Late Dodger Comeback Falls Short as Andre Ethier Story Dominates the Day


Last week
, I praised the solid performance of rookie Nathan Eovaldi, while in the same breath pointing out that his low strikeout rate and unsustainably low BABIP meant that regression was likely coming. We didn’t have to wait long to see it: payback from the BABIP gods came in the first inning today, as the balls that had previously found their way into gloves for Eovaldi instead found open grass amid some questionable outfield defense, allowing Colorado to put up five before the Dodgers even came to bat.

To Eovaldi’s credit, he did manage to retire nine of the next eleven before being lifted after four, but the damage was done; despite the Dodgers scoring single runs in the first and third on hits by Justin Sellers and James Loney – yes, him again – the margin returned to five as the Rockies plated two more against Blake Hawksworth in the fifth inning, even as Los Angeles chased noted Dodger-killer Jhoulys Chacin with eleven baserunners in five innings. The Dodgers scored two in the seventh despite not having a hit (Chacin walked the bases loaded, followed by Eugenio Velez hitting into a fielder’s choice – that’s an RBI, not a hit – and Tony Gwynn adding a sacrifice fly. Two more scored in the eighth on hits by Aaron Miles and Trent Oeltjen, setting the stage for a nearly identical situation as Saturday: Colorado closer Rafael Betancourt looking to protect a one-run lead against Miles, Loney, and Kemp. (The batting order was slightly different, but each game had the same three hitters).

Unfortunately for the Dodgers, neither Kemp nor Loney could recreate their Saturday heroics – and as much fun as it might have been to see Loney tie the game on another homer, I’m not sure I could have lived in the world that would have ensued, where black is white, north is east, and up is west – and Miles flew out to left to end the game, ending the Dodger five game winning streak.

The big story, of course, is the fallout from T.J. Simers’ story about Andre Ethier‘s knee. Ethier was not in the lineup today, having met with team doctors for a further examination, and Don Mattingly had some choice quotes for Tony Jackson of ESPNLA:

“I got kind of blindsided by that (column),” Mattingly said. “To me, the way I read it was that Dre has been telling us he couldn’t play and we said play anyway. That definitely isn’t the case. For me, that is taking a shot at my integrity. Not just mine, but the organization, the training staff and Ned.

“His knee has been banged up, there is no denying that. But with that, we check with him. ‘Are you OK today?’ There have been times when I will get him in the weight room after a game and say, ‘I’m giving you the day off tomorrow,’ and then he’ll come into my office and say he wants to (play).”

Ned Colletti didn’t take the story well, either:

“I talked to Andre three weeks ago, one on one,” Colletti said. “We talked about the season, talked about the future and talked about the team. (The knee) wasn’t a topic.”

Colletti said he then received a call from Ethier’s agent, Nez Balelo, while the Dodgers were in Milwaukee two weeks ago informing him that Ethier was experiencing knee problems, that he might need a minor surgical procedure at some point to correct them and that they were affecting his offensive performance, which has been disappointing this season, especially since the All-Star break. “I said, ‘Can he play?”’ Colletti said. “(The answer was) yeah. I had a conversation with Nez again before the game (Saturday). We talked about a lot of different topics related to Andre and related to the knee. My impression was that it was something that would have to be looked at, but it wasn’t something that had to be taken care of right now.”

As we’d thought, the Dodgers were not simply shaking off the truth and forcing Ethier to play; in addition to the firestorm that’d bring from the player’s union, it also makes no sense at all. What’s most interesting, as noted by Vin Scully during the game and printed by Steve Dilbeck of the LA Times, is that Ethier never claimed that Simers misquoted him, (which may be a first for Simers), just that the story didn’t come out the way he’d wanted it to. It’s also worth noting that his knee is apparently such a problem that he considered surgery last winter, has felt “cracking and crunching” in the knee just when walking, and required three injections of synthetic fluid in the knee a few weeks ago. All of which seems to suggest that not only is the knee largely responsible for his lousy season, it’s something that isn’t going to get better unless he goes under the knife – and if that’s the case, I’m wondering what the point is in delaying it until after the season while trying to continue to play and potentially making it worse.

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Remember John Lindsey, last year’s heartwarming story? 2011 hasn’t gone quite as well, as he’s missed nearly two months with a variety of leg injuries and is all but certainly not going to receive a call-up next week. At 35 in January and with that big-league callup under his belt, you might think he’d be ready to move on, but Christopher Jackson of the Albuquerque Baseball Examiner shares with us that Lindsey has other ideas:

Lindsey has been limited to serving as a designated hitter, moving slowly and carefully out of the batting box any time he does connect with the baseball. Sometimes fans who are clearly unaware of his physical condition have given him an earful from the stands.

“It’s funny, I hear it but I don’t,” Lindsey said. “My teammates come in and tell me, ‘Hey, have they been to a game this year? Don’t they know you’re hanging on there by a thread?’ (But) it doesn’t affect me.”

Lindsey said he will return to his home in Hattiesburg, Miss., to rest and rehab his leg with the hope of being healthy enough to play in a winter league in Latin America later in the offseason.

“I’m just trying to stay positive, going into this offseason, working with the trainer and hoping I can erase father time a little bit,” Lindsey said. “It’s kind of strange how this hit me all of a sudden this year. But I feel if I can get myself in good shape, go to winter ball and show teams that I can play, then hopefully next season I can get another job and do what I can do.”

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.

Nathan Eovaldi Wins Debut On a Day That Nearly Lives in Infamy


With apologies to the impressive debut of Nathan Eovaldi, which we’ll get to in a second, just about everything else that happened tonight was nearly overshadowed by the seemingly serious injury suffered by shortstop Dee Gordon on a third inning rundown. As the Dodgers play out the string in 2011, few things are more important than seeing if Gordon can handle the position full-time in 2012, and with fans already reeling from Rubby De La Rosa‘s elbow injury and the trade of Trayvon Robinson in the last week, another blow to the team’s young core might just be the gut punch that pushes us over the edge. As Gordon lay in pain on the ground, we could be forgiven for thinking the worst. What if Gordon was out for the season? What would that mean for 2012? If he required surgery on his throwing arm, what would that do to his superior arm strength? Would this be the excuse Ned Colletti has been waiting for to bring Juan Castro out of retirement? Call it fatalistic if you must, but after all we’ve seen this year, a serious injury to another top prospect at this point would be less “ugh, that’s disappointing” and more “he’s hurt? You know what? Of course he is.” Fortunately for our collective sanity, initial tests ruled out a dislocation or separation, and though Gordon won’t play on Sunday, he’s not likely to head to the disabled list, thus avoiding blue-tinged mass suicides across the nation. (Gordon took to Twitter following the game to claim he wasn’t seriously hurt, as well.)

Back to Eovaldi, he was a winner in his big league debut despite throwing 30 pitches in a second inning that saw him allow two walks and two singles, the final one coming off the bat of pitcher Joe Saunders, which scored the first two Arizona runs. The two walks and two runs were the only of either he allowed in his five frames, while striking out seven. As Eric Stephen of TrueBlueLA notes, the seven strikeouts were tied for fourth-most in a debut by a Dodger starter since they moved to Los Angeles, matched by Clayton Kershaw, Hideo Nomo, and Don Sutton – three names who had or are having pretty solid careers in blue. (Kaz Ishii, Pedro Astacio, and Eric Gagne were the three who had more, and volumes could be written about their ups and downs as Dodgers.)

If anything, the second-inning struggles of Eovaldi made the following innings seem even better, as he could have easily let the game get away from him as the baserunners piled up. After getting Willie Bloomquist to fly out to end the second, he retired eight of the remaining ten hitters he saw, allowing two harmless singles. All in all, things couldn’t really have gone better for the newest Dodger.

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Speaking of Robinson, you probably saw he made a fantastic catch in his Seattle debut on Friday. How’d he follow that in his second game?

(Yeah, that was supposed to be an animation of the homer, just like I had of the catch. Unfortunately, that’s pretty difficult to do when once again, Time Warner has decided that having reliable service is beyond their capabilities, so video isn’t doable right now. The point is, Robinson is off to a great start, TWC continues to suck, and this trade isn’t looking any better right now than it did when it happened.)

Trayvon Robinson, Seattle Mariner

In his MLB debut for the Seattle Mariners, Trayvon Robinson sure made a nice impression, no?

Robinson also chipped in a single, though the Mariners lost 1-0 to Jered Weaver and the Angels in 10 innings. Of course, the Dodgers had a pretty good night of their own – six runs in the top of the third inning will do that for you – and I promise that this isn’t going to turn into the daily Robinson report. (Unless, as expected, he provides far more value than the players the Dodgers received in return for him, though it should be noted catcher Tim Federowicz homered in Albuquerque, as did John Lindsey and Justin Sellers.)

I also want to take the time to praise Javy Guerra, who struck out three in 1.1 scoreless innings to get his 10th save, coming in with two outs in the eight after Mike MacDougal walked two and made a throwing error. I’ve been lukewarm on Guerra for some time, feeling that simply getting “saves” doesn’t make a pitcher any good, especially since his peripherals were iffy and his minor-league track record showed little indication of success. At the end of play of July 6, Guerra had struck out just 10 in 17.1 innings, while allowing 19 hits and five walks, good for a line of .284/.342/.343 against. In the month since, he’s appeared in 10 games with a 12/2 K/BB, allowing just five hits without an earned run. I’m still not sure that Guerra can keep this up over the long-term, but for the moment, he’s outdoing all our expectations.

Speaking of pitchers who bypassed Albuquerque on their way to the bigs – as has happened more than a few times this year – Nathan Eovaldi has been recalled to make tonight’s start, with John Ely headed back to AAA. Kudos to ESPNLA’s Tony Jackson on that one, since Tony predicted this seemingly out of nowhere earlier in the week.

Let’s Get to Know Nathan Eovaldi


I’m halfway through writing a “reasons to watch the rest of the season” post, and included in it is a look at what prospects we might see recalled when rosters expand on September 1. There’s the usual assortment of A.J. Ellises and Jamie Hoffmanns, but I also mentioned the slight possibility that some of the outstanding arms currently residing at AA Chattanooga could get a quick look.

Well, that “slight possibility” may have just gotten a little larger, based on this tweet from ESPNLA’s Tony Jackson, who generally knows what he’s talking about:

Educated guess on my part, but I’m predicting Nate Eovaldi will start next Tuesday night against Phillies.

Maybe Jackson’s right about Tuesday, and maybe he’s not, but it’s as good an excuse as any to take a closer look at Eovaldi, who is enjoying something of a breakout season in AA and is expected to challenge for a spot on the 2012 Dodgers.

First, Eovaldi’s superficial line:

Year Age Tm Lev ERA G GS IP H R HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9
2008 18 2 Teams Rk 0.84 7 0 10.2 7 1 0 3 11 0.938 5.9 2.5 9.3
2009 19 Great Lakes A 3.27 26 16 96.1 95 48 2 41 71 1.412 8.9 3.8 6.6
2010 20 3 Teams A+-Rk 4.30 20 18 98.1 108 52 3 37 72 1.475 9.9 3.4 6.6
2011 21 Chattanooga AA 2.62 20 19 103.0 76 41 3 46 99 1.184 6.6 4.0 8.7
4 Seasons 3.30 73 53 308.1 286 142 8 127 253 1.339 8.3 3.7 7.4
Rk (2 seasons) Rk 2.25 11 4 24.0 16 7 0 7 25 0.958 6.0 2.6 9.4
A (1 season) A 3.27 26 16 96.1 95 48 2 41 71 1.412 8.9 3.8 6.6
AA (1 season) AA 2.62 20 19 103.0 76 41 3 46 99 1.184 6.6 4.0 8.7
A+ (1 season) A+ 4.45 16 14 85.0 99 46 3 33 58 1.553 10.5 3.5 6.1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/2/2011.

If there’s one thing that stands out there to me, it’s his apparently impressive ability to keep the ball in the park, having allowed just 8 homers in over 300 innings. That doesn’t necessarily mean it translates to the bigs – I don’t have to remind you the varying level of competition he faces in the lower leagues – but impressive nonetheless.

Eovaldi didn’t make Kevin Goldstein’s Top 20 Dodger list at Baseball Prospectus – in the comments, he referred to him as a “middle reliever” – though when I asked him if his 2011 had changed his opinion at all, Goldstein replied, “absolutely“. Eovaldi’s step forward this season has really turned heads, as Mike Newman of Scouting the Sally has been gushing about him all year. In June, he posted this scouting report from an April start:

  • Excellent size; Eovaldi looked closer to 210 lbs. than his listed weight of 195
  • Well-proportioned frame; Size through the quads and shoulders; Athletic pitcher’s frame
  • Fluid delivery with good pacing; Generates easy velocity
  • High 3/4 arm slot; Limits movement on his fastball
  • 94-96 MPH 4-seam fastball
  • 4-seamer lacked movement; Worked pitch in-and-out effectively
  • Maintained velocity throughout the start; Still touching 95 MPH in the 5th
  • 91-92 MPH 2-seam fastball; Some arm side run
  • 84 MPH slider; Best breaking ball; Used as out pitch
  • Pitch featured late cut; Depth improved throughout the course of the game
  • 78 MPH curveball; Threw sparingly; One CB was thrown behind RHH to backstop; Below average offering
  • 83-84 MPH Changeup; Threw sparingly; Slowed arm action

From a velocity standpoint, Eovaldi nearly matched Rubby De La Rosa pitch-for-pitch. As impressive as that statement is, Eovaldi’s fastball lacked the movement to make the offering elite. Add to this a plethora of breaking pitches in need of further refinement, and Eovaldi is on his way, but not ready for Los Angeles yet. As one of the youngest pitchers in the Southern League, he has plenty of time to improve and become more than a fastball/slider pitcher.

He followed that up with this report on July 19 at RotoHardball:

Since the pick, Eovaldi has admittedly had a couple of shaky starts, but I attended one of those starts in which he was clearly working on his secondary pitches which lag behind his potent four seam fastball. After a first inning which saw Eovaldi work 94-96 MPH, touching 97, he spent the rest of the game throwing 2-seam fastballs, sliders, and changeups, often throwing four or more of the same pitch consecutively. And although I prefer watching prospects work on mixing pitches effectively throughout a game as they would in the big leagues, I can also see the value in forcing a pitcher like Eovaldi to attack hitters with secondary pitches he may not have complete confidence in. Strike out a hitter like Diamondbacks Paul Goldschmidt (Eovaldi’s opponent in the outing) using a “baptism by fire” approach can do wonders for a pitcher’s confidence.

At minorleagueball, John Sickels ran an “Alternate Universe” draft in May, trying to see where high schoolers drafted in 2008 may have fit in the 2011 draft if they’d went to college:

Nate Eovaldi, RHP: 11th round pick in 2008 by the Dodgers, bought away from Texas A&M for $250,000. Erratic track record but has a live arm, power sinker, and is pitching well in Double-A this year. I’d mark him as a third-round candidate in the 2011 class.

When neither Goldstein or Sickels included Eovaldi in their top 20 prospects before the season, it’s hard to think that Eovaldi has “star” written on him, though he may profile as a solid mid-rotation starter if his 2011 progression is for real. Sounds like we may see for ourselves sooner than later.

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The lineup for tonight’s game in San Diego, which just started a few minutes ago, may pique your interest:

Gordon SS, Blake 3B, Miles 2B, Kemp CF, Rivera RF, Loney 1B, Navarro C, Gwynn LF, Kuroda P

That’s right; Andre Ethier is out, and Aaron Miles is hitting third. Joe Block reports that there’s nothing wrong with Ethier, saying:

Mattingly said Ethier getting routine day off, since he seemed frustrated last night and his poor numbers vs Latos

Ethier has three hits in 16 PA against Latos, which doesn’t seem like a large enough sample size to matter. While I don’t mind Ethier getting a breather now and then, it does seem very odd to do so against a righty, when Ethier’s struggles against lefties are so well chronicled.