By Tony Jackson
Takashi Saito added another $50,000 to his 2007 salary on Thursday night by blowing away two San Diego batters and getting the third one to ground weakly to second base for Saito’s 38th save in his second season as the Dodgers’ closer. It also was his 50th game finished, and that statistic gave him another performance bonus and a salary of $1.15 million, with an outside chance still to max out those bonuses and earn $1.3 million.
Even if he does max them out, he remains one of baseball’s best bargains.
Barely 18 months after he came to spring training with the Dodgers on a minor-league contract, Saito has become one of the game’s most dominant closers. He has converted 38 of his 41 save opportunities this season, allowed only four of 11 inherited runners to score and retired the first batter 47 times in his 58 appearances. And while no closer will ever pitch enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, Saito’s mark of 1.24 is the best among all major-league pitchers with at least 50 innings.
“I think Saito is one of the great stories in baseball since the day he showed up in Vero Beach and pitched his way onto the club,” Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. “He has pitched really well, and he pitches efficiently. He shows the great value of throwing strikes. Most of the time, he is ahead in the count, and that is a good lesson for all.”
Saito has been especially dominant lately. He hasn’t given up a hit in any of his past four outings, during which he has faced just one batter over the minimum.
“His workload during this last month hasn’t been steady,” Dodgers manager Grady Little said. “ He might work four or five days in a row and then be off two or three days, and I think that has helped. A lot of it has to do with him throwing 94-95 mph, but a lot has to do with location, too. And this guy doesn’t shy away from anything.”
The best news for the Dodgers might be the fact they know they probably will have Saito for at least one more season. Although he is 37 and spent 14 seasons with the Yokohama BayStars, he is in just his second season in the United States and thus has the same status as any other second-year player. He won’t even be eligible for arbitration until after 2008, and the Dodgers hold the rights to him through 2011.
Interleague schedule: Although the Dodgers’ 2008 schedule remains highly subject to change and thus is a tightly guarded secret around Chavez Ravine, the Daily News has learned that the club is tentatively scheduled to host nine interleague games against the Angels, Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox and will play six road games at the Angels and Detroit.
Dates of those games were not available.
The Dodgers have played nine interleague road games and six home games for each of the past several seasons, and they went a combined 4-23 in American League parks from 2005-07. Thus, the fact it looks like they will host nine games next year while playing only six on the road is at least somewhat significant.
Defying time: As Dodgers employees prepared for Friday night’s pregame ceremony honoring Tommy Lasorda’s 80th birthday — which, by the way, isn’t until next Saturday, when the team is on the road — the Hall of Fame manager said he does not, in any way, feel like an octogenarian.
“People ask me how I feel, and I say I’m like those cars that come out of Earl Scheib,” Lasorda said. “They might look good on the outside, but you don’t know what is under the hood. But the key is staying active, and I also love what I’m doing. If a man really, truly loves what he is doing, then Old Man Sickness and Death will get tired of chasing him because he has no chance to catch him.”
Lasorda has played an active role in the Dodgers’ front office — including extensive travel and countless trips to Japan — since retiring as the team’s manager in 1996.