Dodgers Now

Steve Dilbeck and The Times' Dodgers reporters
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Category: Charlie Haeger

I'm shocked, shocked to learn the Mariners waived Charlie Haeger

Charlie-haeger_250 Under the "where are they now" heading, or perhaps in this case where they’re not, the Seattle Mariners have released Charlie Haeger (pictured at left) from their triple-A Tacoma team.

Haeger, the knuckleballer that Joe Torre so desperately wanted to fall in love with last season, was released Saturday after posting a 7.74 earned-run average for the Rainiers. Sounds pretty familiar.

Last season Haeger was handed the fifth spot in the Dodgers rotation but went 0-4 with an 8.40 ERA. No one could say he didn’t get a chance. He appeared in nine games (six starts) but never could get it going.

A fifth starter became nearly a season-long search for Dodgers, who were only able to fill it after a July 31 trading-deadline deal for Ted Lilly with the Cubs.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Attempting to decipher the mysterious black hole that is the Dodgers and left field

It's quantum physics meets Rep. Anthony Weiner meets "Ulysses" meets Charley Steiner.

Are some things really not meant to be understood?

I am referring, naturally, to the Dodgers and left field. Somebody has to play it, it just seems like figuring it out is as challenging as understanding Sarah Palin on the ride of Paul Revere.

The Dodgers have started six different players in left, but be patient, it's still early June.

The Times' Dylan Hernandez asked Manager Don Mattingly about the left-field situation and he said: "It hasn't really panned out."

Sort of like Charlie Haeger and his knuckleball.

Hernandez said the Dodgers entered Thursday's game with their six-headed left-field combo having combined to hit .216 with two home runs and 16 RBIs. And then Tony Gwynn Jr. went zero for four.

This for a position that normally provides power, on a team in dire need of some extra pop.

Gwynn is apparently the starting left fielder against right-handers, though, hold on, because these things tend to change by the day.

The original master plan was for Jay Gibbons and Marcus Thames to platoon in left, but Gibbons missed the start of his season with vision problems and then Thames went on the disabled list with a strained quadriceps.

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Predicting the Dodgers' season: Take it to the bank

Here are this year’s 25 things I absolutely guarantee will happen with the Dodgers this season. As you recall, I went a perfect 25-for-25 last season. Anyway, that's the way I remember it.

1) Fans will wait all the way until the second inning of the season opener before their first brain-dead "Giants suck" chant.

2) The only Dodgers story of national interest this season will continue to be the ownership divorce.

3) Vin Scully will remain the greatest Dodgers treasure ever.

4) Tony Gwynn Jr. will be the Dodgers best center fielder. Unfortunately, he'll play in left.

5) No-shows will hit record numbers, though those numbers won't be released.

6) By mid-May, Jonathan Broxton will have lost his role as the closer. Hope I'm wrong, but can't shake it.

7) Matt Kemp’s bat will return, but defensively he'll still get some of the worst jumps in baseball.

8) The Dodgers won't be able to fight the temptation and by mid-summer will call up right-hander Rubby De La Rosa. And it will work.

9) Nobody will miss Russ Ortiz, Ramon Ortiz or Charlie Haeger. Really, this is progress.

10) James Loney will hit 12 home runs with 102 RBI, and the stat wonks will cry for his head.

11) Jamey Carroll will play almost as many games as he did last season (133), crooked digit and all.

12) After visiting his 23rd ophthalmologist, Jay Gibbons will finally find a pair of contacts that solves his vision trouble.

13) Frank McCourt will be introduced at Dodger Stadium and be booed. Again.

14) Rod Barajas will hit more home runs than Russell Martin managed in the last two seasons combined (12).

15) In August, Ronald Belisario will announce he's going to get that visa any day now.

16) The Dodgers will make last season's .322 on-base percentage look lofty.

17) Don Mattingly will deserve better.

18) Clayton Kershaw will win 15 games, strike out 220 and finish third in the N.L. Cy Young voting.

19) Andre Ethier will have a career year, and then be absolutely certain he'll be non-tendered after the 2012 season.

20) Jamie McCourt will celebrate so wildly after her divorce settlement, she'll balloon to a size 1.

21) Rafael Furcal won't go on the disabled list once all year. I'm feeling dangerous.

22) Kemp will not be romantically linked to a single diva. Tabloid sales plummet.

23) Carlos Santana will threaten to become Ned Colletti’s Pedro Martinez.

24) Regardless of the size of the crowd, stadium concession lines will still go 15 deep.

25) The Dodgers will repeat 2010, going 80-82 and finishing fourth in the N.L. West.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Matt Kemp will have a comeback year, at least at the plate. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Dodgers will have to scramble to fill rotation void

So like I was saying, aren’t things suddenly looking up for that John Ely?

Now, I’m a powerful fellow, but truth be known, I do not possess any particular soothsayer talents. Had absolutely no idea that less than two hours after posting that Ely could pitch himself back into the Dodgers' plans that yet another starter would go down.

On to Plan B! Whoops, make that Plan C.

The Dodgers went into camp all pleased that they had not only a solid five-man rotation, but Vicente Padilla at the ready when the inevitable injury hit one of their starting five.

That lasted about as long as a calm Charlie Sheen moment, Padilla throwing his elbow out almost before he could walk into the Dodgers’ Phoenix clubhouse.

And now comes Wednesday, right-hander Jon Garland injuring his oblique muscle in the second inning.

As The Times’ Bill Shaikin said, those types of injuries typically require a month’s recovery time, meaning the Dodgers are suddenly down to four starters and looking for a fifth. And Charlie Haeger’s not even available.

The most obvious in-house candidates are nonroster invitee Tim Redding and Ely, both of whom have yet to allow an earned run in their first three appearances this spring. Reliever Blake Hawksworth also started eight games for the Cardinals last year.

Redding is 33, and when last seen in the majors back in 2009 he was sporting a 5.10 earned-run average and a 3-6 record for the Mets. Not a lot of upside there.

Ely is only 24 but coming off a  Jekyll-and-Hyde season. Either that, or he’s just great out of the blocks and has nothing down the stretch.

But Ely has looked like the guy who unexpectedly caught the Dodgers’ imagination last May, and they’re going to have to have someone. They do have three days off in April, but there’s a stretch of 20 consecutive games, meaning that if they wanted to flirt early with a four-man staff, their starters would have to go on four days' rest on five consecutive starts. That’s not gonna happen.

The Dodgers have three weeks to figure this out, so it’s not  as if they have to decide today. But they’ll have to formulate a plan in spring reasonably soon. Even with a couple of early off days, they would at least need a fifth starter by April 12.

With three starters in their 30s, plus Padilla, injury in the rotation seemed inevitable. Three weeks into spring, though, is just a tad early. Garland had pitched at least 190 innings in his past nine consecutive seasons, so it’s not like he’s injury prone.

But there is an opening now, and a dwindling number to fill it. Opportunities, however, keep expanding.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Dodgers officially sign Vicente Padilla to a one-year contract

And then there were six.

Or what I like to call, "Learning From Mistakes."

Last spring the Dodgers went to camp with only four starting pitchers. They had a list of about 10 who were supposedly in contention for that fifth spot.

Only in the spring, no one truly claimed the job. It was a mishmash of pitchers too old, too young or just too ordinary.

So they picked knuckleballer Charlie Haeger, which had a certain logic, but he became an absolute disaster. As in 0-4 with a 9.78 earned-run average in six starts.

Whatever the team’s shortcomings this spring, however, it won’t be for lack of starting pitchers. General Manager Ned Colletti locked up his rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda and Jon Garland before the winter meetings.

And now they’ve added an insurance starter.

The Dodgers signed Vicente Padilla to a one-year contract Thursday night with a $2-million guarantee and a split tier of incentives, based on both starting and relieving.

Padilla, the Dodgers’ opening-day starter last year, will be their jack-of-all-trades right-hander next season. He’ll begin the season as the long reliever but will be the first to throw in a spot start. And if Jonathan Broxtonfalters, Colletti has indicated he would even consider using him in a closing role.

"Vicente’s flexibility and willingness to be in whatever role we may need him in was very important to us," Colletti said in a team release. "We believe he is capable of filling practically any role on our staff and we are very glad to have him back."

Padilla, 33, went 6-5 with a 4.07 ERA in 16 starts last season. He spent two stints on the disabled list with neck and elbow injuries, but he was impressive when he was sound.

During one seven-game stretch, he went 4-1 with a 1.13 ERA. At Dodger Stadium, he went 4-1 with a 1.61 ERA.

And since Lilly, Hiroki and Garland are all in their 30s, a proven, extra starter only makes sense.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Time for Dodgers to say a final goodbye to Charlie Haeger -- knuckleballer signs with Mariners

The Great Charlie Haeger Experiment is officially dead.

At least for the Dodgers.

Of course, it was dead back in June when the Dodgers finally shelved the knuckleballer and  ultimately sent him to triple-A Albuquerque for the rest of the season.

It was made officially dead Wednesday, though, when Haeger signed as a free agent with the Seattle Mariners.

A rubber-armed knuckleballer apparently still has allure, at least enough so that the Mariners were willing to sign him as a minor-league free agent.

This despite Haeger's going 0-4 with an 8.40 earned-run average in nine games (six starts) with the Dodgers last season.

That was about five more games than the Dodgers probably should have gone with Haeger, who struck out 12 in his first start -- a 6-5 loss at Florida -- in what was his season highlight.

It all went quickly, and consistently, downhill after that. There was a stint on the disabled list for an injury that, at least initially, was suspect. When he returned, he appeared in two games and it was more of the same.

The Dodgers finally recognized the inevitable and designated him for assignment. The Mariners passed on him that time, as did every other team. He cleared waivers and joined Albuquerque.

Haeger didn’t exactly find much more success there (4-3, 5.70) and became a free agent at season’s end.

Personally, I hope he gets it together for the Mariners. He was a class guy who seemed as mystified by his struggles as anyone.

He’s only 27, so it’s not as if he’s out of time. And knuckleballers, as the Dodgers kept reminding themselves, can take a different path to success.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Daily Dodger in review: The great highs and lows of John Ely's rookie season

JOHN ELY, 24, starting pitcher

Final 2010 stats: 4-10, 5.49 ERA, 76 strikeouts, 40 walks, a 1.45 WHIP in 100 innings.

Contract status: Under team control.

The good: Made six consecutive quality starts May 6-June 1, going 3-1 with a 1.80 ERA. From out of nowhere, it was Elymania. A brief gift from the baseball heavens.

During that stretch, he faced 89 consecutive batters without allowing a walk. He did not allow a home run over his first 50 1/3 innings, the longest such streak for a Dodgers rookie since Fernando Valenzuela went 82 2/3 innings in 1980. He's a dead ringer for Mathew McConaughey.

The bad: After his initial great run, it was all downhill, like a rock off Half Dome. In his last 11 starts, he went 1-8 with an 8.00 ERA. He was finally sent back to triple-A, but did not fare much in Albuquerque (5-4, 6.22).

He was called back up in September, but it was only more of the same struggle. In his last six starts overall he went 0-5 with an 11.01 ERA. It was almost hard to remember that once there was Elymania.

What’s next: A ticket back to the minors. He’s back to where he started, as something of an emergency starter. He was never expected to be part of the Dodgers’ plans last season. He came over from the White Sox in the offseason trade for Juan Pierre, having never thrown above Class AA. Injuries and the team’s failure to identify an effective fifth starter out of training camp were the reasons he was rushed up on April 28.

The take: If the Dodgers even entertain the idea of starting the season with Ely in the rotation, they are in real trouble. Right now, you want him maybe as No.7, at best, in the pitching food chain.

He clearly needs additional time in the minors to become more consistent. He’s a control pitcher who, when he’s on, can be very effective. But his room for error is very narrow, and if his confidence is shaken like it was by midseason, it can get ugly. And his last 11 starts were Charlie Haeger-ugly.

Ely will turn 25 in May, so it’s not like he just picked up a baseball. He needs to take a next logical step in his evolution, sharpening his delivery and revitalizing his confidence in the minors. He’s never going to overpower anyone, so his control has to be spot-on.

Of course, at this moment, the Dodgers only have three starting pitchers, so all things are possible.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Dodgers need to bring back Larry Bowa

This should be a no-brainer, right? As easy as hitting a Charlie Haeger fastball. Simple, logical … and far from a done deal?

Don Mattingly, rookie manager, needs a veteran presence as his bench coach. Mattingly said Monday he wants it to be someone with previous managerial experience.

Larry Bowa has managed both the Padres and Phillies. Figures he’s done all he can as a third base coach and would like to become the bench coach. Mattingly would like him to become that guy too.

Only so far, it hasn’t happened. So far, you should be nervous that it might not.

Understand, Mattingly is not being given free rein to select his own coaching staff. It’s a meeting-of-the-minds thing.

"We won't have anybody that he's not comfortable with or anybody that I'm not comfortable with," said General Manager Ned Colletti.

This is not an unusual arrangement, though I suspect not the preferred one by managers. Particularly young managers who will be keenly critiqued. Let them succeed or fail on their own, with their own staff.

But here, Mattingly essentially has to get approval for his coaches.

So why wouldn’t the Dodgers want Bowa back? One concern is, because he’s hurt Matt Kemp’s feelings. Or is it his silly agent, Dave Stewart? Or that he asks too much of the kids. You know, like playing hard.

"Baseball’s a funny game," Bowa said. "You get a reputation of being too tough, and a lot of general managers don’t want that, a real tough guy. I’m not tough, I’m fair. I’m real honest."

Earlier this season, Bowa said Kemp was an amazing talent who had yet to learn to play hard all the time. It was absolutely correct. Kemp even agreed. And yet, an uproar ensued.

"I didn’t get on anybody," Bowa said. "I said, 'Matt, you’ve got to play this game the right way.' Then he said in the paper, 'Larry’s right. I don’t run hard all the time.' I mean, if that makes you lose your job, maybe it’s time to move on somewhere. When I say something about a player, I’m trying to make him better."

Bob Schaefer spent the last three years as Joe Torre’s bench coach and said he won’t return. Schaefer, remember, confronted Kemp in the dugout over his continual failure to back up second base but never publicly criticized the outfielder.

Mariano Duncan, the Dodgers’ first base coach, is not expected back. Duncan said he’s been given permission to talk to other clubs, which is code for you won’t be retained. Duncan said if he can’t find another major league job, the Dodgers might have something in their minor-league system for him.

Rick Honeycutt could return as pitching coach and Jeff Pentland as hitting instructor. Tim Wallach, if he isn’t hired to manage in the majors, could become the hitting coach.

That still leaves room for a veteran, honest coach who respects the game. Who gives straight answers. Who has been through the wars.

"If they want me back, I’d be glad to come back," Bowa said. "Because I sort of consider this unfinished business. Even though we won the division, to me the ultimate thing is a ring."

I was talking to ex-Dodger Jay Johnstone a couple of weeks ago about the team, when without prompting, he suddenly said:

"You give me nine Larry Bowas and I’ll win the World Series every year."

Mattingly needs Bowa back. And so do the kids, even if they don’t realize it.

-- Steve Dilbeck

This is too big a disaster for even Joe Torre to take one for the team

So Joe Torre fell on his sword. That’s what good soldiers do, of course, and Torre is nothing if not the good soldier.

Torre took responsibility for the Dodgers’ disappointing season prior to Wednesday’s game in San Diego, lamenting his inability to make a difference, to raise the team and individual level of play.

Now there is plenty of blame to go around, and certainly Torre will get his share. When a team goes south, that’s the typical fallout.

Yet however he is criticized for the use of his bullpen or early insistence on Charlie Haeger as a fifth starter or his reluctance to admit that Jonathan Broxton had lost his way, or his prolonged loyalty to Garret Anderson or the failure to nurture development from his young core of hitters, mostly he played the hand he was dealt.

Blame will have a universal feel when this team’s final obit is written, starting with ownership, filtering through management and down to the players themselves. Such as they were.

Torre has to take only his own bullets. He showed yet again during the fiasco that was Manny Ramirez in his final days, that he will promote the company line and protect players and management if necessary, regardless of how it makes him look.

His lineups often speak for themselves, frequently littered with role players and other teams’ rejects.

Is he actually supposed to win a pennant with a lineup of Scott Podsednik, Rod Barajas, Ryan Theriot and Jamey Carroll? Really? With Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp off in some hazy second-half funk? Rafael Furcal unable to stay healthy? Corner hitters James Loney and Casey Blake fading?

And a bullpen that was a team strength last season getting the wrong kind of turnaround performance from Ronald Belisario, Ramon Troncoso, George Sherrill and Broxton?

It’s not like Torre is some victim here. And as he well knows, a manager ultimately will always be held accountable for his team’s performance, good or bad.

But to take full responsibility for the failure of so many is wrong and unnecessary.  When it comes to accepting liability for their 2010 season, the Dodgers will need to pass around a lot of mirrors.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Dodgers still searching for that fifth element; James McDonald falters as losing streak reaches five in 5-2 loss to Giants

Dodgers2_300 Now what are they going to do?

The Dodgers’ never-ending search for a fifth starter led them back to James McDonald on Monday, the results looking a lot like every other attempt.

McDonald pitched five forgettable innings, not exactly completely awful, but definitely not encouraging.

He looked a lot more like the McDonald that started last season in the rotation, going 1-1 with an 8.78 earned-run average than the Dodgers dared to hope.

McDonald gave up four runs on nine hits in his five innings. He pitched a one-two-three first, and then fought trouble each inning afterward, the Giants going on to a 5-2 victory that pushed the Dodgers’ losing streak to five games.

McDonald was the fifth different Dodger to attempt to nail down the No. 5 spot in the rotation. The other four combined to go 13-15 with a 5.93 ERA, so it’s not like McDonald offered any particular improvement.

Only now are the Dodgers stuck with McDonald for at least another start? Can they really afford to shake any fragile major-league confidence he has by quickly returning him to the minors?

Said Manager Joe Torre on McDonald’s start before the game: "We can all tell if he’s comfortable or if he’s erratic. We’ll do whatever we can to help him through this thing. He’s had some success down there (triple-A Albuquerque) and everybody feels that it’s worth a shot right now.’’

Worth a shot Monday, but another in five days?

Alas, the options look familiar.

Rookie Carlos Monasterios, who has started five games, relieved McDonald on Monday and threw two scoreless innings. The inexperienced Monasterios gets tough love from the Dodgers, though, in the starting department.

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