Daily Distractions: The Dodgers’ starting rotation looks good. So does every team’s.

Aaron Harang

Former Dodgers pitcher Aaron Harang, now with the Atlanta Braves, took a no-hitter into the seventh inning Wednesday. So did his opponent, Matt Garza. (Associated Press photo)

I’m going to get off the topic of my fantasy baseball team quickly, promise. Just bear with me for a second.

Something strange happened this week. The first time through my rotation, my five starters gave up a total of one run. The one run belonged to Jose Fernandez (otherwise the miscreant might be booted from my rotation).

Across the majors, in the few games that have been played, pitching has been good so far. Very good. The league-average ERA is 3.31.

To some extent, that makes sense. Pitchers’ arms are healthier now than they will be in September. Some teams have only played two games, meaning they have used only their top two starters — and seen their opponents’ top two. The best pitchers in the world, all those Opening Day starters including Clayton Kershaw, have all pitched once.

The Dodgers aren’t immune to the phenomenon. Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Greinke and Dan Haren have allowed a total of three runs in the club’s first five games. That’s encouraging. They will need more encouragement from starters five and six, Paul Maholm and Josh Beckett, while Kershaw rests his bad back. Maholm starts Saturday against the San Francisco Giants.

It’s easy to dismiss the dominance of pitchers, but we might be witnessing the makings of a trend. This season could be a down year for hitting. While they’ve pitched well, the Dodgers are collectively hitting .229. Want to guess where that ranks among the 30 teams? Fourteenth. Sixteen clubs have batted .223 or worse in the early part of the season.

Those numbers will get better, but you wonder when we’ll see the first no-hitter of the season. It might not be long. Former Dodgers pitcher Aaron Harang lost one in the seventh inning of the Braves’ 1-0 win over Milwaukee last night. So did his opponent, Matt Garza. Harang and Garza aren’t elite pitchers anymore, but they were elite Wednesday.

Let’s see if this trend continues.

Some bullet points for a Tweed Day:
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Daily Distractions: Look out spring training, here comes Sandy Kofuax.

Sandy Koufax

Security guards at Camelback Ranch hold back a large crowd while Sandy Koufax signs autographs on Feb. 18, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona.


GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sandy Koufax arrived at the Dodgers’ spring training facility Sunday.

If last year was any indication, there is no need to romanticize the meaning of Koufax’s presence here. The greatest pitcher in Dodger history changes the atmosphere in a way that requires no imagination. His first season in camp as a special advisor to chairman Mark Walter was part spectacle, part inspiration, part chaos.

Like a septugenarian southpaw Svengali, Koufax caused complete strangers to huddle together in their aggressive quest for an autograph. Fans surveying the scene went from quietly attentive to loudly impatient. Koufax quickly joined a short list of 78-year-olds who can command multiple security guards while strolling between baseball fields.

When Koufax showed up last year, so did a bunch of pitchers. Pedro Baez, Chris Reed and other fresh-faced hurlers were shuffled in from the minor-league camp to learn from the master. Overnight, the Dodgers’ bullpen went from a tutoring center to the Westminster Dog Show. Every delivery would be scrutinized for imperfections like a poodle’s tail, and the the final judgment would be unassailable. If Koufax thought your curveball needed tweaking, you tweaked your curveball — even if the tweak didn’t take (as was the case for Hyun-Jin Ryu).

Koufax wasn’t in camp more than a few days. During the season, he didn’t often visit Dodger Stadium. Opening Day and the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves were notable exceptions. So it’s unlikely that the novelty of Koufax’s presence will wear off — not now, not ever. He’s a rockstar in a park full of them.

Bad spring training pictures (like mine, above) will be taken, shared and reshared like porn. Koufax porn. Enjoy your Koufax porn, folks. It doesn’t come around often.

Some bullet points for a Monday morning:
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Daily Distractions: The National League’s best record is within the Dodgers’ reach.

Brian Wilson

The Dodgers are two games behind the Atlanta Braves for the National League’s best record. (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)

While I spent the weekend at a wedding in which two bridesmaids went chasing after a tossed bouquet like a a couple of defensive linemen going after a fumbled football (congrats Darryl and Amanda!), the Dodgers spent the weekend looking ahead to October.

How else to view the Michael Young trade, with the Phillies unloading their primary third baseman to a Dodgers team that might or might not use him extensively off the bench?

Looking ahead in a way the Dodgers won’t publicly, the best record in the National League is within their reach the next three days in Denver. If the Dodgers sweep the Colorado Rockies, and the New York Mets sweep the Braves in Atlanta (stranger things have happened; the Metropolitans are 4-3 in Atlanta this year), the best record in the National League belongs to the Dodgers. Atlanta is currently two games ahead of the Dodgers, 83-53 compared to 81-55.

The National League team with the best record on October 1 will have home-field advantage throughout the postseason until the World Series, thanks to the American League’s All-Star game victory. All those Dodger wins in July and August that had us reaching for the record books, searching for the best 40- and 50-game stretches in baseball history, might actually mean something after all.

So far as we can tell, the last time the Dodgers held the NL’s best record outright as late as Sept. 4 was in 1978.

And so the journey into scarcely charted territory continues.

More bullet points for Labor Day:
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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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What’s the plan for Aaron Harang? Even the Dodgers’ pitcher isn’t sure.

Aaron HarangAaron Harang tried to remember the last time he regularly pitched out of the bullpen. He reached back and pulled out Oakland, “10 years ago. I was a rookie breaking in. I was the fifth guy. I’d fill in to start.”

Actually, the most relief appearances Harang has made in a single season was two, back in 2010 — Cincinnati, not Oakland. You can forgive the mental lapse. Of his 299 career games, Harang has started all but six. He is not looking forward to number seven.

“It’s not easy when you’re used to a set routine,” he said.

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Chad Billingsley will start Thursday in Rancho Cucamonga.

Chad BillingsleyIt’s not every Opening Day that a Single-A baseball team gets an 80-game winner to start its first game of the season.

That will be the case Thursday, when Chad Billingsley takes the hill for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.

Billingsley, one of four players on the Dodgers’ disabled list to start the season, said he hasn’t been given an innings limit for the start. That may still come, but the right-hander said he isn’t restricted in any way two weeks after he bruised the index finger on his right hand doing a bunting drill.

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Dodgers’ starting rotation watch drags into final week.

The Dodgers still have eight starters in camp, and all eight remain on a starter’s plan. Even Ted Lilly.

“We’ve had some conversations with guys, but at this point everyone is working as starters,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told reporters in Glendale this afternoon. “Anything could happen. Until Opening Day we don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ve talked about the possibilities of it with guys just so psychologically guys could know where it sits. We’ve tried to prepare for that as much as possible.”

That the Dodgers are in no rush to get a look at Lilly, Chris Capuano or Aaron Harang as relievers is a strong indication that a trade or two (or three) will come soon.

Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang still starting for Dodgers. What does that mean for Ted Lilly?

Chris Capuano

Dodgers pitcher Chris Capuano threw 85 pitches on a back field Monday against a team of Cleveland Indians minor leaguers. He went seven innings, allowing three hits, no runs, striking out 11 batters and hitting another with a pitch.

The performance came on the same day that the Dodgers’ coaches were expected to meet to discuss plans for the pitching staff. There’s still a surplus of three starters with one week left before opening day. Aaron Harang is listed as the starter tomorrow against the Rockies. Capuano stretched himself out today. The only one of the octet that isn’t starting a game anytime soon appears to be Ted Lilly.

Lilly, as we’ve noted repeatedly, was the first Dodgers starter to raise his hand when asked if he’d accept a bullpen role. It could be that this is the direction the team is leaning. We’ll learn more tomorrow.

Dodgers coaches meeting tomorrow to discuss plans for pitching staff.

Chris Capuano

Don Mattingly said that the Dodgers’ coaching staff will meet tomorrow to discuss plans for their pitching staff. There appear to be two spots in the bullpen up for grabs, and the picture gained clarity when Mark Lowe was released this morning.

One topic that’s sure to be on the agenda: Which of the starting pitchers will become relievers?

The question has probably been answered within the organization. Now, with eight days left until Opening Day, the time has come to formally inform the Dodgers’ newest relief pitcher that he is the Dodgers’ newest relief pitcher.

“We’ll talk to those guys, make sure they can mentally start wrapping their arms around it, talk about ‘how would you like to work?’ … It’s nice to talk to the guys and get their arms wrapped around it so they can make the adjustment,” Mattingly said.

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