Daily Distractions: The Dodgers’ pitching depth could be worse.

Ted Lilly

Ted Lilly makes his 2013 debut today against the New York Mets. (Getty Images)

When Ted Lilly starts tonight, the Dodgers will have used eight starters in their first 20 games of the season. SI recaps how the Dodgers got there.

The eight-starter experiment was basically a big game of “what if”: What if Chad Billingsley‘s elbow doesn’t hold up? What if Ted Lilly isn’t the same pitcher he was pre-surgery? What if the best pitcher in Korea can be one of the best pitchers in the United States? What if he can’t?

Here’s another “what if”: What if the Dodgers hadn’t gone out and acquired Josh Beckett, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, and entered this season with the same collection of starters they had a year ago?

Now you’re looking at Nathan Eovaldi stepping into the fifth starter’s job to replace Billingsley. Oh, wait. Eovaldi hasn’t pitched since spring training because of a shoulder issue. He’s on the 60-day disabled list (currently the Miami Marlins’ problem). Come on down, Stephen Fife.

After Fife, you’re looking at Allen Webster (who made his first major league start three days ago), Rubby De La Rosa (9.31 ERA for Boston’s Triple-A affiliate), Fernando Nieve, John Ely and perhaps Sandy Koufax as the next in line to start a game for the Dodgers.

You can thank your lucky Guggenheims that isn’t the case.

Some more bullet points for a Wednesday morning:
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Time Warner, Fox teaming up to broadcast five Dodgers games in Spanish.

Time Warner Cable announced it will carry Spanish-language telecasts of five Dodgers games this season beginning tomorrow night.

Fox Sports Networks will produce the games for distribution by local Time Warner Cable systems to its customers, which will air locally on channel 858.

The Dodgers’ broadcast team will feature Jorge Jarrin on play-by-play and longtime coach Manny Mota providing the analysis and commentary.

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Chad Billingsley to have Tommy John surgery tomorrow.

Chad BillingsleyChad Billingsley will undergo Tommy John surgery tomorrow, leaving the Dodgers without their fifth starter for the remainder of this season and likely part of 2014.

Team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache will perform the surgery at the Kerlan Jobe Orthopedic Clinic in Los Angeles.

Billingsley elected to undergo PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injections and rehabilitation after partially tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow last August. He pitched without pain throughout the winter and into spring training until he developed elbow pain during a bullpen session four days ago. An MRI confirmed an injury to the ligament.
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Daily Distractions: Clayton Kershaw’s changing repertoire; Chad Billingsley verdict coming soon.

Clayton KershawThe Dodgers are playing the Mets in New York tonight. Clayton Kershaw is pitching.

Before you breathe that every-five-days sigh of relief that comes with seeing number 22 on the mound, consider the changes to Kershaw’s repertoire since his masterful Opening Day performance.

That day, his curveball was working so well against the San Francisco Giants, he barely needed a fastball. Kershaw threw fastballs on 52.1 percent of his pitches, a ridiculously low percentage considering he threw 94 pitches over nine innings.

In every start since, Kershaw has thrown fewer curves as a percentage of his pitches — from 19.2 percent on Opening Day to 11.3, 9.9, and finally 7.6 percent last Wednesday against the Padres. Kershaw said he didn’t have any of his breaking pitches working well that night, when he allowed five runs (three earned) in 5 ⅓ innings.

Kershaw’s fastball has gotten slightly slower, too. It averaged 93 mph on Opening Day, then 92.3, 92.8 and 92.6 mph in his last three starts, sequentially.

Is his arm about to fall off? No. But as Kershaw relies more on his fastball and slider, the danger of arguably his most dangerous pitch, the curve, is reduced. Depending on how well his entire repertoire is keeping the Mets off-balance, he might not need it.

It’s something to keep an eye on tonight.

Some bullet points for a Tuesday morning:

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Daily Distractions: Charting Matt Kemp’s struggles.

ESPN Stats and Info gives Matt Kemp the Hot Zone treatment on its blog today.

Author Mark Simon highlights several things that have ailed Kemp this season; here’s one more: Kemp is getting behind in the count a lot and not making pitchers pay when he gets ahead. According to ESPN’s chart, Kemp is 10 for 37 (.270) when he’s behind in the count and 4 for 17 (.235) when he’s ahead.

Here is ESPN’s “heat map” for balls in play/strikeouts when Kemp was ahead in the count last season:

Matt  Kemp 2012 heat map

That’s how you make a pitcher pay.

Onto some bullet points:

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Postgame thoughts: San Diego 7, Dodgers 2.

Matt Kemp Don Mattingly

Matt Kemp was benched to start Wednesday’s game yet still came to bat with a total of six runners on base against the San Diego Padres. He drove in one. (Keith Birmingham/Pasadena Star-News)

“We had 10 hits today?” Adrian Gonzalez asked in an otherwise silent Dodgers clubhouse.

Yes.

“Same old story,” he said.

The Dodgers are no mystery after 15 games. They are putting runners on base (their .337 on-base percentage is fourth in the National League) but not driving them in (their 39 runs scored are second-fewest in the NL, ahead of only the Miami Marlins). They’ve won seven games because their pitching staff is generally excellent. When it’s not excellent, as was the case Wednesday with Clayton Kershaw, they’re in trouble.

Maybe one person at the ballpark knew the Dodgers were in trouble from the outset Wednesday, and that was Kershaw himself.

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Dodgers recall Tim Federowicz and place Chris Capuano (calf) on the 15-day disabled list.

Chris Capuano

Chris Capuano collided with Jason Marquis and fell down covering first base in the first inning. He wasn’t injured on that play, but stayed in the game and strained his left calf muscle running to cover the bag in the second.

Chris Capuano was placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday, ruling him out for the next time the Dodgers will need a fifth starter. That spot wouldn’t necessarily come up until the Dodgers’ April 27 home game against the Milwuakee Brewers, but manger Don Mattingly said he would like to use the fifth starter on April 24 at Citi Field against the New York Mets to give Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett an extra day between their next two starts.

Ted Lilly returned to the team one day after making a rehab start for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga and is scheduled to throw a bullpen session in two days. He’s done making rehab starts and is poised to take the fifth turn in the rotation.

“If he slots in, everybody kind of gets an extra day,” Mattingly said. “We really like doing that.”

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Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke is trying to learn from his mistakes — three of them, to be exact.

Zack Greinke Carlos Quentin

Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke said he’s watched replays of last Thurdsay’s brawl in San Diego. (Associated Press)

Say this much for Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke: He’s trying to learn from his mistakes.

Mistake one: October 11, 2011. On the eve of the National League Championship Series between Greinke’s Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals, Greinke was asked about Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter.

“They think his presence, his attitude out there sometimes is like a phony attitude,” Greinke told reporters in Milwaukee. “And then he yells at people. He just stares people down and stuff. And most pitchers just don’t do that. And when guys do, I guess some hitters get mad. Some hitters do it to pitchers. But when you do that some people will get mad.

“There’s other pitchers in the league that do it, but, I don’t know,” Greinke said, “a lot of guys on our team don’t like Carpenter.”

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Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp gets his first day off of 2013, and he doesn’t like it.

Matt Kemp“I don’t like days off,” Matt Kemp said as he bounded up the dugout steps before his first off-day of 2013, on his way to take batting practice for the second time Wednesday.

The last time he took a day off was Sept. 9, 2012. Kemp was nursing a then-undisclosed torn labrum in his left shoulder. This time, the problems aren’t physical. Kemp is batting .185 with no home runs and just four RBIs through the season’s first 14 games.

“Just body language, more than anything,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “Being around the game, you see guys struggle. Sometimes it helps to sit back and watch a game where you don’t have to be out there. … It gives him another day tomorrow, almost three days with the night game (Friday) in Baltimore. I wanted to give him 10 to 12 days off over the course of 162 anyway.”

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Daily Distractions: Will a day off cure what ails the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp?

Matt Kemp gameday view

(courtesy of MLB.com)

By the looks of things, the Dodgers ought to worry less about Matt Kemp‘s mechanics at the plate than what’s going on inside his head.

That image, courtesy of MLB.com’s Gameday tool, shows Kemp’s final at-bat Tuesday against Jason Marquis. Appropriate to the picture, the bat did not leave his shoulders. Kemp took an 83-mph slider, an 88-mph sinker, and an 82-mph changeup for strikes, ending the sixth inning with a whimper.

I didn’t have a chance to speak to Kemp after the game, but Kemp typically isn’t introspective in the midst of a slump. Most hitters aren’t; if they could explain why they were slumping, they would be hitting the ball better. Based on that sixth-inning at-bat, it would be tempting to pin Kemp’s problem on poor pitch selection. It might not be that simple.

Here’s how Marquis struck out Kemp to end the third inning:

Matt  Kemp

In this at-bat, Kemp’s pitch selection is pretty good. He took two pitches low and out of the zone with two strikes (#3 and #4), then swung a pitch (#5) that might have been a strike — it was about an inch higher than the pitch before. Yet Kemp missed. You have to wonder what he was thinking on the second pitch of this at-bat, a swing-and-miss on a slider over the fattest part of the plate.

Kemp saw two sinkers from Marquis in his first at-bat. The pitch chart isn’t integral here — Kemp took a ball 10 inches off the plate then flew out to right field on the second pitch, which was in the strike zone. Both pitches were sinkers.

By the time the sixth inning rolled around, Kemp should have figured he wasn’t getting any fastballs from Marquis. Yet he took three breaking balls in the strike zone without swinging the bat.

Don Mattingly said after the game that he’s considering giving Kemp a day off, even though the Dodgers have an off-day Thursday. The manager seems to believe Kemp’s slump (he’s hitting .185) begins and ends between his ears.

“Matt’s pressing pretty good,” Mattingly said. “Tonight he seemed really frustrated. The game didn’t help. It’s one of those games that you jump behind early, nothing kind of seems to go your way, and he seemed to be — obviously it didn’t go very good for him.”

From struggling superstars to …

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