Kevin Gregg is trying to make the Dodgers as a non-roster invitee to spring training. (AP)
A year ago, the Dodgers’ bullpen lacked experience. Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen, the primary ninth and eighth-inning pitchers, had little more than two years’ service time between them. Josh Lindblom and Scott Elbert had only become full-time major league pitchers the year before.
So the Dodgers kept Todd Coffey and Mike MacDougal on their Opening Day roster despite brutal springs and signed Jamey Wright, a 37-year-old non-roster invitee. (Wright worked out, MacDougal didn’t, and Coffey had season-ending elbow surgery in July.)
This year, it seems like the need for veteran help is not as great. Jansen and Guerra are a year older and the closer, Brandon League, made his major-league debut in 2004. So did Matt Guerrier. J.P. Howell debuted in 2005. Ronald Belisario turned 30 in December. They may be joined by graybeards Ted Lilly, Chris Capuano and/or Aaron Harang.
So what’s the need for a non-roster veteran like 34-year-old Kevin Gregg or Peter Moylan, who turns 28 in April?
“We’re still fairly young out there,” manager Don Mattingly said, “so it’s nice to have leadership out there in the ‘pen, guys who have been out there for a season and played on some championship-type teams. I’m not opposed to having experience out there for those guys. Brandon’s fairly young still at the closer role. Obviously the guys setting him up … are younger. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of experience out there.”
Still, it seems like experience alone won’t get Gregg and Moylan onto the Opening Day roster — both will need a strong spring training.
The press corps in Glendale hit “pause” Thursday on Eliezer Alfonzo Watch 2013 when the catcher was revealed to be suffering from dengue virus in his native Venezuela. He cannot travel for five to seven days. A non-roster invitee on a minor-league contract with the Dodgers, Alfonzo will report to the minor-league side when he gets here.
Alfonzo was the only player who had yet to report since pitchers and catchers were scheduled to arrive last week.
Matt Wallach hopped over from the Dodgers’ minor-league camp to fill out the major-league catching corps. The 27-year-old, the son of Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach, has spent the past three seasons at Double-A.
Alfonzo was one of several veterans expected to push rookie Tim Federowicz for the open backup catcher’s job in spring. Wilkin Castillo, Jesus Flores and Ramon Castro are still around as non-roster invitees. Before camp opened, I stated that the biggest question surrounding Alfonzo was whether he could stay clean; now the question is if he can get healthy.
The disease can be life-threatening but for the majority of sufferers, it’s just no fun.
The skies cleared over Phoenix today after it rained, hailed, and apparently even snowed in parts of the valley Wednesday. A handful of bullet points to brighten your day:
Before he was named manager of the Angels, Mike Scioscia honed his coaching chops in the Dodgers’ minor-league system. In 1999, he managed the Triple-A Albuquerque Dukes to a 65-74 record.
A couple years before that — we’re guessing 1995 or ’96 — he got his first exposure to coaching, and he remembered it as a real wake-up call.
“I remember the first field I went down to in instructional league and Chico Fernandez was our infield coach with the Dodgers,” Scioscia said. “I went down to do the catching, and he said ‘Mike, who did you like?’ I said nobody. You are just seeing the (players) raw. Oh my God. But you know who was on that field? (Adrian) Beltre. (Paul) Konerko. As these kids start to get a little separation from being teenagers you see that growth and you see that stone getting polished. And then you go, ‘wow.’ It’s almost that culture shock of going down and seeing an 18-year-old when you’ve only been seeing 28-year-old all-star caliber players in the major leagues.”
Hyun-Jin Ryu got the star turn in the media today. I likened him to a circus performer, the way he’s calmly and confidently performing these acts of non-pitching prowess under pressure. Here are three things about Ryu that I didn’t include in my story for today’s papers:
1. He’s really broken up about not pitching for South Korea in the World Baseball Classic. “One thousand percent — I really wanted to play in the WBC. But I felt obligated to the L.A. Dodgers,” Ryu said through an interpreter.
2. Ryu might have let Don Mattingly beat him at ping pong. “In their country it’s not polite to beat the manager, and he wanted me to tell him that,” pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. “He couldn’t tell him but I could tell him.”
3. What did Sandy Koufax tell Ryu to do differently with the curveball? “Deeper into my hand,” Ryu said. “Instead of pushing with my thumb, deeper so then I can let the ball come out” over the index finger.
Here’s some of the buzz in spring training today:
There were a number of fresh faces on the major-league fields today who migrated from the Dodgers’ minor-league camp.
“That’s kind of been a plan — just talking about integrating” the two sides, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve tried to hit on the back field early in camp. When the pitchers are doing their work, we’ve had guys hitting back there with the minor leaguers. It was only three days this year, so they lockered over here. During those first two camps they were lockering over there. Where you get the minor league guys get exposed to Matt (Kemp) and different guys. I think it’s nice that we’ve got a little bit of a new program where our guys can work out together.
“That’s been the development-side thinking, trying to integrate those guys. I know we’ve got some guys who are going to go over and talk to the kids. We’re all one. … I had to talk about it this morning, what (team president) Stan (Kasten) has talked about is building the system back. I know that when you bring all these guys in that we’ve brought in at once, that’s big, bold splashes right away to kind of get the team on opportunity right away. But you listen to Magic (Johnson) and Stan and these guys, they want to try to win every year. To do that, that side over there has got to get strong, where that’s coming through. We need to keep integrating. The idea of having the clubhouses closer, having them all together. When those guys know it’s not that far away it’s a good thing.”
Mattingly added that the minor-league players aren’t missing out on anything they wouldn’t be doing otherwise by switching sides, as both camps have integrated new training methods this year.
Chad Billingsley gave an upbeat self-diagnosis on his right elbow when spring training began. One week later, he looks like the same pitcher, Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said Tuesday.
“Chad, the ball’s coming out fine,” Honeycutt said. “He hasn’t missed any time other than just having a little bit of soreness in the calf from our running program. Arm-wise, it’s been very impressive.”
Billingsley hasn’t been limited in his throwing since spring began. Only two Dodgers pitchers have: Javy Guerra and Ted Lilly. Guerra had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder November 2. Lilly had the same procedure on his left shoulder Sept. 21.
“Ted, even though we’ve taken a little more conservative approach with his times on the mound,” Honeycutt said, “giving him two days in between — him and Javy Guerra — each time he’s been on the mound he’s been very good. Very solid.”
Maybe the biggest injury news is this: Kenley Jansen has been bothered by an ingrown toenail. Other than Scott Elbert, who had elbow surgery on Jan. 23 and is expected to miss opening day, the entire pitching staff is healthy one week into spring training. Knock on wood.
Hyun-Jin Ryu ranked 42nd and Yasiel Puig 47th on Baseball America’s annual list of the top 100 major-league prospects.
One other thing that sets the two apart is that they’ve never taken part in spring training in the United States before this year. On Monday, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti shared his thoughts on how the two have adapted so far:
In a typical off-season, Aaron Harang said he’ll wait until mid-November to train for the upcoming season. After last season, he moved the plan up a month.
“This year I just decided to take some time to let my body recover — I didn’t go crazy. I did a lot of circuit-based training so it’s not as hard on the body.”
In circuit training, the participant moves from station to station, exercise to exercise, in a rapid fashion.
“I focused on trying to increase my strength from what I had in the past,” Harang said.
His training, combined with a new diet, allowed Harang to come into camp looking slimmer than he finished last season. He wouldn’t say how much weight he lost, but 10 pounds would be a conservative estimate.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said Tuesday that he wants catcher A.J. Ellis to play in fewer than the 133 games he appeared in last year.
Ellis faded down the stretch in 2012, batting .218 in September and October. He underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee after the season.
Team president Stan Kasten unveiled the above schematic showing the clubhouse-level renovations at Dodger Stadium. It’s a series of three images. The top image shows the old clubhouse (in blue). The middle shows the expanded area. The bottom image shows the overlay of the new (black outline) atop the old (blue). Kasten didn’t reveal the exact square footage before and after the renovation, but he said the total area will roughly double.
This area of Dodger Stadium is hidden to most fans. For reference’s sake, the blue protrusion extending from the “top” of the clubhouse (top image) is the tunnel leading into the third-base (home) dugout.