Matt Guerrier Doesn’t Have the Heart to Pitch the 8th Inning

I’m joking, but not exactly in the way you might think. After Hiroki Kuroda went seven innings allowing just two runs (the 25th time in his 3+ years as a Dodger he’s done that), Matt Guerrier entered, and that’s where things started to go sideways.

Here’s the damage:

I make jokes about Guerrier because as painful as that list seems, it wasn’t really as bad as all that (and I’m someone who hated his signing in the first place). Both of his walks were intentional. The last run would have been saved had Dioner Navarro not dropped a perfect throw from Jerry Sands at the plate (hey, isn’t it great he’s up instead of A.J. Ellis?). And none of the hits were screaming line drives. The first, by Will Venable, was a bouncer between first and second that a better second baseman than Aaron Miles may have come up with. Jason Bartlett‘s single to left-center fell just out of the reach of Sands, and almost certainly could have been caught by Tony Gwynn or any number of outfielders more fleet of foot than Sands. The final one, by Cameron Maybin, was nothing more than a bouncing ground ball just out of the reach of Jamey Carroll at shortstop. Even on the wild pitch, you could make a good argument that it should have gone down as a passed ball by Navarro.

The point here isn’t to absolve Guerrier of blowing the game, because he did, and it looked bad. The point is that this is exactly the sort of bad luck / good hit placement / subpar defense that has often victimized Jonathan Broxton this season, yet the outcry over it won’t be 1/10000th as large. I know the reply to that will be “well, Broxton’s issues have come in the 9th inning while Guerrier was in the 8th”, but that’s silly: a game can be lost just as easily in the 8th inning as the 9th, as we saw tonight. All of Broxton’s issues aside – and there are issues, which I have never denied – baseball is still a game that largely relies on batted ball luck and the support of your defense, not ‘heart’. For a guy like Guerrier who’s never had strikeout stuff, being on a team that doesn’t always put out the best defensive squad behind him can lead to trouble. Tonight, we saw that combined with the whims of the BABIP gods, and the results weren’t pretty.

Oh well. At least Andre Ethier extended his hit streak.

Tony Gwynn Saves the Day

With two outs in the ninth inning, I had written a whole post about how tonight had gone almost perfectly. Don Mattingly had made out what looked to be my favorite lineup of the year, with Jerry Sands hitting second and in at first base against the lefty, pushing Aaron Miles to 8th. Ted Lilly allowed just one run over six innings, and Andre Ethier kept his hitting streak alive with a 5th inning double. Matt Kemp and Juan Uribe each homered, and the much-maligned infield chipped in with seven hits, three of which came off the bat of Miles. Even the defense turned four double plays, and featured exciting back-to-back diving catches by Kemp and Ethier in the seventh inning. It wasn’t all roses – Sands went 0-4, and while he did reach via walk, he almost immediately was picked off – but with Broxton looking great while retiring the first two Padres, it looked like this was a game that would be a nice kickoff to the short homestand, despite the presence of Frank McCourt trying to gladhand in the right field bleachers.

And then Will Venable singled to right. And Orlando Hudson singled to left. And Chase Headley singled to right, and all of a sudden it was a one-run game with the tying run on third, before a crowd growing restless. None of the balls were particularly hard-hit, and at least two of the three would have been easy outs had they not been perfectly placed grounders, but still, Broxton was on the precipice there.

Nick Hundley stepped up to the plate, and ripped a liner to left, and you can’t possibly imagine all of the thoughts that were going through my head in that millisecond. (Actually, you probably can.) That ball was going to land, the Padres would tie (or conceivably take the lead, had it gotten past the diving left fielder), and all hell was going to break loose. That’s what would have happened… had that diving outfielder been anyone but Tony Gwynn, completing the outfield trifecta of diving plays in the biggest spot possible. The defensive specialist had essentially lost his job when Sands was recalled, getting just nine plate appearances in the preceding seven days, but reminded all of us what his value on this team can be. (And kudos to Mattingly for ensuring that he was out there in the 9th in the first place.)

As for Broxton, nothing’s changed for me. He actually looked good in that his velocity seemed up, and the hits weren’t hit that hard – except the one that landed not on the grass, but in Gwynn’s glove. I’d still have no objection to a superior option usurping him in the 9th, and I still don’t see that the Dodgers have one, particularly since Vicente Padilla was less than impressive in walking two in the 8th. I think it’s safe to assume that none of those facts are going to stop the continued public outcry, of course.

Casey Blake to DL, Russ Mitchell to LA

No surprise here: Casey Blake is headed to the disabled list, with Russ Mitchell called up to replace him, reports Ken Rosenthal. (h/t Rob @ 6-4-2.) Blake’s infection sounds particularly nasty, according to friends Marc Normandin and Corey Dawkins at Baseball Prospectus:

Infections can be rather serious—just ask Casey Blake, who was placed on the disabled list with an infection of the olecranon bursa in his left elbow. His was serious enough to require IV antibiotics, and he may require minor surgery to drain and clean the area out.

The Dodgers are expecting Blake to miss about three to four weeks and will be conservative in bringing him back, so as not to risk a recurrence. Because of the location of the bursa, it is susceptible to re-injury during the course of a baseball game by sliding and landing on the elbow.

I suppose Blake isn’t going to be the one to break the sorry streak of 37+ third basemen, as I surmised last September. Still, while Blake certainly wasn’t going to keep up the .321/.446/.509 run he was on (in only 66 plate appearances, of course), his loss is pretty damaging to a club that regularly rolls out a lineup that features 3-4 players hitting .220 or less. With Rafael Furcal also disabled and Juan Uribe at much less than full strength, you can look forward to a lot of underwhelming infield configurations over the next few weeks.

As for Mitchell, it’s no secret that I’m not a fan, claiming last September that his mostly underwhelming minor league career was inflated only by the friendly confines of Albuquerque. He didn’t do much to change that impression in September, getting just six hits in 43 plate appearances. Beyond that, ABQ hasn’t been nearly as friendly to him so far this year, as his line stands at .214/.281/.393 thus far. Still, injury concerns being what they are, there’s nothing wrong with his recall, particularly because he’s the only other infielder on the 40-man roster. (And calm down with the Corey Smith love just yet, friends.) Mitchell’s probably not going to contribute much at the plate, and at 26 isn’t really a prospect, but his defensive versatility should come in handy for the next few weeks. If anything, at least he’s an extra bat on the bench, which had been woefully short with Blake and Uribe active but unavailable in recent days.

A Much Needed Day Off

The Dodgers have today off, their first after a stretch of 20 games in 20 days, the maximum allowed by the collective bargaining agreement. Usually a day without baseball is arduous, but I for one am glad for the break, because what happened in a stretch of just two hours yesterday afternoon is unlike I’ve ever seen.

At approximately 12:30 pm PST, the Dodgers were avoiding a sweep in Miami, as homers from Rod Barajas in the 5th and Andre Ethier in the 10th – along with four scoreless innings of relief from Blake Hawksworth, Matt Guerrier, and Vicente Padilla – helped overcome the 4-0 deficit that Chad Billingsley had put them into. Billingsley’s final line indicates a shaky start, but all of the Florida damage came in the second innings; other than a few walks, he was essentially perfect in his other five innings.

The big story there – other than Ethier’s heroics, of course – was Padilla entering the game to nail down the save in the bottom of the 10th, rather than Jonathan Broxton, deemed “unavailable” despite not having pitched the day before and with today being a day off. Much will be made of Padilla’s usage over Broxton, despite Don Mattingly claiming after the game that Broxton remains his closer. (Dylan Hernandez later reported that Broxton was dealing with some elbow soreness; whether that’s legitimate or a convenient excuse to not use Broxton remains to be seen, but this would be the rare case where I’d actually be thrilled if he had an arm injury, if only because it would provide a reason for his troubles.)

Regardless of how the 9th inning situation works out, I’m glad to have another alternative besides Broxton, who’s clearly not right. (Padilla and Kenley Jansen are each featured in my new Baseball Prospectus piece on relievers, which I was writing yesterday when all the Dodger fun went down.) Still, I’d caution against heaping too much praise on Padilla just yet; while he was able to smoothly get through the inning, he was also helped by three defensive plays that ranged from good to outstanding, support Broxton hasn’t always received. Padilla’s struck out just one of the eleven batters he’s faced, and while I’ll chalk that up to his quick return from arm surgery, he’s not quite there yet either.

But the fun hardly stopped there, of course. Hours later Frank McCourt was in New York, just three blocks from where I sit, giving a press conference on how MLB had wronged him. I won’t recap the play-by-play of the proceedings here – Tony Jackson, Jon Weisman, and Ramona Shelburne have all done so expertly already – but if anything has become abundantly clear, it’s that McCourt just doesn’t get it. He can act contrite, accept blame, and play the victim all he wants, but he doesn’t seem to understand that everything he says he’s doing for the fans of Los Angeles, he’s really just doing for himself. If he really wanted to help the fans and the Dodgers, he’d accept what a villain he’s become and slink away – and by “slink”, I mean “sell for many, many millions more than he paid for the club with other people’s money”.

We’re not close to being done yet, though. Almost immediately after McCourt finished in New York, back in Los Angeles, new Dodger caretaker Tom Schieffer met the media for his own meet-and-greet – and struck all of the right tones about how his goal is simply to return the Dodgers to respectability. The visual overtones were hard to ignore; Schieffer in Los Angeles, riding in to save the day, while McCourt was 3,000 miles away in New York stamping his feet that he couldn’t get his way, after Bud Selig had vetoed his proposed deal with FOX.

Of course, the main problem with that it didn’t necessarily really happen that way. Just after the dueling press conferences finished, Rob Manfred, Executive VP of Labor Relations for MLB, kept the rollercoaster going by issuing a statement, which read in part:

It is unfortunate that Mr. McCourt felt it necessary to publicize the content of a private meeting. It is even more unfortunate that Mr. McCourt’s public recitation was not accurate. Most fundamental, Commissioner Selig did not ‘veto’ a proposed transaction. Rather, Mr. McCourt was clearly told that the Commissioner would make no decision on any transaction until after his investigation into the Club and its finances is complete so that he can properly evaluate all of the facts and circumstances. 

If it wasn’t clear already that MLB wants nothing further to do with McCourt, Manfred’s statement made it crystal. Even better, we’re still going this morning, as Drew McCourt, better known as one of the McCourt sons on the payroll despite questionable contributions, refuted Manfred’s opposition:

Recap of meeting with baseball was 100% accurate… Manfred’s comment not truthful… Someone ought to ask him.

In addition, McCourt’s making the media rounds, stopping by CNBC early this morning to repeat much of what he said in his press conference.

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(I particularly enjoyed CNBC slapping up a graphic showing Jamie as “co-owner” over his face while he was talking. I bet Frank will love that.) I will admit that I am hopelessly biased in this case, but there is nothing that comes off as genuine there. He continues to harp on the fact that the Dodgers have met all of their obligations without asking MLB for assistance, neglecting to mention that he had to take a loan from FOX to meet payroll. He insists that $300m of his proposed megadeal with FOX will go directly into the team, not his own debts, hoping we won’t ask what happens to all the rest of that money, of which $300m is a drop. He apologizes for taking “only” $50m out of the team (plus another $50m in a loan), as though that makes it all okay. He complains that Selig won’t speak to him and that he doesn’t understand why, as though it’s not totally obvious that Selig is concerned about a possible McCourt lawsuit and doesn’t want to provide anything actionable. He attacks MLB for moving to insert Schieffer, as though his actions didn’t lead to that in any way.

McCourt vows to fight on, saying, “Nobody gave me this property or handed it to me and nobody is going to take it away. These are my hard-earned dollars that I’ve put in my franchise, and I’ll protect my rights. I’m not going anywhere.” As ever, he’s completely out of touch. Fans want him gone. Baseball wants him gone. His ex-wife wants him gone. Even Joe Torre has gone over to baseball’s side, and while Ned Colletti would never say it, you better believe his life would be a lot easier without all of this.  

The only one who doesn’t want Frank gone is Frank himself, and he’s apparently willing to burn the team down to the ground to hang on to it.

Go away, Frank. Go. Away.

Fun News For Your Morning Coffee (Updated)

Wake up, Angelinos. It’s 7:24am, half of you probably aren’t even out of bed yet, and already we’re getting hit after hit after hit.

Let’s start with Casey Blake, one-third of the world famous “75% of our infield is injured and the other one is James Loney!” infield. Dylan Hernandez warns us not to expect him back any time soon:

Casey Blake is probably DL-bound. Elbow is infected. Fever spiked last night, forced him to go to a hospital.

Who had “three separate injuries and two DL stints in the first month” in the “Blake is too old” pool? Come claim your prize. For the record, while we have no real details on Blake’s infection, it does remind me of Xavier Paul getting a staph infection in his knee in 2009, a concern that cost him about half the season. Again, there’s absolutely nothing that says this is the same thing or in any way related; just something to keep in mind.

(Update: Hernandez now reporting Blake could be out for 4 weeks. But that’s okay, Russ Mitchell – hitting .214 in ABQ – would come save us.)

But as if the realization that the left side of the Dodger infield is never going to be healthy at the same time, thus dooming us to an enternity of Aaron Miles, isn’t bad enough, there’s also the news that the help you were hoping for in the bullpen this weekend might not be coming.

Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo‘s anticipated Friday return from the disabled list is in doubt after he retired only one of five batters in a Class A rehab assignment Tuesday night.

Kuo, disabled two weeks ago with a sore back that led to a relapse of the yips, was pitching on back-to-back nights for the first time this year after having allowed a run in one inning Monday night. In Tuesday night’s game, he was charged with two runs on four hits with one strikeout.

Oh, and Jerry Sands is also out of today’s lineup, so Tony Gwynn joins Miles, Ivan DeJesus, James Loney, and Rod Barajas in the “guys who aren’t Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, or Jamey Carroll” portion of the order.