August 2006

He's actually human…

Greg Maddux is 1-9 in his career against the Diamondbacks…hard to believe anyone has had his number like that over the years, but that sounds like a surefire sign to me that he’s going to throw a no-hitter tonight.

Or something like that.

Here’s tonight’s lineup:

Furcal, SS

Lofton, CF

Nomar, 1B

Drew, RF

Kent, 2B

Ethier, LF

Betemit, 3B

Martin, C

Maddux, P

Off day at the Ravine

No rest for the weary…last night’s game was hardly one to remember, for plenty of reasons. Fortunately, I didn’t have to watch it in person, as I’d imagine it was a frustrating one. Jon Weisman offered some praise for the way Vin Scully and the FSN Prime Ticket crew handled the coverage of the ejections and that’s probably the only positive to take out of those events.

The team was greeted in Arizona by some lightning and rain and I got a call from Jaime Jarrin telling me to get back on the road, as the team took two out of three while I was in San Fran and lost three in a row when I left. Still, my road record is hardly anything to write home about this season.

Those of us back in Los Angeles are using the down time to start preparing for the upcoming homestand and, in the event that it happens, the playoffs. Every team that is in contention at this time of year begins the planning process and only eight of them actually get to put their plans to good use. For our department, one of the main things we’re doing right now is working on a postseason media and information guide, which helps everyone cover the playoffs more easily.

In response to the suggestion that there be statues on site here of our all-time greats, I don’t think it’s anything we’ve ruled out. In fact, I’m sure it’s one of the many things that will be considered in the future. For many years now, we’ve talked about having a Dodger museum or historical area of the stadium that fans can access and learn more about the team’s history, its players and all of the incredible things that surround this organization. The problem is, we don’t want to do it just to do it. If we’re going to build something like that, it’s got to be done right, so stay tuned. Hopefully we’ll have more info for you on that front in the future.

And as for the Russell Martin interview yesterday on Jim Rome’s radio show, unfortunately it wasn’t arranged through our department. I was told that one of his agents set it up and we didn’t find out about it until the last minute. At that point, we weren’t able to get him on the line, but rest assured, this one was not Russell’s fault or ours. Hopefully we’ll get him on the air again soon.

Let’s hope our fortune turns around in Arizona. The last time Brad Penny pitched and we then had a day off was July 27 and we went on to win 17 of our next 18 after regrouping on the off day. My fingers are crossed that we’ll bounce back again in the same manner.

Arizona Fall League – Roy Smith

A question was asked about how we select the players that go to the Arizona Fall League. First of all, the Fall League is made up of six teams composed of 5-7 prospects from each Major League team. Most of the prospects are from Double-A or Triple-A and young players with a year or less Major League service time.  A draft is held around the beginning of August where each club is assigned positions which they are expected to fill with players. For example, we were assigned one of the catching positions on our team and we are sending A.J. Ellis.

The other players we are sending are outfielder Anthony Raglani, shortstop Chin-lung Hu, right-hander Danny Muegge, right-hander Casey Hoorelbeke, right-hander Brian Akin, and lefty Scott Elbert. Also Ken Howell, our Triple-A pitching coach, will serve in the same position in Arizona so our pitchers will be with him.

When deciding which placers to send to the Fall League, we take into consideration the player’s prospect status, service time as a professional, age, position, number of innings or games played, and where we project the player to be paying the following year.

Below, we’ve listed a little bit on each guy heading to Arizona:

Brian Akin (RHP)- Akin began the season in Single-A Vero Beach where he posted a 3-3 record with six saves as a reliever with a 1.87 ERA, 47 strikeouts and was named to the Florida State League All-Star Team.  He was promoted to Double-A Jacksonville in late June where he has posted a 2-0 record with five saves while compiling a 2.76 ERA and fanning 41.

Scott Elbert (RHP)- Elbert also began the season with the Vero Beach Dodgers, posting a 5-5 record with a 2.37 ERA while fanning 97 in 17 games.  Since being promoted to Double-A Jacksonville on July 6, he has a 5-4 record with 70 strikeouts with a 3.68 ERA. 

Danny Muegge (RHP)- Double-A Jacksonville hurler Danny Muegge is currently working on a 9-8 record in Southern League competition, posting a 3.93 ERA with one complete game, through 22 games (123.2 IP). He came to the Dodgers last year in the Shawn Green trade.

A.J. Ellis (Catcher)- Double-A Jacksonville backstop A.J. Ellis is currently working on a .993 fielding percentage behind the plate. In 72 games he has collected 617 putouts in 680 total chances while committing only five miscues.  He has gunned down 29 of 83 baserunners attempting to steal against him (35%).

Chin-lung Hu (Shortstop)- Double-A Jacksonville shortstop Chin-lung Hu was named to both the Southern League All-Star team and the XM Radio All-Star Futures World Team this season.  Hu is currently batting .258 with 20 doubles, two triples, four homers and 34 RBI. 

Anthony Raglani (Outfielder)-  Raglani has spent the majority of the season with Double-A Jacksonville, serving a brief mid-season 17-game stint with Single-A Vero Beach (June 10-July 3) where he hit .317 with four doubles, a triple, a seven RBI.  With Jacksonville, Raglani is hitting .245 with 20 doubles and nine homers.

Ken Howell (Pitching Coach)-  Triple-A Las Vegas Pitching Coach Ken Howell has been selected to serve as the Mesa Solar Sox Pitching Coach.  Howell is currently working in his fifth season as a pitching coach in the Dodgers’ player development system, spending the 2005 season with the Double-A Southern League Champion Jacksonville Suns and prior to that, three seasons as Single-A Vero Beach’s pitching coach.  Howell, a former Dodger hurler, was the Dodgers third-round draft pick in the June 1982 draft and pitched in seven Major League seasons, including five with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Today's lineup

Furcal, SS

Lofton, CF

Nomar, 1B

Kent, 2B

Ethier, LF

Lugo, RF

Betemit, 3B

Martin, C

Penny, P

Chad Billingsley – Roy Smith

This space today is a kind of a follow up to last week when I commented on the stellar pitching of Greg Maddux and Jason Schmidt. The recurring theme in both of their performances that night was that they “attacked the zone.” Both veteran pitchers stand in contrast to what Chad Billingsley is going through right now. The thing to remember however, is that what Chad is experiencing is the rule, not the exception. 

Chad has outstanding stuff. He has a 97 MPH fastball, a sharp breaking curve, a slider and a change up. When he throws strikes, he has shown that he can get Major League hitters out. What has happened is that he has run up high pitch counts and has struggled getting past the sixth inning. This is common for young pitchers. What was fouled off or swung through in Triple-A and Double-A is now sometimes taken or hit hard. What was a 1-2 count in Triple-A often becomes 2-1 in the big leagues. The adjustment to the increased discipline of Major League hitters can be difficult. The instinct is to try to do more. Sometimes young pitchers judge their outings by how many times they miss the bat or strike hitters out. Chad has stated himself that he needs to trust his stuff and be in the zone better. It is only through experience that a young pitcher learns these things.

One of the best pieces of advice that I ever received came from my Triple-A manager Doc Edwards. I had spent the year in Triple-A in 1983 and walked about 4.5 men per nine innings. During Spring Training the following year, Doc suggested that I start pretending that two balls are three balls. In other words, make something happen at the two-ball count rather than pick and risk walking the hitter. I started to use that strategy and cut my walks in half, leading to a June call up. What Doc’s words made me become was more aggressive and less apt to beat myself. I found that if I located my fast ball well, that good things would happen. He also told me not to be concerned with style points — that a line drive out was still an out and was much better than a walk. He also added that I wasn’t good enough to concern myself with style. He was right on all counts.      

I think we have seen the gradual maturation process of Jonathon Broxton this year as an example. Late last year and early this year, he had to find out what he could and could not get away with. Gradually, we have seen a more efficient pitcher emerge.

Often you will hear a pitching coach tell a young pitcher to stop trying to miss the bat. What he is saying is don’t try to make the perfect pitch all the time. One of the best ways of looking at this I have ever heard came from the great left-hander Steve Carlton, who was also my teammate for a short time with the Twins. Lefty spoke of pitching as an accelerated game of catch between himself and the catcher. As he delivered his pitch, Steve eliminated the bat from his conscious. He focused on hitting the glove and executing his pitch. If he did that, he reasoned, good things would happen more often than not.

Chad Billingsley showed last week against the Marlins and in very impressive flashes most other starts, what he can do when he is consistently in the zone. He just needs time to test the waters. I had a guy when I was with the Pirates who was very much like Chad is as a young pitcher. His name was Jason Schmidt. 

Today's game

Clearly Andre is popular, as we had tons of questions flowing in from you guys and your fellow Dodger fans during his live chat. The transcript should be up shortly. Here’s today’s lineup:

Furcal, SS

Lofton, CF

Garciaparra, 1B

Drew, RF

Kent, 2B

Ethier, LF

Lugo, 3B

Hall, C

Hendrickson, P

Roy will answer the question about the Arizona Fall League shortly. Time to turn the tables on the Padres, who seem to have been our toughest opponent all year.

Four in a row

…that is, days with the same lineup. Plenty more below:

Furcal, SS

Lofton, CF (baseball hottest hitter finally qualifies for league leaders)

Nomar, 1B

Drew, RF

Kent, 2B

Ethier, LF

Betemit, 3B

Martin, C

Billingsley, P (second-best ERA among MLB starters since the break)

Here are some game notes to snack on:

STAYING HOT IN AUGUST – The club record for wins in August was 20, set by the 1983 Dodgers. The team is five victories shy of that mark with nine games to go.

LOOKOUT LEADERBOARD – Kenny Lofton has now tallied the necessary amount of plate appearances to qualify for the league leaders and is tied for seventh in the NL with a .319 batting average. He leads the NL with a .350 average (27-for-60) in August and is 10 points short of the club record for highest average in a month. According to STATS, LLC, Lofton’s current mark would be the third-highest by a Dodger in any month behind Pedro Guerrero (.460 in July 1985) and Willie Davis (.459 in August 1969).

NOT JUST THIS SEASON OR THIS MONTH – Since the start of the 2005 season, only two players in baseball have a better average than Kenny Lofton among big leaguers with 600 or more plate appearances. Miguel Cabrera (.329) and Albert Pujols (.328) are just above Lofton (.327). During that span, Lofton has stolen 46 bases and has been caught just six times for an 88 percent success rate. He also has a .384 on-base percentage since the start of last year.

WILSON TOPS RUSSELL – Wilson Betemit is now 16-2 in his starts for the Dodgers, including victories in his first 14 starts. Russell Martin was 15-2 in his first 17 starts, including a 5-0 mark to start his big league career.

OUTFIELD OF DREAMS – Since the Dodgers’ began their recent hot streak on July 27, J.D. Drew has led the team with 18 runs batted in while playing in 21 games during that stretch. Andre Ethier is second on the club with 15 RBI during that span. Combined with Kenny Lofton, the trio of outfielders is batting .352 (77-for-219) with seven homers, 41 RBI, 38 runs scored and eight stolen bases in the Dodgers’ last 22 games.

SLAMMIN’ SAMMY – Takashi Saito came on yesterday with the bases loaded in a 5-1 game and struck out three of the four batters he faced for his 14th save in 15 chances. Saito lowered his ERA to 2.24, which is the lowest mark of any National League pitcher with 50 or more innings, ahead of Billy Wagner (2.27). Saito joins the Twins Joe Nathan (25/26) and Pittsburgh’s Mike Gonzalez (21/21) as the only pitchers in baseball with 10 or more saves and one or less blown saves.

Pennant Race is heating up…

How much fun was yesterday’s game? The stadium was electric, Saito was superb and taking the series from the Giants in dramatic fashion made yesterday’s game about as exciting as any we’ve had all year long. I don’t think any of us can possibly describe Saito’s value to the team this year and to top it off, he’s really an awesome guy. His English is very limited, but he’s always smiling and joking with his teammates, except when he’s on the mound. That’s when he means business.

No one ever sent me the photo of the flags from up north, so I can’t post them, but I did take note of how great it looked seeing the Dodger flag high atop AT&T Park.

Going back to my theory the other day that the NL West isn’t as bad as everyone says it is, it’s no longer even the closest race in the Majors. The Central is separated by 2.5 games but as we all know, with six weeks left in the season, a lot of things are still very possible. No one is printing playoff tickets just yet, but for those of you who are season ticket holders, be on the lookout for information very soon about buying yours in advance, as this is the time that all teams that are still in contention start to send out invoices.

Also, if you want a chance to chat with Andre Ethier, tomorrow is the day at 2 p.m. PT.

I have to give a shout out to Seth Amitin, who won the Daily News columnist contest on the newspaper’s web site. He’ll get to spend a day in the press box at Dodger Stadium and he’s done some very nice work over the past few weeks. I also have to admit that he’s the younger brother of a friend of mine growing up, but fortunately I had nothing to do with the voting or the contest at all. Still, it was a neat idea that the Daily News came up with.

If you’re near a TV today at 3:40 PT, Julio Lugo will be on ESPN News and tomorrow, Andre Ethier will be doing the same at 3:40 PT. Just a few of the countless requests pouring in these days to talk to the boys.

Finally, a book recommendation for anyone looking for some late summer reading. I recently borrowed Anderson Cooper’s "Dispatches from the Edge" from Grady Little’s wife, Debi, who had first loaned it to bullpen coach Dan Warthen. It’s a very quick and interesting read and I’m almost halfway done after picking it up on the plane yesterday from the Bay Area. Though this book has nothing to do with baseball, there are some real similarities in his life as a news/war correspondent and those of us who work in the game.

While none of us have seen the horrors and tragedies that he has in his lifetime, and baseball is absolutely nothing like a war zone, it’s the constant pace of life that ties us together. In the book, Cooper writes: "I sometimes believe it’s motion that keeps me alive…I tried to settle down back home in Los Angeles, but I missed that feeling, that rush. I went to see a doctor about it. He told me I should slow down for a while, take a break. I just nodded and left, booked a flight out that day. It didn’t seem possible to stop."

One of these days, life will slow down, but I hope it’s not until the end of October and there’s a parade that caps it all off.

Three days in a row

According to Grady, this is the first time we’ll run the same lineup out there three days in a row:

Furcal, SS

Lofton, CF

Nomar, 1B

Drew, RF

Kent, 2B

Ethier, LF

Betemit, 3B

Martin, C

Lowe, P

Maddux sent down 32 in a row last night, the most by a Dodger since Don Sutton in 1976 (33). Pretty efficient, if you ask me.

Today, we look to make it seven series in a row that we’ve won…

Typical Summer Day in SF

It’s chilly outside…a good time to get hot.

Furcal, SS (his rt. shoulder seems fine…just tightened up last night in the cold)

Lofton, CF (third-best average in baseball since the beginning of last year)

Nomar, 1B

Drew, RF

Kent, 2B

Ethier, LF

Betemit, 3B

Martin, C

Maddux, P (going for Top 10 in wins again)

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