Manny’s Hurt, Ely Rules, & Sherrill Gets the MSTI Bump

So you might think the big news coming out of last night’s 4-2 win over the Giants was that Manny Ramirez, the hottest Dodger hitter in June (1.028 OPS), strained his right hamstring in the first inning, requiring him to leave the game and putting his status in doubt.

Or perhaps it was another fine start by John Ely, who has rebounded from a tough start to June to be effective once again - exactly as I said he would. Ely’s made 12 starts this year; he’s completed five innings in 11 of them, and allowed two earned runs or fewer in 8 of them. He’s basically been a gift from the heavens.

But neither of those things qualify as the “big news” from last night. No, that would be that that George Sherrill, just hours after I pointed out that he hadn’t struck a single man out in six weeks, struck out the first (and only) batter he faced last night, Aubrey Huff in the 8th inning.

I’ll try to continue to use my power for good, and not evil. Maybe.

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I can’t really let this Matt Kemp situation pass without commenting. Wasn’t the entire point of Joe Torre the fact that while he may be a terrible in-game strategist, he was supposed to be outstanding at avoiding clubhouse issues? Benching Kemp for one game was the right thing to do for a struggling hitter. The second game seemed odd, but more rest couldn’t hurt. But the third game in a row, well, that really set off the alarm bells.

Jon Weisman ran down the chronology of what happened here, and it’s #5 – emphasis Jon’s, because clearly I’m not the only one horrified by it – that really blows my mind.

1) Torre and Kemp talked.
2) Torre told Kemp he would start Wednesday.
3) Torre said Kemp is struggling and has been frustrated.
4) Kemp came to see Torre; Torre did not approach Kemp.
5) Torre said he didn’t know if Kemp would be starting Wednesday if Kemp hadn’t come to him.
6) Torre said if the coaching staff has something to say a player, they tell him. (I guess Torre had nothing left to tell Kemp without Kemp coming to Torre?)

The idea that Torre just tossed Kemp into the “time-out corner”, waiting for Kemp to come to him with his tail between the legs, is exactly the kind of manager I don’t want. You’ve got to either be able to manage the clubhouse, or do a good job on the field – preferably both. Right now, Torre’s not doing a great job at either one. But hey, at least he didn’t also use Ronald Belisario for the fourth time in five games as well. Oh, wait…

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Prepare yourself for what may be a hilarious outfield in this afternoon’s series finale: Manny is certainly out thanks to his hamstring pull, and Andre Ethier was scheduled to get the day off as well. No word yet on whether Manny’s absence will change Ethier’s day off, but you could be looking at a lineup that features both Garret Anderson and Reed Johnson.

In Which We Dissect George Sherrill

Let’s pour one out for Chad Billingsley, who was effective, though hardly electric, in helping the Dodgers shut down the Giants in his return from the DL. With all the talk about Matt Kemp getting benched (he’ll be back tonight) and Joe Torre mishandling Jonathan Broxton, a loss last night, or even just a bad start by Billingsley, could have led to a full-fledged disaster.

But as little as I think of Torre and his bullpen management, there’s one unavoidable truth:  some of the main cogs in the bullpen just aren’t as good as it was last year. I’ve already looked into Ramon Troncoso, but an even bigger culprit is George Sherrill. There’s no doubt that Sherrill’s 2010 has been a complete and total train wreck, to the point where Steve Dilbeck in the LA Times is openly campaigning for him to be sent to the minors. I won’t quite call this a Carlos Santana situation, since Josh Bell has just a .307 OBP for Baltimore’s AAA team, but Sherrill is just about a no-doubt non-tender situation this offseason.

How bad has Sherrill been? Part of me actually agrees with Steve Dilbeck.

Anyway, normally when we do these things I’ll give a bit of an intro about how good a player was, how far he’s fallen, and explain how I’m going to try to figure out what’s happened, including presenting the relevant stats.

But in looking at Sherrill’s game log, one thing jumped out at me so clearly that I can’t possibly bury it any further: George Sherrill hasn’t had a strikeout since May 17. That’s more than six weeks ago, ever since he struck out Houston’s Michael Bourn (who struck out 140 times last year) in the 8th inning of a 6-2 Dodger win in Los Angeles. By (a completely unfair) comparison, Clayton Kershaw has 56 strikeouts since Sherrill’s seen his last one. He’s clearly fooling no one. How can you succeed like that?

Well, you can’t – obviously. But before we discuss how bad he’s been in 2010, it’s important to remember that the fall isn’t as big as it seems, because his 2009 was a bit of a mirage. You’d know this already if you’d purchased the 2010 Maple Street Press Dodgers Annual and read my capsule on him, but Sherrill’s sparkling 0.65 ERA as a Dodger obscured some pretty discouraging truths. For example, did you know that after Sherrill left the brutal AL East to join the Dodgers:

- His strikeout rate decreased. Sherrill whiffed 8.49/9 as an Oriole in 2009; upon reaching LA it was just 7.16.

- His walk rate increased. He’d issued free passes to 2.83/9 in Baltimore, but that jumped to 3.58 as a Dodger.

- He got hit a little harder. In Baltimore, line drives were hit against him at a 15.4% clip. In LA, that increased to a career-high 22.7%.

Saved by a timely bit of luck (BABIP in LA dropped to .243) and the sudden and unsustainable ability to keep the ball in the yard (HR/9 rate half of his career average), it’s no surprise that his “real” ERA (by xFIP) as a Dodger last year was 3.98. That’s still far better than this year’s debacle, but it’s also not the startling Bob Gibson-to-Debbie Gibson transformation people think we’re seeing now, and that’s important.

There’s no such tomfoolery with the numbers this year, though. The fact that his ERA (6.75), FIP (6.19), and xFIP (6.55) align so closely show that his struggles this year have nothing to do with luck. Sherrill’s just been that bad.

It’s not that hard to see what’s causing this, either. He’s not throwing as hard (88.3 MPH average on his fastball, lowest of his career). He’s not getting anyone to chase junk out of the zone (swings on just 21.1% of his pitches outside the strike zone, tied for his lowest ever). He’s not avoiding bats on any pitches (85.1% of his pitches are met with contact, and he’s getting just 5.5% swinging strikes, each worst of his career).

So is he hurt? He claims no, despite missing time this season with a bad back. There’s been questions all year about his mechanics, theories that his offseason was too short, and stories about being “cured” by watching Billy Wagner on TV. Obviously, none of it has worked. Maybe it’s all of the above. Or none.

But here’s where I differ with Dilbeck, because I don’t think the minors are the right answer here. First of all, no pitcher has ever gone to Albuquerque to feel better about themselves, but also because his departure would leave the Dodgers with only one lefty in then pen, Hong-Chih Kuo, who can’t be used on consecutive nights. Now, I know you’re thinking that Sherrill is so bad that at this point it doesn’t matter if he throws lefty, righty, or with a cannon attached to his torso, but as long as he’s used in only certain situations, he can still be useful.

Sherrill has been unfathomably terrible against righties this year, allowing them to abuse him at a .405/.509/.714 clip. Despite the homer to Robinson Cano on Sunday – and let’s not forget, Cano’s probably the AL MVP at this point, so there’s not much shame in that – he’s held lefties to .206/.333/.353. I realize this is somewhat grasping at straws here, but unless you’re dying to see Juan Perez or Jack Taschner called up from ABQ, there’s not a lot of viable alternatives.

In the meantime, you pitch Sherrill only against lefties, preferably in low-pressure situations, and you pray. Because there’s not a whole lot else you can do right now.

Dodgers DFA Useless Veteran (Update: Or Not)

Whether that’s Nick Green or Ramon Ortiz, I do not know. But take a look at tonight’s starting lineup from the official Dodger Twitter

#Dodgers lineup: Furcal 6 Martin 2 Kemp 8 Ramirez 7 Loney 3 Blake 5 Paul 9 DeWitt 4 Kershaw 1

…and you’ll see Rafael Furcal is back, and Blake DeWitt is starting. So our fears that DeWitt may be getting shipped out from earlier this week can be relieved.

My guess?

Green phantom injury: 3-1
Green DFA: 4-1
Ortiz DFA: 10-1

I suppose we’ll find out soon.

Update: I couldn’t have held onto the publish button for 30 more seconds, could I? Jon Weisman with the answer:

George Sherrill to the DL with “mid-back tightness”

Well, I did say that “phantom injury” was the most likely option, so I’ll still take it as a win.

Well, That Didn’t Go Exactly As Planned

It’s only one game, but the season is pretty much over. The Dodgers don’t have an ace – and in Vicente Padilla, they may not even have a 5th starter. They don’t have any relievers, since George Sherrill and Ramon Ortiz each got lit up, and they don’t even have any offense, since the top 3 in the lineup - Rafael Furcal, Russell Martin, and Andre Ethier – combined to leave 10 men on base.

There may be 161 games remaining, but this team is just playing out the string. If you can’t hold the Pirates, of all teams, to less than double digits, what happens when you go into Philadelphia or Colorado – particularly when the Rockies got off on the right foot while winning in Milwaukee?

It’s time to give up.

Oh, sorry. I was just channeling my inner Kyle Chandler to see what tomorrow’s papers will read. Today’s opener sure wasn’t pretty, and no one’s arguing that. Let’s just get out ahead of the doom-and-gloom and look at what this really means. Over the long run, it’s not all that big a deal, since it is just one game. Opening Day starter or not, Vicente Padilla is this team’s 4th starter, and while it’s certainly important that he step up this season, he doesn’t have to be the top starter on the club. I’m pretty sure that if this exact game had happened in the 4th game of the season rather than the 1st, the feeling wouldn’t be nearly so bad.

As for today’s game in a nutshell… yikes. Padilla didn’t make it out of the 5th, despite throwing 93 pitches. Allowing 7 runs is bad enough, but it was almost worse than that, because he just looked bad. He didn’t make it through a single inning without allowing a baserunner, and even though I’ll admit the slight possibility that Garrett Jones may be the unholy lovechild of Roy Hobbs and Babe Ruth, he’s probably not going to keep up the 324 homer pace he’s on this season. Then you had Russell Martin, who made a fielding error and foolishly got caught in a rundown on a ground ball in front of him.

Even more concerning than that mess was the self-immolation of George Sherrill, who was so brilliant for the Dodgers last season. After an entire spring of hearing him claim that his mechanical issues were “no big deal” and that he’d be fine when the season started, he came in and after getting two quick outs, allowed a walk, a double, and a three-run homer to Ryan Church Doumit. With Hong-Chih Kuo on the DL and Scott Elbert trying to be a starter in ABQ, the Dodgers may be have a serious lefty problem in the pen if Sherrill can’t get straightened out, and quick. (Insert “why was Eric Stults given up for nothing” complaint here.)

It’s not all bad news, though; Rule 5 rookie Carlos Monasterios made his MLB debut by contributing a tidy 1-2-3 inning, the only Dodger pitcher who can make that claim today. Plus, the offense was actually pretty decent, as Manny, Kemp, DeWitt, and Blake all collected two hits, while Furcal and Martin each got on base twice. That’s the kind of offense you can live with.

Tomorrow’s an offday tomorrow, and it’s almost certainly going to suck. Just remember, though; most teams move on to Game 2 with a lesser starter. Since the Dodgers are running out Kershaw on Wednesday, they’ll be improving the quality of starting pitching by about 100000%.

Three Games, Four Injuries

Russell Martin’s groin is still the talk of camp, but he’s hardly the only one dealing with injuries. Casey Blake left today’s game after 2 innings due to a strained muscle in his right side, and Cory Wade received a cortisone shot in his right shoulder, which will shut him down for two weeks.

Wade had almost no shot of making the club anyway, and by all accounts Blake’s injury is the sort of incredibly minor thing that wouldn’t stop him in July, but isn’t worth pushing through in March. That’s fine. Yet it seems that Wade isn’t the only reliever who’s sore, either, according to a line buried deep in the game recap from today’s tilt against the Giants:

[George] Sherrill opened the spring with sore knees and was further slowed by taking a line drive off his right ankle last week.

First I’ve heard of any of that. Clearly, it’s not something the team is all that concerned about since no one’s talking about it and Sherrill’s scheduled to pitch against Colorado tomorrow, but certainly worth keeping an eye on. With Ronald Belisario still MIA, the last thing this club needs is another important reliever unable to contribute.