Every morning when I get out of my car (I park near the indoor batting cages), I can hear the booming voice of Mike Easler, the Dodgers’ new hitting coach, coming from inside the cages. I don’t know what Don Mattingly would have been like, but this guy is a refreshing change from the grumpy Eddie Murray and the camera-shy Bill Mueller, the two men who held the job last year. Besides being a great guy who never shies away from a conversation, Easler has a boisterous, infectious personality that I think will play really, really well with this team. Although I haven’t seen them yet, Kim Ng was telling me yesterday that he also likes to wear these spring-loaded shoes to help relieve back pain, but they create this really funny-looking bounce when he runs or walks. So far, it looks like Ned Colletti and Joe Torre made the right choice.
The Dodgers have signed former major-league outfielder Nook Logan to a minor-league contract. It does NOT include an invitation to big-league camp, where the clubhouse is already so crowded that two guys are dressing in temporary lockers that resemble chicken wire. This news is really of more interest to fans of the Las Vegas 51s, although this IS a guy who could see some time in Los Angeles this summer if someone gets hurt or a need arises.
Spotted Greg Miller working one-on-one with Rick Honeycutt on a side mound early this morning. They were working to hone a slight mechanical adjustment that Greg made last season, when he was battling those well-documented control problems that caused him to walk 46 batters in 28 2/3 innings at Las Vegas before he was demoted to Jacksonville.
“Everything for me is about staying on my front leg and being more direct to the plate,” Miller said. “Last year at times, I got kind of directional with my lower body.”
Asked if that was a reason for the wildness, Miller said it was partly to blame.
“Part of it, too, I’m willing to admit, was that I just got really frustrated with it and tried to muscle my way through,” he said.
Although Miller appeared to right himself by cutting down on the walks after initially struggling at Jacksonville, he says he didn’t really put the issue behind him until the season ended.
“To tell you the truth, I didn’t really get out of it all year,” he said. “I cut down on the walks, but I think a lot of that was just relaxing. In Triple-A, I felt a lot of pressure from myself because I didn’t want to let myself or my teammates down. Mentally, I don’t think I really put it behind me until the offseason, when I was able to step away and think back on what happened.”
Assuming the wildness is really behind him, Miller has a chance to be part of the Dodgers bullpen sometime this season.
Thanks to Rody Johnson, an author and Vero Beach resident whom I have gotten to know well over the past five springs here, for stopping by today to personally deliver to me a copy of his latest book, The Rise and Fall of Dodgertown: 60 Years of Baseball in Vero Beach. I can’t wait to crack it open, and the timing of its release couldn’t be better. There is a fantastic, panoramic view of Holman Stadium on the cover, the Dodgers playing the Indians on a perfect spring day, and there are some great black and white photos inside, as well. As excited as I am to leave this place in five weeks, I am sad, too. Had a long talk with Tommy Lasorda this afternoon, as I walked back from getting something out of my car and he was leaving on his golf cart, and one of the things we talked about was the fact there will never, ever be another spring training complex like this one, with this level of charm and intimacy. Of course, there will never be another airplane like the DC-3, either, and there will never be another car like the Edsel. All good things must come to an end, and they usually come to an end when they’re not so good anymore. I’m out after a very long day. See you tomorrow.
Joe Torre said today that while he has talked to both veterans and young players about last year’s well-chronicled clubhouse rift between the two groups, the fact it didn’t happen on his watch means he is proceeding for now as if it didn’t happen — unless, of course, it happens again.
“I have had people tell me about it,” Torre said. “But the people I inquired with seem to think it was no big deal. You spend more time with each other than you do with your family. If you’re invited into somebody’s living room or kitchen or what have you, and you hear all the conversation that goes on, it’s probably not all going to be (pleasant). The media is such a major part of what we do anymore, probably more in the past six, seven, eight years than prior to that, and I think it’s important we understand that and not try to go hide anywhere, but deal with it and move on.
“If something happens now, I’ll deal with it. But to start looking into what happened last year, I don’t think that’s fair to anybody involved.”
Torre said he wanted to get a lot done in a short amount of time, without a lot of standing around, and the Dodgers did. They were out and back in less than two hours. Kuroda’s first side session was like a red-carpet event, but other than that, the whole scene was all pretty businesslike. Torre wore the full Dodgers uniform for the first time, but downplayed the significance of the moment when someone pointed it out. At one point, a fan near the ropes handed Joe his 1966 Topps baseball card, which wasn’t exactly in mint condition. When the fan said something about Joe being glad to get it, Joe said, “Yeah, just to take it out of circulation.” I didn’t actually witness that conversation, that was just Joe’s recounting of it. The lowlight was at the end of the workout, when an autograph-seeking fan approached a female Dodgers employee and asked, “Would you sign my heart?” That one ranks right up there with “I lost my number, can I have yours?” But hey, at least the poor guy stepped into the box and took a swing.
It’s Barry Zito and Matt Cain, in that order. Barring an injury, I’m sure the Dodgers will counter with either Brad Penny/Derek Lowe or Derek Lowe/Brad Penny. Lowe has been the opening-day starter each of the past three seasons, so don’t be shocked if he gets the call again. At this point, IMHO, Cain is a better pitcher than Zito, so Torre might decide having Penny start Game 2 creates a better matchup.
The Asian media is out in full force in anticipation of Kuroda-san’s first side session, which I assume is going to happen today. Half the Dodgers pitchers will throw, with the rest throwing tomorrow. I have been doing this so many years now that I almost know the routine by heart, and even with a new manager and coaching staff, it never changes much. It’s a beautiful day for the first workout, not nearly as chilly as yesterday. All things considered, though, I’d really rather be in Glendale, Ariz., a thought that kind of hit me as I was driving in this morning. For one thing, if I was, it would be 5:47 a.m. right now and I would still be sleeping. But this should be a really special spring in Vero, for as long as it lasts anyway. I’m going to do my best to soak up everything about it and maybe even take a few photos. I feel safe in saying there will never be another spring-training facility like this one. I hope Baltimore fans — who will actually be able to fly here in a couple of hours, unlike Dodgers fans — will appreciate its charms rather than cursing its lack of modern amenities.
The good people of Beijing — and the good people in the commissioner’s office in New York — will have to accept that as a representative group, because pretty much everybody else of note is staying in Florida (including your humble correspondent, who begged off the trip months ago). Joe Torre said today that for obvious reasons, there will be an Asian presence, which I’m sure means that Hong-Chih Kuo and Chan Ho Park will be going and also might mean that Takashi Saito, who is Japanese, is going. I seriously doubt that Hiroki Kuroda will be going. Torre seemed to indicate that no frontline pitchers will make the trip, and Kuroda is as frontline as it gets after signing a three-year, $35.3 million. … Juan Pierre showed up early today, but declined to meet with reporters, promising to do so when he returns on Tuesday. He also hinted that he knows exactly what we want to ask him about, which is the situation in left field. Torre said hello to Pierre but didn’t address the LF matter with him beyond what the two discussed over the telephone this winter. Looking more and more like J.P. will have to actually beat out Andre Ethier for the job, although Torre did admit that his history suggests he likes veteran players.
The first workout isn’t until tomorrow, but when I got here this morning (8 a.m.) there already was a guy sitting in a lawn chair next to the fence, waiting for whatever player happened by. By the time a couple of players did (catchers Russell Martin and Danny Ardoin), the guy had been joined by about a half-dozen other people. Russ and Danny took the time to sign for everyone, something that is a lot easier to do at this stage of camp. … After a lot of afternoon showers yesterday and a dramatic overnight cooldown, it is a beautiful morning here, without a cloud in sight. Still kind of haphazard, though. Tomorrow is the day things take on some semblance of a routine with the first workout.