Daily Distractions: ‘Analyzing’ the Dodgers-Diamondbacks ‘rivalry.’

The rivalry between the Dodgers and Giants has coasted for more than a century on a steady undercurrent of organic circumstances. There have been personal grudges (Wilbert Robinson vs. John McGraw), geographical allegiances (Manhattan vs. Brooklyn; San Francisco vs. Los Angeles), beanballs and brushbacks (Juan Marichal vs. John Roseboro). The fan violence is beyond unhealthy but there it is, holding up the ugliest corner of the narrative. It’s raw. It’s real.

And really, what says “raw” and “real” more than this:

The Arizona Diamondbacks have a pool to protect when the big, bad, overpaid Dodgers invade Chase Field for three games starting Friday. You know, when they “renew a rivalry” that has already been renewed three times in spring training and twice in Sydney. To protect the pool, the good people of Phoenix deployed their finest … mermaid, flanked by another woman dressed as the Jolly Green Giant and a dude wearing a Neptune costume. We can only hope that Arizona Sen. John McCain approves.

How seriously can we take a “rivalry” symbolized by a woman wearing a dolphin’s tail?

Seriously enough that MLB.com ran with the headline “Dodgers, D-backs return to ‘pool party’ scene.” The topic will probably get some airtime on Phoenix sports-talk radio. Maybe in Los Angeles too, unless the Lakers decide to “relieve Mike D’Antoni of his coaching duties” (or however someone gets fired these days … do coaches still get fired?).

Here’s a better storyline: Who wants these games more, a 3-8 Diamondbacks team that has been outscored 67-45, or a 6-4 Dodgers team that just split a pair of 10-inning burners against arguably the most talented club in the American League? It’s early April, not an important juncture in the baseball season. Though, for what it’s worth, no team is farther out of first place in any division than Arizona (four games).

Maybe that matters. Maybe it doesn’t. Until someone drops a shark in the pool, let’s not dwell on the pool.

In the meantime, here is the Diamondbacks’ PR director doing some kind of shoulder-shake dance. Or something:

 

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Yasiel Puig takes batting practice, possibly available to pinch hit.

Yasiel Puig took live batting practice on the field prior to the Dodgers’ game against the Detroit Tigers and could be available to pinch hit tonight. Puig hasn’t played since injuring a ligament in his left thumb sliding into first base Saturday.

Manager Don Mattingly said that Puig hit in the Dodgers’ underground batting cage Tuesday, during the Dodgers’ 3-2 win over the Tigers. However, Puig was only available to play in “emergency” situations.

“He’s improved today,” Mattingly said. “I’m hoping he’s going to hit on the field. He hit underneath last night and felt pretty good. We’ll see where he’s at. Feel like we’re going to have him for more tonight than last night.”

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After multiple procedures on his left knee, Dodgers’ A.J. Ellis intends to change the way he catches.

A.J. Ellis has needed two clean-up procedures on the meniscus in his left knee in the last 19 months. That’s why a reporter, tongue in cheek, told the Dodgers catcher Wednesday to make sure his surgeon gets it right next time.

“He got it right the first time,” Ellis said. “He got it right the second time.”

Ellis was back in the Dodgers’ dugout for the first time since undergoing the arthroscopic procedure Monday. He said he began putting weight on his left leg Tuesday and was able to leave his crutches at home when he left for the ballpark. His progress has been quick and noticeable. As for that four-to-six week rehab timetable the team offered Monday, Ellis wasn’t willing to make any predictions — but he’s clearly trying to speed things up.

The catcher, who turns 33 today, hopes the second procedure is his last. He was typically quick to accept responsibility for needing the same surgery twice.
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Daily Distractions: Watch Joc Pederson make a baseball disappear.

Joc Pederson made a baseball disappear Tuesday, with an assist from a Triple-A cameraman.

Pederson hit his third home run of the young season (above) in the Albuquerque Isotopes’ win over the Reno Aces. We know only that the ball cleared the center-field fence in Reno, which is 410 feet from home plate. It’s an understatement to say that Pederson has taken quickly to the Pacific Coast League; he’s 8 for 17 (.471) with three homers, two doubles and two stolen bases in the first five games of the season.

No one needed a reminder of Pederson’s skill. He spent all of spring training with the Dodgers, traveling to Australia for the exhibition game against the Australian National Team. He hit three Cactus League home runs but also struck out 13 times in 38 at-bats. If anything, the PCL is serving as a confidence booster for the 21-year-old prodigy.

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Josh Beckett on track to make his 2014 debut Wednesday; Hyun-Jin Ryu to start Friday.

Josh Beckett is on the disabled list, but he looked anything but disabled Tuesday afternoon.

That’s Beckett, in the middle of the screen, covering first base on a simulated ground ball. In baseball terms, it was a routine pitcher’s fielding practice — “PFP drills” as they’re known. It was one of the last hurdles Beckett needed to clear before he could be cleared to make his 2014 debut on Wednesday.

“We haven’t announced it but he looks like the guy,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “Obviously he’s still on the DL at this point. He did PFPs today. Everything went well. He looks like he’s ready to roll unless he does something tonight to his ankle.”

If Beckett starts tomorrow against the Detroit Tigers, it will be his first major-league start since May 13 of last year. The thoracic outlet syndrome that ended his 2013 season hasn’t been an issue since he reported to spring training.

Beckett dealt with a number of minor injuries after that — a thumb contusion in March, then an ankle/calf problem in his only rehabilitation start Friday.

“I had some swelling in my ankle. My calf was barking a little bit too,” Beckett said Sunday. “We kind of ruled that out. The calf got better with some treatment yesterday, some ice last night. … The ankle feels perfect.”

Hyun-Jin Ryu is locked in to start Friday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks after an off-day Thursday, Mattingly said.

If Beckett can’t pitch tomorrow for some reason?

“We’ll use our guys accordingly,” Mattingly said. “It depends on what happens tonight.”

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Chad Billingsley’s right elbow is ‘doing well’ after scare at Rancho Cucamonga.

Chad Billingsley

Dodgers pitcher Chad Billingsley allowed one run in 1 1/3 innings Sunday for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga. (Associated Press photo)

Chad Billingsley threw a curveball Sunday and heard — and felt — a crack in his right elbow.

“When you crack your back or your neck, that’s kind of what it felt like,” he said.

Billingsley motioned for a trainer and left the game immediately. He was supposed to throw two innings in his first rehabilitation start for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga and fell two outs short of the goal.

The 29-year-old pitcher, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last April, was worried. “I threw a curveball and thought ‘oh my God.’”

After meeting with team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache, Billingsley was reassured that the sensation was caused by scar tissue breaking up, a normal part of the recovery process. The doctor didn’t even send Billingsley in for an MRI exam.

Tuesday, Billingsley was back in the Dodgers clubhouse. He still hasn’t been cleared for his next bullpen session or rehab start but doesn’t think it will be long.

“It’s actually doing well right now,” Billingsley said. “It feels like normal second-day soreness.”

The original schedule called for Billingsley to make five rehab starts. That hasn’t changed, but a potential return in early May is on hold for now.

“Whenever he gives me the OK, I’ll start back up,” he said.

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Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws pain-free from 75 feet.

Clayton KershawClayton Kershaw threw from 75 feet without pain Tuesday as the pitcher continues to make progress from inflammation in the teres major muscle in his back.

In terms of his throwing program, Kershaw said he’s day to day. For now he plans on throwing from 75 feet again tomorrow.

“Hopefully every day is a little bit of a progression,” he said. “It’s basically ‘if it doesn’t hurt, do it.’ ”

Kershaw said he didn’t throw at all Monday, “my first full off-day in a while.” Other than that, he’s been throwing every day since he was temporarily shut down from throwing when the inflammation was first diagnosed.

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Daily Distractions: A.J. Ellis to miss 4 to 6 weeks following arthroscopic surgery.

Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis underwent a 20-minute arthroscopic procedure, performed by team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache, to debride (clean up) the medial meniscus of his left knee. According to the team, he will start his rehabilitation tomorrow and recovery is expected in 4-6 weeks.

Catcher Tim Federowicz, who wasn’t in the Albuquerque Isotopes starting lineup Monday or today, is expected to be recalled from the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate in time for tonight’s game against the Detroit Tigers.

On Oct. 5, 2012, ElAttrache performed a 30-minute clean up procedure on Ellis’ medial and lateral meniscus.

Ellis is already recovering and receiving top medical care:

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Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis (torn meniscus) to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.

A.J. EllisThe Dodgers will be without starting catcher A.J. Ellis this week and beyond.

Ellis has a torn meniscus in his left knee and will undergo arthroscopic surgery Tuesday morning in Los Angeles, the team announced. The team is expected to announce a timetable for recovery, as well as a corresponding roster move, after the procedure.

In October 2012, Ellis had arthroscopic surgery on the same knee after playing 133 games in his first major-league season as the Dodgers’ starting catcher.

Ellis, who turns 33 in two days, was batting .167 (4 for 24) with four walks in seven games this season. Last year, Ellis played 115 games and batted .238/.318/.364. He was a finalist for the National League Gold Glove award.

Drew Butera started in Ellis’ place in the Dodgers’ 6-2 win over the San Francisco Giants on Sunday, but the Dodgers did not announce the injury at the time. The team had a day off Monday.

There are only three catchers on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster: Ellis, Butera and Tim Federowicz, who served as Ellis’ backup last season.

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Daily Distractions: Why Sunday’s sixth inning encouraged Dodgers manager Don Mattingly.

Andre Ethier

Andre Ethier and Adrian Gonzalez made outs in the sixth inning Sunday, but impressed Don Mattingly in the process. (John McCoy/Staff photographer)

The Dodgers hit four home runs Sunday against the San Francisco Giants, but that’s not what had Don Mattingly excited.

Hanley Ramirez can hit home runs. That’s no revelation. Even Matt Kemp, Mattingly said, had his power swing on display from the time he reported to camp, with his high follow-through leaving many pitching machines in Glendale, Arizona with stratospheric ERAs.

No, what had Mattingly excited was the sixth inning.

Ramirez led off with a double into the left-field corner. Adrian Gonzalez was next up, and he hit a ground ball directly into the Giants’ shift. First baseman Brandon Belt fielded the ball and tossed to pitcher Matt Cain covering first base for the out. That didn’t matter to Mattingly, because Ramirez advanced to third base, then scored on a deeply hit sacrifice fly by Andre Ethier.

“That was a big run for us,” Mattingly said. “They cut it to 4-2 with a couple homers there. Hanley starts the inning with a double, Adrian gets him over with the ground ball, Andre gets him in. Sometimes last year we didn’t get that done very well. I was encouraged by that tonight.”

Indeed, the biggest complaint about the Dodgers’ offense for the first six weeks of 2013 was its lack of situational hitting. On June 14, the Dodgers were 10 games below .500 and averaging 3.5 runs per game. From June 15 on, they averaged 4.3 runs per game. The arrivals of Yasiel Puig and Ramirez were integral. They added two dimensions the offense lacked, speed and power. More importantly, they didn’t make as many outs as the men they replaced. By extension, the Dodgers had more runners on base and had more success moving them over. Their situational hitting improved.

The Dodgers might never have another inning like the sixth this season. But if it becomes a trend, that’s one less way a lineup full of superstars can fail to score.

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