Greg Miller faced five batters today, with all five reaching and all five scoring. He walked the first two, missing badly with some pitches. Given the horrendous control issues he dealt with last summer, resulting in his being demoted from Triple-A Las Vegas to Double-A Jacksonville midseason, you had to wonder if he is on the verge of a relapse. But Miller said that wasn’t in the back of his mind as he went to the hill to start the fifth inning.
“It’s a new year,” he said. “I have a whole bunch of new years in front of me, and you need to start with square one.”
Miller wasn’t the only one whistling past the graveyard.
“Greg for me has made a lot of progress this spring, with a lot of positive things,” pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. “But there is still another step of being able to take it into a game. We feel like this is a quality young man with a quality arm, and he just needs to get over that hump and be able to take that into a ballgame and make adjustments within an inning. We believe in this young man, and he just needs to keep believing that with time, he can get through this thing.”
Honeycutt and manager Joe Torre have vowed to remain patient with Miller.
“One thing we have to make sure we do is stay with him and continue to talk to him,” Torre said. “We just have to make sure he believes in himself and finds a way. The tough part of being a pitcher is that if you struggle, you have to wait a few days before you go back out there again. But we want to let him know we’re still behind him.”
Kuroda made his Dodgers debut, getting through his allotted two innings on so few pitches (21) that he then had to go to the bullpen and throw some more. He faced the minimum allowing just a leadoff single to Kelly Johnson in the first inning that was erased on Yuniel Escobar’s first-pitch GIDP. But on a day when manager Joe Torre more or less admitted that Jason Schmidt won’t be ready for opening day, the only other serious candidate for the fifth starter’s spot, Esteban Loaiza, got roughed up in the third and fourth innings, something pitching coach Rick Honeycutt later blamed on the fact Loaiza is trying to implement a mechanical adjustment Honeycutt suggested to him and hasn’t gotten comfortable with it yet. Loaiza gave up three runs on four hits over two innings. Greg Miller then came on to pitch the fifth and seemed to have a recurrence of last year’s control problems, walking the first two batters and missing badly on some pitches. He then started throwing strikes and got knocked around. By the time Honeycutt came to get him, Miller had faced five batters, and all five had reached. All five would ultimately score, leaving Miller with the dreaded ERA of infinity for the spring. Both Torre and Honeycutt said after the game they aren’t concerned despite the fact that Miller had similar control issues last season in the minors. Andy LaRoche went 1 for 3 with a double, which he smoked up the right-center gap in the first inning, and had a solid day at third base, as well. Dodgers fall to 1-1 for the spring in what probably was their final appearance ever at the newly christened Champion Stadium (the name is new, the stadium isn’t.). And they played some great ’70s and ’80s rock music here all day long, a little Abba, a little Beegees, a little Fleetwood Mac and even a song by A-ha (extra points if you remember them). So all in all, it was an enjoyable afternoon at Happy Land.
But only after the Dodgers front office got a call from the commish’s office, threatening to immediately eject any base coach who walks onto the field without a helmet will be immediately ejected. Funny thing is, Mariano Duncan didn’t wear ANYTHING yesterday, not even the hard insert that Bowa wore, but the umpires didn’t say anything to him. Anyway, Kim Ng called Joe Torre last night and told him about the call from MLB, and Joe talked to Bowa this morning. Bowa agreed to wear the helmet. But in talking to the writers during batting practice, he also reiterated his threat of yesterday to walk onto the field in full catcher’s gear, just to make a point. Anyway, today’s game here at happy land is about to start, and it’s on ESPN if you want to check it out. It’s the debut of Hiroki Kuroda, so there is some intrigue. Oh, and they just officially christened the place Champons Stadium. It used to be called Cracker Jack Stadium or something like that.
Dodgers 3B coach Larry Bowa and 1B coach Mariano Duncan wore hard, protective liners inside their caps during today’s game, in apparent violation of a new rule passed at the general managers’ meetings in November required 1B and 3B coaches to wear helmets. The rule was passed in the wake of Double-A Tulsa coach Mike Coolbaugh’s having been killed by a line drive in a Texas League game last season while he was coaching first base. Bowa said an umpire approached him and said he wasn’t sure the liner was sufficiently in compliance with the rule, but the umpire let it go for the day.
After the game, Bowa let fly with what he thought about the rule — and basically said he doesn’t plan to follow it.
“My question is, if I have been in the game for 40 years, then who are they to say who wears a helmet or who doesn’t?” Bowa said. “One guy got killed, and I am really sorry that happened. But to me, broken bats are a deadly weapon. The other thing is, I see more umpires get hit on the field than coaches. If a coach has to wear a helmet, then umpires should have to wear helmets.”
Last year, a common concern among base coaches was that a helmet would block out parts of their field of vision, inhibiting their ability to do their job effectively and also possibly putting them in more danger of being hit by a ball. But Colorado 1B coach Glenallen Hill voluntarily began wearing a helmet immediately after Coolbaugh, a coach in the Rockies’ minor-league system, was killed. Bowa also expressed concern that a coach’s helmet could fly off while he frantically waved a runner around the bases.
“It should be optional for coaches,” Bowa said. “If guys want to wear them, fine. But I don’t think they should make you wear them.
“I will write out a check for whatever the fine is for every game.”
Brian Shackelford gave up a two-run homer to Tyler Flowers in the top of the ninth, but the boys scored three in the bottom half, aided by three walks Matt DeSalvo to load the bases. Colter Bean then came on and hit Jason Repko to force in the first run, and John Lindsey yanked Bean’s first pitch just inside third base and up the leftfield line to score John-Ford Griffin, Andre Ethier and Repko. Yes, that’s right, Repko came all the way home even though the game was officially over when Ethier crossed the plate. Matt Kemp continued to sizzle, going 2 for 3 with a single and double, although he committed a baserunning gaffe when he tried to go first-to-third on a second-inning single without realizing that James Loney had stopped at third. Loney went 2 for 3 with a pair of singles. Dodgers go to 1-0. Although Tom Martin and Shackelford were roughed up, six other Dodgers pitchers — Jason Johnson, Tanyon Sturtze, Mike Myers, Brian Falkenborg, Mike Koplove and Eric Hull — combined to hold the Braves to one hit over seven innings. Of that group, only Hull is on the 40-man roster.