Thoughts From the Road

Thoughts, both baseball and otherwise, while sitting in the backseat of an SUV on a five hour ride across Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois…

So long, Dee Gordon. The Dodgers haven’t made it official yet, but we all know that Gordon is getting sent down later today to make room for Rafael Furcal, and that’s fine by me. Gordon has been basically exactly what we figured he’d be – overmatched offensively, inconsistent defensively, and occasionally completely breathtaking on both sides of the ball. For a player who was never supposed to be up this early, he showed the talent was real, even if he has much to work on. I look at his first taste as a success, and hopefully he can take that back to the minors with a better idea of what it takes to be a big league ballplayer.

As for Furcal, he’s back sooner than I thought he would be, and that’s a great thing because it gives him nearly a month before the trading deadline. I know, I know: he’s so fragile that it’s hard to think another team could count on him. Still, the shortstop market is so thin that whatever team is unwilling or unable to win the Jose Reyes sweepstakes could show some interest if he’s able to produce over the next few weeks. Possible teams? Reds, Giants, Brewers, Rays, Yankees?

There are some unfortunate billboards in this part of the country. In addition to the usual and expected signs from megachurches warning me of my impending arrival in hell, there’s apparently a chain of RV stores owned by a “Tom Raper”.  His phone number, no joke, is 1-800-RAPER. Seriously. I’m trying to imagine his low-budget local tv commercials. The possibilities are endless.

Jon Garland is probably out for the year, and Ted Lilly has a sore elbow. Both items via Tony Jackson; while it’s no surprise about Garland, it does serve to remind us about his offseason comment that other teams were scared off by his medical reports. At least his $8m (I think) 2012 option is out the window, though. As for Lilly, that would surely help to explain how bad he’s been lately, though doesn’t make me feel any better about the three year deal he got. If there’s a concern here, it’s that any further rotation injuries could make it harder to limit the innings of Rubby de la Rosa, which is a conversation we’re going to need to have at some point.

Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw are All Stars. Congrats to both. Both are well deserved, and I don’t see much of a case that any other Dodgers were snubbed.

Which Prospect Could Replace Marcus Thames?

The Dodgers lost to the Angels for the sixth time in seven tries last night, in a game marked mostly by some hilarious base-running and another wild start by Rubby De La Rosa, but let’s focus on some possibly impending roster moves.

Marcus Thames strained his left calf doubling in his first at-bat last night, with Tony Gwynn immediately coming in to replace him. Tell me this doesn’t sound like someone who’s about to take a nice long stay on the disabled list:

Thames is listed as day to day, but he already missed a month earlier this season with a strained right quadriceps muscle. After Thames pulled into second base with a double, Dodgers medical-services director Stan Conte ran out from the dugout to check on him. Moments later, the two left the field together, an obviously frustrated Thames stopping as he entered the runway leading to the clubhouse to slam his helmet against a wall in disgust.

“Initially, I heard three to four days,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “But obviously, they’re going to look at it again. That would be the best-case scenario.”

Even if Thames wasn’t old and injury-prone – which he is, don’t you know – Thames is hitting just .207/.258/.362 on the year, and has seven hits (six singles) in 26 plate appearances some returning from injury in early June. With negative defensive value and little production at the plate, there’s little point in playing a man down for several days in order to keep him on the roster. With Thames hobbled, Gwynn as lifeless of a hitter as usual, and Trent Oeltjen neither getting much of a chance (16 PA) nor doing much with it (.641 OPS), the left field hole is as big as ever.

Here’s the question, though: do you call up Sands or Trayvon Robinson? When the Dodgers shipped off Sands, which at the time I agreed with, the idea was that he just needed to get his confidence back, not that there was any specific giant hole in his game. I’d say he’s done that; he homered twice last night, giving him three in three games, and since he’s been back in ABQ he’s hitting .297/.378/.568. You can make an argument that 2+ weeks back down isn’t enough, but he’s clearly got nothing left to prove in AAA.

There’s also Robinson, who’s shown a great deal of improvement as the season goes on. While his season stats are great – .316/.386/.582 – there’s a lot more of interest when you look deeper. For most of the season, we’ve been concerned about his high K/BB rate, which was 57/16 at the end of May. That’s a factor of over three; in June, he’s cut that down to 26/13. But dig this: every time we talk about an Isotope who is putting up numbers, we also have to caveat it with the usual line about how ABQ is a high-offense environment. That doesn’t apply to Robinson – at home, he’s hitting .304/.376/.574, while on the road he’s doing even better, with a .330/.398/.591. Unlike Sands, he can play center, though he isn’t an option at first base.

They’re clearly both better options than Thames or anyone else the Dodgers are currently playing in left, but while calling them both up would probably give the team the strongest 25-man roster, you’re also not going to do that when there’s only one starting spot available.

So which do you prefer? I tend to go with Sands, simply because he’s been here before and you hope that his break from the bigs would serve him well the second time around. On the other hand, you could probably DFA Gwynn with Robinson’s experience in center. I can certainly see an argument for either.


The other news of the day is that the Dodgers are reportedly considering what fans have been asking me for years, which is moving Rafael Furcal to second base when he returns. In theory, this sounds great, right? Playing Furcal and Dee Gordon up the middle would be one of the more exciting duos in baseball, and it would strengthen the bench by having three of the Casey Blake, Juan Uribe, Jamey Carroll, and Aaron Miles group – whomever isn’t starting at third base – available in reserve. Great! Where do I sign up?

Except… it’s not that simple. In order to do that, the club would need to have seven active infielders, which is a configuration they rarely go with. That would leave room for just one reserve outfielder behind Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and whomever the starting left fielder is, which is unlikely unless the often-discussed-but-never-implemented idea of letting Blake play the outfield is revived. Of course, Blake is banged up and Uribe is awful, so you could potentially put one on the DL to make room.

Even still, as exciting as Gordon’s been, I wouldn’t consider him up for good. He’s reached base just twice in his last 21 plate appearances, sinking his season line to .246/.270/.295. Ludicrous speed is nice and all, but as the old saying goes, “you can’t steal first”. That doesn’t mean that I’m saying he needs to be sent down right now, of course; just that I’m not sure he’s proven himself enough that it’s really worth trying to make a veteran player make a position switch for him.

The Injury Merry-go-round Keeps On Spinning

Per the official Dodgers Twitter feed, Rafael Furcal and Jon Garland have each been placed on the disabled list, as the team will go with a 23-man roster going forward. I suppose that’s only half true – Ivan DeJesus and John Ely are headed to join the team for the third and second time this season, respectively – but based on how little we saw DeJesus in his previous stints, there’s little reason to believe he’ll get any more of a shot now, particularly with Juan Uribe expected to return in the next 24-48 hours. Actually, I’m not even sure why DeJesus is bothering to get on the plane; when Uribe is activated, is there really any chance they’re not just going to send him right back down so they can keep Juan Castro?

As for Ely, he’s had a very bizarre season in Albuquerque. He dazzled Reno, one of the top hitting clubs in the PCL, with a three-hit shutout on May 22. But in his two starts since, he’s been crushed, allowing 11 baserunners in three innings to New Orleans on May 29, and then nine hits (including two homers) to Memphis on Wednesday. What makes all that so weird is that for all we’ve heard about the high-offense environment of Albuquerque, the Reno shutout was at home, while the last two disasters have been on the road. While there’s some argument to be made that he should get Garland’s start in order to protect Rubby De La Rosa, the team has made it pretty clear that de la Rosa will get the ball, and Ely’s poor last two times out makes it hard to dispute that. That said, he’ll probably be used in tandem, as de la Rosa’s unlikely to go deep into that game.

We’re still awaiting an official report on Furcal, but all indications are that he’s pulled his oblique muscle, an injury that can take weeks to heal even in the best of conditions. Furcal’s hardly wowed us with his durability, so I wouldn’t expect to see him until at least mid-July. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for him to get healthy and productive to impress any potential suitors before the deadline, which, as you can tell, is my main priority right now. I sure hope Hiroki Kuroda enjoys pinstripes, though.

Dodger Injuries Outnumber Dodger Runs

You’d think that’s a title which would represent a complete and utter rarity, but the way this season has gone… not so much. On the same day we found out that Jon Garland was headed to the disabled list with right shoulder soreness (though the move was not officially made, because Vicente Padilla was apparently not ready), shortstop Rafael Furcal injured himself for approximately the 59th time in his Dodger career. This time, he hurt his side on a throw to third during a rundown play, not that the details really matter. He’s officially listed as “day to day”, which means we can expect him back sometime in late August. While we await news on the severity of his injury, if he does end up heading back to the DL, I’ll place full blame on Juan Castro, who was almost certain to lose his job this weekend when Juan Uribe gets activated.

As for the game, Hiroki Kuroda struggled through six innings, needing 114 pitches to get that far and ended up walking more than he struck out for the first time in well over a year. Despite that – and allowing four baserunners in the second inning – he still managed to hold the Reds scoreless through four innings, before allowing two in the fifth on two walks and two singles. While his ability to keep the Reds off the board on a night when he clearly didn’t have his best stuff was admirable, it’s basically irrelevant in the end, as the Dodger offense once again failed to do any damage.

Bronson Arroyo breezed through six innings, running into trouble only in the fourth, when the Dodgers loaded the bases with none out on hits by Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp and a pitch that hit Jay Gibbons. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, Ethier and Kemp can’t let Tony Gwynn and crew come take their spots on the bases and then head back to the plate, because as usual, they received no support from their supporting cast. James Loney heroically drove in Ethier with a sacrifice fly, proving his clutchness, but Kemp got caught in a rundown and was tagged out. Dioner Navarro grounded out, and that was the end of that threat – and basically the game. The Dodgers had just two hits in the ensuing five innings against Arroyo, Logan Ondrusek, Nick Masset, and Francisco Cordero, and they both came from – wait for it – Ethier and Kemp. Shocking, I know; of the six Dodger hits, four came from the dynamic duo. The rest of the team combined to go 2-29, and stop me if you’ve heard that one before.

If there was one bright sign from tonight’s game, it was Scott Elbert, who was called in to a tough situation in the 7th, with a man on second and one out. He faced Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, two of the the hottest hitters on the planet right now, and retired them easily, striking out Votto and inducing Bruce into a popup.

It’s great to see Elbert finally having some major league success, for a variety of different reasons. It’s also kind of a problem when the highlight of the game is a middle reliever getting some outs. Well, at least we have the starting debut of Rubby De La Rosa to look forward to. Right?

Hiroki Kuroda Was Awful, and That’s The Least Of Our Problems

At this point, if it weren’t so sad, it’d be funny.

Through three and a half innings, this was just another nondescript game in what’s quickly turning into a very forgettable season. The Dodgers were down 4-0, thanks to Hiroki Kuroda allowing first-inning homers to Alexei Ramirez and A.J. Pierzynski on his way to giving up nine hits and six runs (four earned) in 5.2 innings. (It should be noted that most of the last two innings fall under the category of “taking one for the team”, as mopup guys Lance Cormier and Ramon Troncoso each threw multiple innings yesterday.) With one out, the White Sox were threatening to add to the lead, having Gordon Beckham on first thanks to a Rafael Furcal error.

Pierre came up, and took a Kuroda meatball deep to right field. (The simple fact that Pierre was able to do that should tell you all you need to know about how ineffective Kuroda was today.) Andre Ethier went hard to the wall trying to come up with the ball, but was unable to, allowing Pierre to reach second. It was immediate from the moment it happened that Ether had injured himself, though while it initially appeared he’d hurt his shoulder, we later learned that it was a “right elbow contusion, lower right back contusion and sprained left big toe”. That’s three injuries for the price of one, apparently. Ethier stayed in for one more batter, a run-scoring single to right by Ramirez that Ethier clearly was hindered in getting to, before being replaced mid-inning by Tony Gwynn.

Pierre wasn’t done yet, however, apparently having decided he hadn’t caused enough damage to the Dodgers in his three years with the team. Having advanced to third on the Ramirez hit and standing firm while Adam Dunn walked, he took off for home on a Paul Konerko sacrifice fly to center. 95% of the time, Pierre scores on that ball without breaking a sweat, but Matt Kemp‘s laser throw made it a tight play. Kemp’s throw was just ever so slightly to the first base side, so Rod Barajas shifted to grab the ball and dove back to the plate to try and tag Pierre. He was unable to do so in time, but came away with a fun parting gift – Pierre’s spikes in his right wrist. Barajas stayed in for Pierzynski to strike out, and was hit for by Dioner Navarro in the next inning; while x-rays came back negative, he has a sprained right wrist and is “day to day”.

This was a day that had actually started with some optimism, as Furcal had returned and Casey Blake & Blake Hawksworth are each expected to within the next week. The Dodgers were one game away from finally winning a series in an AL park. Now? Now, they were just a Russ Mitchell last-second homer away from being swept, and have to quickly make some roster decisions. They’ve been playing shorthanded all weekend, with the combination of the extra hitter in the lineup at DH and the “active but unavailable” status of Aaron Miles & Juan Uribe before today meaning that the team had only two healthy bench players for the first two games of the series. That became three today when Furcal took Uribe’s spot, but while you can get away with that when you’re in the AL and not hitting for your pitchers, that’s not going to fly when they head back to the NL with a series in Houston tomorrow.

Uribe’s trip to the DL was the 15th disabling injury the Dodgers have had this season in less than two months, and it’s hard to believe that we won’t see at least one more in the next 24 hours, between the uncertain statuses of Miles, Ethier, and Barajas. Since the 40-man roster is pretty sparse at this point, the AAA call-ups would seem pretty straight forward: Ivan DeJesus for Miles, Jamie Hoffmann for Ethier, and A.J. Ellis for Barajas. My total speculative guess? Ethier and Barajas go to the DL, Miles does not. Barajas probably gets less leeway than Ethier does, because if he is unavailable for even a few days, you either have to call up Ellis or be comfortable with Mitchell as your backup catcher.


Let’s not totally ignore some bright spots: As I joked on Twitter, James Loney is slowly moving into “not our biggest problem” territory, after reaching base three times today. That doesn’t mean that he’s suddenly become all that good or that I’ve changed my overall opinion on him, but he has doubled in three straight games and hit in 8 of 9 & 15 of 18, raising his line from an unbelievably bad .167/.191/.211 on April 23 to a more realistically poor line of .240/.283/.292 after today. With the rest of the injury and production issues mounting, and Loney still contributing his usual solid defense, he’s no longer the biggest concern. That said, he can’t afford any mental mistakes, like the one he made today by being doubled off of first on a Barajas pop-up caught by the second baseman in short right field.

In addition, Jerry Sands followed up his first career homer on Saturday with his first career four-hit game today. His OBP is now up to .330, which is far from great, yet still miles better than anyone on this team not named Kemp, Ethier, or Carroll. In May alone, his line is .289/.407/.467, which is a great sign. Like the Saturday homer, the first three hits were pulled to left field, which could be a sign that he’s becoming more comfortable. It’s also a good sign that the first two of those hits came against righty Edwin Jackson, as recent comments from Don Mattingly had me worried that Sands would be in a strict lefty/righty platoon with Jay Gibbons.


Yes, Furcal went 0-5 with three strikeouts and an error, far from the spark we’d all hoped for. Still, it reminded me that we’ve seen this before. Last season, he missed nearly a month starting in April due to injury, returning in late May. In his first game back on May 25, the Dodgers went into Chicago and lost 3-0 to the Cubs. Furcal went 0-4 with two strikeouts and two errors that day in his return to the lineup.

Sound familiar at all? The good news is that after that day, Furcal hit .319/.381/.518 through May, June, and July, before being injured again in early August. He’ll need to have another run like that if this team is going to stay afloat.


Bullet dodged: Ken Rosenthal reminds us that it could still be worse, passing along the news that Scott Podsednik signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies today. Frankly, I was shocked that Ned Colletti didn’t jump on him as soon as he was cut by Toronto a few weeks ago, and the timing here is key, particularly if Ethier is out for any significant period of time. Hey, remember when Podsednik turned down his half of a team option this winter? Yeah, me neither.


(Update) I meant to add this originally, but there was good news from Albuquerque today as well.  John Ely throw a complete game three-hitter today, needing 107 pitches to beat Reno. He struck out seven and walked just one. Christopher Jackson has the full story.