Dodgers Now

Steve Dilbeck and The Times' Dodgers reporters
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Category: Eric Stults

Chad Billingsley throws shutout, Casey Blake drives in the runs as Dodgers end six-game skid, 2-0

So calm, so routine, so very much unlike the game 24 hours earlier.

Also for the Dodgers, a very different ending. The foreign kind they hadn’t seen in more than a week.

Chad Billingsley, coming off his worst outing of the season, pitched his first shutout in two years and Casey Blake provided all the offense as the Dodgers slipped by the Giants, 2-0, Wednesday night to snap a six-game losing streak.

This time there were no bean balls, no ejections, not a single faux pas from manager or umpire. Not a whiff of controversy.

Billingsley’s last complete game was his last shutout, the only other one of his career, coming June 30, 2008. It was the Dodgers’ first complete game since Eric Stults threw one May 9, 2009.

With a depleted bullpen, Billingsley’s five-hit shutout was not only impressive, but badly needed.

With Don Mattingly acting as the Dodgers manager after Joe Torre was suspended for the game for Tuesday’s ejection, things went quickly and without incident.

The Giants had won 11 of their last 13 games to surge into second in the National League West. And they had Barry Zito keeping the Dodgers in check all night, save for a solo home run by Blake.

Blake drilled his 10th home run of the season into the left-field seats between the foul pole and the Dodgers bullpen in the second inning.

After all the histrionics in Tuesday’s wild affair, it hardly seemed to have the makings of a decisive hit.

But from then on, Billingsley and Zito were locked in.

Billingsley (8-5) was coming off a horrendous start Friday in St. Louis, allowing seven runs and 10 hits in just four-plus innings without a strikeout.

Wednesday, however, he was in complete command. He allowed only five hits and two walks. He struck out three.

The Giants had runners in scoring position in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings, but each time Billingsley came up with a big pitch to protect his narrow lead.

The Dodgers scraped together a second run off Zito in the eighth. Rafael Furcal singled and was sacrificed to second by Jamey Carroll. After walking Andre Ethier,Zito was relieved by Sergio Romo.

Romo gave up a run-scoring single to Blake.

Zito (8-5) had thrown eight shut-out innings in his last start against the Mets. Wednesday he went 7 1/3 innings, allowing the two runs on six hits and three walks, with four strikeouts.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Missteps aside, credit for Dodgers' turnaround goes in part to Ned Colletti

Colletti_300 Give it up, give it up, give it up now … for Ned Colletti.

Ah, you can do this. It can’t be that hard. Come on, give the man his due.

When the Dodgers got off to their miserable 8-14 start, coming off an unimpressive postseason during which they failed to add a front-line starting pitcher and their only additions were role players, Colletti received plenty of heat across the blogosphere.

Yet it’s impossible to know for certain how much of his inability to land someone approximating an ace was his fault, and how much was simply Frank McCourt’s unwillingness to drop some serious moolah.

Since Colletti’s main responsibility is to please McCourt, he’s not going to mention financial restraints he’s under. Until McCourt proves otherwise, best to assume they’re there.

But for now, Colletti deserves credit for what he did do this off-season.

Jamey Carroll and Reed Johnson weren’t the sexiest signings, but 44 games into the season, they have proven valuable assets.

Carroll filled in at shortstop for injured Rafael Furcal better than anyone had right to expect. He’s started 26 games, batting .300 and playing a solid shortstop.

Furcal is (again) expected back Tuesday, but when the Dodgers were winning 12 of 13 games to get back in the National League West race, it was Carroll starting at shortstop.

Johnson has started 15 games, played in 38 overall and consistently been a positive factor. He’s batting .300.

Colletti’s other position addition was the late-signing of Garret Anderson. Right now that’s a seeming bust, but Anderson (.159) got a pair of hits Sunday and last year was off to a slow start before going on a four-month tear. And this is the first time his primary responsibility is as a pinch-hitter. This one will require a little more time before final judgment.

And then there’s the pitching. Colletti brought John Ely over in the off-season in the trade for Juan Pierre.

No one -- including Colletti -- could have imagined he’d be up with the team this soon, let alone performing so well (3-1, 3.41 ERA).

But he is.

Colletti also gambled on bringing in rookie Carlos Monasterios, a Rule 5 draftee who essentially had never pitched above Single-A.

Monasterios is being handled carefully by Joe Torre and has thrown in few true pressure situations. But when he has pitched, he’s been very respectable (1-0, 1.90) and his now likely to get another start.

There are, of course, the Ortiz signings. Russ is already out of here, and Ramon could be soon, letting Randy Wolf leave, and dumping Eric Stults.

Still, on the whole, considering the lack of major off-season movement, what Colletti was able do is proving deft.

And deserving of recognition.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Ned Colletti in 2009. Credit: Los Angeles Times.

On the bright side, Charlie Haeger was impressive in his first start

You uncover your eyes now.

Really, it wasn’t that bad. Just because the Dodgers opened the season 2-4, blowing leads like dandelions, coming home tied for last and the staff sporting a 5.23 earned-run average.

There was something good that came out of Sunday’s 6-5 loss to the Marlins:

Charlie Haeger.

Take away the first three Florida hitters in the fourth inning, and it would be difficult to ask for more from him.

Haeger had his knuckleball darting all over the place, which is mostly good. He struck out 12 in six innings, walked four and allowed three hits.

Whether it was the breeze or the humidity, his knuckleball had plenty of movement. It danced so much that twice he struck out batters on wild pitches that got away from catcher A.J. Ellis and allowed the hitter to reach first.

He threw too many pitches (117, 67 for strikes) but knuckleballers are renowned for their rubber arms -- it’s not like they’re throwing 100 mph -- and hopefully Manager Joe Torre will allow him to go deeper into the game in his next start.

Torre saw something in Haeger this spring, because he really didn’t do anything to particularly distinguish himself and win the fifth starting spot. He had a nice ERA of 2.20, but not as good as Ramon Ortiz (0.96). Mostly, his major competition (James McDonald, Eric Stults, Josh Towers and Josh Lindblom) pitched themselves out of contention.

But if Haeger can continue to pitch like he did Sunday, concerns over the fifth spot will quickly evaporate. His performance was somewhat overlooked by the way the Dodgers gave away another game.

His only trouble Sunday was in the fourth, when his control briefly deserted him after he sat for a lengthy time when the Dodgers scored four times in the top of the inning.

He walked his first two batters and then gave up a crushing home run to Jorge Cantu.

Otherwise, it was an encouraging first start for Haeger. And after that trip, the Dodgers were looking for encouraging signs.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Predicting the Dodgers' season: Take it to the bank

Kershaw_292 Here are 25 things I absolutely guarantee will happen with the Dodgers this season. If they do, be sure to sing my praises. If they don’t, I never wrote a word of it:

1) Clayton Kershaw (pictured at right) really will emerge as an ace. And he’s left-handed and just turned 22.

2) Before the season is out, Matt Kemp will be romantically linked to Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian and Kate Gosselin.

3) Blake DeWitt will go through a slump by mid-May, Joe Torre will send him back to the minors and play Ronnie Belliard and Jamey Carroll, which is what I sensed he always really wanted.

4) Ronald Belisario will be called up before the month is out. And then not be admitted to Dodger Stadium by a security card because he forgot his ID.

5) The elephant in the ballpark, the McCourt Divorce, will only grow as a distracting story. No one in management will really say what they’re thinking: His failure to land another starting pitcher will cost us the pennant.

6) Casey Blake will grow his beard back the first time he goes into a slump.

7) Vicente Padilla will go the entire season without starting a bean war or turning his teammates against him. Risky, I know, but going with my gut.

8) When the Giants come to town, mental midgets without an ounce of creativity in their souls will continue to chant "Giants suck" and think it’s really clever.

9) Jason Repko will land with another team, be called up by May and prove a valuable fourth outfielder on a contending team. OK, I’m really not predicting this, just hoping.

10) Manny Ramirez won’t last the week without finally talking to the media again. Coincidentally, he returns to form at the plate.

11) Jamie McCourt will buy a ticket to a game at Dodger Stadium and then ask Frank McCourt for additional spousal support to cover the cost.

Continue reading »

Dodgers' Eric Stults headed to Japan, sources say

Stults_400

Eric Stults is heading to Japan, as the Dodgers are finalizing a sale of the left-hander to the Hiroshima Carp.

The deal hasn’t been announced, and Stults said he was instructed by his agent not to talk about it, but Stults told his teammates this morning that he is moving to Hiroshima, according to multiple clubhouse sources.

Stults, who went into camp as a candidate to be the fifth starter, was charged with three earned runs in 5 1/3 innings this spring. He was 8-10 with a 4.84 earned-run average in his career with the Dodgers.

-- Dylan Hernandez in Phoenix

Photo: Eric Stults. Credit: Chris McGrath / Getty Images.

Joe Torre's pitching plans starting to take shape

Telltale signs of what Joe Torre is thinking about his pitching staff can be gleaned from his plans today.

--Eric Stults is scheduled to pitch an inning in the same Double-A game Russell Martin is going to play.

Stults, reportedly being shopped by the Dodgers, no longer appears a serious candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation. He’s out of options, so either he’s moved or he claims an unlikely spot in the bullpen. A career starter, he hasn’t pitched in relief since 2007.

--It now appears Ramon Ortiz is being groomed for the bullpen.

He pitched one inning of relief Thursday and struck out two. He now has a 1.29 ERA in five appearances, striking out 19 in 14 innings.

"He's a very aggressive and focused competitor," Torre said Friday. "His stuff is high quality. He's gotten our attention.’’

--Despite a so-so spring, knuckleballer Charlie Haeger remains a serious candidate for the fifth spot. He is scheduled to start Saturday’s game against the Mariners. Haeger is also out of options and Torre continues to sing his praise.

Still hanging in there, Russ Ortiz will follow Haeger.

--Reliever Hong-Chih Kuo and his tender elbow remain in the Dodgers’ immediate plans.

Kuo was shut down when the elbow became sore yet again, but an MRI showed no new damage. He’s scheduled to throw on the side today.

"If he comes out OK after throwing today, he's going to have to throw off the mound soon,’’ Torre said. "And if that's the case, he won't have missed much. This isn't really unusual for him."

--Torre said the team’s focus for a fifth starter is on the players in camp.

"We haven't been talking about anyone outside the organization for the fifth spot," he said. "We're looking at our guys here."

--Another day, and still no Ronald Belisario sighting.

"It’s a missed opportunity, but I can't concern myself with things I can't control," Torre said.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Stults being shopped as the fifth-starter dwindling continues

Ten days of spring-training games left for the Dodgers before it gets real, and do you know where your fifth starter is?

That traffic jam for the final spot in the Dodgers’ rotation may slowly be coming untangled.

Though Joe Torre has said a decision will come down to spring’s final days, the Dodgers appear to be narrowing their focus.

Dylan Hernandez reports that the Dodgers are shopping Eric Stults, who because he is out of options was a presumed slight favorite after James McDonald was sent down. Getting shopped is not being shown a lot of love.

If Stults is not in the Dodgers' plans, the fifth spot is down to Carlos Monasterios, Charlie Haeger and the dueling Ortiz Reclamation Projects.

Josh Lindblom remains an intriguing thought, but he may have appeared just enough like a young pitcher Wednesday against the A’s (two runs on three hits and two walks in two innings) to take him out of serious consideration. At least for the moment.

Despite a rough last outing, Monasterios looks like he’ll make the club, either as a starter or reliever. He spent most of last season coming out of the bullpen. And as a Rule 5 pick, it’s use him or lose him.

Haeger is in a similar situation because he’s out of options. Torre likes the knuckleballer and is stretching him out like he wants to start him. He threw 68 pitches in a minor league game.

It’s hard to truly believe in either Ortiz, given their recent history, but they continue to make their case. And at some point, you have to pay attention.

Ramon Ortiz hasn’t had an ERA under 5.00 in his last three major-league seasons and pitched all of last year in the minors.

Still, he has a 1.38 ERA this spring and has struck out 17 in 13 innings. Numbers that are hard to ignore, try as you might. He gets another start Thursday against the Brewers.

Then there is Russ Ortiz, another aging right-hander who hasn’t had an ERA under 5.50 in his last four seasons. He went 3-6 with a 5.57 ERA last season in 23 games (13 starts) for the Astros.

But he has a 2.08 ERA in four games and is looking surprising like the Ortiz who went 21-7 for the Braves in 2003.

With Ronald Belisario still lost in Visa Land and Hong-Chih Kuo still nursing his almost continually sore elbow, there could be room on the staff for guys who can start or relieve, such as Monasterios and Haeger.

-- Good news department: Ken Gurnick reports at dodgers.com that minor league hitting coach Lenny Harris was released from the hospital Wednesday.

Harris, baseball’s all-time leading pinch-hitter, had quadruple bypass surgery Saturday. He did not have a heart attack but did have blockage in four arteries.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Thanks, Vin, we really needed that

And just like that, a great relief. A sigh that seemed to come less from the chest than from the entire body.

One quick intro, and the world returned to its proper axis.

"It’s time for Dodger baseball," sang Vin Scully.

We had been told Scully was fine after his hospitalization from a fall in his home and would broadcast his first game of the spring Sunday, but hearing him was still reassuring.

Scully -- arguably the most popular person in Los Angeles history -- seemed typically embarrassed when taking a brief moment as he opened the TV broadcast to address his recent injury, which caused national news.

"Hi everybody, and a very pleasant Sunday afternoon to you wherever you may be," he said. "I hope you don’t mind if I take a moment out. First of all, I’m sorry to have caused the accident that caused so much stress. I apologize for that.

"I'd also like to salute the gentle heroes of 911 in Calabasas and the doctors and nurses of West Hills Hospital for taking care of me so very, very well.

"However, now that I’ve done that, let’s get to the more important thing, and that is the game. It’s the Dodgers and the Indians, Jake Westbrook will be on the mound for Cleveland. Left-hander Eric Stults will be on the mound for the Dodgers.

"And Lord, I am happy to be here. We’ll be with the ballgame right after this."

And that was it, he was on to the game. If the voice sounded slightly weak from his ordeal, it seemed to grow stronger as he went on.

Vin was back, and quickly it was a happy Sunday afternoon.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Shrinking James McDonald could be headed back to minors

James McDonald
James McDonald
, what do we make of you?

McDonald seemed a lock to make the 25-man when spring began, if not back in the rotation at least in the bullpen.

He struggled last year after winning the fifth spot out of spring but switched to the bullpen and pitched effectively (4-4, 2.72 ERA) the rest of the season.

Coming into spring, he was considered a slight favorite to reclaim the fifth spot in the rotation. He is, after all, only 25 and the Dodgers’ two-time minor league pitcher of the year. This is a guy the team would want to win the spot.

But he’s pitched so abysmally this spring, Manager Joe Torre said last week his immediate future was in the bullpen. Then after his continued struggles Friday (six runs on six hits and two walks in 1 1/3 innings), Ken Gurnick at Dodgers.com rightly questioned whether he would now even make the team as a reliever.

Torre seemed to reinforce the view that McDonald may end up at triple-A in his pregame meeting with reporters Saturday.

"It's frustrating for him, trust me," Torre said. "If he ends up in Albuquerque, he would start to give him innings."

His spring numbers are astoundingly bad (20.25 ERA, 19 baserunners in 5 1/3 innings), but as examined at MikeSciosciasTragicIllness.com, preseason numbers can be difficult to quantify compared with actual historic performance in the regular season.

But McDonald also has another thing going against him: He has minor-league options left.

Several other pitchers vying for roster spots could be lost if they don’t make the team. They are either out of options (Eric Stults, Charlie Haeger), a Rule 5 pick that would have to be returned (Carlos Monasterios) or are believed to have contract options that would enable them to become free agents (Ramon Ortiz, Russ Ortiz) if sent down.

It all adds up badly for McDonald at the moment. It appears he may need to go back down to regain his command -- and confidence.

If that’s how the spring plays out, ultimately, it may not prove a bad thing. If he can go back to Albuquerque and get it together, the Dodgers will need another starter at some point this season. McDonald still reeks of potential, and his future may yet be as a starter.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: James McDonald pitches for the Dodgers against the Washington Nationals at Dodger Stadium on May 7, 2009. Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport / US Presswire

Scratch one from fifth-starter consideration: Joe Torre says James McDonald looks like reliever

It looks like the Dodgers’ fondest hope for filling the fifth spot in the rotation, James McDonald, isn’t going to happen.

Dodgers-mcdonald_400 Joe Torre told reporters Wednesday afternoon that "McDonald looks more like a bullpen guy."

This is the same right-hander who was given the fifth spot last spring but, after going 1-1 with an 8.78 ERA in four starts, was moved to the bullpen for the rest of the season.

He went 4-4 with a 2.72 ERA out of the bullpen, so Torre is probably on to something.

Still, it has to be disappointing that McDonald didn’t show enough this spring to remain in serious contention for the fifth spot. He’s only 25, and aside from Carlos Monasterios (24 next week) and Charlie Haeger (26), the other candidates are 30 or older -- Eric Stults (30), Russ Ortiz (35) and Ramon Ortiz (36).

"Stults and Haeger haven't done anything to hurt their chances," Torre said. "I don't think anybody for sure is on the team."

McDonald’s youth and promise made him a nice fifth-starter candidate, and if he’d pulled it off, he would have set himself up with a nice future in the rotation. After only two -- and the emphasis is on two -- spring appearances (six earned runs in four innings on eight hits and three walks), the Dodgers have apparently seen enough to make a decision.

McDonald isn’t likely to start the season at Triple-A Albuquerque, so along with Jeff Weaver, he gives the Dodgers two middle relievers who could also be swing guys if needed.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: James McDonald. Credit: Chris McGrath / Getty Images

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