Daily Distractions: What’s next for the Dodgers in Sydney, Australia?


The Dodgers are somewhere over the Pacific Ocean as I type this blog entry. (I’m in Los Angeles. My skin isn’t Arizona-level dry anymore. It feels nice.) See for yourself: FlightAware.com is tracking the Dodgers’ airplane.

They will have a workout within a few hours of their arrival in Sydney, Australia and roughly another 60 hours before they play their first game against the Australian National Team. All this is by design — specifically, a design to get the players adapted to a time zone 18 hours away. The Dodgers even consulted with NASA, which is a great story for another day.

In the meantime, the club will attend a welcome gala and take a tour of Sydney Harbor. And, ideally, sleep a lot. If any of this makes for good copy it will probably be unplanned. I’m arriving Friday, the morning after the exhibition game. If the Dodgers want to play it boring until then I won’t complain.

Here is the Diamondbacks’ traveling roster. They are bringing 31 players because one, Ryan Rowland-Smith, is an Australian native who will also play for the Australian National Team in its exhibition game Thursday against the Dodgers.

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Daily Distractions: Chad Billingsley’s best-case scenario is still in play.

Chad Billingsley

Dodgers pitcher Chad Billingsley still hasn’t thrown a cut fastball off a mound since having Tommy John surgery last year. (Associated Press photo)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Chad Billingsley sat at his locker at Camelback Ranch on Friday, demonstrating the difference between his slider and his cut fastball with an imaginary baseball.

One pitch involved a twisting motion that began with his fingers and shot up his forearm to his elbow. The other pitch did not — just a flicking motion with his wrist, nothing violent or severe.

Yet he’s been allowed to throw the former pitch, his slider. He still hasn’t thrown the latter, his cut fastball, and isn’t sure when he will. That’s the bad news.

The good news for Billingsley is that he can count on one hand the number of benchmarks still to cross off in his recovery from Tommy John surgery in April 2013. He still hasn’t thrown a cutter off a mound and he still hasn’t faced live hitting or pitched in a game.

Even that will change soon. The plan calls for Billingsley to throw to minor-league hitters at Camelback Ranch sometime next week, around the time the Dodgers play the Arizona Diamondbacks in Sydney, Australia. When he throws “depends on whether I get four or five days’ rest” after his next bullpen session Monday.

Billingsley reported no setbacks one day after throwing a 36-pitch bullpen session Thursday. He hasn’t had any major setbacks yet. The best-case, late-April/early-May return to the majors that Billingsley projected  at the start of camp is still in play.

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Daily Distractions: Now wearing number 11 for the Dodgers, Erisbel Arruebarrena.

Dixie Walker wore number 11 for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1939 to 1947. The jersey changed hands 13 times over the next 22 years, until Manny Mota donned number 11 in 1969. It was his up until his final appearance as a 44-year-old pinch hitter in 1982, a groundout that interrupted Mota’s long tenure as the Dodgers’ hitting coach.

Mota, now 76 years old, is still wearing the uniform in camp these days in an unofficial capacity, much like the man wearing number 2, Tommy Lasorda. Pitcher Guillermo Mota (no relation) wore number 11 briefly as a Dodger in the early 2000s. The number seemed to be reserved for Motas — or at least, players with only four letters in their last name, as if the MOTA could be balanced delicately atop the two digits.

Today, this was hanging in the Dodgers’ clubhouse:

Erisbel Arruebarrena (pronounced Arr-ru-eh-BAHR-ena, as the caption indicates) recently received his U.S. work visa and arrived in camp Thursday morning.

As for the type of player we can expect to see wearing number 11, the bar is as high as a 5-year, $25 million contract.

Minor league games are likely next, writes Eric Stephen of TrueBlueLA.com.

I’m not in camp today. I’ll be attending the annual SABR Analytics Conference in downtown Phoenix, where Dodgers head athletic trainer Stan Conte is speaking on a panel discussing medical analysis and injury prevention.

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Daily Distractions: Predicting the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster.

Javy Guerra

Javy Guerra is on the bubble for the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster. (Associated Press)

Opening Day seems a long ways away. The calendar says the regular season doesn’t begin for the Dodgers for another 10 days, and the roster shows more than 40 players in the Dodgers’ major-league camp.

Yet because they leave for Sydney, Australia on Sunday, management must decide on a 25-man roster by the end of the week. The next four days will pass quickly.

So here’s our first stab at what the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster will look like. MLB imposed some unique restrictions on the Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks for who can and can’t be on the Sydney roster, and we’ll get to those. As manager Don Mattingly said Tuesday, “we’re just trying to figure out the combination of guys that we need really, to put our roster together for the season, figure out those two games (in Sydney) and starting in San Diego at the same time.”

This roster tries to address both:

Catchers (3)
A.J. Ellis
Tim Federowicz
Drew Butera

Comment: Butera is out of options, so he cannot be one of the three players designated as “inactive” who can then be activated for the Dodgers’ first regular-season game in North America on March 30. Adding him to the Opening Day roster gives the Dodgers more time to decide whether to keep or cut Butera. Ellis and Federowicz were locks from the beginning of camp.

Infielders (7)
Adrian Gonzalez
Dee Gordon
Alex Guerrero
Hanley Ramirez
Juan Uribe
Justin Turner
Chone Figgins

Comment: Turner or Figgins might not be on the March 30 roster, but since the Dodgers can’t list them as “inactive” (since they’re non-roster invitees), they make the Opening Day roster.

Outfielders (5)
Carl Crawford
Andre Ethier
Yasiel Puig
Mike Baxter
Scott Van Slyke

Comment: No real surprises here. Van Slyke has value as a backup first baseman and a fourth outfielder. There might not be room for Baxter on the roster come March 30 (like Turner and Butera), but he makes the trip to Sydney.

Starting pitchers (2)
Clayton Kershaw
Hyun-Jin Ryu

Comment: The Dodgers only need two starters for the two games if Kershaw and Ryu are healthy. By bringing just the two of them, there’s extra room in the bullpen for some pitchers on the bubble.

Relief Pitchers (8)
Kenley Jansen
Brian Wilson
J.P. Howell
Paco Rodriguez
Chris Perez
Brandon League
Jamey Wright
Seth Rosin

Comment: Picking Rosin over Javy Guerra, who’s out of options, might be the toughest call of them all. But Rosin has been preparing as a starter, and the guess here is that he can eat some innings in the Dodgers’ exhibition game against the Australia National Team if needed. Guerra has simply been crowded out of a job, largely because of the final two years of League’s contract. The Dodgers can take advantage of the option in Chris Withrow’s contract to get a longer look at Rosin, who was obtained at the Rule 5 draft and would have to be placed on waivers if he isn’t on the Opening Day roster.

Extra (3)
Paul Maholm
Josh Beckett
Dan Haren

Comment: These three players don’t necessarily go to Sydney, but the Dodgers will need one to start the exhibition game on March 20.

15-day disabled list (2)
Matt Kemp
Zack Greinke

Comment: Both will be eligible for the Dodgers’ home opener against the San Francisco Giants, because their DL stint can be backdated to March 19.

60-day disabled list (1)
Scott Elbert

Again: This is just a guess and very much open for debate. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Daily Distractions: With 10 days off between games, what will the Dodgers do with their non-Sydney starters?

Zack Greinke

Zack Greinke is one of four starting pitchers in camp with guaranteed major-league contracts who might be pitching a lot of minor-league games in the coming weeks. (Associated Press photo)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Spring training games begin Sunday for the Dodgers’ minor leaguers, who have been relegated to intrasquad scrimmages and games against France to keep their competitive juices flowing.

At some point, the “baby Dodgers” will get a boost from Dan Haren, Josh Beckett, Paul Maholm and/or Zack Greinke. That would appear to be the plan for the pitchers who aren’t starting a game in Sydney, Australia — i.e., everyone not named Clayton Kershaw or Hyun-Jin Ryu.

“They’ll continue to stay on schedule,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said Tuesday. “We’re going to try to keep those guys regular as best as we can. That would be the plan: To keep them as steady as possible.”

There will be 10 days off between the Dodgers’ final Cactus League game Sunday against the Colorado Rockies and the first Freeway Series game against the Angels. That’s a lot of down time for a starting pitcher to fill. Mattingly said the non-Sydney starters will get their work in competitive situations, not bullpens, so the minor-league fields are the logical landing point.

The Dodgers must select 30 players who will be on the plane to Sydney no later than Sunday. That’s when the plane leaves. Twenty-five will be on the active roster by Opening Day. Of the remaining five, one will be a pitcher who starts the exhibition game against the Australian national team a week from Thursday. That pitcher will be one of three players who’s allowed to be on the team’s 25-man roster March 30 in San Diego, but who isn’t allowed to be on the 25-man roster for the two games in Australia.

An example of how that might work: Haren starts the Dodgers’ minor-league game Sunday on regular rest. He could then pitch against the Australian National team Thursday — remember, that’s a 7 p.m. game Sydney time, so it’s only 17 hours shy full rest. On March 25, he’s back in Arizona pitching a minor-league game. He could then get the Opening Day assignment against the Padres on March 30 and start the Dodgers’ home opener against the San Francisco Giants on April 4, both on regular rest.

That’s not necessarily the plan — just one way to do it. Substitute Haren with Beckett or Maholm, and you’ve got another plan. (You’ve also got six starters, with the question of whether Greinke begins the season on the 15-day disabled list, but that’s another matter.) These are the types of conversations taking place behind closed doors in camp right now.

“We’re talking about how we’re going to use the exemptions and the roster in a way that makes the most sense for those two games and also for all of us going forward,” Mattingly said. “Ned (Colletti, the GM) and his guys have spent a lot of time on it. We go back and forth. We’re just trying to figure out the combination of guys that we need really, to put our roster together for the season. Figure out those two games and starting in San Diego at the same time.”

I talked to Beckett and Maholm about the unusual schedule and what it means for their preseason preparation. More from them later.

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Daily Distractions: Another history lesson involving Dr. Frank Jobe.

Frank Jobe

When he was 18, longtime Dodgers team physician Dr. Frank Jobe was involved in the siege of Bastogne near the end of World War II. (Associated Press photo)


GLENDALE, Ariz. — Stan Conte was holding court with a group of reporters at Camelback Ranch on Friday, remembering Dr. Frank Jobe. The two knew each other well, the head trainer and the longtime team physician. They spoke often during their seven-plus years together in the organization about their profession, and about topics that went far beyond the scope of sports medicine.

Conte had been discussing Jobe’s impact on the profession Friday when he stopped to make a separate point.

“His World War II accolades are unbelievable,” Conte said, mentioning Jobe’s role in the Siege of Bastogne.

“Bastogne?” I asked, trying out a French word that I didn’t know how to spell because, well, it’s French. Conte said something about “kids these days” not knowing their history. Everyone had a good chuckle.

Here’s something you may or may not know about Dr. Frank Jobe and the Siege of Bastogne.

Jobe was 18 years old in the winter of 1944, a private sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division of the Army, Medical Company 326. He arrived in Europe just before the invasion of Normandy (June 6, 1944). Under the command of Maj. General Maxwell D. Taylor, the unit received telephone orders on Dec. 18 that it was to move north from its station at Camp Mourmelon in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France. Bastogne was 100 miles away to the northeast. A total of 380 trucks were needed to move Jobe — and roughly 11,000 other men — that night.

Why Bastogne?

The Allied stronghold contained a key network of roads that Adolf Hitler knew would be needed to advance his cause westward. According to authors Leo Barron and Don Cygan in their book No Silent Night: The Christmas Battle For Bastogne, Hitler planned a mission that was “more a punishment for the people of Bastogne. … Civilian targets would be hit indiscriminately and numerous Bastogne citizens would be killed on this Christmas Eve, buried in the rubble of their homes and shops. Collateral damage was not Hitler’s concern, but to him it was a fitting by-product for their support for the Allies.”

A total of 29 officers and 312 enlisted men in the 101st division perished in the attack. Another 103 officers and 1,588 enlisted men were wounded. Owing to the capture of a hospital, the 326th Medical Company recorded the largest number of missing troops of any unit at Bastogne, with 125.

Jobe’s role, according to Doug Miller of MLB.com:

Jobe assisted the doctors. Set back a ways from the front lines, with the sound of shells zipping by, they’d set up light sources and generators if they had to. That’s where they did the amputations. He saw blood, and it was just that. Blood. It was red. You needed it. He didn’t panic. He didn’t see any reason to. That’s just the way it was.

Bolstered by troops under the command of Gen. George Patton, the Allies ended the siege on Dec. 26. The Germans ultimately were forced to withdraw from the Ardennes region on January 7, 1945.

“That’s the reason you’re speaking English and not German,” Conte quipped.

When the larger Battle of the Bulge finally ended on Jan. 25, it was the costliest fight in Army history in terms of casualties.

I’ll have more from Dodgers camp later about Jobe, who died yesterday at age 88. Here’s a great read from Joe Posnanski about one of Jobe’s early non-Dodgers patients. Rob Neyer, writing for FoxSports.com, advocates for Jobe’s inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

So did many folks in Dodgers camp today. There will be a moment of silence in his honor prior to the Dodgers’ Cactus League game against the Texas Rangers.

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Daily Distractions: What happened to Stephen Fife?

Stephen Fife

Stephen Fife is 3-6 with a 3.49 earned-run average in 17 major-league games (15 starts), all with the Dodgers. (Getty Images)

Through no fault of his own, Stephen Fife was not the talk of spring training a year ago. People were talking about the Dodgers’ high-priced roster of superstars and how they would jell, the eight starting pitchers with guaranteed major-league contracts when camp broke, and the intrigue surrounding rookies Yasiel Puig and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Fife had no chance of starting the season in the major leagues due to the aforementioned surplus of starters. So he began the season Albuquerque, only to be summoned to Los Angeles three weeks later when injuries struck Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and Zack Greinke. His return was hastened because Fife had a marvelous camp, his fastball suddenly sitting in the mid-90s after sporadically breaking 90 the year before.

Manager Don Mattingly said at the time that “this guy has come so far last spring to this spring — huge strides.”

On Tuesday, Fife’s name was among the first group of players optioned to the Dodgers’ minor-league camp. So what happened?

Fife said Tuesday that he was taking a different, less intense approach to spring training this year. The approach was born from wisdom, but also might have led to his premature demotion.

“I have no idea what (my) velocity is so far,” he said. “I’m throwing at a ‘competitive level’ but not a midseason level. Watching (Josh) Beckett, (Clayton) Kershaw, (Zack) Greinke, those guys — some days they take it easy.”

After struggling with bursitis in his right shoulder for much of 2013, Fife began his off-season spending four days a week with Dodgers physical therapist Steve Smith trying to correct the mechanical issues that led to his bursitis in the first place. He said the scapula bone in his right shoulder had actually migrated up his back.

It wasn’t until the second week of January that Fife said he was throwing pain-free.

“I didn’t have much of an off-season,” he said.

Maybe Fife could have touched 95 on the radar gun in camp. After a short off-season, he seemed content to save his best stuff for April and beyond.

There were other factors working against Fife. The Dodgers wanted to see more from Zach Lee, Seth Rosin and Jarret Martin, three younger pitchers getting their first look in the Dodgers’ major-league camp. Each is still an unproven talent against major-league hitters. Lee and Martin might be deserving of a call-up later this season (Rosin is a Rule 5 pick who must make the Opening Day roster or else go on waivers), but they also need more time against major-league hitters in camp to earn that opportunity.

Fife is a known quantity. He went 4-4 with a 3.86 ERA in 12 games (10 starts) last season. The 27-year-old has one option year left on his contract. Fife could always pull a Justin Sellers and sneak back onto the roster before the end of camp, or pull a Stephen Fife and find his way back by the end of April.

That would require a spate of injuries to the team’s top starters, but we’ve seen that before. Keep an eye on Fife; he might be back.

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Daily Distractions: Alexander Guerrero’s short practice window opens now.

Alex Guerrero

Alex Guerrero said he already feels comfortable playing second base. (Associated Press photo)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Different players have told me on different occasions that only pitchers and catchers need a good four weeks-plus of spring training. Hitters don’t need nearly as much time to prepare for a season — maybe a week or two, as a general rule, if they’re in shape.

There are exceptions to the rule. Alex Guerrero is one.

Guerrero only played 12 games in the Dominican Winter League because of a nagging hamstring injury. That’s simply not enough games to expect the 27-year-old to transform into the Dodgers’ Opening Day second baseman after playing shortstop his entire career. Even Superman doesn’t change capes that fast.

Guerrero will take the field today as the Dodgers’ starting second baseman against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the first Cactus League game for both clubs. (Most other clubs begin playing games no sooner than Friday, since most clubs don’t start the season in the Southern Hemisphere.) Second base is the only Opening Day position remotely up for grabs — unless you count the starting pitcher — so it will be a primary focus on the field, starting today.

In an intrasquad game Sunday, Guerrero flawlessly charged a ground ball, picked it up on the run, and threw across his body to retire the runner at first base. He looked like a second baseman. If Guerrero looks that smooth in today’s game, it will be in large part because of the four lonely weeks he spent fielding ground balls at Camelback Ranch before pitchers and catchers reported to spring training.

“I’ve practiced enough that it comes naturally to me,” Guerrero said through an interpreter. “Training’s always going to be different than the game, but I feel comfortable.”

The Dodgers have 19 days’ worth of games — 21 in all — before leaving for Australia. Guerrero said it will be “very important” for him to see game action over the next three weeks at second base. But it’s not as if he’s picking up where he left off Dec. 12, his final Dominican Winter League game.

After receiving his United States work visa and entering the country on Jan. 13, Guerrero came to Camelback Ranch and got to work.

“I feel so much more comfortable at second now … than I did in the Dominican,” he said. “I feel like it’s natural to me now.”

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Daily Distractions: Dodgers aren’t counting on Matt Kemp to appear in Sydney games.

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp hasn’t begun running in spring training. The Dodgers depart for Australia on March 16. (Associated Press photo)

Don Mattingly solved the “The Four Outfielder Problem.” For two games, at least.

The Dodgers’ manager doesn’t believe that Matt Kemp will be available for the Dodgers’ season-opening trip to Sydney, Australia on March 22. Kemp hasn’t been cleared to run on flat ground and won’t be until he undergoes an MRI exam next week.

“I don’t think we’re — we’re not hopeful for Australia,” Mattingly said. “The MRI next week … will let us know where he’s at.”

Kemp is facing live pitching on a minor-league field at Camelback Ranch today. Throughout spring training he has been able to maintain his weightlifting regimen and exercise on an AlterG anti-gravity treadmill.

But that is different from running on flat ground, or patrolling the outfield, or turning around first base.

“It’s just the fact that he hasn’t been on the grass, running and cutting,” Mattingly said. “How long that takes, once they clear him to start that type of thing, that will be a progression.”

For now, expect an outfield of Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig in Australia — if all are healthy.

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Daily Distractions: Dodgers infielder Miguel Rojas has a message for the protesters in Venezuela.

Miguel Rojas

Dodgers infielder Miguel Rojas is a non-roster invitee to spring training. He is closely monitoring the political protests in his native Venezuela. (Associated Press)

Miguel Rojas is watching the news reports from his native Venezuela closely. His wife, Mariana, lives about five minutes from the capital of Caracas. At least five have died in the course of the political protests that began Feb. 12 and turned violent not long thereafter. Here are some videos of the gunfire that erupted last night in Caracas.

“That stuff is pretty scary,” Rojas said Thursday, “because all my family is there.”

Rojas has seen the videos. He said his wife is fine, and she’s planning to fly out tomorrow morning.

“She told me in the afternoon is when things start getting bad,” Rojas said. “At night is when the motorcycles go out because they (the citizens) can’t recognize them.”

As much as anything, Rojas is frustrated by his own feelings of helplessness. At a time when independent news outlets have been muffled by the Venezuelan government, Twitter is soaring in popularity as a medium for protest. The government is trying to block images posted to Twitter from within the country.

Rojas isn’t on Twitter, but he has a message for his countrymen.

“I want to get my word to every Venezuelan guy in the street to keep doing that,” he said. “Make us feel like we can be proud of them, that everything’s going to end in a good way. I send my thanks to them because I can’t do anything right now.”

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