Dodgers Now

Steve Dilbeck and The Times' Dodgers reporters
give you all the news on the boys in blue

Category: Russell Mitchell

Dodgers' Web Musings: Don Mattingly does his best Alfred E. Neuman routine

So maybe the first four weeks of spring training haven't gone exactly the way newbie Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly envisioned.

Thus far the Dodgers can’t hit, field or pitch. Hey, it’s all up from here! The hitting has been particularly lacking, but you can almost feel Mattingly shrug his shoulders when he tells The Times’ Jim Peltz that he’s not concerned:

"Not really. Not at all, actually. It just doesn't matter."

He’s mostly right, of course. If the Dodgers start well, who’s going to remember how they played in early March? If they don’t, however, plenty will.

Also on the Web:

-- Yahoo Sports Tim Brown talks to MLB’s new official historian, John Thorn, who thinks this whole Abner Doubleday story tends toward myth.

-- ESPN/LA’s Jon Weisman takes an updated look at how the Dodgers’ 25-man roster is shaping up.

--’s Ken Gurnick writes that veteran reliever Mike MacDougal has been pitching well (no earned runs in five appearances) and gives partial credit to a … neti pot.

-- Sons of Steve Garvey’s latest anonymous post finds a humorous connection between ESPN Gene Wojciechowski’s visit to the Giants clubhouse and a certain classic ’80s film.

-- True Blue LA’s Eric Stephen profiles Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis and thinks his Albuquerque fate is sealed.

-- ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick looks at the Padres post-Adrian Gonzalez and gives them a fairly favorable review.

-- The Daily News’ Vincent Bonsignore assesses how the Dodgers are handling the latest wave of injuries.

-- The Wall Street Journal’s Michael Salfino is under the impression Russell Martin will return to form.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Russ Mitchell, Jon Link among Dodgers' latest cuts

Sixteen days until the Dodgers' season opener and the roster cuts are starting to add up.

As spring training innings become more precious, the Dodgers moved four more players back to the minors Tuesday morning. None had been threatening to make the final 25-man roster.

Still, it's hard to report this as addition by subtraction.

Corner infielder Russ Mitchell, whom Manager Don Mattingly had previously identified this spring as his longer-term replacement for James Loney at first, was optioned back to the minor league camp along with reliever Jon Link. Nonroster players J.D. Closser and Ramon Colon were reassigned to the minors.

Mitchell, 26, is another middling prospect having trouble making that final jump to the majors. A September call-up last year, he started 11 games (six at third) and batted .143 with a pair of home runs and four RBI in 42 at-bats.

Link, who turns 27 next week, came to the Dodgers with John Ely in last year's trade for Juan Pierre. The right-hander was called up four times last season from triple-A Albuquerque. In six appearances for the Dodgers, he had a 4.15 ERA and a 1.85 WHIP in 8 2/3 innings.

Closser, 31, is a switch-hitting catcher without much power. Colon, 31, is a right-handed reliever who pitched last season for the Royals.

There are now 44 players remaining in big league camp, 21 pitchers and 23 position players.

-- Steve Dilbeck

The Dodgers' best plan when Casey Blake is out

That resting Casey Blake plan must appear slightly more viable to the 37-year-old third baseman about now.

Blake is currently out with a sore back/ribs after injuring himself bunting. Yeah, bunting. When you’re closing in on 40, these things can happen. Followed by arthritis, age spots and Social Security.

Blake is being asked to bat second this year, an idea absolutely no one really likes, not that anyone can come up with a better one given this lineup’s curious makeup.

Bunting, however, probably should not be asked of Blake. He’s managed 22 successful bunts in almost 5,000 career plate appearances. Blake is a few solar systems away from a traditional No. 2 hitter, so there’s no reason to force him to act like one.

Blake being out now, however, brings greater focus to which way the Dodgers go when he’s not in the lineup. Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said Monday that Blake was scheduled for an MRI but was only expected to be out about another three days or so.

OK, but it’s a back and who knows? If it takes longer, or reoccurs, what’s the best backup plan? And what’s the plan when Blake is simply rested more frequently during the season, as Mattingly insists he will do?

Blake reiterated to The Times' James Peltz on Monday that he still wants to be a traditional everyday third baseman, but at least in the early going Mattingly is apparently going to stick with his plan of resting him regularly.

There are plenty of options when Blake is out, but much like this team, none too sexy.

Guys who can play third include Juan Uribe, Jamey Carroll, Russell Mitchell, and reaching deeper, Aaron Miles and Juan Castro.

As I’ve stated earlier, defensively I like Uribe better at third, where his limited range is less a factor than playing up the middle at second. So for an extended period, or just the weekly rest of Blake, I like moving Uribe over to third.

Happily, so does Mattingly, at least if Blake is out longer than currently forecast. Mattingly said Monday if that were the case, he’s move Uribe to third and start Carroll at second, which is the best scenario. Carroll would slip into the second spot in the lineup, where he’s a more natural fit than Blake.

And that should be the plan during the season too. The Dodgers understandably love Carroll’s versatility, but the reality is their best current lineup probably has him starting as much as possible. You lose on the back end, but it’s more important what your gaining up front.

If Blake is unable to start the season, then that opens up another infielder spot on the roster, which at this point, looks like good news for Miles. He’s getting a long look, playing well (.346 batting, .692 slugging percentage) and can play several infield positions.

I was hoping Ivan De Jesus Jr. might tear it up this spring, possibly even earning the starting second base spot -- moving Uribe to third and Blake to utility infielder/outfielder/pinch hitter -- but that’s not happening. Juan Castro is a great guy, but he’s 107 years old and wasn't exactly star material when he was 25. Russ Mitchell, whom for reasons unknown Mattingly said earlier this spring would be the long-term replacement for James Loney at first if he were injured, seems thankfully out of the backup third-base plan.

When you already have something of a duct-taped lineup to begin with and your starting third basemen is going to turn 38 in August, you’d better have a  first back-up plan. Sexy or not.

-- Steve Dilbeck

What if James Loney did go out for a lengthy period?

So the news was good on Sunday for James Loney, his left knee only swollen. No structural damage. He’s expected back by Wednesday.

But the mini-scare at least has to make the Dodgers more carefully consider their backup plan at first base should Loney actually go down for a lengthy period of time.

Don Mattingly’s solution for the last two days has been to start rookie Russ Mitchell at first, though Mitchell doesn’t figure to make the final 25-man roster.

Asked Sunday who would spell Loney during the regular season, Mattingly mentioned Jay Gibbons, Marcus Thames or Casey Blake.

Unless Gibbons and/or Thames get off to a hellacious start, however, his current best long-term solution is probably Blake.

That works for a couple of reasons. Blake at first would mean moving Juan Uribe to third, which is his better defensive position, and starting Jamey Carroll at second.

Starting Carroll would allow him to bat second in the order, helping to better solve the No. 2-hole problem currently scheduled to be filled by Blake, who could move down the lineup where he’s a more natural fit.

The other more dreamy possibility is current phenom Jerry Sands, their minor league player of the year, who has been impressive in the early going this spring. Sands, however, split time last season between single A and double A, needs more experience and is currently ticketed to start the season at triple-A Albuquerque.

The other scenario with Loney is simply sitting him more frequently during the regular season, healthy or not. Loney struggled so miserably in the second half last season (batting .211 with a .616 OPS) that the Dodgers can’t afford to be overly patient with his return to form.

They would at least have to consider giving him some more regular time off against left-handers (.222, 575).

Mattingly, however, has said he prefers a set lineup and is already planning on platooning Gibbons and Thames in left.

There could be a decent amount of playing time being switched at catcher too, so Mattingly’s preference for a set lineup could begin to feel uncomfortable if Loney continues to struggle against left-handers.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Dodgers sign catcher Rod Barajas for one year at $3.25 million

Meet the Dodgers’ new starting catcher, sort of the same as their old starting catcher.

One day after apparently severing ties with Russell Martin, the Dodgers officially signed catcher Rod Barajas to a one-year deal Friday for $3.25 million.

The Dodgers claimed Barajas on waivers Aug. 22 from the Mets after Martin suffered his season-ending hip injury. In 64 at-bats for the Dodgers, Barajas hit .297 with five home runs and 13 RBI.

On the season overall, he hit 17 home runs, so he offers the Dodgers some needed pop. His career on-base percentage, however, is just .284.

Clearly Barajas was not the Dodgers’ first choice, at least not as their everyday catcher, since they were negotiating with Martin until Thursday’s 9 p.m. deadline.

Barajas, 35, split time behind the plate with A.J. Ellis after joining the Dodgers. A local product from Santa Fe Spring High School, he actually wants to play for the Dodgers.

``This is somebody who, if the season were to start today, would take the lion's share of (playing time), with A.J. in a backup role,’’ general manager Ned Colletti told reporters Thursday.

The free-agent pool of available catchers shrank dramatically this week, so Colletti’s options were growing thin.

There is still, however, the possibility that Martin could re-sign with the Dodgers. If his hip actually proves healthy, the best man could win the job and the other serve as the backup.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Ten free agents the Dodgers should consider signing

The Dodgers need help. On that, all can agree. They have holes in left field and at catcher, and they could use an upgrade at second base. They need two starting pitchers and bullpen help.

The free-agent signing period is underway, and for the Dodgers and the rest, it is a regrettably weak field. There’s nothing ready in the Dodgers' system that can make a difference, so they have to take a strong look at a thin market.

Here are 10 guys for the Dodgers to consider. Maybe they really target only one or two. And this doesn’t take into consideration what they might be able to pull in with a trade, but these are guys worth taking a look at, in no particular order:

1) Carl Crawford, outfielder: OK, I’m starting with the most unlikely signing. He’s going to pull in a $100-million deal, and it’s not like that was Frank McCourt’s specialty even pre-divorce trial.

But if you are holding out hope that McCourt is willing to do something dramatic to renew fans' faith, this is the best option. Crawford's middling power makes him less than an ideal fit, but he’s a badly needed run producer, he plays left field, he can bat second or third in the lineup, and he is reasonably young (29).

The Dodgers can’t just surrender him to the Yankees or Red Sox without at least making some kind of effort.

Continue reading »

This time around, the Dodgers protect Jamie Hoffman; add him to 40-man

Guess they don’t want to go through that again.

Last year, the Dodgers left Jamie Hoffman off their 40-man roster and he was the first player selected in the Rule 5 draft by the Washington Nationals, who immediately dealt the outfielder to the New York Yankees.

Hoffman battled for a roster spot with the Yankees, who ultimately returned him to the Dodgers. He spent all of last season at triple-A Albuquerque.

On Friday, however, the Dodgers added Hoffman to their 40-man roster, so he won’t be exposed in next month’s Rule 5 draft.

He hit .310 with eight home runs, 74 RBI, with 17 stolen bases in 24 attempts and had a .431 slugging percentage with the Isotopes.

At the moment, he apparently will be one of the legion of middling minor leaguers (Xavier Paul, Russ Mitchell, Trent Oeltjen) who will compete with Jay Gibbons for playing time in left field.

Players selected in the Rule 5 draft rarely remain with the club the entire season to become that team’s property, but it happened in reverse last year for the Dodgers when they took right-hander Carlos Monasterios and he remained on their 25-man roster the entire season.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Daily Dodger in review: Casey Blake -- at 37, does his falloff indicate a continuing decline?

CASEY BLAKE, 37, third base.

Final 2010 stats: .248 batting average, 17 home runs, 64 RBI, .320 on-base  percentage, .407 slugging percentage.

Contract status: signed for next season at $5.25 million.

The good: continued to stabilize a position that previously had been chaotic. Solid, positive, veteran clubhouse presence. Steady defensively. Modest offensive production.

The bad: modest offensive production. As a third baseman, more is required. All his numbers fell last season, and he’s not aging backward. With the Dodgers already having power-lite James Loney at the other corner, more is needed.

What’s next: The coming season is the final year of his contract, though the Dodgers have a $6-million option for 2012 with a $1.25-million buyout. He’s seriously going to have to regain his offensive groove to have any chance of the team picking up that option.

The always highly introspective Blake outwardly expressed dismay at his falloff but remained confident he still had outstanding years left.

"I just want another chance to play for something," Blake said.

The take: The Dodgers will watch him more carefully in the coming season, and he figures to see less playing time. Which is not the same as saying he’ll be the platoon player some favor (he hit .314 vs. lefties, .222 vs. righties).

"That’s something we have to address, perhaps," said general manager Ned Colletti. "He’ll probably play a little bit less than this year, not dramatically."

But it isn’t like they have someone ready to take over third or even split the job. I don’t care how "intrigued" Joe Torre was with Russ Mitchell; he showed little to indicate he’s ready to be even a part-time player.

And the only real free-agent third baseman of value is Adrian Beltre, who is going to demand a salary, and years, way out of the Dodgers’ league. And in truth, someone is probably going to overpay for Beltre.

So unless Colletti can work a deal, this is your Dodgers' everyday third baseman next season. He turns 38 next Aug. 23.

-- Steve Dilbeck

It should be the John Lindsey hour in Dodgers last games

Time to give John Lindsey some love.

Six of the Dodgers last nine games are against the Arizona Diamondbacks, which means they carry absolutely zero relevance to anything. Unless you’re Kirk Gibson and trying to make a case to stick around.

Lindsey should start each of the six games against the Diamondbacks.

It’s not like he hasn’t earned it. Sixteen years trudging around the minors before getting your first sniff of the major leagues is qualification enough. It’s way more than enough.

The affable Lindsey has had one start and 10 at-bats since his Sept. 6 call-up. And one hit.

Mostly he’s sat and cheered his new teammates on as manager Joe Torre tried to play his best lineup against teams still fighting for the National League West title. You know, like the Dodgers used to do.

But there’s nothing of significance at stake in the six games against Arizona. Lindsey is 33 and may not come this way again. Let ’em play.

[Update:] No love for Friday.

Lindsey is not in the Dodgers' starting lineup against the Diamondbacks. Non-regulars getting a look include Chin-Lung Hu at shortstop, Russ Mitchell at third and Trent Oeltjen in center.

-- Steve Dilbeck

The rise of A.J. Ellis: rookie catcher's play making pitch for bigger role next season

Ellis_300 He’s been hanging around the minors for seven years. Has no particular power. Owns a career .278 batting average in the minor leagues. He’s 29, a little old to be breaking into the bigs.

There’s not a lot about rookie catcher A.J. Ellis that screams he’s ready to make some serious noise at the major league level.

Yet rest assured, the likable Ellis is getting the attention of Dodgers’ management, present and future.

Ellis had three hits for the second consecutive day on Saturday. He has hit safely in 10 of his last 14 at-bats, raising his .174 average on Aug. 18 to .265.

'"It’s really fun to watch when you see a 'lifer’ go out there, and you know he’s a backup catcher, and he wants more than that,’’ said Dodgers Manager Joe Torre.

Ellis was always considered a strong defensive catcher. His offensive game is on the rise through simple hard work, taking extra batting practice daily with hitting instructors Don Mattingly and Jeff Pentland.

"He has been working his tail off with these guys," Torre said. "I mean, I’m the manager who sent him out after he had a three-hit game at the end of August when we got (Rod) Barajas.

"The biggest problem he had with his offense was his swing was long, and when it was long, it was slow. Now he’s shorter and quicker, and that’s just from flat out hard work. He’s the first guy here and in that cage."

With the ability of Russell Martin to return from his hip injury and catch uncertain -- or if with his offensive decline the willingness of the Dodgers to pay him $6 million next season in question -- there could be an opening for regular playing time.

Barajas will be a free agent at the end of the season, but would like to return to the Dodgers. Barajas has power, and if the Dodgers elect to sign him, are looking at the possibility of pairing him with Ellis.

Ellis said he’s not trying to use these final weeks of the season as some kind of audition for next season, but how could he not be?

"That’s not even a question in my mind," Ellis said. "I’m just really trying to keep improving. I know I have a long way to go offensively and defensively, so it’s important to make the most of every opportunity.

"As happy as I am about the offense the past couple of days, I’m just as disappointed with the outcome and the way we’ve pitched the last two days. Because I take responsibility for that. It’s my job as a catcher to get pitchers through tough spots and tough innings."

In the process, of course, it doesn’t hurt to be staking a claim on next season.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Catcher A.J. Ellis waits his turn for batting practice. Credit: Kirby Lee / US Presswire


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