There’s No Such Thing As Pitching Depth

For all the happy thoughts about the seemingly solid Dodger starting rotation, I never thought that the front five of Clayton Kershaw / Chad Billingsley / Ted Lilly / Hiroki Kuroda / Jon Garland was going to last through the entire season. You knew that Vicente Padilla would get some starts when injuries hit, and it wouldn’t stop there. John Ely was going to get a crack. Blake Hawksworth, perhaps, or Carlos Monasterios, or a retread like Tim Redding. That’s just a fact of life.

But if you really thought you’d be dipping into the extra guys a week before St. Patrick’s Day, raise your hand, because you’ve won a prize, inasmuch as watching Tim Redding pitch can be a prize.  That’s because Bill Shaikin, Ken Gurnick, and half of my Twitter feed are reporting that Jon Garland just left his start in the second inning clutching his side. As Shaikin notes, it for all the world looked like an oblique injury, and that’s generally a recovery that’s measured in weeks, not days. (Update: Shaikin is reporting that Garland says it is indeed his oblique.)

Let’s be clear right now that we don’t know yet the details are going to be, other than that he came out. So any speculation on who might replace him is far, far too premature… but that’s certainly not going to stop us from doing it anyway. Padilla was the obvious answer, yet he’s down with his own injury, so that leaves with Ely, last season’s short-lived hero, or Redding, who didn’t pitch in the bigs last year and had a 5.10 ERA in 2009. Each have had excellent starts to the spring, with Redding scattering six hits over eight scoreless innings, and Ely striking out seven against zero walks in six scoreless innings. There’s still plenty of camp left, but it’s hard for me to root against Ely.

There’s also another option, one that I was thinking about but was beaten to the Twitter punch about by Eric Stephen of TrueBlueLA. Since the Dodgers have several off-days in the first portion of the season, they could conceivably make it until April 10 or 12 without needing a fifth starter. If that’s the case, they could avoid Xavier Paul‘s out-of-options status by carrying him to start the year, with Garland on the DL. They could then make a move to either activate Garland or recall Ely/Redding for that game.

That probably wouldn’t do much to help Paul’s long-term Dodger fortune, though it at would at least allow him the opportunity to stick around for two more weeks in case another hitter comes up with an injury, and as we’ve seen this spring, that’s not altogether unlikely.

So while we wait for news on Garland, keep these two nuggets in mind. #1, if you didn’t like Garland, this might help have him not pitch enough innings to get that 2012 option to vest, and #2, rather than be disappointed that the extra depth didn’t last, just imagine what things would have looked like if the team hadn’t come to camp with six starters. Ugly, right?

It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way, You Know

Apparently I’ve just got a thing with veteran lefty outfielders who wear #9, because I’ve done nothing but bash Garret Anderson all season long. It’s nothing personal, of course. He had a long and distinguished career with the Angels, but at some point you just have to admit it’s over. And when you’re featured in a block calling your your stats and praying for your release – seriously, just look at the numbers up there in the upper right – it’s over.

That said, my preferred replacement is Xavier Paul, who’s a far superior baserunner and defender who showed some nice offensive skill in his time in the bigs. While I don’t necessarily agree, there are those who say that he should be playing every day in AAA rather than part-time in MLB. Since I think he’d get plenty of time as Manny’s caddy and since I don’t think the Dodgers are really grooming him to be a starter anyway, it’s not something that concerns me.

Yet, if you do consider that a valid reason to keep Paul down, it’s not a zero-sum game. The choice is not simply between Anderson and Paul; there’s other options here, ones that could help the team immediately. Options like…

Hank Blalock. After not finding a job in the offseason, Blalock signed a minor-league deal with the Rays and has been crushing minor-league pitching: .366/.425/.535. If Blalock isn’t recalled by May 15th, he’s able to opt out and become a free agent, though there’s still a chance Tampa just eats what’s left on the $9m Pat Burrell’s owed this year to go with Blalock. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because I said the Dodgers should have signed Blalock themselves back on April 2nd:

You can pick up Blalock – who’s still only 29, and whose top comparable at baseball-reference is actually Casey Blake – for absolutely nothing. Blalock’s got a lot working against him, I admit. But if you realize what he can do very well (crush righties), and don’t put him in the situations he’s terrible at (hitting lefties or wearing a glove) more than you absolutely have to, he can be a fantastically undervalued pickup for a team who desperately needs one. If that means having to cut ties with Nick Green, Garret Anderson, or Ronnie Belliard, then so be it.

And all Blalock’s done since then is prove that he can still hit, even surprisingly hitting lefties harder than righties with a crazy .522/.560/.870 line, though of course in a very small sample size of just 23 at-bats. There’s no question that he’s a far superior (and nine years younger!) player than Anderson right now, and he can even spell Casey Blake and James Loney at the corners, sparing you from having to see Ronnie Belliard there. Granted, this would leave you with only four outfielders, but since Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier play basically every day anyway, you could get by with just Reed Johnson. You can always toss Jamey Carroll out there in case of emergency, and Albuquerque’s just a few hours away.

If Blalock would cost more now than he would have six weeks ago, you can just consider that the cost of not making this move when it should have been done in the first place. Besides, no cost is too high to not have to watch Anderson and his osteoporosis out there any more, right? It’s known the Rays are looking for a right-handed reliever… I’m sure the Dodgers have a spare Ortiz to send.

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Completely unrelated, but in case you’re hoping the Dodgers are going to go out and acquire a pitcher, just know that these are the types of guys they’re going to be in on:

Tim Redding agreed to a minor league deal with the Yankees, according to Troy Renck of the Denver Post (via Twitter). The Dodgers and multiple Korean teams also expressed interest in Redding, who was released by the Rockies this morning.

That would be the same Tim Redding who was just flat-out release from Colorado’s AAA affiliate after allowing 12.2 hits per 9 innings this year. Of course they were interested.