Ace in the Rough

I spent this morning eating breakfast, washing dishes, and doing some general house keeping after spending all weekend relaxing. I had the Dodgers game on, but after Justin Turner’s second inning home run put the Dodgers up 2-0, I was mostly using the game as background noise. I knew Josh Beckett had a shutout, that he was mixing his pitches well, but he didn’t seem dominant. No-hitter never crossed my mind, not until Charlie Steiner mentioned it to end the sixth inning. That seems to be the story of Josh Beckett this year. He is having a great year, but because of the pitcher he once was, he has not been confused with dominant.

When Beckett came up with the Marlins in 2002, he was a big Texas flame thrower, getting the usual comparisons that all pitchers who throw in the upper 90s from Texas get to Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens. His fastball was so good and he was so confident in it, that he threw it 75% of the time that year. And as he continued to pitch in the big leagues, the fastball was his pitch. He could reach back, touch 96 if he needed it, using his off speed pitches to set up a fastball later in the at-bat. However, like every pitcher who gets older, Josh began to lose something off of his fastball and as he did he looked more and more vulnerable. In 2010 his ERA skyrocketed to 5.78, in 2012 it was 4.65, and before having surgery last year, he had a 5.19 ERA in 8 starts. Going in to 2014, he wasn’t even guaranteed a spot in the rotation. Needless to say, it was hard imagining what the Dodgers were going to get from Beckett in 2014.

From 2010-13, Beckett may have been plagued with an identity crisis. Many power pitchers who suddenly lose velocity try to get by on reputation, and even when their fastball doesn’t have what it used to, they still think they can pitch the same way, even when the radar gun is blatantly telling them that they can’t. Aside from injuries, that was probably Josh Beckett’s biggest problem the past four years. Even he admitted to this, saying “I still fight myself from time to time thinking this is 2003”. He credits his turn around to becoming more of a pitcher, especially after AJ Ellis showed him how poorly hitters perform against his curveball. Now Beckett spends his outings mixing his pitches and focusing on keeping hitters off balance, rather than trying to throw the ball past them.

Beckett is using his curveball 30.6% of the time, by far the highest of his career. He is throwing his fastball and cutter 53% of the time, but has been willing to go to the curveball in any count, whenever he feels like he needs a strike. What has this done for him so far this year? Batters are hitting a meager .213 against Beckett in 2014, the second lowest average against of his career.

After the game ended today, and Beckett had thrown 9 innings without allowing a hit, he admitted that “I don’t think I had no-hit stuff. I just kept them guessing”. And while I too didn’t think he had dominant stuff, I do know that the next time he pitches, the dishes can wait.

 

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This Day in Dodgers History

On May 14th, 1968, Don Drysdale and the Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 1-0. Drysdale went all 9 innings, allowing only two hits, while striking out seven. The shutout would be the first of six consecutive that Don threw, setting a Major League record. Drysdale would also wind up setting the Major League record for most consecutive innings thrown without allowing a run, at 58 innings.

His consecutive innings record would stand until 1988, when another Dodger, Orel Hershiser, broke it by throwing 59 consecutive scoreless innings. Don still holds the record for most consecutive shutouts thrown, and judging by the way starters are watched, and bullpens are used, his record appears to be as impossible to break as Dimaggio’s 56 game hit streak or Cy Young’s 511 career wins.

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The New Fast

Before the 2014 season began, baseball pundits across the nation could not stop talking about the new speedster that was ready to take over as a leadoff hitter. Much was made about his game changing speed, while many wondered if he could consistently get on base. There was talk about how he would be able to handle a position change, and if he was ready to do so on a consistent basis in the Majors. Writers were almost giddy about the return of an old school prototypical leadoff hitter, a get on base any way you can type of guy, who could turn a harmless walk in to a triple by swiping bases at will. If you are curious, the national spotlight was focused on the minor league base stealing king Billy Hamilton, but if the script could somehow be rewritten, the name at the beginning of the story line would undoubtedly be Dee Gordon.

Like Hamilton, Gordon is a player that relies on his speed to be an effective player. Both are apt to bunt in any situation and in any count. If a pitcher makes the mistake of walking one of them, they are liable to to be standing on second base one pitch later. Both are learning new positions, Hamilton a former shortstop now playing centerfield, and Gordon a former shortstop converted to second base. And while Hamilton received all of the attention this offseason, it is Gordon who has shown that he is the most dynamic leadoff hitter in baseball.

Hamilton has struggled in the early going this year. He is hitting .260, with a below average .299 on base percentage. His strikeout rate of 18.5% is league average, but his walk rate is a below average 4.5%. When he has gotten on base, he has stolen a solid 12 bases, but has also been thrown out five times, a not so pretty 71% success rate. There are some who might look at these numbers and accept them, especially given Hamilton’s inexperience, but when compared to what the Dodgers’ speedster has pulled off in the first month and a half of the season, Hamilton suddenly looks like a AAA player who isn’t quite ready for the bigs.

Gordon is off to a tremendous start to the year. He is batting .331, good for seventh in all of baseball. His 22 runs scored ties him for first on the Dodgers with Adrian Gonzalez. Most impressively, he has 24 stolen bases this season, ten more than the next closest base stealer, Eric Young Jr. And just to show how impressive Gordon’s base stealing has been, his 24 stolen bases are more than 17 team’s total. Like Hamilton, he has a below average walk rate of 4.6%, but his .360 on base percentage is nearly 70 points higher than Hamilton’s. Gordon’s early numbers are very eye opening, and would lead one to think that second base was his to lose going in to the year, but when players reported for camp in early February, many wondered if Gordon would even have a roster spot.

As spring training began, the Dodgers appeared to have one spot in their lineup up for grabs, and that was second base. After letting Mark Ellis go via free agency, the Dodgers signed Alex Guerrero to a 4 year $28 million contract with hopes that he would fill the void that Ellis left with his offensive potential. However, as the spring progressed, Guerrero struggled at the position defensively, and soon, there was an open competition to fill the second base vacancy. Guerrero was still being considered, but the Dodgers brought in veterans Justin Turner and Chone Figgins to compete for the position, and also allowed former shortstop prospect Dee Gordon a chance switch positions.

Gordon quickly showed that he could provide a component to the Dodgers lineup that they sorely needed; his speed. His spring numbers were not mind blowing, but he batted a solid .271, with a surprising (for him) .742 OPS. Where he showed his true value was his ability to wreak havoc on the basepaths. Gordon attempted 9 stolen bases in the spring and was successful on all 9 attempts. So while Guerrero struggled to learn his new position, Turner showed he was better suited for a utility role and Figgins showed he was as light hitting as he was two years ago, Gordon impressed enough to earn himself not only a spot on the Dodgers roster, but a platoon role at second base, hitting against righties, while Turner would handle lefties.

On Opening Day, Dee went 3 for 4 with a double and a RBI. In 9 of his next 11 starts, Gordon would record at least one hit. So far in 36 games, Gordon has failed to record a hit in just 9 games, while also recording 14 multi hit games during that span. Gordon also put on a much talked about 15 extra pounds this offseason, which may be contributing to the highest slugging percentage of his career at .441. His 11 extra base hits are just one fewer than his previous season high of 12, which he did in 2012. The biggest difference there is that it took him 86 games and 303 at-bats to record those hits, while this year he has only played in 36 games and has 145 at-bats.

Gordon has quietly established himself not only as the Dodgers second basemen and leadoff hitter, but as perhaps the most dangerous leadoff hitter in baseball. While many others, including Billy Hamilton, may get all of the early season notoriety, by season’s end, don’t be surprised if Gordon crowns himself as the best.

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Heeeeeee’s Baaaaaaaaack!

Happy Kershaw day everyone! Today marks Clayton Kershaw’s return to the starting rotation after missing the last 33 games with a strained muscle in his upper back. To celebrate his first start back, I decided that it had to be chronicled with a running diary of the game. So without further adieu…It’s time for Dodgers’ baseball.

Top 1st 

4:07pm – The sun is out! Let’s hope we get this one in without a 3 hour rain delay

4:08 – Dee Gordon grounds out on a fastball. First two pitches from Blake Treinen were 98mph with some movement. On a side note, it is getting to the point where I am surprised when Gordon does not get on base. Who would have thought that those words would ever be said?

4:10 – C.C.C.C. is 6 for his last 9 after blooping in a single. Fought off some good pitches in that at-bat, but his bat looks really slow coming through the zone.

4:12 – Hanley Ramirez hits in to double play. He is really killing his trade value right now…(I was able to link all my relevant articles in the first inning. I either need to write more or the Dodgers need to disprove my writing to shut me up)

Bottom 1st

4:13 – Just a quick side note. I am really liking the away broadcasting tandem of Charlie Steiner and Orel Hershiser. Steve Lyons’ act was getting a little old and this new group is refreshing.

4:15 – First pitch strike from Kershaw, 93mph fastball. Let’s hope this is a trend.

4:17 – Kershaw gets Denard Span on a weak chopper. Clayton is locating his fastball well and threw a very Clayton Kershaw like curve in the dirt during that at bat. Good sign.

4:18 – 3 pitch strikeoout for Rendon. Vintage low and in slider that finished in the dirt.

4:19 – First nasty curve to Jayson Werth. Werth was only about a foot in front of it and barely fouled it off. Then of course Clayton went fastball (great location) and Jayson singled up the middle.

4:20 – Adam Laroche pops out on the first pitch. Four batters, four first pitch strikes and no problems.

Top 2nd

4:24 – Matt Kemp nearly made Treinen a cripple with that line drive  up the middle. Kemp may only be hitting .242 but his .794 OPS tells me that he isn’t far from being the productive hitter he was in the past.

4:26 – Base hit Andre Ethier. Let him play! It’s a win-win for the Dodgers. Keep C.C.C.C. out of the lineup and build up Ethier’s trade value. Or, you know, just let the more productive player play.

4:28 – Juan Uribe hits soft ground ball up the middle for a double play. Two double plays, in two innings. Not quite the production you look for with men on base. Although on the flip side, at least men are on base?

4:29 – Another observation. The Dodgers are really rocking those new hoodies this year. A pull over with mini-half zip layered in? I have already called my mom for an early Christmas gift this year.

4:31 – Van Slyke grounds out to Rendon to end the inning. Tonight is Van Slyke’s first start against right handed pitching. He is hitting .375 against lefties, but only .154 against righties. Ouch.

Bottom 2

4:34 – Kershaw looks good running the count to 1-2 on Scott Hairston but then gives up a line drive single to Crawford. Both hits tonight on fastballs in counts where Kershaw has been ahead.

4:38 – Nice bounce back there. Clayton fell behind 3-0 (first batter where he didn’t throw a first pitch strike), but then came back to get Ian Desmond on a 3-1 well placed fastball on the outside corner. Desmond hit a weak foul pop up.

4:39 – A little retribution. Danny Espinosa goes after a first pitch fastball and grounds in to an inning ending double play. I would say we have a pitchers duel on our hands, but it seems like every game the Dodgers play they make the other team look like an ace is on the hill.

Top 3rd

4:43 – Drew Butera is a master at taking strikes. Really he has it down to a science. He just watched two strikes go by, fouled off one, and then watched strike 3. Watched him do the same thing Sunday with runners on base against Miami. But as everyone has pointed out, he does have a good glove.

4:44 – Clayton hits weak tapper to the pitcher. Great hustle up the line on that. Charlie Steiner loved it too.

4:45 – Has anyone asked Dee Gordon about the Superman t-shirt he wears underneath his jersey? Does it have anything to do with his turn around this year? These are questions I wish reporters asked…Gordon pops out weakly to end the inning. Treinen is proving to be Dee’s cryptonite so far tonight.

Bottom 3rd

4:48 – First pitch fastball strike to Jose Lobaton, nasty lollipop curve for a strike, fastball that was fouled off, fastball in the dirt and then the lollipop swung and missed. Great pitch sequencing there. Fastball at 93mph and then a curve at 72mph. Hitters should just give up.

4:50 – Three straight fastballs to the pitcher Treinen. Ends with Kershaw’s second straight strikeout.

4:53 – Span gets ahead 2-1, but flies out to C.C.C.C. in left. A third of the way through the game and Kershaw’s stat line: 3IP, 2H, 0BB, 3Ks. The best part, only 34 pitches. Looks like that bullpen can finally get some much needed rest (I lied, I had one more article to reference. Give it up for self promotion!).

Top 4th

4:56 – C.C.C.C. hit a line drive that Span nearly over ran before catching. A little better swing this time around, the ball just hung up in the air a little too long.

4:57 – Hanley grounds out to the Ian Desmond on the second pitch. This is Blake Treinen’s first start. Shouldn’t the Dodgers be a little more patient here? Blake has thrown 46 pitches through 3.2 innings.

5:00 – Of course after saying that Kemp works a 6 pitch at bat ending with an infield single. Matt pounded that ball in to the ground and it had the hang time that a punter would be proud of.

5:01 – Ethier flies out on the first pitch. After working Treinen a little bit, getting a runner on base, I would have at least liked to have seen him take one pitch, maybe give Kemp a chance to run. Worst case scenario, Kemp gets thrown out, Ethier leads off the fifth. But a one pitch out is good too.

Bottom 4th

5:04 – 0-2 count to Rendon and Kershaw throws very hittable fastball that Rendon singles to left. Rendon has been putting together good at bats all year. All three hits off Kershaw now have been off the fastball.

5:05 – Terrific stop by Hanley Ramirez on a Jayson Werth grounder, but Hanley couldn’t throw him out at first. Runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs (first pitch fastball btw).

5:06 – Great bounce back. Gets LaRoche to fly out to Uribe in foul territory on 1-0 count. What makes Kershaw great is his ability to buckle down with runners on base. Last year with men on base batters hit a meager .177 against him.

5:10 – Nasty slider that broke right on the back foot of Hairston for a swinging strike three.

5:13 – Clayton is motoring. Another strikeout on a ridiculous curveball to strike out Ian Desmond. He didn’t get a strike called in that at bat on a nice low and away fastball, but still fought back from 2-1 to get the K.

Top 5th

5:15 -Uribe smokes a ball down the third base line that Rendon leaps and snags. A lot is being made about Nolan Arenado right now, but this kid in Washington isn’t looking too bad either.

5:17 – Swinging strike three from Scott Van Slyke on a curveball low and away. He swung and missed on two of those in a row. I want it to be clear that I am a very big Van Slyke fan, but he looks silly on off speed from right handers.

5:19 – Drew Butera can swing! Unfortunately he flew out to center when he decided to lift the bat from his shoulder.

Bottom the 5th

5:22 – Kershaw records his 3rd strikeout in a row with another nasty slider against Danny Espinosa. Clayton is commanding all of his pitches and is not missing his spots. The Dodgers have not had a pitcher go past the 8th inning this year, but Clayton is at 52 pitches through 4.1.

5:23 – Gets ahead 0-2 on Lobaton and gets him to get out in front of a slow curveball for a fly out to left field.

5:24 -Tonight is a night of firsts for the Nationals Blake Treinen. On a 1-1 count he hits a soft single to center field for his first base hit.

5:26 – Clayton gets Span to ground out on the first pitch to Dee Gordon. Dee is really establishing himself at the plate this year, but his defense is still a work in progress. He bobbled that one and then slapped the ball with his bare hand to Ramirez for the force out. Don’t take that lucky t-shirt off Dee.

Top 6th

5:29 – Kershaw again taps one back to the pticher and again hustles out of the box. This time Treinen slips and falls and Kershaw is safe on first. Error to Treinen.

5:32 – The Nats are not doing themselves any favors right now. Gordon hits high chopper to LaRoche and he bobbles it and can’t get Dee at first. First ruled an error, but then changed to a base hit. C.C.C.C. up next better be bunting.

5:34 – Well he sort of was. On a 1-1 count Crawford nubs one in front of home plate and reaches on in an field single. The Dodgers have the bases loaded, 2 hits, and not one ball has left the infield.

5:35 – On the first pitch Hanley bloops one in to right field. Kershaw scores. This is good news for several reasons. One Ramirez gets an RBI and a much needed hit. He was 3 for his last 37. Also, now that Kershaw has the lead, he might be able to pitch a little deeper in to the game as he won’t need to be removed for a pinch hitter.

5:35 – That was Treinen’s last pitch. His line as it currently stands (he is responsible for all three men on base): 5.0IP, 6H, 1R, 0ER, 0BB, 2Ks. That went about as well as the Nats could have hoped for in his first start.

5:40 – Matt Williams brings in Craig Stammen who promptly strikes out Matt Kemp. One out. Kemp is hitting .130 with men in scoring position this year. Did someone say he was starting to come around? Oops.

5:43 – Ethier grounds in to a fielder choice, second to short. The Dodgers have scored two runs this inning without making solid contact. Sometimes in baseball you need breaks like this. Let’s see if this gets them going.

5:44 – I have a love hate relationship with Uribe. I love that he swings from the seat of his pants on every swing, but hate that he never adjusts. I also love when he throws his wrists at a low and away curveball and gets bloop hits in to left. 3-0 Dodgers now. All three runs charged to Treinen, none earned.

5:46 – I think more baseball players should show their socks. It makes me think of that Golden Age in baseball. And for god’s sake, bring back the sanitaries!

5:48 – The Nationals finally get out of it. Stammen gets Van Slyke swinging on a…you guessed it, an off speed pitch (it must be the high socks). 3 runs that inning for the Dodgers and that has to be frustrating for the Nats because it feels like they could have gotten out of that with zero.

Bottom 6th

5:50 – Biggest test of the night for Kershaw so far. The Dodgers batted for nearly 20 minutes that last half inning so let’s see how Clayton responds.

5:51 – Well, Anthony Rendon leads off with a single. On another fastball.

5:52 – Clayton picks off Rendon on first. It seems like Kershaw can do whatever he wants, like a basketball player always finding the spot he wants on the floor. He really is the best in the game.

5:53 – That last point was just validated by Charlie Steiner saying “There is nothing Kershaw can’t do”. Maybe I am in the right line of work after all!

5:55 – Werth gets his third hit of the night. Clayton threw 3 sliders in a row that Jayson wasn’t close to hitting and then went back to the fastball.

5:55 – First pitch to LaRoche nasty slider in the dirt for strike one. Let’s stick with the off speed stuff kid.

5:57 – 2-1 fastball that LaRoche strokes in to right field. Good pitch, good piece of hitting. If Clayton can get a ground ball here and get out of the inning, it looks like 8 innings is still possible (70 pitches so far).

5:59 – Holy moly. Vin Scully was right naming that curveball Public Enemy No. 1. It just made Scott Hairston look foolish for another strikeout, number 7 so far tonight.

6:01 – Ian Desmond makes it strikeout number 8. Through 6 innings Kershaw has struck out 8 batters and has allowed 8 hits. All 8 hits have been off the fastball and 7 of the 8 strikeouts have been resulted from off speed pitches. Again, let’s stick to the slow stuff kid.

Top 7th

6:05 – Drew Butera swings again! This time he promptly fouls it off the plate in to his face. Maybe he shouldn’t swing.

6:06 – Butera reaches first on a hit by pitch. It looks like he is going to hurt himself no matter what he decides to do.

6:07 – It turns out Clayton can’t do everything tonight. He tries laying down the sacrifice bunt but sends it back to the pitcher a little too hard. Winds up being the ol’1-6-3 double play.

6:08 – I have a soft spot for those speedy slap hitters. I liked watching Juan Pierre and I like seeing it from Dee Gordon. This time though he doesn’t slap it and drives a ball in to right center for a two out triple. Lots of talk around Gordon putting on some extra weight this year and it really seems to be paying off. This year Gordon is slugging .460 after never having slugged over .360.

6:11 – It looked like C.C.C.C. wasted another at bat hitting a lazy pop fly to left field, but Scott Hairston bailed him out by dropping the ball. Another error for the Nats, and it is 4-0. Quick note: The Nationals now have 29 errors on the season, second in National League behind the Dodgers.

6:14 – C.C.C.C. didn’t want to get too much good mojo going for him as he is thrown out trying to steal second. This time though I can’t complain as it is the same situation I talked about earlier with Matt Kemp. Now the Dodgers get to lead off the inning with Hanley Ramirez and a fresh count. I will take it easy on you for now C.C.C.C.

Bottom of the 7th

6:18 – Hanley must have felt the Nationals breathing down the Dodgers’ neck in errors as he promptly makes an error on a very playable ground ball. That is Hanley’s sixth error this year. Right now Hanley has -4 runs saved this season.

6:20 – And just as quickly as I was complaining, he makes up for it with a nice 6-4-3 double play. Great turn by Dee Gordon as well. I love Hanley Ramirez!

6:21 – Kevin Frandsen gets on first with a pinch hit single. It’s always those former Giants that drive you crazy.

6:24 – On his 89th pitch of the game, Kershaw gets Span looking on a well placed fastball. Unless Mattingly is super conservative (which he normally is), it looks like Clayton can go at least another inning.

Top 8th

6:27 – Did I mention how much I love Hanley Ramirez? Solo bomb to center field off Ross Detwiler. Thank you C.C.C.C. for getting him a fresh at bat! That ball was crushed.

6:28 – Charlie Steiner just said that the ball Hanley hit was motor boated. I am not quite sure what that means in the context of baseball, but I like where his head is at.

6:30 – Well the Dodgers are at it again. Detwiler walks Kemp and then Ethier hits a slow roller to first base that no one can make a play on. Runners on first and second with no outs.

6:31 – The cameras have been showing Don Mattingly a lot tonight and he has been smiling quite a bit. It must be a big relief to have your reigning Cy Young Award winner back.

6:31 – Uribe takes some monster cuts and hits an infield fly. I still love him.

6:35 – Scott Van Slyke follows Uribe with an infield fly of his own. Turns out he is not invincible against lefties after all.

6:37 – Well what do I know? Drew Butera does swing and hits a 3 run home run to left field. That ball was a hanging slider right down the middle that Drew crushed. Ross Detwiler can not be thrilled with his performance tonight.

6:38 – Well it looks like Mattingly is going to play the conservative card. I know that the Dodgers are up by 8 runs, but I still think it would be good to stretch Clayton out a little here because even if he scuffled a bit, the Dodgers still have a big enough lead to protect him. But you know, if your bullpen leads the Majors in innings pitched, you should go to them right here.

Recap

Clatyon Kershaw’s final line for the night: 7.0IP, 9H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 9K and 89 pitches. Clayton dominated the strike zone and seemed to be able to hit his spots whenever he wanted. He also looked as healthy as ever, as his fastball topped out at 94mph and he was able to throw his off speed pitches for strikes.

It was great seeing him back on the mound tonight and his teammates seemed to think so too. The Dodgers offense finally seperated themselves tonight, giving Kershaw plenty of breathing room to get through his start. While there weren’t a lot of well hit balls, they got men on base and then drove them in.

If the Dodgers go on a little win streak over the next week or so, remember this night as the boost that the team needed.

*Side Note – If you are wondering how that over used bullpen did after Kershaw exited, Perez came in to start the 8th and lasted just 2/3 of an inning, throwing 34 pitches, giving up 3H, 3BB, and 3ER. Jaime Wright then got the final out of the 8th and Kenly Jansen came on to finish it in the 9th. Because if you can use your over worked closer in a non-save opportunity, you should. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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