Dodgers Accept LaRussa’s Help In Comeback Victory

There’s an old saying in baseball that a manager can’t win games, but he sure can lose them. Ladies and gentleman, may I present Exhibit A, which was the 9th inning from your favorite bullpen-juggling, zombie-looking, DUI-collecting, Colby Rasmus-hating St. Louis manager, Tony LaRussa. After Chris Carpenter dominated the Dodgers for 8 full innings – and don’t you forget, Carpenter always kills the Dodgers – LaRussa decided it was time to put his mark on the 1-0 game. Sure, you could just let Carpenter finish out the game, having thrown only 99 pitches… orrrr you could use four pitchers for four batters, making even your hometown fans boo you, and insert Rafael Furcal and his injured thumb into the game while losing Lance Berkman for good measure.

How’d that work out? After Carpenter plunked Juan Rivera to lead off the ninth, Arthur Rhodes came in to retire Andre Ethier, because Rhodes has a heartbeat and throws with his left hand. Fernando Salas entered and immediately heralded the end times by allowing Aaron Miles to tie the game with a triple to deep center. (Steve Lyons, on top of his game tonight, immediately chimed in by referring to Miles as a “gritty, tough player, always comes through big in the clutch.”) Jason Motte entered – yes, the fourth pitcher of the inning, despite the Dodgers having managed just one hit in the frame – and got Rod Barajas to ground to Furcal, who bobbled it and threw it past Yadier Molina, allowing the Dodgers to take the lead. But LaRussa was the gift who kept on giving, because instead of Javy Guerra having to face Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Berkman in the 9th, he merely had to face Pujols, Corey Patterson, and Furcal, plus Jon Jay when Furcal reached on a single.

LaRussa’s bumbling, along with Miles’ hit (and Lyons’ ridiculous hysteria aside, Miles deserves all the credit for making it happen), turned a certain loss into the kind of momentum-building win we just haven’t seen that often from this year’s edition of the Dodgers.

Before we got to the 9th inning silliness, 21-year-old rookie Nathan Eovaldi nearly matched Carpenter by allowing just one run (a Berkman dinger) and two hits over five innings. That means that in each of Eovaldi’s first four career starts, he’s made it at least five innings while allowing two earned runs or less, and that’s something that no Los Angeles Dodger in history is able to say. (To clarify, several pitchers have done that in five or six games to start their Dodger careers, but not to start their big-league careers.)

That’s a pretty impressive start to a career, and the hope Eovaldi has provided has been well-timed in the aftermath of Rubby De La Rosa‘s elbow surgery. While that’s wonderful, there’s also some worry about how much of this is smoke-and-mirrors; after striking out seven in his debut in Arizona, he’s now struck out three, two, and one over his last three outings, totaling just six whiffs in 17 innings over the last three games. (Yes, the box score says he had two strikeouts tonight, but one was a foul bunt for strike three by Carpenter.) That’s a .232 BABIP, and that kind of success without missing bats is generally unsustainable. That’s not to take anything away from Eovaldi, of course, who should be thrilled with the way his season has gone; just a reminder to take the “OMG he has a 2.05 ERA” comments you’ll surely hear with the requisite grain of salt.

On the other side of the ball, Don Mattingly tried to shake things up with his lineup, with mixed results. For the first time all season, Andre Ethier (bumped to fifth) and Matt Kemp (moved to third) strayed from their usual 3-4 spots in the lineup, with James Loney moved up to second and Juan Rivera hitting cleanup. KABC’s Joe Block reported that Mattingly did so to get Kemp an extra at-bat and to take some of the pressure off of the struggling Ethier. That all makes sense, and you have to think there was just a bit of “screw it, nothing is working, I have to do something” involved there too. Unfortunately for Mattingly, Kemp and Ethier went 0-8, though Barajas and Loney combined for five of the six Dodger hits. (Speaking of which, today is Barajas’ one-year anniversary as a Dodger. Sure didn’t see that .284 OBP coming, right?)

I shouldn’t have to point out to you who else didn’t get a hit: Eugenio Velez, who added an 0-3 onto his 0-25 season; as Block pointed out, Velez hasn’t managed a hit since June 30 with Albuquerque, a span of nearly two months.


Speaking of Furcal and the Cards, in addition to the ~$1.5m saved when he was dealt in July, the Dodgers also acquired outfielder Alex Castellanos, and while he’s still unlikely to be more than a fourth outfielder, he did win the Southern League Player of the Week award today. He’s hitting .368/.443/.711 in 88 PA for Chattanooga; I doubt we’ll see him in September since Jerry Sands and Jamie Hoffmann rate above him on the depth chart, but he could certainly make a case for himself in camp next season.

It’s Time To Move On From Casey Blake

Hey, I like Casey Blake. Despite the regrettable circumstances of his arrival, his lousy 2010, and the fact that his inability to stay healthy in 2011 was predictable from about a million miles away, Blake’s been a solid enough player and by all accounts an even better person and teammate. All of the nice things you’ve heard about Jim Thome‘s off-the-field demeanor lately? I’ve never met Casey Blake, but every last word I’ve heard about him suggests that they all apply to him as well.

Believe it or not, Blake is, by most measures, one of the three best Dodger third basemen in the last century. Think about that for a second, but it’s true. Among those with as many plate appearances as he has, with at least 50% of them coming at third, Blake has the third highest OPS+. (It was pointed out to me that Jim Gilliam provided plenty of value as a third baseman as well, though he does not appear on this list because less than half his time came at the hot corner.)

Rk Player OPS+ PA From To Age AB H 2B 3B HR OPS
1 Ron Cey 125 6108 1971 1982 23-34 5216 1378 223 18 228 .804
2 Red Smith 110 1667 1911 1914 21-24 1467 409 84 25 14 .743
3 Casey Blake 108 1592 2008 2011 34-37 1393 362 72 9 49 .768
4 Adrian Beltre 108 3818 1998 2004 19-25 3462 949 176 18 147 .794
5 Cookie Lavagetto 104 3241 1937 1947 24-34 2777 763 143 28 35 .756
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/22/2011.

Change that to WAR in order to get defense in, and that drops him to fourth, though you could argue that Cookie Lavagetto barely beats him out yet had the benefit of twice as many plate appearances to do it.

Rk Player WAR/pos PA From To Age AB H 2B 3B HR OPS
1 Ron Cey 46.2 6108 1971 1982 23-34 5216 1378 223 18 228 .804
2 Adrian Beltre 22.6 3818 1998 2004 19-25 3462 949 176 18 147 .794
3 Cookie Lavagetto 12.4 3241 1937 1947 24-34 2777 763 143 28 35 .756
4 Casey Blake 10.6 1592 2008 2011 34-37 1393 362 72 9 49 .768
5 Joe Stripp 8.3 2800 1932 1937 29-34 2567 758 129 30 13 .719
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/22/2011.

And while I don’t have a table for it, his VORB – that’s Value Over Replacement Beard – is off the charts.

(Here’s where we’ll get the arguments that Blake’s historical ranking somehow justifies the Carlos Santana trade. No, it doesn’t; that trade was good for only two months of Blake’s time, not his full Dodger career, and it’ll never be okay that Cleveland got more from the Dodgers for Blake than they did from Milwaukee for C.C. Sabathia at the same time. Besides, considering that Blake’s 2010-11 span has been awful and he’s still ranking where he does, it should be clear that third base has not exactly been a position with a glorious history for the Dodgers.)

Anyway, the point of all this is not to reflect upon Blake’s position in Dodger history, such as it were, but to suggest that perhaps it’s time to shut it down, for the benefit of all involved. Blake has missed substantial amounts of time this season, from starting the year on the DL with a back injury to missing over a month with a left elbow infection to his current malady, a pinched nerve in his neck. 

As Dylan Hernandez writes, the neck injury has Blake thinking about his long-term health:

Casey Blake hit off a tee Sunday, the start of his latest comeback from a pinched nerve in his neck that has bothered him for a significant part of the season.

But Blake, who has missed the Dodgers’ last four games, is proceeding with caution.

“Obviously, this neck thing is pretty serious,” he said. “I want to be able to move my neck when I’m 50.”

As recently as last month, the 38-year-old third baseman said he wasn’t entertaining the idea of retirement. But he said this weekend that his condition was making him reconsider.

“Sure,” he said. “Obviously, I don’t want to go out like this. Hopefully, with rest in the off-season this thing goes away and I can get ready to play another season. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”

He said he is unsure whether he would continue playing if it meant jeopardizing his long-term health.

Blake, who has made three trips to the disabled list and is batting .250 in 58 games, said his goals for the remainder of the season have also changed.

Earlier in the year, he talked about wanting to play well enough to essentially force the Dodgers to exercise the $6-million team option in his contract for next season. He said this week that his priorities have now shifted.

“I’m not even worried about that right now,” Blake said. “The main focus is just getting healthy and doing what’s best for my neck and my future.”

He said doctors have warned him that his condition could worsen if he continues to play.

“The more I play, the more chance I have to really put more pressure on that nerve,” Blake said. “If you put enough pressure on it, you bang it enough, you can cause some damage.”

While you certainly feel for Blake as a player, because no one wants to see their career possibly end like this, you do have to wonder what exactly the point is for the Dodgers. I hardly need to remind you how short the bench has been over the last few days, particularly with Rod Barajas banged up, the bullpen exhausted, and Eugenio Velez continuing to be Eugenio Velez. Remember, James Loney had to throw a bullpen session yesterday and Aaron Miles was prepared to be the backup catcher, simply because there were no appropriate bodies to do the job. Considering that Barajas couldn’t catch and Velez can’t play, the Dodgers have been essentially going with a 22.5-man roster in part because Blake is taking up a roster spot yet can’t contribute.

Even if he can, how does that help the Dodgers? Blake’s clearly not going to be with the team in 2012, so the focus should be on finding out right now if you have anything in the system who can help. (I know, I know - there probably isn’t, but what’s to lose? The team is already in last place.) Disable Blake, and call up Russ Mitchell. DFA Velez, and call up Ivan DeJesus. DFA Dioner Navarro – or donate him to science, I don’t care – and call up A.J. Ellis. Play Justin Sellers every day at short (which, to their credit, they generally are) until Dee Gordon returns.

If Blake’s ready to make a few appearances before the end of the season, that’s fine, because rosters expand a week from Thursday, and since he last played on August 17, he’d be eligible to return the very next day. Letting him take up a roster spot isn’t helping the team now, and it’s not helping him by pushing him to rush back and risk further injury.

It’s time to move on.


Speaking of minor leaguers we’ll likely see soon, Christopher Jackson’s latest – this time for – is a feature on catcher Tim Federowicz which is a must-click if only for the photo of the mustache that I pray Federowicz brought with him from Boston.

To his credit, Federowicz seems to understand that the trade which brought him to the Dodgers wasn’t necessarily welcomed by a lot of fans:

The stated intent by Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was to acquire a catching prospect, something Los Angeles lacked in its farm system. Federowicz said he understands the frustration of Dodgers fans.

“Yeah, they gave up Trayvon — he’s a great player and now he’s in the big leagues, doing his thing up there,” Federowicz said. “That’s tough to lose.

“I guess there is a little bit of pressure to show fans what I’ve got. But I think it’ll eventually work out the way the Dodgers want it to.”

My guess is that Fedorowicz is probably not going to be ready to start 2012 in the majors, and since he’s not eligible for the Rule 5 draft, he most likely will not be called up in September, since that would require him to be added to the 40-man roster. But could we see an Ellis/Federowicz tandem by this time next year? It certainly couldn’t be worse than Barajas/Navarro.