I Think The Rotation Is Ready For the Season (Updated)

Nice weekend for the starting staff, right?

Chad Billingsley, today: 3.2 innings, 3 hits, 2 runs (1 earned), 2 K, after last week’s 3 scoreless inning debut.

Clayton Kershaw, yesterday: 4 scoreless innings, facing the minimum 12 batters, giving him 7 scoreless innings this spring in which he’s allowed just 3 hits.

Jon Garland, on Friday: 3 scoreless innings, allowing just one hit.

Any comments about the offense, or lack thereof, should be held back on a day that has a lineup missing Matt Kemp, Rafael Furcal, Andre Ethier, Casey Blake, and Juan Uribe, and features Dioner Navarro hitting cleanup. On the other hand, Marcus Thames, on his 34th birthday, doubled off the left-center wall to tie the game at 3 in the 8th.

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25th man update: Justin Sellers replaced Juan Castro in the starting lineup at shortstop, walked once in two tries and made two errors on the same play in the first inning, destroying a WGN banner in the process. Castro struck out pinch-hitting in the 5th (against Carlos Marmol, to be fair) and later doubled. Aaron Miles, playing third, tripled and scored the first Dodger run, while Ivan DeJesus went 0-2. The arrow is still pointing strongly in Castro’s direction.

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Ramon Troncoso got four outs on seven pitches, prompting new DodgerTalk co-host Joe Block to claim that he’s made the team; Troncoso has now thrown 3.1 scoreless innings without allowing a walk. I think that may be a bit premature, but with the turmoil at the back end of the bullpen, there’s certainly opportunity. You’d think that his history, and time away from the overuse of Joe Torre, would get him some consideration, though.

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Hey, Navarro’s going to get a hit sometime, right? I know, it’s spring, it’s early, I get it. Just saying, guys who have hit .212 over the last two seasons and have an arguably superior player behind them need to show something a little more than not getting on base once over their first eleven plate appearances. He at least plated Gabe Kapler on a sac fly today, though of course if Kapler hadn’t been on third, it’d have just been another flyout. Meanwhile, A.J. Ellis drew a walk and threw out a runner trying to steal.

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At the Los Angeles Times blog, Steve Dilbeck wonders what might happen if James Loney‘s knee troubles end up being worse than they appear. Despite Russ Mitchell getting the most playing time in Loney’s absence right now (where’s John Lindsey?), Dilbeck thinks that Casey Blake would get the bulk of the time during the season, with Juan Uribe sliding to third and Jamey Carroll entering at second, because it’s just not realistic to think that Jerry Sands breaks camp with the team.

I think Dilbeck’s assumption is probably correct, but it got me thinking – would that alignment actually make the team better? There’s a few reasons to think that it might:

  • Carroll would add badly need OBP. His mark has been .355 or higher in each of the last three seasons, four of the last six, and five of the last seven. Carroll doesn’t hit for power, but then again neither does Loney; overall, Carroll had a higher OPS+ last year.
  • It’d help optimize the lineup, since Carroll could be a good #2 hitter, pushing Blake down to 6 where he belongs.
  • It’d shift Uribe to 3B, which is his stronger defensive position.
  • It’d improve platooning possibilities. If Blake were the 1B, then he’s a much more dangerous hitter against lefty pitching than Loney is (though I hope that’s going to happen regardless). You could also spot in Gibbons against tough righty pitching, which likely wouldn’t happen if Loney was in.

It’s not all roses, of course, because you couldn’t expect the 37-year-old Carroll to play every day, and you’d weaken an already questionable bench by removing him from it. The ideal solution is that Loney is healthy and productive, so by no means am I rooting for him to be out. But just the fact that this is a conversation worth having shows the extent of the questions that he’s going to have to answer this year.

Update #1: Well, looks like Carroll has injury concerns of his own:

Jamey Carroll was unable to throw comfortably Sunday after taking a pitch off his right index finger Saturday, but X-rays were negative.

Carroll was able to hit despite the swelling in the finger and will probably need a few more days before he can return to game action.

Update #2: I’d meant to note that Scott Elbert, who was originally supposed to pitch today, did not. Here’s why:

Scott Elbert, the lefty reliever struggling with his control in games, was held back from a scheduled Sunday appearance and instead will throw batting practice Monday while working on a mechanical adjustment.

 

MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Relievers, Part 4

We’re back! Two more relief pitcher reviews to go.

Ramon Troncoso (D)
4.33 ERA, 4.67 FIP, 5.7 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, -0.2 WAR

It’s funny to think about it now, but Troncoso was the absolute savior of the bullpen back in April. With Hong-Chih Kuo on the DL, Ronald Belisario MIA, and George Sherrill falling apart, Troncoso quickly became Joe Torre’s go-to guy to get games to Jonathan Broxton.

Troncoso appeared in 15 of the team’s 22 April games, and was quite effective in holding opponents to a .208/.296/.292 line in the first month. As April bled into May and the appearances mounted, that led to a never-ending line of jokes and concerns that Torre would run him directly into the ground.

April 28 (doubleheader):

In each game, 4 relievers entered after the starting pitcher. In Game 1, following Hiroki Kuroda were Jon Link, Ramon Troncoso, George Sherrill, and Ramon Ortiz. After Charlie Haeger left in Game 2, you saw… Troncoso, Link, Sherrill, and Carlos Monasterios. I’ll forgive the usage of Link, who we all knew was getting sent back down to make room for John Ely today anyway, but Torre’s abuse of Troncoso is bordering on the ridiculous. He’s on pace to get into about 115 games this year, and Dylan Hernandez’ constant usage of the ‘paging Dr. El Attrache’ hashtag on Twitter has gone from “humorous” to “terrifying”.

May 11:

Jonathan Broxton began warming in the 8th inning, with the Dodgers up 4-2. Fine. Yet the Dodgers put up 3 in the top of the 9th after RBI hits by Loney, Blake, and DeWitt, so Broxton sat down. Also fine. Yet with a five-run lead, who comes in? Not George Sherrill, who’s been horrible. Not Carlos Monasterios, who for all his success is still a Rule 5 pick. No, Torre inserts Ramon Troncoso, now on pace for over 90 games this year. I can’t even begin to explain how boned this team is if Troncoso, the most vital non-Broxton reliever, breaks down, so you’d think you’d want to save him for important situations. But wait! This gets better. Troncoso walked Chris Young, and then gave up an RBI single to Rusty Ryal… which gets Torre to warm Broxton up again.

Troncoso, of course, got the final three outs in the next two batters thanks to a strikeout and a game-ending double play. So Torre managed to work out both of his best relievers… in a five-run game. All this, while guys who practically have middle names of “put me in only in five-run games” sat and watched.

May 20:

And then on top of it all, with Jeff Weaver warming and Carlos Monasterios wondering what he’s done to offend Joe Torre to make sure he hasn’t pitched in a week, who comes in? That’s right, Ramon Troncoso, who’s still on pace for 90+ games. The silver lining in Troncoso getting hit hard was that Ortiz got charged with the men he’d left on, but this was Troncoso’s third night in a row, and fourth in five nights. Am I really going to kill him for letting Adrian Gonzalez take him deep? Of course not. I’ll never understand Torre’s bullpen usage, ever.

May 25:

Hey, Joe. Why are you bringing Ramon Troncoso in A) when the team is losing, B) in a tight game when he’s coming off three homers in his last two outings, and C) when he’s on pace for approximately 180 games this season? Sure, Troncoso is claiming that he’s found “a flaw in his delivery”, but is absolutely anyone going to be surprised when he ends up on the disabled list by the end of the week? Anyone?

Troncoso didn’t end up on the DL, but he may as well have. After his nice April, he allowed an OPS of .899 in May and .830 in June. He was so bad that he ended up getting sent down to AAA in early July, and he bounced back and forth several times before returning for good when rosters expanded in September – and he wasn’t much better in ABQ either, with a 5.73 ERA and a 1.545 WHIP.

That said, it’s easy to blame Joe Torre for this. (Fun, too.) But there’s more to it than just Torre’s overuse. I’m actually going to toot my own horn a bit and say that I was worried about Troncoso as far back as last November, in the Maple Street Press Dodgers Annual:

Explain this: Ramon Troncoso’s strikeout rate per nine innings dropped from 9.0 in 2008 to just 6.0 in 2009, and he combined that with a rising walk rate – up from 2.8 to 3.7. Even his reputation for being a groundball machine suffered, with his GB/FB rate dropping from 3.44 to 2.10. One might say that’s a recipe for utter disaster, yet Troncoso’s ERA dropped nearly a run and a half from 4.26 to 2.72. How was that possible?

I went on to explain that it was in large part because Troncoso had been extremely lucky with his flyball rates in 2009, and those peripherals didn’t really support an ERA like that. So when the inevitable regression occurred, I wasn’t all that surprised and took a deeper look into why. It’s kind of a long read, so I won’t copy the entire thing here (though I encourage you to read it), and instead I’ll just show conclusions without the accompanying explanations:

1) His 2.72 ERA in 2009 was wildly misleading.

2) He’s actually been regressing each year, not just this year.

3) His home run luck from last year is evening out.

4) His hot start to 2010 was just a decent start magnified by the disaster around him.

5) A regression in 2010 wasn’t hard to see coming.

6) You can’t completely absolve Joe Torre.

Believe it or not, Troncoso’s 2010 WHIP was lower than his 2009, which should be reason 1,023,876 why ERA for relievers is unreliable. Troncoso is in no way guaranteed a job in 2011, but his history as a Dodger ought to at least get him a long look in spring training next year. 

George Sherrill (F)
6.69 ERA, 5.20 FIP, 6.2 K/9, 5.9 BB/9, -1.0 WAR

I think a lot of people are expecting me to rationalize Sherrill’s terrible year, and claim that it wasn’t that bad at all. I’m not, and it was. It’s just important to realize that there’s a bit more to it than just “holy crap, this guy suddenly became awful.”

Before we even get into how his 2010 unfolded, do remember that expectations for Sherrill were unfairly inflated headed into the season. His shiny 0.65 ERA as a Dodger in 2009 had people thinking he was a stud, and while he was very good, he actually struck out fewer and walked more in LA than he’d done with Baltimore in the tough AL East. (Just another example of why ERA, particularly for relievers, isn’t the best tool to judge a pitcher, friends. Did we really expect that 621 OPS+ from last year was going to stick?) 

So I certainly expected some regression. But this? No, not even I saw this coming. We first started hearing about trouble with Sherrill in the first days of spring training, as he’d reported with sore knees and then took a line drive off his right ankle, though it was reportedly not serious. Sherrill made it through the spring, and made his season debut in the 8th inning of Opening Day in Pittsburgh. How’d that go?

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 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.

But it didn’t get better. He allowed runs in three of his first five games, including blowing his first save opportunity on April 10 in Florida, and didn’t manage to get through an outing without issuing a walk until his sixth time out. He perked up a bit at the end of April, going eight straight games without allowing a run, but it was still troubling that he’d managed to strike out just two in that time. By the end of the month, he’d walked ten and struck out only five.

May started with back-to-back disasters, and ended when he was placed on the DL with “mid-back tightness”, as the club needed a roster spot for the returning Rafael Furcal. He missed barely the minimum, and returned to allow a run against the Angels on June 11. Few remember it now, since it was Jonathan Broxton who blew up in the 9th and Ramon Troncoso who got the loss in the books, but it was actually Sherrill who gave up the two-run homer to Robinson Cano in the tied 10th inning of the infamous June 27th disaster against the Yankees on Sunday Night Baseball.

Two days later, on June 29, I looked into what had happened to Sherrill, and started off with a shocking realization:

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?

Obviously, you can’t. Here’s why:

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.

Sherrill then went out and gave up runs in two of his next three outings, and the other shoe dropped over the All-Star Break, as he was put on waivers. That fooled a lot of people into thinking that he was off the roster immediately – since he clearly wasn’t claimed, he never left the team – but the timing made the team’s distaste clear.

His nightmare season continued when he allowed runs in his first two post-break outings, got stuck with the loss when he wasn’t warmed in the bizarre “Mattingly’s two mound visits” game, and finished out July with another blown save in San Diego. Well, okay, that one wasn’t totally his fault, and I apologize for the length on this, but it’s awesome:

First of all, please be sure to note that the two hits Sherrill allowed came on two ground ball singles which found their way through the infield. A few feet in either direction and the plays get made, and no one talks about George Sherrill at all. It’s not like he gave up two liners, hit a guy, and allowed a grand slam, despite what you may read elsewhere.

Here’s the part that makes even less sense: George Sherrill has been atrocious all year. You don’t bring him into the 9th inning of a tie game, but you especially don’t bring him in to face a right handed hitter. I’ve said this so many times in recent weeks that I won’t even bother linking to it, but if there’s one way that Sherrill can help the team, it’s in that he can still be effective against lefties. Cover your eyes before I post these splits:

Sherrill vs RHB, 2010: .436/.515/.745
Sherrill vs LHB, 2010: .190/.314/.333

Yet the first batter in the 9th inning was Scott Hairston, a righty. He got a base hit. Lefty Tony Gwynn Jr. sacrificed him to second, and the Padres – who clearly had read the scouting reports – pinch-hit for Everth Cabrera with righty Oscar Salazar.

Before we go further, I just want to drive this point home:

1) The winning run is on second.
2) George Sherrill cannot get righties out.
3) George Sherrill has already allowed a hit to a righty.
4) A righty is at the plate.

At this point, you’d think – you’d pray – that Torre would have put down his Bigelow green tea and decided to do something to, you know, manage the team to a victory. Like bring in Jonathan Broxton, say.

But no. Sherrill remained in the game. Salazar bounced a grounder up the middle. And the Dodgers are further out of 1st place than they’ve been all season. And you wonder why I don’t want to see them trade for a starter. What we really need to see are losing teams who put their managers on the trade block, because that’s where the Dodgers really need an upgrade.

Sherrill didn’t really perk up much over the remainder of the season (though he did amusingly draw a walk in his first big-league at-bat), but he wasn’t completely useless, as the quote above alludes to. Even in this completely nightmarish season, Sherrill was still pretty effective against lefties, ending the year at .192/.286/.288 against them, which puts his OPS against LHP at almost exactly what Pedro Feliciano of the Mets – well-regarded as a lefty-killer – had. It doesn’t make his unholy lack of success against righties okay, of course, but it’s something.

The Dodgers were almost certainly not going to pick up Sherrill’s 2011 $6.5m option, an absurd amount for a non-elite reliever, even if he’d had a good season. Now? He’s the most obvious non-tender in baseball, and may be looking at minor-league deals at best for next year. 

Travis Schlichting (C+)
3.57 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 5.6 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, 0.2 WAR

Mr. Schlichting managed to run his season in reverse. That is, he was more successful in the majors (1.324 WHIP, 7.9 H/9) than in the minors (1.437 WHIP, 10.5 H/9), despite going back and forth four times.

Schlichting’s season debut was also the highlight of his year, since he pitched four scoreless innings to pick up his first career win in a 1-0, 14-inning affair against Arizona in June. I joked at the time that he probably punched his own ticket back to AAA with the effort, and that’s exactly what happened. He came back up for a quick stint later in June before being sent down again, and by the time he’d pitched 2.1 scoreless innings in Arizona on July 3, he’d run his scoreless inning streak to 10 to start the season.

I, of course, jinxed the hell out of that, and his season went pretty downhill from there. In 12.2 IP over his final 10 games, Schlichting allowed 9 ER while walking more than he struck out. I bet you’ll never figure out how that happened!

Man, I never get tired of hearing that players have hidden injuries, only to see said injury get worse. And by “never get tired”, I of course mean, “hiding an injury just never ends well”. In this case, it’s Travis Schlichting

“I was just trying to fight through it, because my mechanics were bad at the beginning of the year, and I think that’s when it started. I was just forcing it, and it kind of never went away. It wasn’t affecting me in games, so I didn’t want to make a big deal of it.”

Conte was unsurprised to hear the pitcher had a problem that he hadn’t talked about.

“That’s sort of part of the game,” he said. “Our job, of course, is not to let it get that far, so we always appreciate it when a player tells us when he has something going on. But we understand when players don’t.”

Figures. Assuming he’s healthy, Schlichting figures to be in the mix for one of the last bullpen spots with guys like Troncoso and Jon Link. Now will someone please fix his Wikipedia picture already?

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Next! Ronald Belisario‘s mysterious season! Russ Ortiz‘ predictable disaster! And Octavio Dotel‘s unfortunate legacy! It’s relievers, part 5!

It’s Friday…

…so why is everyone at work in such a foul mood? Anyway, the less said about last night’s game the better (I’m only half kidding when I say that watching it was less entertaining than watching the cat chase bugs around), so  let’s touch on a few widely varied topics.

Let’s start off with the rotation, where James McDonald appears likely to get the Monday start in John Ely‘s place, and while that’s not confirmed, McDonald was scratched from his start today. McDonald missed over a month with a hamstring pull, and his three starts since his return have been mixed. Four shutout innings on July 1 was a nice start, but then he allowed four earned runs in 6.2 IP at Iowa on July 6. Then on the 11th, he allowed just one run over 6.1 at Omaha, but did so while walking four and striking out just two, so it’s hard to say what to expect. I’m not convinced that he’s any better than Ely is right now, but I’m glad to see him get a chance – and fortunately for him he gets to face the Giants.

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How many people were confused when George Sherrill got into last night’s game? I asked that on Twitter, and the answer was: a lot, since they thought he had been immediately removed from the roster. Think of this like the month of August, where trades are still allowed but only once players have made it through waivers. You never hear about it, but tons of players - even ones teams don’t really plan on trading – are placed on waivers, just to see who makes it through and is available to be used in deals. It’s kind of the same thing for Sherrill, who finds out if he clears waivers today and is on the roster until then. The only difference here is that if Sherrill is claimed, he can’t be pulled back by the Dodgers, unlike the usual August waivers I mentioned.

In a related topic, I suppose this is why waiver deals are supposed to be kept so secret. Imagine if Sherrill had come out and struck out the side last night? (I know, you’d probably need some sort of medicinal help to imagine that.) How would that have made things look then?

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BP’s Jay Jaffe says that the Dodgers have regressed more on defense from 2009 to 2010 than any other team in baseball:

Having accentuated the positive, we’ll move on to lambasting the negative, since eliminating it doesn’t seem to be an option, or even very much fun. And No. 1 on the list of teams that deserve it are the Dodgers, who went from leading the league in DE last year by a whole seven points to ranking 10th this year. Not surprisingly, one key culprit appears to be the loss of Orlando Hudson (+17), though Blake DeWitt and friends have been a respectable two runs above average at the keystone. At third base, Casey Blake has declined (+13 to -5), and Rafael Furcal has dropped off (+13 to +4), surprising given how much more Furcal-like he’s been when available. In the outfield, Matt Kemp has lost 10 runs himself (+8 to -2), a particularly rough blow when coupled with his 20-point drop in True Average. Luckily for the Dodgers, they’re second in the league in strikeout rate, minimizing the number of balls in play.

It’s really hard to argue with any of that.

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Ramon Troncoso‘s pitched in four games for the Isotopes, and he’s allowed two homers – though he has struck out five and walked just two. Only one of the two homers was at home, so it’s not all the ABQ effect, though last night’s was a walkoff. Not good.

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ESPN’s Buster Olney speculates on who may want to buy the Dodgers should the McCourts be forced to sell:

There is speculation within the sport that if the McCourts are forced to sell the Dodgers as they go through their divorce proceedings, the person who is most perfectly positioned to buy the team is Dennis Gilbert, the longtime agent and team executive. Gilbert lives in the L.A. area, is a known quantity to commissioner Bud Selig, and Gilbert essentially finished second in the bidding for the Texas Rangers last year — largely because Nolan Ryan chose to align himself with Chuck Greenberg. Gilbert knows a whole lot of people, big hitters in the money world, and if the Dodgers’ franchise needs rescuing — and in the sport right now, the team’s ownership troubles are regarded as a cover-your-eyes embarrassment — Gilbert will have the financial wherewithal to restore the club to its past greatness.

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Garret Anderson update: his 0-1 last night kept him steady at #10 on the list of “worst seasons in Dodger history“, though with only six more hitless at-bats, he’ll likely be up to #7.

Also, while I have a lot of respect for Tony Jackson, this part of his chat yesterday killed me:

Sam (Fullerton)
How much longer will the Dodgers leave the corpse of Garret Anderson out on the field before they waive him?

Tony Jackson 
That’s a good question, Sam, but I get the sense they’re not going to wait much longer, unless Garret suddenly gets hot. I do think Torre and the coaching staff likes having him around for what he brings to the clubhouse. He lockers next to Matt Kemp at home, and I think they think he has been a good influence. So it may come down to how long the front office is willing to go along with the wishes of the staff.

Maybe I’ve been off on a distant planet or something, but haven’t we heard plenty of whispers that people aren’t always thrilled with Kemp’s attitude, culminating in the benching that seemed to be a direct result of a spat he had with bench coach Bob Schaefer? So… wouldn’t that then mean that Anderson’s actually doing a terrible job at mentoring, too? Guess we can just add that to the list of things he can’t do anymore.

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As long as we’re getting on Anderson, I should be an equal opportunity naysayer and expand on the D I gave Ronnie Belliard in the first-half grades. He’s got one hit in his last twenty-eight at-bats, and he’s hitting just .220 on the season. Clearly, he’s not much of a contributor in the field, either.

I don’t think cutting him is as clear-cut as it is for Anderson, simply because there’s not an Xavier Paul behind him ready to step in. Chin-lung Hu isn’t any sort of a bat, and Ivan DeJesus needs to play every day after losing last year to injury. In addition, Belliard is really the only backup 1B on the team, unless you count Casey Blake.

So his spot is secure for now, but I’d really like to see if the Dodgers can cheaply go after Russell Branyan, as I suggested earlier this week. Think about it: dump Anderson, dump Belliard, keep Paul, acquire Branyan. You’d then have your non-catching bench split between two righties and two lefties, you’d be covered in the outfield with Paul and Johnson, Jamey Carroll could cover backing up 2B/SS/3B, and Branyan would be a true lefty power bat who could actually play some 1B. Even if you think that stretches the non-1B backup infield to have only Carroll, remember that it’s only six weeks until rosters expand, ABQ isn’t that far away should injury happen, and if worst comes to absolute worst, you could still stick Russell Martin at 3B for the late innings of a game where injuries mount until reinforcements arrive.

Claudio Vargas, Really?

I’m not entirely sure I remember writing this on Twitter late last night, but apparently I did:

I could have sworn I just saw dodgers.com say Claudio Vargas may be the 5th starter soon. Clearly, I have alcohol poisoning.

Well, at least it was legible and without typos. And apparently it’s true:

Vargas could take over fifth-starter role

BOSTON — The Dodgers’ fifth-starter shell game has a new/old name in play: Claudio Vargas.

In his first start for Triple-A Albuquerque on Thursday night, the right-hander allowed one run on a solo home run in three innings, with four strikeouts and no walks.

Vargas was signed earlier in the week, two weeks after being cut loose by Milwaukee, where he had a 7.32 ERA in 17 relief appearances. The three innings was his longest outing of the year, an indication the Dodgers will try to stretch him out and make him a starter again.

I think the only indication here is that the rotation is in serious trouble, hurt by the injury to Chad Billingsley and the poor outings of John Ely and Carlos Monasterios – and that’s without having any idea how Vicente Padilla will do in his return today. I guess I don’t really understand why people are all that surprised Monasterios struggled last night; he’s a Rule 5 pick who’s striking out just 4.1/9. The fact that he’s been able to stick in the big leagues without completely embarrassing himself, and with some small successes, is remarkable in itself. It says far more about the Dodgers that he’s been asked to start so much than it does about him.

As for Vargas, well, why not? I actually was sad to see him go last season, mostly because the trade made no sense at all. It’s not like he’d come up until he shows he can get hitters out at AAA, so that’s at least a few more turns of the rotation.

Really, I think people are looking at the problem here in the wrong way. The issue isn’t really whether guys like Ely, Vargas, or Monasterios can pitch like All-Stars. They’re your #5 starter, and there’s plenty of teams in the bigs who have even larger issues at the back of the rotation. No, the problem is having more than one of them in the rotation at the same time. Now, part of that will be helped when Billingsley returns, hopefully as soon as his 15 days are up. But if and until Padilla proves himself… well, everyone seems to want the Dodgers to get a Cliff Lee or a Roy Oswalt. I’m not going to go through the reasons again why they’re so unlikely; we’ve been through that. But even if the Dodgers were able to get one of those guys, it likely wouldn’t be for another month. Maybe what they ought to be doing is getting a lesser veteran who wouldn’t cost as much – sort of like Jon Garland last year – right now, just to solidify things.

And no, I’m not talking about Pedro Martinez. I want someone who’s actually pitched this year. I’m talking more along the lines of (and I’m just tossing names out without really looking into salary concerns or doing a ton of research) Kevin Millwood or Jake Westbrook. They’re certainly not the piece that’ll push you to a championship, but they may be the stabilizing force in the middle of the rotation that will keep things from imploding until Billinglsey is healthy and you can work on getting a top starter.

(Although if you really want a good laugh, go read some of the jokers on the Dodger Facebook page, replying to the Vargas story. I’m not sure how some of these people managed to even turn their computer on; I particularly like the suggestion that the Dodgers should trade Vargas to Florida for Josh Johnson.)

Of course, Tony Jackson has the perfect last word on the situation:

Even when he is ready to go, well, he is still going to be Claudio Vargas.

Yep. He sure is.

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Ramon Troncoso got rocked, again. Travis Schlichting was effective, again. Whether you think Troncoso’s problems are that Torre ran him into the ground, that he was never that good in the first place, or both, there’s a roster move to be made today to activate Padilla, and it makes no sense to keep Troncoso over Schlichting. I’m not saying you demote Troncoso, but at least come up with an injury to get him some time off and away from the mound.

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I’m sure some people will read this as arrogance, but these anecdotes from Jackson’s story on Manny make me think that Matt Kemp is just hilarious:

Before any of the real reporters could approach him, a phony one did. Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, holding his blue batting-practice bat like a microphone, immediately stuck it into Ramirez’s face and said, “How does it feel to be back in Boston?”

Ramirez gave Kemp about as much time as he was going to give anyone. After Kemp returned to the other side of the clubhouse, which was about seven feet away, he yelled at the assembled media, “Manny smells good today. If y’all get close enough, you can smell him.”

and…

When Ramirez stepped out of the cage after taking his first allotment of hacks, he received another loud cheer. Kemp, who had followed Ramirez into the cage, who had his right back pocket hanging out of his uniform pants and who, like Ramirez, was helmetless, stopped after one swing and turned to wave an acknowledgement to the crowd, feigning as if he thought the ovation was for him.

No complaints about immaturity, old people. That’s good clean fun.

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Yes, I saw that Garret Anderson hit a homer last night, and yes, it is making me reconsider the DFA-o-meter on the right sidebar, though not for the reasons you’d think. I still think he’s awful and want him to get cut, but since I don’t think the team will ever actually do it, I’m not sure I feel like updating it for the entire season.

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Hey, Nick Green signed with Toronto. Hooray! Gone for good.

A Weird, Wet, Worrisome Win

And thus ends one of the weirdest days in Dodger history.

On most nights, the out-of-nowhere news that Chad Billingsley was going on the DL approximately an hour before game time would be the only thing worth discussing.

On most nights, the best day of Rafael Furcal‘s Dodger career (five hits, two outstanding defensive plays) would be a great sign of hope that he could be the player we always hoped he’d be – and if not him, we’d be discussing James Loney‘s three doubles among four hits.

On most nights, an 12-0 laugher over the Reds would be more than enough to discuss and celebrate.

And on most nights, a rain delay of two hours and twenty-four minutes would be enough of an oddity that it would merit discussion of its own.

Yet, all I can think about are the beyond perplexing and downright disturbing decisions by Joe Torre. Not to focus on the negative in what was otherwise a fun game, but his choices here could have a far-reaching impact on the future.

Remember, Billingsley’s been on the DL for about six hours, long enough for me to write a post discussing how close the Dodgers are to a full-blown rotation emergency. That means it should be fresh in your mind that above all else, you protect your remaining starters, because if anything happens to any of them, this club is in enormous trouble. So while it was disappointing that Hiroki Kuroda‘s outstanding start was interrupted by the rain on a night you’d hoped he could give you innings, you happily take your 6-0 lead and you toss out a Justin Miller, or a George Sherrill, or a Jeff Weaver, and you run them out there until their arms fall off, knowing that you’ll need your important arms later this week and that Travis Schlichting is on his way to Ohio tomorrow.

What you absolutely do not do, under any circumstances, is run your 35-year-old starter with a history of injuries back to the mound after he’d been down for well over 2.5 hours (the delay was 2:24, but the Dodgers were batting before and after).

So Kuroda went back out for the fifth, and predictably loaded the bases on two hits and a walk. He managed to get out of it without allowing a run, but not before needing 27 pitches to do so and nearly letting the Reds back into the game.

Letting Kuroda go back out, at an enormous risk, bought the Dodgers… well, what, exactly? He pitched just one inning after the delay, so the argument that Torre wanted to save the bullpen for this week’s gauntlet doesn’t fly. No, the most likely scenario is also the most terrifying one: Torre wanted Kuroda to qualify for the win. You know, a “win”, an utterly meaningless statistic, but even less meaningful to a manager who’s only responsibility here should be to get his team out of this game without any major injuries.

It’s almost unspeakably reckless.

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But wait! There’s more. So Kuroda gets his five innings, leaving with the 6-0 lead on a wet field. Now, it’s time for Miller. Or Weaver. Or Sherrill, of whom the Dodgers own website noted had barely received an opportunity to pitch since returning from the DL. Or hell, I don’t care, A.J. Ellis. Yet who comes in? That’s right, Ramon Troncoso of all people, whose overuse has been such a running joke that Dylan Hernandez has made a cottage industry of the #DrNeilElAttrache tag on Twitter.

Now, it’s not actually the fact that Troncoso came into the game that bothered me, as he hadn’t pitched since Saturday. I still think it was a bad idea, but, fine. No, the problem here is that in the top of the 7th Manny hit a two-run homer, increasing the lead to 8-0, and then the Dodgers proceeded to load the bases against the hapless Micah Owings. Remember, at this point, the Dodgers hadn’t used a single batter off the bench, bizarrely not even replacing Manny for defense with a big lead on a poor field. This is when you bring in Ronnie Belliard or Reed Johnson or Garret Anderson to face Owings.

But Joe Torre left Troncoso in to hit with the bases loaded. Troncoso took a walk and was forced to run the bases. Furcal plated two, and by the end of the frame it was 11-0…

…and Troncoso stayed in to pitch the bottom of the 7th. After already pitching an inning, and running the bases, in a blowout game. Of course he did.

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Let’s not let all this overshadow the win, which was great for a team that had struggled on offense (to put it mildly) recently, and particularly for Furcal and Loney. It’s just that this one fun game could have major repercussions thanks to some inexplicable decisions. You hope Kuroda doesn’t break down, again. You hope this isn’t just one more nail in the Troncoso coffin. But that’s all you can do – hope – and I’d prefer to hope that the manager of the team wouldn’t be actively contributing to those possibilities.

Besides, Steve Lyons loved the idea to bring Kuroda back in. That’s all the proof I need to know it was a terrible idea.