Staying the course

Grady said before the game that the Dodgers need to “stay the course” with their young players and their plan and not stray from it. He asked, part rhetorically and part earnestly, what the Dodgers had been doing since they last won the World Series in 1988, a clear reference to the fact the team’s longstanding method of signing high-priced free agents simply hasn’t worked out, and that the current plan of drafting and developing is the right one. Some will applaud what Grady said, while others will dismiss it. But the Rockies are a perfect example of what can happen when you have a lot of young talent, you’re patient, and you allow it to develop. They endured years of growing pains, including a good portion of this year, but it’s all paying off now.

Abreu, Furcal, Kent and Penny all done

Tony Abreu (abdominal/groin strain) and Rafael Furcal (lower back) have all been shut down for the season, and understandably so. Why risk further injury when there is so little at stake. Kent, whose hammy has been bothering him all year and who suffered a bruised left leg when he slid into home plate on Tuesday night, will be available only in an emergency. And Penny will NOT make his scheduled start in Sunday’s season finale. Nothing wrong with him, but why subject him to any chance of an injury in such a meaningless game? … Asked Grady about possible coaching changes, and he didn’t really bite. “We’ll see,” is all he said, which to me is a strong indicator that something is going to happen. My guess is Bill Mueller goes back upstairs, so they’ll need a hitting coach, but there could be some other changes, as well. …

Rockies 9, Dodgers 7

These Rockies are an absolutely amazing story that NO ONE could have predicted when the season began. I rode the escalator downstairs after the game with Jay Alves, their media relations director and a longtime friend of mine, and we were just shaking our heads at the absurdity of it all. I was a backup on the beat for one of the Denver papers the last time these guys won nine in a row back in 1997, which until tonight was a franchise record that could be broken tomorrow, but that came after the club was already out of contention and didn’t make that much of a stir. This is something else entirely. The scary thing is, clubs that make the playoffs after getting on a roll like this tend to stay hot when they get there (remember the 2003 Marlins?), so these guys are by no means looking at an automatic first-round exit. Of course, they have to get there first, and the Padres rallied to beat the Giants tonight, so the Rockies are still a game back in the wild card. … As for the boys, well, they fell to 80-77, and tney better get untracked quickly if they’re going to salvage a winning season. They once had to go at least 3-11. Now, after losing eight of nine, they have to go at least 2-3. But at least they don’t appear to be sleepwalking anymore, like they did last week. Could that have something to do with Grady suddenly playing all the kids? Home runs tonight by Hu, Loney and Delwyn Young, and the other run was driven in on a single by LaRoche. … By the way, they started a new chant after Hu’s homer in the fourth inning: “Huuuuuuuuuu.” As in, “They’re not booing, they’re chanting `Huuuuuuuuuuu.”’

Tomorrow’s notes

Not a great deal of news today. Ubaldo Jimenez was sticking it to the boys until just now, when Chin-lung Hu, to which the crowd responded with chants of “Huuuuuuuuu” as he rounded the bases. It was his second big-league homer, and it tied the game. By the way, there was a smattering off boos when Grady’s name was announced before the game. Not sure it was warranted, but not sure it wasn’t, either. … Rockies 2, Dodgers 2, end 4

By Tony Jackson
Staff Writer
Dodgers backup catcher Mike Lieberthal said on Tuesday that he has changed his mind about retiring if the Dodgers don’t pick up his $1.5 million club option for next season. A month ago, Lieberthal said that if he doesn’t play for the Dodgers in 2008, he won’t play anywhere, but he has since opened himself to the possibility of playing for another club.
“I’m not going to retire,” Lieberthal said. “I feel like I can keep playing. I have asked so many people, especially my friends, a few players on this team and my family. They all feel I should keep playing. And I have talked to guys like (former Dodgers catcher) Steve Yeager, who tell me to play until they take (the jersey) off my back. Even if it’s for $1 million, $500,000 after taxes is a nice paycheck.”
The Dodgers have until five days after the World Series to decide whether to exercise the option. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti declined to comment on whether he is leaning one way or the other.
If nothing else, Lieberthal, who will turn 36 in January, should be fresh going into next year. He has started just 17 games this season behind iron man Russell Martin and has entered 14 others defensively. The fact he hasn’t complained about such sporadic playing time might be a compelling reason for the Dodgers to keep him, given that the situation doesn’t figure to change much next season.
“I would like to play more, but there is a stud playing in front of me,” Lieberthal said. “But as hard as he plays, he is probably going to get hurt sometime, even if it’s only for a week or two.”

Injury updates: Shortstop Rafael Furcal’s stiff lower back still hasn’t healed enough to allow him to play. Furcal now has missed seven consecutive games, and each day that passes without him returning to the lineup makes it less likely he will play again this season.
“There would be value is him playing if he is able to play,” said Dodgers manager Grady Little, shooting down the idea that it might be better to simply shut Furcal down for the year.
Furcal has been playing through pain in his left ankle all season.
Meanwhile, infielder Tony Abreu, who left Sunday’s game at Arizona with pain in his hip flexor, hadn’t improved much and was as questionable for the rest of the season as Furcal.
“He is hurt,” Little said. “I don’t know if he will be able to play. He is kind of day to day. We’ll check him and see.”

No difference: Little said the club won’t approach this three-game series with wildcard-contending Colorado any differently than this weekend’s season-ending set with last-place San Francisco, even though there doesn’t figure to be anything at stake for either club in that series.
“We’re going to try to win as many games as we can,” Little said. “What we did last week (a 1-6 trip), there is nothing we can do about that right now. We just have to go forward.”
The Dodgers entered the day trailing the third-place Rockies by four games, leaving them only a remote chance to avoid finishing behind Colorado in the standings for the first time since the Rockies came into existence in 1993. The Dodgers needed to go at least 2-4 to post their seventh winning season in eight years during this decade.

Dodgers 7, Diamondbacks 1

Dodgers finish their road sked with a 39-42 mark. They won six of nine here in the big hangar, which is fairly notable given that the Snakes have gone an incredible 50-31 at home. Today was all about the kids. Juan Pierre was the only guy in the starting lineup that wasn’t a first- or second-year big leaguer, and the boys fairly unloaded on Edgar Gonzalez, the same guy who beat them last Sunday to start the seven-game losing streak. Nice effort by Billingsley today, too, even though he threw 95 pitches and only went 5 2/3. I’m telling you, this kid is a potential No. 1 starter who could become one of the league’s elite starting pitchers as soon as next season. Loney went 3 for 5 with a home run, and Tony Abreu homered in the first inning. … Enjoyed watching that whole Milton Bradley thing unfold in San Diego. I feel bad for Buddy Black, one of the classiest guys in the game, and I’m sure he is beside himself over what happened. But this was the whole story of Milton wrapped up in one instance: he lost his temper yet again, and he got injured yet again. It appears his never-ending tendency to do both of those things is ultimately going to overshadow his talent, his ability and, unfortunately, his career. Thank your lucky stars he isn’t the Dodgers’ problem anymore. … While standing around the clubhouse this morning (one of my greatest talents, by the way), I saw the door to Grady’s office open. Matt Kemp and James Loney were coming out, but Ned, who was having a conversation nearby in the corner of the clubhouse, intercepted them, and the three of them went back in and closed the door again. I guess he wanted to talk to them, too, and I’m sure it was about their comments in response to Kent’s comments about the team’s young players. Let’s hope this thing is finally a dead issue. But mostly, let’s hope it doesn’t come up again next year, because I can’t imagine Kent isn’t coming back when he has a $9 million guarantee. … Dodgers improve to 80-76. They need to go at least 2-4 on the homestand to have a winning season. And while it’s true that you either make the playoffs or you don’t, I still think your final record is an important stat. It’s history, after all. This is my eighth year as a full-time beat guy, and I can still recite the records of every team I have covered (’00 Reds 85-77, ’01 Reds 66-96, ’02 Reds 78-84, ’03 Reds 69-93, ’04 Dodgers 93-69, ’05 Dodgers 71-91, ’06 Dodgers 88-74). I hope the boys feel the same way and play hard to the end — even though that series with the Jints next weekend figures to be rather dull.

Diamonbacks 6, Dodgers 2

What else is left to say? The tension is so thick in that clubhouse right now that you can hardly breathe. You get the feeling, just being around these guys, that they can’t wait to get away from each other for a few months. You wonder if the atmosphere is going to be any better when they all meet up again in Vero Beach next spring. You wonder if Jeff Kent might have talked his way into being traded — not that there is going to be much of a market for a guy who is going to turn 40 next spring, who has a $9 million salary and who has a famously prickly personality. You wonder if 4 1/2 months of being away from all this is going to fix it, change it, make it any better at all. This isn’t the end of 2005. The Dodgers aren’t close to being the complete and utter mess they were when Jim Tracy was fired by Paul DePodesta, Paul DePodesta was fired by Frank McCourt a month later and Terry Collins spent 24 hours thinking he was going to be named the team’s manager the next day only to have McCourt pull the rug and DePodesta out from under him. This isn’t even close to being that, and these Dodgers have a chance to be really good next year. But this much is certain: if everyone (Grady, Ned, the coaches, the players) simply pulls the covers over their eyes and pretends it’s all OK, then nothing is ever going get better. This clubhouse has become what MTV only wishes The Real World could be. Twenty-five (actually, right now, 36) people in one room, one dugout, one bus, one hotel, one airplane, and this week, they suddenly stopped being nice and started being real. But when you’re trying to win a championship, real can be a little overrated. Good luck, boys. Opening day is only six months away.

Does anyone even care anymore?

These two teams don’t look like they belong on the same field, or even in the same league. A lot of that has to do with the fact Brandon Webb is pitching for the Snakes. But a lot of it also has to do with the fact these Dodgers continue to seem somewhat disinterested. To some degree, I guess it makes sense. There is nothing left to play for except a winning record, which I once thought was a lock. Before this soon-to-be seven-game losing streak began, they needed to go just 3-11 to finish 82-80, and that seemed like a slam dunk. Now, they have to go 3-4. Not such a slam dunk. Shoot, they have to go 2-5 just to avoid a LOSING season and finish 81-81. The way this is going, even THAT seems questionable. … I won’t bore you with any game details except to say Wells lasted 4 2/3 innings and gave up five runs on nine hits. … Diamondbacks 5, Dodgers 0, top 6

Tomorrow’s notes

But first, the boys appear to have blown another one after they jumped to a 3-1 lead. With two outs and a man on first in the third, Tony Clark hit a high pop fly in foul territory beyond third base. Nomar appeared to have a bead on it, but Tony Abreu then appeared to call him off at the last second, and the ball fell between them. Clark, of course, then hit a two-run, game-tying homer. The Snakes got three more in the fourth, and Loaiza is gone now after yet another disaster. Something clearly isn’t right with the guy. … Diamondbacks 6, Dodgers 3, bottom 5

By Tony Jackson
Staff Writer
PHOENIX — Dodgers manager Grady Little declined on Friday to directly address comments made by second baseman Jeff Kent the previous day in which Kent implied that several of the team’s young players weren’t making enough of an effort to learn from their veteran teammates. Little said he wouldn’t comment until he had a chance to hear what Kent had said directly from Kent instead of simply reading Kent’s quotes in media reports.
Little did imply, however, that the veterans aren’t entirely blameless when it comes to the widely reported clubhouse rift between the Dodgers’ veterans and youngsters.
“In a lot of ways, I think it’s a two-way street,” Little said. “It’s like a marriage. For those who have successful marriages, that’s a two-way street, too.”
Little’s message was clear: some of those veterans could stand to reach out to the younger players a little more.
The notoriously prickly Kent has been criticized at times for keeping to himself in the clubhouse. But in Kent’s defense, there was a well-publicized incident during a game in Florida two years ago when Kent tried to pull outfielder Milton Bradley aside to offer constructive criticism after Bradley made a costly baserunning mistake, and that conversation eventually led to the volatile Bradley, who is African-American, implying several days later that Kent was a racist.
Bradley has since been traded to Oakland and now is with San Diego, but the memory of that debacle might be making Kent somewhat reticent to offer advice.
Veteran third baseman Nomar Garciaparra also likes to go about his business quietly. And while veteran left fielder Luis Gonzalez has been a legendary clubhouse leader for most of his career, he has lost considerable playing time this season because of the emergence of younger outfielders Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, a fact that might be making Gonzalez less comfortable asserting a leadership role.
For now, Little is chalking Kent’s comments up to simple frustration at a time when the Dodgers appear to be out of the running for a playoff spot at the end of a season that began with so much promise.
“I think he shares that frustration that all of us feel at this point in time,” Little said. “There aren’t many of us who don’t feel it.”

Minor awards: Infielder Chin-lung Hu, presently in the majors as a September callup, and right-hander James McDonald will be named today as the Dodgers’ Organizational Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively.
Hu, 23, split the season between Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A Las Vegas before his Sept. 1 callup, batting a combined .325 with 40 doubles, 14 homers and 62 RBI. McDonald, who will turn 23 next month, split the year between advanced Single-A Inland Empire and Jacksonville, going a combined 13-9 with a 3.07 ERA. He struck out 168 batters in 134 2/3 innings, allowing just 121 hits.

Also: Shortstop Rafael Furcal tried to swing a bat before Friday night’s game, but his tight lower back wouldn’t allow him to do so. He missed his fourth consecutive game. …
Infielder Ramon Martinez, who injured his right elbow sometime during the second game of Tuesday’s doubleheader at Colorado in which he played in place of Furcal and hasn’t played since, left Chase Field about an hour before game time Friday night and went for an MRI. …
Dodgers player development director DeJon Watson said he hopes to hire a roving minor-league hitting coordinator sometime this weekend. The job has been vacant since Bill Robinson died suddenly on July 29. Several Dodgers prospects began Arizona Instructional League play with a victory over San Diego on Friday at Peoria, Ariz., so there is a sense of urgency to fill the position. Scott Van Slyke homered in the Dodgers’ win to kick off a month-long season that will end on Oct. 20.

LaRoche hits first ML HR

It came with one out in the seventh, on the first pitch thrown by Rockies reliever Matt Herges after Ethier’s three-run shot chased Ubaldo Jimenez. LaRoche’s ball landed several rows back in the leftfield bleachers. Not that it will do the Dodgers much good. They’re going to suffer their first four-game sweep ever at Coors, although the Rockies did sweep a four-gamer at Chavez Ravine back in 1993, their first year of existence. Gonzo on deck, looking for career high No. 2,500. … Rockies 9, Dodgers 4, top 8