The Record

I don’t want to diminish the Dodgers’ 11-0 home start, but neither do I want to dwell on it.  Like it or not, it’s a streak that will come to an end.  Probably sooner than later.

What I’d rather focus on is that we are now 18-6 against teams in our division.  Of the 19 games we’ve won, eighteen were against division opponents.  That, my friends, is significant.  Tonight, we’re up against the Diamondbacks and Max Scherzer.

Scherzer is a better pitcher than a lot of people might realize.  He gets a ton of ground balls (45.8% so far this season), strikes out a bunch (10.10 K/9 in his short MLB career so far), and mixes up his pitches very well.  He has a 94-mph fastball, an 84.8-mph changeup, and a plus slider that looks almost identical to the changeup coming out of his hand.

Despite his 0-2 record this season, he’s on the huge list of great pitchers in the NL West (Peavy, Young, Webb, Haren, Billingsley, Kershaw, Lincecum, Cain, etc. etc. etc.) and figures to be pretty good for a very long time.  I think the Dodgers hitters have the upper hand in the matchup, because he throws a few too many strikes, and Dodgers hitters have been doing very well against strikezone pitchers this season.

But whatever advantage we have is probably negated by having Jeff Weaver on the mound.  Who knows what to expect from #36?  Not me.

Still, you have to like the Boys in Blue in this game.  And the best news of all — I’ll be at the game!  My second big league game of the year before heading out to Jacksonville to see the final four games of a five-game set (yes, a five-game set!) betwen the Lookouts and the Suns (FLA).

I’ll also be teaching at a clinic in Jacksonville put on by former Angels pitcher Hilly Hathaway.  Good times!

Reflection

As the Dodgers head into their series with the San Diego Padres, it’s nearly time to close the door on April, and to see where we stand as an organization.

Traveling as often as I do, I don’t get the chance to see a lot of Dodgers home games in person.  But this week, I’m in town to see the Inland Empire 66ers take on San Diego’s California League affiliate, the Lake Elsinore Storm.  Since the series doesn’t start until tomorrow, that gives me a chance to steal out to Dodger Stadium for tonight’s game with San Diego.

Unfortunately, it means I’ll miss a chance to see Alberto Bastardo pitch, but I’ll be happy to see James McDonald on the mound, which helps make up for it.

The Albuqurque Isotopes are 9-10, in first place in the PCL American South Division.
The Chattanooga Lookouts are 6-14, in last place in the Southern League North Division.
The Inland Empire 66ers are 8-12, in 3rd place (of five) in the California League South Division.
The Great Lakes Loons are 10-9, in 3rd place (of six) in the Midwest League Eastern Division.

And the best news of all is that our Los Angeles Dodgers are 14-8.  First place in the NL West, second place in the National League, third place in all of baseball.  The young rotation has performed well – dominantly at times – and the offense is firing on all cylinders.

More good news has Jeff Weaver being recalled today from Albuquerque.  He will probably pitch in the back end of the rotation, moving James McDonald to the bullpen.

Even more good news focuses on Isotopes starter Eric Milton

Eric Milton.jpgFrom 1998-2003, the lefty was a very good starter for the Minnesota Twins.  He never had a dominating fastball – topping out around 91 mph – but had a very good curveball and a changeup that he used just often enough to keep hitters off-balance. 

He was an All-Star in 2001, and in 2003 he put together a .941 WHIP in an injury-shortened 17 innings before going to Philadelphia, and then to Cincinnati.  In his final year with the Reds, his fastball had fallen to just 86.4 miles per hour, and he threw his changeup a career-high 21.9% of the time.

He continued to struggle with injuries, and in 2008, he was out of baseball entirely.  This year, he joined up with the Dodgers, and was assigned to Albuquerque, where he is pitching very well.  Well enough, in fact, that he was named this week’s PCL Pitcher of the Week. 

Milton tossed six shutout innings, allowing just two hits and a walk in
a victory at Iowa on April 21 before pitching another six shutout
frames in yesterday’s win at New Orleans. In his most recent outing,
the left-hander had a no-hitter through 5.1 frames before finishing his
six-innings of work by allowing just two hits and two walks while
fanning two. Over the two outings, opposing hitters are batting just
.103 (4-for-39) against Milton.

His fastball velocity is back in the 88 mph range, and he’s placing it extremely well.  Whether it’s Milton himself, pitching coach Jim Slaton, or even his relationship with catcher A.J. Ellis, I don’t know.  I haven’t gotten a chance to watch Milton pitch yet this year (next week, possibly), but his charts look very good.

If he can stay healthy, and continue to pitch this well, he can make a serious impact at the Major League level this season.

Young Guns III

No, unfortunately they’re not making another sequel to the greatest movie of 1988.  No, this entry is devoted to yet another young arm in the Dodgers system who’s making some noise: Alberto Bastardo.

Bastardo’s season has started with some really nice numbers, despite his 1-1 record.  He’s holding batters to a .177 BAA, has struck out 19 in 17.2 innings while walking only 2, and has a 2.04 ERA on the season.

Now, before we get too very excited, he’s 25 years old and pitching in High-A ball.  Quite frankly, he should dominate these hitters.  But it’s still nice to see him go out today for the Inland Empire 66ers in the California League and pitch 7.0 scoreless innings, striking out 6, walking none, and allowing just 2 hits against the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Angels). 

Bastardo.jpgThose two hits were back-to-back singles in the bottom of the fifth, after he’d thrown 4.1 perfect innings.  Then, because they’d angered him, he picked off the runner at first and fanned the batter to end the inning.

Don’t make Alberto Bastardo angry.  You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

His changeup and his slider looked as good as I’ve seen them look this year, and he’s locating his fastball very well. 

His pitching coach, Charlie Hough, only used one word to describe the southpaw’s performance: “Great.” 

Former First-Rounders Continue To Impress

Fresh on the heels of the positive debut of former first-rounder Ethan Martin, the Dodgers had another bit of good news when their first-round pick from the 2007 Rule 4 draft, Chris Withrow, took the mound for the Inland Empire 66ers of the California League against the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (LAA). 

Withrow, a 6’3″, 195-pound righty from Midland Christian High School, only threw 13.0 innings combined in 2007 and 2008.  Today, however, the 20-year-old threw 5.0 hitless innings, striking out six and walking two before exiting the game.  He was placing his 96-mph fastball well, and mixing in his curveball and changeup to keep hitters off-balance.

He’s already thrown more innings than he did in 2008, when he threw just 4.0 innings between cutting his hand throwing a snorkel mask (no, really) and going down with elbow tendinitis. 

Pitching coach Charlie Hough has worked with him to clear up his mechanics, and the future looks bright for Withrow.  Obviously, if Withrow and Martin (the Dodgers’ #3 and #9 prospects, respectively) are able to continue their development, the Dodgers organization is in pretty good shape for the immediate future. 

Ethan Martin’s Debut Worth the Wait

Ethan Martin.jpg

In the 2008 MLB Rule 4 Draft, the Los Angeles Dodgers made
right-hander Ethan Martin, from Stephens County School in Georgia, the
fifteenth-overall selection.

The selection of Martin was something of a gamble by the Dodgers. 
Though he fit the prototypical power pitcher mold at 6′2″, 195 lbs.,
not much was known about him before he burst onto the scene very late.

Several scouts were at a Stephens County-American Heritage game,
mostly to see Eric Hosmer hit.  His competition that day was Martin,
who was was able to maintain mid-nineties velocity late into the game;
along with a plus split-fingered fastball, a plus curveball, and the
ability to throw strikes on either side of the plate, he grabbed the
scouts’ very quickly, rocketing up leaderboards.

But before he could pitch a single inning for the Dodgers, he was
forced out for knee surgery.  So last night’s Class-A Midwest League
game between the Great Lakes Loons (LAD) and the Dayton Dragons (CIN)
marked his first action as a professional.  And he got it started
quickly, striking out Dragons’ leadoff man David Sappelt.

He cruised through the first two innings, striking out two batters
in each, before giving up a single to Jordan Wideman in the third. 
Wideman was quickly erased, however, when Martin got the next batter to
ground into a 1-6-3 double play.

In the fifth, he allowed a hit and a walk, but the Dragons got
nothing to show for it.  After a perfect fifth inning, Martin’s first
career start had ended with him in line for the W in Great Lakes’ 2-0
win.

This Just In: Madison Bumgarner is good. Really good.

Madison Bumgarner.jpg

The California League doesn’t get a lot of love.  High A ball on the West Coast, played in exotic locales like Adelanto, Stockton, Lake Elsinore, and Modesto.  So it’s not often that a California League game gets a lot of national attention.

Tonight’s game between the Stockton Ports and San Jose Giants was no different.  If you asked the most avid baseball fan in the world, he probably couldn’t have told you much about this game.  It was a Bay Area showdown in San Jose – as the Athletics’ High-A affiliates (Stockton) took on the Giants’ High-A affiliates (San Jose).

If he listened closely, and had a great memory, he might have perked up slightly at the name of the starting pitcher for San Jose, though: Madison Bumgarner.

Does that name mean anything to you?  It will.

Bumgarner was the Giants’ first round pick in 2007, at tenth overall.  A big, strong left-handed nineteen-year-old at 6’4″, 215 pounds, Bumgarner demands attention from the minute you lay eyes on him.  Last year with the Augusta Greenjackets, he threw 141.2 innings, with 164 strikeouts.

But that’s not all.  He only issued 21 walks, and of the 23 earned runs he gave up, only 3 were on home runs.  That was good enough for a 15-3 record with a 1.46 ERA, 0.932 WHIP, 10.42 K/9, 0.19 HR/9, 1.71 FIP, and 7.81 strikeouts per walk issued.

He was the Class A Starting Pitcher of the Year, for obvious reasons, and that 1.46 ERA led the minors.  All of them.  So it’s not much surprise that his first start, tonight against Stockton, was an anticipated event.  Important enough for me to drive for six hours to San Jose to watch.

And Bumgarner was electric.  His team won 4-0, and he earned the win by allowing just two singles in six shutout innings, striking out five, including four of the first six batters he faced.  The two hits he allowed, he erased by inducing double play balls.  His final inning after reaching his pitch count, the sixth, he knocked out in 1-2-3 fashion, striking out the final batter he faced to a rousing ovation from the crowd.

The scariest part is probably that he was throwing an occasional changeup and slider, both of which are much stronger than they were last year, at least from where I was sitting. 

Yes, Madison Bumgarner is very good.  It’ll be interesting to see how long the Giants keep him in San Jose before sending him off to Double-A Connecticut.  A lot of people thought he may start in Double-A, but with the warm (comparatively) California weather, they’re more likely to get an accurate idea of where he’s at, development-wise, than they would if he was throwing in Connecticut right now.

Once the eastern starboard heats up, I suspect he’ll find his way to the Tri-State area.  Until then, San Jose Giants fans should have a lot to cheer about.

R.I.P. Nick

I would never in a million years call Nick Adenhart a friend.  Not even an acquaintance.  In fact, we never even met.  But one of my best friends scouted Nick for the Dodgers, back when he was a wiry little righty at Williamsport High School.

I remember the calls he’d make to me back in those days, raving about the kid with the golden arm.  In fact, he talked about him so frequently that it began to seem as if I knew the guy.

My favorite story was one my friend told – possibly apocryphal, as his stories often are – about Adenhart getting pulled after pitching seven innings.  In the story, Nick sat down at the end of the bench, within earshot of most of the scouts, and said, “If I’d known I was on a pitch count, I would’ve thrown better ones.”

In retrospect, it’s a statement that could easily be viewed as proof that we never know when the end is coming, so we need to make every pitch, every day, every minute, the best we can make it.

Baseball always recovers from these sorts of events, but it’s never stronger for the loss of young men like Nick Adenhart.

Is It 1976 Again?

I’m trying to figure out how someone using math to predict a baseball season is newsworthy.

A New Jersey professor, using a mathematical formula to foretell the
outcome of games, predicts a three-way tie in the National League East
this season.

Professor Bruce Bukiet, of the mathematical sciences department at
the New Jersey Institute of Technology, developed a formula in 2000 to
predict game results. As the season gets under way Sunday, his formula
sees the defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies,
the New York Mets (which Bukiet admits is his favorite team) and the
Atlanta Brave will each win 88 games and tie for the NL East title.

Bukiet’s formula says the Chicago Cubs Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim should easily win their divisions.

The New York Yankees, predicted to win 99 games, were a two-game
favorite over the Boston Red Sox in the AL East and the Cleveland
Indians were installed as the team to beat in the AL Central.

“These results are merely a guide as to how teams ought to perform.
There are many unknowns, especially trades, injuries and how rookies
will perform,” Bukiet said. “Over the years, the predictions have been
about as good as those of the so-called experts. It demonstrates how
useful math can be in understanding so many aspects of the world around
us.”

So many unknowns.  Like how rookies will perform.  It’s a head-scratcher.

Sarasota Sayonara

The Cincinnati Reds have used Sarasota as their Spring Training facility for the past twelve years.  But taxpayers and politicians have said a gracious, “No thanks,” whenever the Reds asked for upgrades to the facilities, and so following this year, their Spring Training home will be in Goodyear, Arizona, which is where their first camp was.  Way back in 1891.

Oddly, to celebrate the middle finger they’re giving Sarasota, the Reds invited Mayor Lou Ann Palmer, who was booed by the fewer than 3,000 fans – less than half the capacity of Ed Smith Stadium – who bothered to show up.

The boos may have been a little misguided.  Though the Reds offered to sign a long-term
lease if the facility was upgraded, local politicians would not commit the necessary $18 million for the project, and in 2007, voters declined a stadium tax hike.  That prompted the Reds to take their show on the road.

I appreciate the verve of the Sarasotans, booing the politicians for declining to give money that the fans themselves voted not to give, but I wonder if they’ve forgotten that the Sarasota Reds still have to play 70 games in Ed Smith. 

If they’re not careful, every night might turn into Sarasota County Little League Night.

———————————————————————————————————————————–

Incidentally, the Dodgers are playing the Angels right now, and I just heard something I hope I never hear again: Mark Loretta is up now, batting for Manny Ramirez.

Little Help Here

I’ve got a project I’m working on, but I need your help.

I know teams are paring down their 25-man rosters, but they don’t seem to be updated on MLB.com just yet.  Half of the stories I see are saying “Team X has decided their final roster spot,” but very few lists of the actual rosters.

So I’m asking the fans, who know everything, anyway: Who is going to be on your team’s 25-man roster?  Who are the starters?  The rotation?  The closer?  Let me know in the comments section, and you’ll get my eternal thanks!

(I know not every spot has been chosen… for instance, the Dodgers are still deciding between four guys – Doug Mientkiewicz, Juan Castro, Blake DeWitt, and Chin-Lung Hu – for the two utility infield slots.  Just let me know the best you can, thanks!)

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