So much for the best-laid plans of mice and general managers.
When the Dodgers went into spring training, they were confident their rebuilt bullpen would be a 2011 strength. Had it all mapped out.
Maybe they were crossing their fingers on returning Jonathan Broxton as closer, but he was an All-Star coming off a bad half-season. And if he faltered, there was the nearly unhittable Hong-Chih Kuo.
Behind them, the hard-throwing Ronald Belisario. Vicente Padilla would return as the long man. Kenley Jansen was back off his lights-out rookie campaign.
Then there was new addition Matt Guerrier, and even Blake Hawksworth if needed for the middle innings.
Only six weeks into the season, the bullpen is completely upside down. Almost unrecognizable.
Steve Dilbeck and The Times' Dodgers reporters
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So much for the best-laid plans of mice and general managers.
Three years and $12 million for a 32-year-old middle reliever?
Matt Guerrier had been a very nice reliever the previous six years for the Minnesota Twins. For his career, he had a 3.37 earned-run average, a 1.23 WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) and had appeared in more than 70 games in each of the previous four seasons.
With multiyear deals for middle relievers almost in vogue during the off-season, the Dodgers signed Guerrier.
So far, he has been a serious bargain.
In nine appearances this season, Guerrier has yet to give up a run and has fashioned a remarkable 0.69 WHIP.
Thursday, he pitched two scoreless innings for the Dodgers, picking up his first victory. He has yet to give up a run in 10 2/3 innings as a Dodger.
With Kenley Jansen and Lance Cormier struggling, Ronald Belisario still doing his Venezuelan visa dance, Hong-Chih Kuo on the disabled list, Ramon Troncoso still unrecognizable and Vicente Padilla just about to make his season debut, the Dodgers have badly needed Guerrier to come through.
Just like a reliever worthy of a three-year deal. And so far, he has been better than even expected.
-- Steve Dilbeck
Photo: Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Matt Guerrier (55) pitches in the eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Dodger Stadium Monday. Credit: Kirby Lee / US Presswire
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
There were no real surprises when the Dodgers announced their 25-man roster to open the season after Wednesday’s game.
Of course, as the five Dodgers who will start the season on the disabled list start to trickle back in early April, more bodies will get shuffled.
For now, three nonroster invitees ended up making the team -- relievers Mike MacDougal and Lance Cormier, and infielder Aaron Miles.
The bullpen, infield and outfield pretty much fell into to place as expected. The only mild surprise was the decision to go with three catchers.
A.J. Ellis and Hector Gimenez both made the opening-day roster, meaning veteran outfielder Gabe Kapler was released. Manager Don Mattingly said General Manager Ned Colletti still planned to meet with Kapler, 35, to see if there is a mutual interest in his playing at triple-A Albuquerque.
Gimenez mostly made the team because the Dodgers liked his bat, but he can also play first and dabbled some this spring in the outfield.
"We’ve been trying to build with pitching and defense," Mattingly said. "Ellis knows our staff, knows our guys. Hector did a good job too, he just doesn’t know the staff as well."
It’s getting down to it now, the final decisions coming more sharply into focus.
The bullpen, at first almost without vacancy and then practically hosting open tryouts after the injury to Vicente Padilla and Ronald Belisario’s Venezuelan vanishing act, is now locked up.
And outside again is Scott Elbert.
Not the way the Dodgers wanted it to happen, but seemingly the unavoidable call now. He had his opportunity this spring, but could not seize it. It was more struggle, more wildness, more of the same issues that had plagued him during his three brief stints with the Dodgers.
As much as the Dodgers would like to have a second left-hander in the bullpen, Elbert’s spring numbers (9.00 ERA, 10 walks in eight innings) can’t justify keeping him. Even if that was their plan only a few days ago.
At that point, it was Lance Cormier who was apparently the odd man out. The Dodgers asked him to accept a minor-league assignment. But Cormier, a veteran of seven major-league seasons, had an out in his contract and wasn’t interested. He had a card to play and did. The Dodgers knew that, of course.
"I signed here to pitch in the major leagues," Cormier told Dodger.com’s Ken Gurnick on Sunday.
Cormier appeared in 60 games for the Tampa Rays last season, finishing with a 3.92 ERA but a serious WHIP of 1.645.
Still, this spring he has been very effective (2.00 ERA, 10 hits, two walks in nine innings), while Elbert has not.
Cormier almost did the Dodgers a favor by refusing to accept his minor-league assignment. Now they can use that as an excuse for keeping him and sending Elbert -- who has options remaining -- back down.
Elbert did not seem to accept a demotion well last season after struggling in his only appearance in May. Soon after he left triple-A Albuquerque for the rest of the season for what was described as a personal issue.
Elbert, 25, is a 2004 first-round pick, he’s left-handed and can be very impressive. The Dodgers are not about to give up on him. And at this point, it would seem he could benefit from returning to Albuquerque and demonstrating he is serious about reclaiming his career.
-- Steve Dilbeck
Sometimes there is just not much more you can ask someone do to. The Dodgers could not have asked anything more of Mike MacDougal this spring, unless maybe he had a few extra million lying around to loan Frank McCourt.
The Dodgers looked like they were taking a desperate flier on a reliever past his prime when they signed the right-hander in the offseason. At the time, you could say I was less than giddy. OK, so maybe they were taking a desperate flier; it’s worked.
Whether it lasts or not, MacDougal has been just shy of sensational this spring and earned a roster spot.
Monday night in the Dodgers’ 5-4 loss to the Angels, MacDougal pitched a scoreless fifth inning. And that’s the only kind of inning he’s pitched for the Dodgers.
In 11 appearances this spring, he’s given up exactly zero runs. That makes for a perfect 0.00 ERA. In 10 innings, he’s allowed four hits.
Wildness and health have been MacDougal’s historic issues.
Only now he says he's healthy -- no hip, shoulder or sinus issues. Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and bullpen coach Kenny Howell have worked on compacting his windup to battle wildness. You could say it’s all worked.
He’s 34, so there are no guarantees. Yet with Vicente Padilla injured and Ronald Belisario somewhere in Venezuela, MacDougal has seized his opportunity.
A former All-Star closer with three 20-save seasons, he has walked seven this spring, but mostly he has been a pitcher in control. A pitcher who looks an awful lot like the guy who saved 20 games as recently as 2009 for the Washington Nationals.
One who will now be given a chance to approach that same performance in the regular season.
-- Steve Dilbeck
Photo: Mike MacDougal. Credit: Jake Roth / US Presswire
It looked like a closed shop. All polished and refitted, the Dodgers bullpen seemed without vacancy.
After a disappointing 2010 (4.07 ERA, 1.35 WHIP), the relief corps entered the spring with every position seemingly spoken for.
Then down went Vicente Padilla. And off to the Venezuelan never-never land remained Ronald Belisario.
Suddenly there were two open spots. Still, there seemed a reasonable wealth of capable arms in the wings. Anyway, it kinda seemed that way.
Now the Dodgers are five days from breaking camp, and easy answers to fill the bullpen void are still hard to come by.
When camp opened, the bullpen seemed set with Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Kenley Jansen, Matt Guerrier, Blake Hawksworth, Padilla and Belisario. The only mini-suspense was supposed to be if Hawksworth could hold off left-handers Scott Elbert or Ron Mahay for the final spot.
Hawksworth, who is out of options, seems secure. But those other two spots? Check in daily.
Early on Ramon Troncoso looked like he might be returning to his 2009 form. He did not allow a run in his first four appearances, causing newbie Dodger Talk co-host Joe Block to declare he had made the team.
Yet more evidence against putting much stock into early spring results. In the four innings of Troncoso’s next four games, he gave up six runs (13.50 ERA). His overall spring ERA is now 6.23 and he’s far from a lock to be in Dodger Stadium on opening day.
The one reliever who has stepped up is veteran Mike MacDougal, unscored upon in eight appearances (7 1/3 innings). His ability was never questioned, but his control was an on-going issue. He has allowed only three hits and four walks.
If he continues anywhere near this pace, it’s hard to see MacDougal failing to make the final 25-man. Final, meaning until three days into the season when someone gets hurt.
The Dodgers would still prefer -- or anyway, should prefer -- the final spot go to a second left-hander to complement Kuo. Mahay, however, has struggled (10.70 ERA). Which once again, takes the Dodgers back to Elbert.
For several reasons, the Dodgers would very much like the former first-round pick to make the team, but they aren’t about to give it to him after his disappointing act last season. And Elbert has continued to have control problems.
But he might be forging a modest comeback. Tuesday with runners on the corners and the Dodgers leading the Cubs 1-0 in the seventh, they brought in Elbert with two outs. After falling behind 2-0 to Tyler Clovin, he came back to strike him out.
The only other candidate keeping himself in serious contention is Lance Cormier, who after giving up solo runs in his first two spring outings, hasn’t allowed a run in his last four appearances.
Elbert, Cormier, Troncoso? Opening day is March 31, and relievers are running out of time to make their case. And again close the shop.
-- Steve Dilbeck
Could it happen? Sure. Is it likely? No, but he’s at least building a case and causing the Dodgers to seriously think about him again.
John Ely was a brief sensation last year, answering the team’s ongoing call for a fifth starter and responding better than anyone had dared dream. Better than Ned Colletti, Joe Torre, Ely and Ely’s mommy dreamed.
During six consecutive starts from May 6 to June 1, he was 3-1 with a 1.80 ERA. He went 89 consecutive batters without allowing a walk. You kept blinking wondering if it were true.
And then it all came undone, as if Salvador Dali had suddenly taken control of Ely's pitching landscape. In his last 11 starts he went 1-8 with a stunning 8.00 ERA, including 32 walks in 54 innings.
He clearly was not the same pitcher, which is why he was ticketed for a return to triple-A Albuquerque this season.
Yet in his first three appearances this spring, he has yet to allow a run. And he is throwing strikes -- the key to his early success last season. He has yet to walk a batter and has seven strikeouts in six innings.
OK, so six spring innings amounts to precious little, but if he continues anywhere near this pace, he will pitch himself back onto the 25-man roster.
There’s no room in the rotation, but with Vicente Padilla injured and Ronald Belisario doing his annual visa dance, there are two unexpected openings in the bullpen. And Padilla was supposed to start the season as the long man.
Ely could certainly fill that role if he’s truly back on his game.
There’s reason to think he could be too. Last year he appeared to wear down and then completely lost his way. Remember, this was a 24-year-old who, aside from a couple early appearances at Albuquerque, had never pitched above double-A until last season. He had only been in the minors three years and had never thrown as many as 160 innings in any season.
Now he has a fresh start, a fresh arm and the unexpected experience from last season. The opportunity is there for him to pitch himself back onto the team.
Don Mattingly keeps saying he is not interested in keeping another left-hander in the bullpen just for the sake of a second lefty, which would only help Ely’s cause. The competition is still thick -- Ramon Troncoso, Mike MacDougal, Lance Cormier, Scott Elbert, Ron Mahay, Carlos Monasterios and now Tim Redding are all in the mix.
Ely is never going to light up the speed gun, but he proved last season that when he pitches with control, he can be highly effective. When he doesn’t, he looks overmatched.
In three early appearances this spring, he has had that control.
-- Steve Dilbeck
Love is a many-splendored thing, unless Joe Torre was going all goo-goo eyed over you in the bullpen.
Sometimes, that qualified as tough love. If Torre loved you, he tended to use you. And sometimes, too much.
Troncoso had been an unexpected delight in 2009, appearing in 73 games and posting a 2.72 ERA and even picking up six saves. The Dodgers assumed it would be more of the same last year, and things began well enough.
But Troncoso appeared in 14 of their first 20 games last April and began to slip. By the end of June his ERA was up to 5.45 and his confidence was shaken. He looked worn out. He was soon sent back to the minors, where he would spend the bulk of the next two months.
Troncoso entered this spring almost as an afterthought. The bullpen looked packed, with maybe one opening that hardly appeared earmarked for the 28-year-old.
But an injury to Vicente Padilla and Ronald Belisario’s latest AWOL routine have presented an opportunity, and Troncoso appears set on making the most of it.
Manager Don Mattingly and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt told ESPN/LA’s Tony Jackson that last season Troncoso became reluctant to use the sinker that had been so effective for him in the past.
This spring he has retired 10 of his 11 batters and at least in the early going has been impressive. His ability to pitch more than one inning could help him jump back into the Dodgers’ bullpen picture.
"His role would be to kind of fit in the middle [ahead of] whoever you have setting up," Mattingly told Jackson. "He is a guy who is going to have to pitch multiple innings."
Also on the Web:
-- The Daily News’ Tom Hoffarth takes a great look at ex-Dodger Greg Goosen, whose death last week was almost typically overshadowed by that of Duke Snider’s passing.
-- In the New York Times, ex-Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca gives a moving first-person account of Snider and how he stood up for Jackie Robinson.
-- The Los Angeles Times' Bill Shaikin writes that commissioner Bud Selig is again speaking volumes while refusing to comment on Frank McCourt’s ownership difficulties while aiding troubled Mets owner Fred Wilpon.
-- Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan profiles ace-in-the-making Clayton Kershaw, also taking another look at his off-season trip to Africa.
-- More from Passan: He writes that Dodgers reliever Travis Schlichting has the greatest mullet in the history of mankind, or at least baseball.
-- The Post-Gazette’s Ron Musselman writes that ex-Dodger James McDonald is thrilled to have a set role in the Pirates' rotation, where he is tentatively scheduled in the No. 3 spot.
-- TrueBlueLA’s Phil Gurnee profiles left-hander Scott Elbert, off to a slow start in Arizona.
-- More from LAT's Shaikin: Will the Dodgers let Matt Kemp run free on the bases this season, even if he’s the cleanup hitter?
-- Orange County Register travel editor Gary Warner takes a look a the Dodgers’ semi-new home in Phoenix and likes it.
-- The N.Y. Times' Ben Shpigel writes that catcher Russell Martin and right-hander Phil Hughes are bonding over their love of hockey.
-- Steve Dilbeck
Photo: Ramon Troncoso in 2010. Credit: Paul Buck / EPA
Two appearances does not a spring training make. The season opener remains four weeks away.
Still, the concern for left-hander Scott Elbert is very real.
The setup is about as good as it could get for Elbert. The Dodgers have need for a situational lefty in the bullpen. And two more spots in the bullpen opened up when Vicente Padilla had surgery and Ronald Belisario stayed home in Venezuela.
As ESPN/LA’s Tony Jackson noted, a bullpen spot was probably Elbert’s to lose. It probably still is, though in the early returns, he is losing it.
In his initial two outings Elbert has faced 10 batters, retiring four and walking the other six. Wednesday against the Royals, he threw 21 pitches, only six for strikes.
After shoulder surgery in 2007 and his still-unexplained disappearance last season, the Dodgers hoped the former first-round pick had gotten himself back together after reappearing in the Arizona Fall League and striking out 15 in 11 2/3 innings.
Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly, who managed Elbert in the fall league, told Jackson:
"I'm sure he is frustrated. But it's like everything else in the spring, we're going to take the whole package and see what happens. I have seen a lot of good from him, a ton of good. But that was the fall league and not here. For me, this was just one day that wasn't great. We'll see how he bounces back from it.’’
In a curious bit of timing, Dodgers farm director DeJon Watson was a guest commentator in the broadcast booth Wednesday with Charlie Steiner during Elbert’s struggles.
Watson was singing Elbert’s praises, calling his stuff electric as the left-hander threw most everywhere but over the strike zone. Watson promised better days from Elbert, and you’d better hope.
Wrote TrueBlueLA’s Eric Stephen: "Elbert needs to show some control before he even sniffs the 25-man roster."
Control problems are nothing new for Elbert, and MikeSciosicasTragicIllness’ Mike Petriello argues that a slow start should not be a deciding factor in whether Elbert makes the club because unless he came to camp and dominated, he should have been ticketed for triple-A Albuquerque.
"He’s always had control issues, walking 5.0/9 in the minors, and last year that went up to an untenable 7.1/9. That’s of course before his well-publicized but little-understood leave of absence that meant he didn’t pitch after June."
The Dodgers could certainly use Elbert to step up, but right now they’re more wishing for it to happen than seeing it.
Elbert is still in a position of having to prove himself, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. Ultimately it matters less that he was a No.1 pick or left-handed or has great stuff.
What matters is that he demonstrates the ability to get it done at the major-league level. The bulk of spring training remains and he’s only 25, but his promise is still to be fulfilled.
Also on the Web:
-- The Times Dylan Hernandez writes that outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. got a lift before camp opened when his father, Tony Gwynn Sr., completed his cancer treatment and started acting more like himself.
-- Baseball Savvy’s Howard Cole has his second piece on Dodgers bloggers, this time focusing on TrueBlueLA’s Stephens.
-- ESPN/LA’s Jon Weisman compares how Frank McCourt and Charlie Sheen try to live by their own rules.
-- Dodgers.com’s Ken Gurnick said Marcus Thames disputes his reputation as a poor defensive outfielder and says he has worked hard in the off-season to improve his fielding.
-- ESPN’s Mark Simon said concern with Matt Kemp’s fallen production last season should not be limited to his offense, but that his defense this spring deserves scrutiny.
-- Yahoo Sports’ Steve Henson takes a look at the loose pregame meetings of Angels Manager Mike Scioscia, who learned from the master, Tommy Lasorda.
-- Steve Dilbeck