Dodgers 10, Diamondbacks 9

This devolved in the late innings into a really bad game that lasted three hours, 29 minutes, so I won’t bore you with too many of the gory details except to say that if the Dodgers hadn’t scored an unearned run in the top of the ninth to break the tie, it wouldn’t have gone beyond nine innings because the Dodgers were out of pitchers. The Dodgers now have five more games to get through THE ENTIRE SPRING without a single tie. Anyway on to the more important things. … Joe Torre came as close as ever after the game to saying James McDonald is the fifth starter.
“He really hasn’t done anything wrong for me,” Torre said.
He then made it a point to point out that he wasn’t officially NAMING McDonald the fifth starter.
“I haven’t made that commitment yet.”
James had a rough first inning, but settled in from there and pretty well dominated until he gave up a leadoff homer to Mark Reynolds in the fifth. He’ll start on Sunday against the Giants, then presumably will be stretched out enough to start against these same D-backs in phx on April 10, the fifth game of the regular season.
Will Ohman had a rough debut for the Dodgers, giving up a home run to the first batter he faced, a lefty no less (it was Chad Tracy). Ohman also walked Conor Jackson, allowed a stolen base that wasn’t even close and threw a wild pitch. But he struck out Miguel Montero to end the inning. He won’t pitch tomorrow against the Giants, but he said he will pitch in back-to-back games sometime before the Dodgers’ season opener on Monday.
Finally, Blake DeWitt and Chin-lung Hu continue to make it very difficult for Dodgers officials to send them to the minors, even if that probably is where they are both headed. Hu went 2 for 5 today with a pair of singles to raise his average to .280, and this was AFTER Torre said before the game that Hu has been “the star of spring training” based on how far he has come since last season. DeWitt went 3 for 5 with a double and a two-run homer and is now hitting .299. The burning question for both of them is whether their development will be hurt by playing part time, something Torre says clearly happened with Hu last year.
Also, Andre Ethier went 3 for 5 with a pair of doubles and three RBI. Dodgers improve to 15-18. At the Giants tomorrow, then they break camp and head home for three at Dodger Stadium. Your humble correspondent will be L.A.-bound, as well, for the first time since the day after the boys lost to the Phillies last October. See you there.

SI: Dodgers will repeat as N.L. West champs

I just received an advance copy of the Dodgers story from this year’s Sports Illustrated baseball preview issue. I have copy-and-pasted it below.

Reason to Celebrate- By Jon Heyman

Ever since Manny Ramirez declared, “I’m baaaaack,” following the club’s most celebrated spring holdout since Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale held out in 1966, the Dodgers haven’t been able to keep Ramirez away from Camelback Ranch, the team’s new spring training home in Glendale, Ariz. The superstar, who signed a two-year, $45 million deal (with an opt-out clause after this season) three weeks into camp, would arrive at the ballpark at 6:30 each morning to run with strength-and-conditioning coach Brendon Huttman before heading to the batting cage. “He’s like a big kid, and he loves to play baseball,” says centerfielder Matt Kemp, “and that’s kind of rubbed off on [the rest of] us.”

A slugging savant who won two World Series titles with the Red Sox, Ramirez is equally remembered in Boston as an erratic malcontent. But one team’s cancer, it turns out, can be another’s cure.

Not that Ramirez doesn’t still stir up anxiety. Even unflappable manager Joe Torre was looking oddly concerned in the days before Manny resigned. “We couldn’t win without him,” one Dodger said shortly after the signing. “Everyone in here knows that.”

To bring Ramirez back, Dodgers G.M. Ned Colletti says he negotiated with agent Scott Boras for 141 straight days, holidays included. But now that he’s got his man, the L.A. lineup is as good as any in the National League one though eight. It looks a lot like the one that reached the NLCS last season, except upbeat second baseman Orlando Hudson (maybe the steal of the winter’s free-agent signings at oneyear, $3.4 million guaranteed) replaces the dour Jeff Kent, who retired.

Ramirez won’t duplicate the otherworldly .396 (.410 including postseason) he hit after coming over to the NL on July 31, but the Dodgers’ quartet of emerging, under27 stars–first baseman James Loney, outfielders Andre Ethier and Kemp, and catcher Russell Martin–should all improve with Manny anchoring the middle of the lineup. Los Angeles was 54-54 at the time of the swap, but it averaged nearly half a home run more and four tenths of a run a game more after Ramirez arrived. “I don’t think we were lacking confidence, but it gives you a little extra confidence knowing you have Manny on your side,” says Ethier.

Now the biggest concern for Dodgers officials is the pitching staff. It led the league in ERA last year but over the winter lost key starter Derek Lowe and much of its bullpen (Takashi Saito, Chan Ho Park, Joe Beimel and Scott Proctor). Even with the free-agent signing of serviceable, if injury-prone, veteran Randy Wolf, one L.A. official says, “We need another starter.”

The continued development of 21-year-old lefthanded phenom Clayton Kershaw would help. Kershaw, who throws 95 mph with a plus breaking ball, was hit or miss in early spring, according to one Dodgers official, but he finished strong. “He looks like he’s ready to take the next step,” a rival G.M. says.

The bullpen has no such immediate reinforcement. Jonathan Broxton, the new fulltime closer, was 14 of 17 in save opportunities after Saito went down with an elbow injury last year, but he looked better as a setup man. Replacing him in that role is lefty HongChih Kuo, who has filthy stuff (96 strikeouts in 80 innings and a 2.14 ERA) but is brittle (two Tommy John surgeries already at age 27). The front office is counting on strong-armed youngsters James McDonald and Cory Wade to fill the void left by the many pen departures. “We knew we’d have to address the pitching, and we addressed it somewhat,” Colletti says. “But we’re a young, inexperienced staff.”

The young pitchers should benefit from a tight defense that’s especially strong up the middle, with returning shortstop Rafael Furcal, plus Hudson and Martin. (The athletic Kemp is still a work in progress in center.) But L.A.’s main goal is to beat up teams up with its bats, and while that’s an unusual plan in a division of spacious ballparks, including Dodger Stadium, it may work. With Ramirez back to help that talented quartet of young position players, the Dodgers are the class of a division that has no lineup to match theirs.

Big day for James McDonald

He could all but wrap up the fifth starter’s spot with a strong outing against the Snakes this afternoon. Joe Torre said he’ll go 60-65 pitches. He still isn’t really stretched out the way you would like a starter to be at the end of camp, but he’ll get one more start on Sunday at San Francisco. … Torre said definitively this morning that while the roster won’t be set for a few more days, we can safely assume there will be only four outfielders, including the three starters and Juan Pierre. That means Jason Repko and Xavier Paul are headed to the minors and Delwyn Young is headed for the DL. … We all met Will Ohman this morning. Seems like a really good guy. He is slated to pitch in today’s game, although as a situational lefty, he might only face a hitter or two. He lives in Mesa, not far from the Cubs’ spring-training facility, and he said the worst part about being an unsigned free agent for the entire winter and for a big chunk of spring training was seeing other players who lived near home coming home from spring-training games while he was still waiting to be signed. … Going to be a light day tomorrow before the team breaks camp tomorrow night. No morning workouts. Just at 11:30 bus to Scottsdale for tomorrow’s game with the Giants.

A’s 9, Dodgers 5

The boys are really limping to the finish over here. They have lost four in a row, scoring a total of 10 runs in the process. There wasn’t much to report from today’s game other than Clayton Kershaw getting rocked. No one seemed too concerned about. Torre said he was overthrowing, which — and this is just a guess on my part, no one actually said this — might have had something to do with the fact the A’s version of Kershaw, highly touted, 21-year-old lefty Brett Anderson, was also pitching. He and Kershaw apparently know each other from Texas. They might have been trying to impress each other, because they each gave up three runs in the first inning. Anderson settled in from there, but Kershaw didn’t settle in until the third because he gave up four more in the second. That was basically the game. … Rafael Furcal went 2 for 4 with a single and a double. … James Loney had two singles in three at-bats. … Jonathan Broxton had a good inning, pitching around a one-out double by Chris Denorfia. … Guillermo Mota set down all three batters he faced in the seventh without a ball leaving the infield. This guy has had an excellent spring and has now retired the past seven batters he has faced, striking out seven of them. … Ronald Belisario, the guy who showed up late to camp because of visa problems, pitched the eighth and ninth and retired six of the seven batters he faced, with only Daric Barton reaching on an error by O-Dog. Belisario was sent to the minor-league side a long time ago, but he has nasty stuff, so remember his name. … Dodgers fall to 14-18. At the Diamondbacks tomorrow.

Ohman contract details

It’s a minor-league deal with major-league terms. What that means, in essence, is that the Dodgers found a way to send him down to Albuquerque for a few days so he can make up for missing almost all of spring training before they call him up. They have to call him up by April 14 or he can opt out. But they WILL call him up by April 14. He’ll get $1.35 million plus incentives based on appearances — although the $1.35 million will be slightly prorated for the two weeks he spends in the minors, during which he’ll receive a prorated share of $13,000/month. There also is a $2.2 million club option for 2010, with a $200,000 buyout. … Also, Shawn Estes has agreed, at least for now, to start the season in Albuquerque as well. So the Dodgers will begin the season without a situational lefty in their bullpen, but only for the first eight days.

Ivan DeJesus Jr. update

We finally got a chance to speak with him for the first time since he broke his leg in that B game with the Brewers back on March 2. He was in a great mood and said he has been told he has a chance to return just after the All-Star break. They put a rod in his leg that will stay there permanently. Just as we suspected, he said he was caught in a moment of indecision between sliding and coming in standing up. He also said he didn’t see an on-deck hitter telling him whether to slide or not. Joe Torre told us at the time that Juan Pierre, the on-deck hitter, was yelling for DeJesus to slide. But apparently DeJesus didn’t see him or couldn’t hear him. The usual procedure is for the on-deck hitter to stand directly behind the plate, on a line with the third-base line, so he is in full view of the hitter. Anyway, we asked DeJesus how he was feeling emotionally.
“Better,” he said. “The first two weeks, I was a little bit down. But now, I’m feeling better because everything is going well. I know people said I would be out the whole season, but that was wrong. I think I’ll be back to doing baseball stuff by May and then be back on the field (in games) after the All-Star break.”
He also said he doesn’t think the missed time will set back his development at all.
DeJesus will be on the field just before game time to receive, for the second year in a row, the Dodgers’ Minor League Player of the Year award for last season. James McDonald will get Pitcher of the Year, and catching prospect Tony Delmonico, last year’s sixth-round draft pick, will get the Rookie of the Year award.

Mark Loretta update and some other stuff

He took ground balls in the main stadium this morning and is expected to get back into Cactus League action either Wednesday against the Giants in Scottsdale or Thursday night against the Angels at Dodger Stadium. But he might go to the minor-league side even sooner than that to get some ABs, so his groin injury apparently has pretty much healed. … By the way, Russell Martin has the flu. He is still in today’s lineup for now, but that is subject to change. … With the team in Arizona for the first time, there is no team flight back to Los Angeles when camp breaks. Basically, most of the players want to drive their cars to L.A., so they’re on their own as far as getting there. They’ll go in waves. For instance, Matt Kemp and James Loney will make the trip to Tucson tomorrow, and as a reward for putting themselves through that, they’ll be allowed to drive to L.A. from there after leaving the game, so they’ll be long gone by the time the Dodgers play the Giants in Scottsdale the following day.