Dodgers.

"None of those dollars (would be) used in any personal way," McCourt said.

Dodger Thoughts, July 22:
Selig then delved into McCourt's plan to put the 35% equity interest in Fox Sports Net West 2 that the Dodgers would receive into a holding company separate from the franchise, as well as his plan to take at least 45% from the $385 million up-front payment to settle personal debts.

Look, we all know that McCourt, if he somehow wins in the TV rights hearing, will be on track to have so much money coming in that he'll be able to paper over all his sins — paper 'em with green. But come on — no matter how many machinations he drums up, the idea that TV money would not play some role, explicit or implicit, in resolving his enormous debts is about as far from the Neighborhood of Make Believe as one can travel.

* * *
  • Jerry Sands' midseason swing adjustments have been carefully analyzed by Chad Moriyama. "To say I’m impressed by the changes that have taken place is an understatement," Moriyama writes.
  • Clayton Kershaw is going back to Africa for the second consecutive offseason. Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy passed along an MLB.com clip with a Kershaw interview from the World Series. By committing $100 in Kershaw's Challenge to Arise Africa for every strikeout he had this year to build an orphanage, Kershaw donated $24,800. The challenge has about $20,000 remaining to reach its goal of $70,000. Donate here.
  • It's come to this: Andrew T. Fisher of Rockies blog Purple Row is optimistic about center fielder Dexter Fowler improving in 2012 because he will be working out this offseason with Matt Kemp.
  • A round of the aghastly reaction to Tony LaRussa's managing of Game 5 Monday has been pulled together by Jeff Gordon of STLtoday.com. Sample: "As La Russa played subterfuge artist, offering a story dotted with holes unbecoming of a man with a law degree, it was obvious that he was trying to protect someone, and he would go to such lengths only to save himself," wrote Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports.
  • Mark Townsend of Yahoo! Sports summarizes the five outs the Cardinals gave away Monday.
  • Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors has an update on 25-year-old Japanese ace Yu Darvish, who might be coming to the U.S.
    ... Last week, I polled five agents and one team executive about Darvish's potential posting fee and contract. Guesses on the posting fee ranged from $30-55MM, with the team executive making the highest prediction. The average of the six guesses was $45MM. As for the contract, most people predicted a five or six-year deal in the $72-75MM range. One agent wondered if the winning team will "try to force some options down his throat," especially if it's the Blue Jays.

    The bottom line: everyone I talked to expects a minimum of a $100MM commitment to acquire Darvish if he's posted this year. ...
  • A "treasure trove" of records of the Philadelphia A's has been found, notes Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk, and are "now in the hands of a historian who is making a big documentary about Connie Mack."
Dodger general manager Ned Colletti gave a long interview to Jim Bowden for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Some highlights:
...Matt Kemp is a priority, and I plan on getting with his agent, Dave Stewart, and will work diligently in trying to work out a long-term deal with Matt. There is some urgency because he'll be a free agent at the end of the 2012 season if they don't sign him long term now. Clayton Kershaw's situation is not as urgent because he's only first-time arbitration eligible and won't be a free agent until after the 2014 season. That doesn't mean we won't have conversations and listen, and if we can make a deal that makes sense, we will be open to it -- but not with the same urgency as Kemp.

... We will entertain signing (Andre Ethier) as well, but he's coming off an injury and a subpar season. ... I am not inclined to trade any player that is a key player to our major league club right now, and he fits that category.

... We really need a middle-of-the-lineup impact bat, which would be a very key component to us winning next year. We need to figure out second base. Carroll and Miles are free agents. Right now we have the two young players in Sellers and Ivan DeJesus that we might let compete for that job next year. We need to figure out left field as well, but we're leaning towards Jerry Sands, especially after the way he finished this season with us. Behind the plate, we'll probably let Tim Federowicz and A.J. Ellis handle the duties. They are both good catch-and-throw receivers. If Federowicz can hit .240 with some power, he can be an everyday catcher.

... And finally, although we're pleased with our deep young bullpen, we'd still be open to signing another veteran reliever, but that would be a low priority based on our other team needs.

... We have a need in the middle of our lineup, and if we could do the right deal with a player in terms of duration and money, we would be willing to do it. We have flexibility if we keep catcher, second base, shortstop and left field as non-arbitration eligible players like we have now, then it is definitely possible that we could afford to spend the money on a significant middle-of-the-order bat.

... Kuroda has bought a house in Los Angeles and both of his daughters go to school here. He is an extremely loyal person to both the Dodgers and the city of Los Angeles and really doesn't want to play anywhere else. We hope he decides to stay here because he's a very important part of our rotation and clubhouse.

... Our best prospects in our system right now are mostly pitching prospects, led by Zach Lee, who pitched at the Midwest league this past season but has a chance to be special. Allen Webster and Shawn Tolleson are two other top pitching prospects. Tolleson was our minor league pitcher of the year and a close friend of Clayton Kershaw. Steve Ames is another bullpen arm that we could see as early as next season. Chris Lee, our first round pick from Stanford, of course, is also special, and we're going to try to develop him as a starter.

... We're a lot closer to winning than people realize. If we had gotten just the typical offensive contributions this year from James Loney, Andre Ethier and Juan Uribe, who knows how many games we could have won. But injuries and subpar seasons are just part of the game. If we can make a few key moves this offseason and solve some of the question marks on this team that we've just been talking about, I really believe this club can finish in first in 2012.

There's more, so be sure to read the whole interview, as well as Tony Jackson's five key offseason questions and Ramona Shelburne's own interview with Colletti.

Also, don't miss the Kamenetzky Brothers' podcast with "Breaking Bad" star and longtime Dodger fan Bryan Cranston.

Minutia, Minushka

August, 26, 2011
8/26/11
11:32
AM PT
Catching up on some news ...
  • Kenley Jansen has been activated from the disabled list. Josh Lindblom was sent to Double-A Chattanooga, where he will bide his time until he can return, in 10 days when rosters expand or sooner if there's another Dodger injury.
  • Dee Gordon was scheduled to begin a minor-league rehabilitation assignment, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, but Gordon did not play Thursday. It does not appear that the Dodgers will wait until when rosters expand September 1 to activate Gordon, which would mean that Eugenio Velez might not remain on the 25-man roster for long (though would no doubt clear waivers).
  • Ted Lilly is responding well to acupuncture treatment, he told Gurnick.
  • Don Drysdale’s daughter Drew is scheduled to sing National Anthem and God Bless America at Dodger Stadium on Monday.
  • While much talk about the Cubs' general manager vacancy has centered on Ned Colletti, it's former Dodger general manager Dan Evans who might be a more likely choice, according to Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Dodger prospect Jerry Sands is breaking some eggs - that is, making some significant adjustments with the hopes of deriving long-term benefit. From Christopher Jackson at Albuquerque Baseball Examiner:
    ... “It’s been real tough, cause I came back down and I knew I needed to change some things, but it’s tough to totally overhaul in the middle of the season and be productive," Sands said. "I want to get back up there, but I want to look like I learned something.

    "It was tough having to change things I’d done for years and then change them right over. The hot and the cold stretches have been a part of me learning, just a process of what I have to do to be more consistent." ...
  • Clayton Kershaw "stands to become just the fourth Dodger in the 128-year history of the franchise to post three straight seasons with an ERA+ of 130 or higher," writes Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. Jeff Pfeffer, Sandy Koufax and Orel Hershiser are the others.
  • Stephen also passes along the news that outfielder Kyle Russell has gotten a late-season promotion from Chattanooga to Albuquerque.
  • Sons of Steve Garvey caps its visit to St. Louis with a long, thoughtful piece about sportswriting.
  • The man himself, Bob Eubanks, talked to Dodger historian Mark Langill about the Beatles, setting up this weekend's commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the Beatles playing Dodger Stadium (via Blue Heaven).
  • The friendly folks at Bronx Banter passed along "10 Things John Sterling would say in a hurricane" from IT IS HIGH! IT IS FAR! IT IS... caught.
  • On target as always, Joe Posnanski about "the myth of pressure."
    ... This line — that it’s easier to put up numbers without pennant pressure — is a lot like that. Nobody can possibly believe this. First of all, there’s the obvious flaw: If it were easier to put up numbers in non-pressure situations, then players would consistently and obviously have better years on lousy teams than they do on good ones. Does this ring even the slightest bell of truth? Does anyone believe that Derek Jeter would have put up better numbers had he played for Kansas City? Does anyone believe that Albert Pujols would be so much better if he had spent his career playing in the carefree world of the Pittsburgh Pirates? Roy Halladay was great for mediocre Blue Jays teams and is great for outstanding Phillies teams. Hank Aaron was the same great player with the same great numbers when Milwaukee won, when Milwaukee almost won, and when Milwaukee wasn’t very good at all. ...

    If you’ve read this blog at all you know: I’ve covered a lot of bad teams in my life. I’ve been around some good ones, too. And as far as “pressure” goes, well, from my observation, it’s not even close. There is infinitely more pressure on players on lousy teams than on good ones. Obviously, this depends on how you define pressure, but if the textbook definition of pressure is “the feeling of stressful urgency cause by the necessity of achieving something,” well, absolutely, there’s way more pressure on the lousy teams.

    ... Think about it: What pressure is there on players in pennant races? The pressure to win? Sure. But players come to the ballpark energized. Everyone on the team is into it. The crowd is alive and hopeful. The afternoon crackles. Anticipation. Excitement. There’s nothing in sports quite like the energy in a baseball clubhouse during a pennant race. Players arrive early to prepare. Teammates help each other. Everyone’s in a good mood. There’s a feeling swirling around: This is exactly the childhood dream. The added importance of the moment could, in theory I suppose, create extra stress. But the reality I’ve seen is precisely the opposite. The importance sharpens the senses, feeds the enthusiasm, makes the day brighter. Baseball is a long season. Anything to give a day a little gravity, to separate it from yesterday, to make it all more interesting — anything like that, I think, is much more likely to make it EASIER to play closer to one’s peak.

    A losing clubhouse? Exactly the opposite. The downward pressure is enormous and overwhelming — after all, who cares? The town has moved on. A Hawaiian vacation awaits. Teammates are fighting to keep their jobs or fighting to impress someone on another team or just plain fighting. The manager might be worried about his job. The reporters are few, and they’re negative. Smaller crowds make it easier to hear the drunken critics. Support is much harder to come by, and there is constant, intense force demanding that you just stop trying so hard. After all: Why take that extra BP? You’ve got the swing down. Why study a few extra minutes of film? You’ve faced that hitter before. Why take that extra base? Why challenge him on that 3-1 pitch? Why? You’re down 9-3 anyway.

    It’s absolutely AMAZING to me when a player puts up a fantastic year even when the team around him stinks. ...

Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw

The Dodgers are going to give Jerry Sands a breather from the major leagues, replacing him on the active roster with lefty-hitting outfielder Trent Oeltjen, who had a .429 on-base percentage and .583 slugging percentage at Albuquerque. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.

In addition, the Dodgers outrighted minor-leaguer Luis Vasquez from the 40-man roster to Single-A Rancho Cucamonga.

Have no fear about Sands — despite his recent slump, his initial foray into the bigs should be viewed in a positive light, providing some great moments as well as some knowledge of how he has to improve.

As for the major-league roster, I wonder if this move sets the stage for Casey Blake to play some left field, as was discussed months ago.

* * *

It's Clayton Kershaw Day on the Internet, with several pieces on the Dodger lefty:
  • Tim Kurkjian of ESPN.com is exceedingly complimentary, noting that no 23-year-old major-league pitcher (according to the Elias Sports Bureau) had ever had as many career victories and as low a career ERA while striking out more than a batter per inning before Kershaw. Kershaw says he benefited from his fast start.
    "The Dodgers did me a huge favor calling me up as early as they did,'' Kershaw told Kurkjian. "I took my lumps, but I'm better off for it. What I've learned to this point has been huge for me.''

    The biggest adjustment came this year when he added a slider in part because, "I couldn't control my curveball.'' Manager Don Mattingly agreed, but added, "No one [umpires] calls the curveball [for strikes] anymore. No one swings at it. So, you can't throw it. But his slider and changeup have become very good. When I first saw him, he could throw a fastball for a strike on the inside part of the plate to right-handed hitters. Now he can throw the ball to both sides of the plate, against right-handed and left-handed hitters. His bullpens are now art. He throws five pitches in, five away. He moves the ball around. It's boom, boom, boom.'' ...
  • Dave Cameron of Fangraphs names Kershaw as a finalist for best southpaw in the National League, before going with a Phillie.
  • David Schoenfield of ESPN.com also makes the case for Kershaw as a top young lefty in MLB, before giving Tampa Bay's David Price a slight edge.
  • According to the Dodger press notes, since making his major-league debut in May 2008, no pitcher with at least 400 innings has a lower opponents' batting average than Kershaw (.221 batting average, 7.3 hits per nine innings).

Howard Smith/US PresswireRubby De La Rosa was oh-so-wild but managed to hold the Phillies to 1-for-8 hitting with runners in scoring position.

Matt Slocum/APDee Gordon forces Chase Utley out at second base.


Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com captures the end-of-game reaction to the debuts of Dee Gordon and Rubby De La Rosa, coming at the end of a 6-2 Dodger victory over a surprisingly inept Phillies team.

There were other surprises – the way that Gordon got hits in his first three at-bats, the way that De La Rosa recovered from a nervewracking start that seemed destined to send him or us to an asylum by retiring his final six batters.

But for those who fear change, there was the comforting sight of Matt Kemp knocking a double and then a home run, tying him for the league lead in that category.

One look at Jerry Sands, who went 0 for 4 to fall to 3 for 35 since his May 24 grand slam in Houston, reminds us that growing pains are practically inevitable, no matter how hot your start. But why do we love new, young players so much? Because who can resist the possibility that the glimpse of greatness we see might grow?

Brett Davis/US PresswireWith the third inning extended by a Houston error, Jerry Sands hit a no-doubter blast to center field for his first career grand slam. Rubby De La Rosa struck out two of three batters in a perfect eighth-inning major league debut, and fellow rookie Javy Guerra weathered a long foul ball by Bill Hall to close in the ninth for his first career save and a 5-4 Dodger victory.
To get the formalities out of the way, Jon Garland got pounded for 11 hits in 3 2/3 innings of a 9-2 Dodger loss to the White Sox, a game that found Garland and catcher Rod Barajas not on the same page, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. The bright side of the game was the first major-league home run for Jerry Sands.

And now, to the speculation: The Dodgers might get Rafael Furcal back as soon as Sunday, but it doesn't appear that the team has ruled out placing Juan Uribe or Aaron Miles on the disabled list, if not both. If both of them go, that could mean Juan Castro and Russ Mitchell sharing time at third base until Casey Blake is ready to return.

Charles Cherney/APCasey Blake wrist-fives Jerry Sands after the rookie outfielder threw out Aramis Ramirez in the sixth inning.
Jerry Sands has the most relaxed batting stance. His bat is slung low on his shoulder like a hobo's knapsack, projecting the calm of a traveler with little to his name but untold adventures ahead.

Sands has finished his first week in the big leagues, and like any vagabond's journey, it's had its highs and lows. There was his crowd-pleasing debut double, but soon after, an 0-for-16 skid with but a bases-loaded walk as a highlight.

Sands may yet end up back in the minor leagues before his career takes full flight – the same happened to predecessors like Matt Kemp, who continued to key the Dodger offense in today's 7-3 victory over the Cubs. Even after an RBI double in today's five-run first inning (not to mention an outfield assist in the sixth), Sands still only has a .502 OPS and has struck out in more than 30 percent of his at-bats. I'm not one for seriously reading tea leaves or batting stances, so I don't know if he has the bearing of a winner, a loser or something in between.

But I can tell you what I like to think. What I like to think is that Sands' travelin' man stance is a harbinger of his being in this for the long haul. I'd also like to think the same about his team.

* * *

So yes, the Dodgers jumped all over Carlos Zambrano today, with their first five batters reaching base and scoring, ignited by a leadoff triple by Aaron Miles (3 for 5 and yes, I'm aware of the timing).

Charles Cherney/APIt was a duck-and-cover day in Chicago.
Casey Blake was hit by a pitch, though apparently having nothing to do with the little stolen-base dustup from Friday. Andre Ethier extended his hitting streak to 21 games with an infield single to drive in the first run, Kemp (like Ethier, 2 for 5) singled in Blake, Sands doubled in Ethier, and James Loney and Rod Barajas followed with RBIs to give the Dodgers 25 runs in their past 17 innings.

It appeared that Hiroki Kuroda might give it all back in the bottom of the first. Thanks to three hits and a Jamey Carroll error, two runs scored and Alfonso Soriano came to bat as the tying run. But Kuroda struck him out, just as he struck out two other batters in the first inning and seven overall in the first three innings. Kuroda ended up completing 6 2/3 innings, allowing two earned runs and nine hits while walking nobody.

In contrast to Saturday's eighth-inning collapse, Dodger relievers shut down the Cubs today, with Mike MacDougal, Blake Hawksworth and Jonathan Broxton combining for 2 1/3 innings and allowing two baserunners.

The Dodgers gained a game on Colorado and San Francisco, taking sole possession of second place in the National League West, three games behind the Rockies.
I think I might always remember the moment, or approximate moment, that Jerry Sands was called up by the Dodgers. I was having an extremely rare weekday afternoon margarita at one of our big family gatherings of the week, and looking around the table at my wife reunited with her family and my kids with their East Coast cousins. To make a long story short, I've been having a hard time feeling optimistic about some things, but as I breathed in the scene, I suddenly not only told myself I should be more positive, I actually believed that I could.

That sentiment, I knew, might last little longer than the margarita, but lo and behold, I came out of the restaurant a couple hours later, quickly checked e-mails on my cellphone and saw that the Dodgers had made what could be a similar, happily desperate declaration in promoting Sands.

Sands, whose name I also came to realize today reminds me more of a slacks-wearing pro chipping in on the 18th hole to win at Pebble Beach, takes the roster spot of Xavier Paul, whom the Dodgers designated for assignment, as Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com notes. That tradeoff in itself tells you the perils of placing faith in a minor leaguer to fill a gaping hole in the Dodger lineup. Paul was never a Dodger minor-league hitter of the year the way Sands was last year, but the guy had a fairly strong career in the Dodger farm system, only to go by the same wayside as (take your pick) Delwyn Young or Cody Ross.

So of course we keep our expectations of Sands as sober as I now find myself, especially on the on-base percentage side as he faces major-league pitching for the first time, less than a year out of Single-A ball. But his power nevertheless offers the possibility of something the Dodgers desperately need after cleanup hitter Matt Kemp: a threat. Until Juan Uribe and James Loney figure themselves out, why not Sands? It's worth a shot, and even if he falls short, I expect the early exposure to the bigs will instruct more than it will harm.

What's funny is as dramatic as this move might seem, we could see it coming months ago. From this winter's "How close is he?" series:
Summary: From age 22 1/2 to age 23, Sands had a .395 on-base percentage and .586 slugging percentage with 35 homers in 590 plate appearances combined at Single-A Great Lakes and Double-A Chattanooga. In Double-A, Sands posted a .360/.529 with 17 homers in 303 plate appearances.

For comparison's sake: From age 22 to age 22 1/2, Andre Ethier delivered a .383/.442 with seven homers in 471 plate appearances, all in Single-A. Then from age 23 to 23 1/2, Ethier offered .385/.497 with 18 homers in 572 plate appearances in Double-A (not counting a 17-plate appearance cup o' joe at Triple-A). After starting 2006 strongly with the Dodgers' Triple-A team, Ethier was promoted to the majors three weeks after turning 24.

Sobering: Sands struck out in about a quarter of his at-bats in the minors last year.

For what it's worth: A younger Matt Kemp arrived in Los Angeles mere months after going .349/.569 in Single-A, and was in the majors for good less than two years after that Single-A year.

Quick and dirty conclusion: Obviously, Sands and Ethier are not the same player. Ethier had a better OBP but less power in the minors, among other differences. Still, I did find the juxtaposition interesting. It seems entirely plausible that Sands could get a quick promotion to Albuquerque in 2011. That would position him to make his big-league debut before the year is out and leave him a serious contender for a starting role in 2012.

Though there is almost zero chance Sands would start 2011 in the majors after only a half-season in Double-A - because Ned Colletti teams give veterans first crack in April - how Sands develops this year, against the background of how the Dodger major-league outfield shapes up, could speed up his timetable. He is also a potential understudy to James Loney.

We'll see where Sands ends up ultimately. But tonight, I'm going to think positively. I could do worse.

Three questions

April, 11, 2011
4/11/11
9:52
AM PT
J-school:

1) Has James Loney's swing gotten messed up, either by himself or by the Dodgers, in an attempt to get more home runs out of him?

2) Is Juan Uribe, who was hit by a Tim Lincecum pitch Opening Day, still hurt?

3) Will we see Jerry Sands, who is 6 for 16 with two homers, an .813 slugging percentage and one strikeout, in Dodger blue by June 1?

March Mudness

March, 14, 2011
3/14/11
5:28
PM PT
Rangers 5, Dodgers 4

Earl Pomerantz passes along this important lesson from Bill Cosby about panic.
... It’s the morning of the “table reading”, where the actors read the script out loud before the assembled production staff – fifty or so people – so we can see what’s working and what needs to be fixed. At this point, the actor who will play the freaked out father-to-be has not yet been hired. Dr. Cosby asks me to fill in for the missing actor and perform that part at the table reading.

I am immediately terrified.

Why? Well, in my own memorable words,

“What if I mess up?” (Though I may not have used the word “mess.”)

Dr. Cosby instantly replies to my exaggerated concern, and herein lies the life lesson,

“Bases loaded, two outs, bottom of the first.” ...

Highlights:
  • Trying to find his way onto the team, Xavier Paul sings "Let My Love Open the Door" with a single and a triple (to go with a caught stealing as a coda).
  • Trent Oeltjen sings "Don't You Forget About Me." His double raised his spring OPS to 1.044 before the eyes of the impressionable Dodger management.
  • Jamie Hoffmann warbles "I'll Be There For You" with a double, boosting his OBP in the spring to .400.
  • Marcus Thames doesn't need to sing for his Opening Day supper, but he just had his fifth double of the spring, in 25 at-bats.
  • Trayvon Robinson singled in two runs in the ninth inning as the Dodgers tried to rally and avoid their eighth straight loss.
  • Lance Cormier pitched a shutout sixth inning. Cormier's chances of making the team remain alive, given the struggles of Scott Elbert and Ron Mahay.
  • John Ely threw four walkless innings, giving him 10 this spring.

Lowlights:
  • Overall, Ely continued the trend of faltering Dodger starters. After a perfect first inning that included strikeouts of Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton, Ely allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits, including a three-run Hamilton homer. Ely struck out three.
  • After allowing a two-out single, Elbert walked two in the fifth inning, escaping the bases-loaded jam on a deep flyout by David Murphy.
  • Kenley Jansen had a rough eighth, allowing a run on two hits and a walk.

Sidelights:
  • In a rare start against a frontline pitcher (Texas' Neftali Feliz, who suddenly might be in the starting pitcher racket), Jerry Sands went 0 for 2.
  • Hector Gimenez had a double, then was doubled off second base on a ball hit by Gabe Kapler.
  • From The Associated Press: "Told that Ely was trying to locate an inside fastball off the plate that didn't quite break far enough, Hamilton said smilingly, 'Tell him thank you for me.' "
  • Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com writes about the upside of the San Diego Padres, post-Adrian Gonzalez.
  • Rob Neyer of SB Nation looks at how the Yankees' starting pitching crisis.
  • Only three of 30 MLB general managers played in the majors, writes Jayson Stark of ESPN.com.
  • At his blog, Former major-leaguer Morgan Ensberg hints at a harrowing story.
  • Mitchell Page, who passed away Saturday, is remembered at the Hardball Times by Bruce Markusen, who compares Page to Willie Davis.
  • This Jay Gibbons update from Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com sounds a mixed note about the outfielder's near-term future.
    ... Gibbons underwent PRK (photorefractive keratectomy) surgery on the eye last fall as a follow-up procedure to the laser procedure he underwent in 2004. But a side effect of PRK is that it lengthens and flattens the cornea, which is why the contact -- which Gibbons wasn't sure he would need again after the original surgery -- no longer fits as tightly as it should and tends to pop out.

    Gibbons said he was told he'd likely need a follow-up procedure after his initial laser surgery. "So that was pretty much what my thought process was, to get a tune-up, and [the vision] went south a little bit last year," he said.

    The issues after the follow-up surgery, though, began almost immediately, causing Gibbons to return home from winter ball earlier than he planned. Gibbons and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly sounded optimistic this doctor's consultation would be sufficient to solve the problem. The Dodgers are off Wednesday, so the hope was Gibbons would miss only one day.

    "We need to get this resolved," Mattingly said. "If your [vision] isn't right on and you're trying to hit a breaking ball, it's just not going to work." ...
  • Last but certainly not least, the Dodgers are staging a drive-through charity effort at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday to benefit victims of the disaster in Japan.

My thoughts remain with the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.


Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireRafael Furcal, shaky sparkplug
It says something about how concerned people are with the Dodgers offense that even as pitchers Vicente Padilla, Jon Garland and Ronald Belisario have dropped off the probable Opening Day roster, the hitting is still the Dodgers' primary concern. And not without good reason.

But there are a number of ways, not even high-apple-pie-in-the-sky ways, that the Dodgers offense could exceed the lowest expectations and prove adequate, if not above average. Here are some potential upsides for the batsmen:

250 total bases from Rafael Furcal
The Dodgers want Furcal to be reasonably healthy and reasonably productive. Reaching this milestone would indicate that Furcal was successful on both fronts. (Throw in about 50 walks and double-digit steals to top it off.)

The challenge: The 33-year-old hasn’t reached 250 total bases since his first year as a Dodger in 2006, when he had 291. In 2009, Furcal played in 150 games but struggled badly at the plate (probably playing at less than 100 percent); the following year he was on pace for a great season but couldn’t make it into more than 97 games. The problem with Furcal seems to be that he is simply not a quick healer these days.

The hope: Furcal could miss 30 games and still reach the plateau if his bat doesn’t take a holiday. Knowing the Dodgers have Jamey Carroll as a backup in the majors and Dee Gordon or Ivan De Jesus in the minors, the team can afford to give him days off or even a quick run on the disabled list to recover from lighter ailments in order to preserve him for the long haul.

2009 calls, and Matt Kemp answers
A year ago, we were wondering how Kemp might improve on his banner 2009 season. Today, everyone would be happy if he merely matched it. Lest we forget, that was a season, at age 24, when Kemp had a .352 on-base percentage, .490 slugging percentage, 34 steals in 42 attempts and defense that made you gasp, but not in horror.

The challenge: Finding out if Kemp still has a 2009 in him. Can he adjust, both to the pitchers who fooled him in 2010 and to the level of mental approach required of him over a full season?

The hope: It’s not unusual for players to take a step back before they take their next step forward. The Dodgers hope the presence of Davey Lopes will help provide the spring in Kemp’s step. Want a statistical beacon to look toward? Kemp’s batting average on balls in play last year was .295, after averaging .364 the previous three seasons. A little luck could go a long way.

Kyle Terada/US PresswireDioner Navarro

Dioner Navarro proves his signing wasn’t a clerical error

“I’ve made a huge mistake,” Gob Bluth of “Arrested Development” might have said had he woken up one morning and realized he had signed the once-and-future Dodger catcher to a $1 million contract after Navarro slogged out a .528 OPS in 2010.

The challenge: It wasn’t only 2010. Over the past two seasons, Navarro has a .263 on-base percentage and .306 slugging percentage in 163 games. Yes, offensive expectations are lower for a catcher, but that’s just useless. The Dodgers need their backup catcher to succeed because Rod Barajas can’t play every day (nor would you want him to), but investing too much patience in Navarro could be an investment in a black hole.

The hope: Navarro is still only 27, still only two seasons removed from a .349 OBP and .407 slugging. Totals like that would more than do the trick. Why the Dodgers think Navarro can recover, I cannot tell you, but this isn’t the stereotypical Ned Colletti signing of a veteran on the downslope of his career. This was a belief signing, a buy-low on a player who could still be entering his prime. Perhaps Navarro's 2011 will show us why at the end of every hard-earned day people find some reason to believe.

James Loney stops hitting like Joe Shlabotnik
Kemp gets all the grief in the mainstream press, but for New School fans, it's Loney who's the bigger target. His RBI totals (especially relative to his opportunities) and his defense don't make up for the overall production the Dodgers could really use from their first baseman.

The challenge: Among other things, proving that not one but two seasons of sub-.400 slugging percentage were just a pause that refreshes. And then there's overcoming a walk-to-strikeout ratio that went from 1.03 in 2009 to 0.55 last year. And then ... well, you get the idea.

The hope: Loney had an .803 OPS heading into the All-Star break last season, which isn't exactly Albert Pujols, but it's something to cling to. Folks still love his stroke, a stroke that delivered 19 homers, a .372 on-base percentage and .543 slugging percentage in his first 144 career games. Are we really to believe that Loney peaked at age 23?

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireAndre Ethier
Andre Ethier is no platoon player
Ethier had an .846 OPS in 72 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers as a rookie in 2006. That production has declined each and every year since, down to .625 in 178 PA last season.

The challenge: Actually, protecting that pivotal pinkie might be Ethier’s biggest 2011 worry, but presuming he can, the decline against lefties is more than a bit worrying. Four years of decline is tough to stomach even for a player of Ethier’s overall ability.

The hope: Ethier, who will be 29 in April, was on an MVP pace for the first several weeks of last season, so with loads of room to improve against lefties, his best year might still be ahead of him. The alternative is that the Dodgers softly begin resting him against lefties if a fellow by the name of Jerry Sands keeps knocking at the door.

Jerry Sands knocks at the door
The power-hitting 23-year-old minor-leaguer with all of 68 games above Class A has been perhaps the top story in the early days of spring training, as Dodgers fans unhappy with the current third-outfielder conglomerate look longingly for a savior.

The challenge: Handling temptation. Sands’ massive inexperience at the higher levels of the game makes the script all too easy to write -- an early taste of success followed by a faceplant against major-league breaking pitches.

The hope: In 2006, Ethier and Kemp came up as rookies and, while they didn’t win permanent starting jobs right away, made unmistakable contributions toward that year’s division title. The Dodgers can’t expect Sands to become rookie of the year, but it’s not crazy to dream he (or Trayvon Robinson) could provide some lift to the sagging outfield picture.

A midseason trade gives offense a new gear
For all the talk of how the McCourt ownership has hamstrung player acquisitions, the Dodgers have not been silent at the trade deadline. Ted Lilly was no Manny Ramirez 2008, but he was a major splurge for a team barely hanging on in more ways than one. It’s sensible to assume that unless the Dodgers fall completely out of the race, Colletti will have the BlackBerry working.

The challenge: Making the trade worthwhile, both in terms of what comes in (spare us Scott Podsednik, please) and what goes out. If Rubby De La Rosa continues his rapid progress, and anyone from the group including Ethan Martin, Aaron Miller and Chris Withrow bounces back, the Dodgers will have no shortage of trade chips in pitching alone. But you don’t want to use them unwisely, not at all.

The hope: Right player at the right time, ideally without giving up the primo minor-league talent. They’ve done it before; could they do it again?
Harry How/Getty ImagesJerry Sands (shown here from a February 28 game) homered and tripled for the Dodgers today.
Dodgers 7, Rockies 1

Highlights:
  • Jerry Sands homered in the seventh off Greg Reynolds and tripled in the eighth off Matt Belisle, driving in three runs with the first blast. More exuberance! More of me saying he won't make the team until at least May. More of me silently wondering to myself whether, if James Loney reaggravates his knee, the door to April creaks open.
  • Xavier Paul ended his early spring slump with a homer ahead of the Sands triple.
  • Juan Uribe, Marcus Thames and Trayvon Robinson added doubles for the power-starved Dodgers.
  • Hey, singles count too: A.J. Ellis went 2 for 2.
  • Ted Lilly allowed a run in 3 1/3 innings, allowing three baserunners and striking out two.
  • Tim Redding pitched three shutout innings in relief, increasing his chances of being the first starting pitcher after the front five that the Dodgers turn to in case of need.
Lowlights:
  • Rafael Furcal and Matt Kemp went 0 for 3.
Sidelights:
  • An excerpt from the new Roy Campanella biography can be found at Alex Belth's Bronx Banter.
  • Josh Wilker's "Cardboard Gods" is now out in paperback.
Norm Hall/Getty ImagesHiroki and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcatch
Reds 3, Dodgers 1

Norm Hall/Getty ImagesBrandon Phillips stands on his head until his ears are turning Red.
Highlights:
  • Jerry Sands had two singles and an RBI, making him 3 for 7 in Spring Training. Let the (ir)rational exuberance begin!
  • Ivan De Jesus Jr. had a single and is also 3 for 7.
  • Rubby De La Rosa struck out three of the six batters he faced and picked off the only one who reached base, though none of the six were Reds regulars.
  • I learned the proper way to pronounce "Rubby," and it doesn't rhyme with "tubby."
Lowlights:
  • After stranding three runners in his first two innings, starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda was touched for three more hits and two runs in the third. "I didn't have all my pitches tonight," Kuroda told The Associated Press. "My breaking ball wasn't there."
  • The first four hitters in the Dodger lineup – Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, Juan Uribe and Jay Gibbons – went 0 for 11 with a walk.
  • Batting as the tying run in the eighth and ninth innings, Justin Sellers and JD Closser each hit into double plays.
  • The Dodgers are averaging 3.1 runs per game, worst in the Cactus League.
Sidelights:
  • On a Thursday in early March, it doesn't get much more exciting than this: Ken Gurnick of MLB.com writes about how similar Kenley Jansen is to Mariano Rivera.
  • The Dodgers offered a minor-league contract to a player from their annual all-comers tryout: Randy Keisler, a 35-year-old lefty who last pitched in the majors in 2007. He has a 6.63 ERA in 150 2/3 career innings, and his only 2010 action was seven starts in the Mexican League with a 3.98 ERA.
  • De La Rosa and Luis Vasquez won the Dodgers' "American Idol"-like singing contest, writes Dylan Hernandez of the Times.
  • Despite a career .341 on-base percentage in the majors, ex-Dodger Willy Aybar, who turns 28 next week, hasn't even signed a minor-league contract this spring, notes MLB Trade Rumors.
  • Juan Castro did not hit a three-run homer.

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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