Daily Distractions: WBC upsets, Dodgers draw scouts, SABR.

Adrian GonzalezDon Mattingly has openly joked about getting Nick Punto back in camp next week. He didn’t think Team Italy had a long future in the World Baseball Classic. He wasn’t alone.

On a day off for Hanley Ramirez and Ronald Belisario, the other three Dodgers in the WBC — Luis Cruz, Adrian Gonzalez and Punto — were busy pulling off upsets. Italy beat Canada, 14-4, and Mexico stunned the United States 5-2.

Punto went 2 for 4 with a double and scored twice. Gonzalez homered and drove in three runs and Cruz put Mexico up 5-1 with a sacrifice fly off Glen Perkins in the fifth inning. As Ice Cube once said, “it was a good day.”

Unless you’re the U.S., that is. The Americans play the Italians today and momentum is not in their direction. Italy beat Mexico on Thursday and can eliminate the U.S. from advancing to the semifinals with a win.

Some more links for a Saturday:

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Dodgers 10, Angels 8: Postgame thoughts.

Don Mattingly dropped a revealing opinion, perhaps unexpectedly, in his postgame chat today.

It appeared that, an hour earlier, Ted Lilly had done an OK job in two innings out of the bullpen in his first appearance of spring training. Keep in mind that Lilly hadn’t pitched in a competitive game since Aug. 16 of last year. The veteran lefty got Erick Aybar to fly out, got rocked by Howie Kendrick (who finished 3-for-3 with a single, double and home run) for a longball, then retired the next four Angel batters he faced. Day over.

“Teddy, he seems a lot more like Aaron (Harang) to me, from my point of view,” Mattingly said. “Taking longer to get loose, taking longer to warm up, all that kind of stuff.”

In other words, not a good bullpen candidate.

That would seem to make Chris Capuano, by default, the Dodgers’ preferred choice to move from the rotation to the bullpen at this point in time. This is a point in time when eight starters are healthy, so take that with a grain of salt. Things can change in the next four weeks.

At the very least Mattingly’s opinion offers a framework for what the Dodgers might be thinking — stash Capuano in the bullpen as a sixth starter, and if Billingsley ends up needing Tommy John surgery (or another starter goes down in spring), insert either Lilly or Harang into the fifth starter’s slot. Otherwise, try to move one or both pitchers. That would agree with what I’ve heard from knowledgeable people outside the organization; people inside the organization have no reason to tip their hand pre-flop.

Lilly had to feel good about his performance regardless of how the manager reacted to it. It’s been a long time coming.
Some more notes:

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Dodgers pitcher Aaron Harang is “planning on starting.”

Aaron Harang

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.

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Some odds and ends from Dodgers spring training.

Some odds and ends from Thursday at Camelback Ranch, the final day before the Dodgers’ position players are expected to report to spring training.
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Dodgers spring training preview: Starting pitchers.

Hyun-Jin RyuForget having the best 1-2 starting combination in baseball. Ned Colletti clearly intended to put together the majors’ best 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 staff this winter.

Mission accomplished.

When the Dodgers pitchers and catchers report to camp Tuesday, they present a puzzling situation that only time can solve. Chad Billingsley hopes time can heal the torn ligament in his elbow, not season-ending Tommy John surgery. Ted Lilly hopes he can pitch like a legitimate fifth starter, having not pitched in the majors since last May because of injuries. He, Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang may have to hope that Colletti can find a desirable destination for their talents outside of L.A.

If healthy, it’s hard to imagine this group staying together. Otherwise, the Dodgers are left with the first eight-man rotation in major-league history, and wouldn’t that be an interesting outcome to what promises to be an interesting camp.

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Poll: Who makes the Dodgers’ opening-day bullpen?

We don’t have confirmation yet, but if the Dodgers wind up signing Peter Moylan (as has been reported), the competition for the final spot out of the bullpen becomes interesting.

Update: Moylan confirmed that he’s joining the Dodgers via Twitter:

 

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Don Mattingly’s toughest decision down the stretch.

Conventional baseball wisdom holds that pitching takes on greater importance in the playoffs than the regular season, and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has lived it.

When he was the New York Yankees’ batting coach from 2004-07, he recalled, “(Robinson) Cano was hitting ninth. It was dangerous. But those clubs didn’t win.”

Mattingly believes the reason was simple.

“We didn’t pitch enough,” he said. “Playoffs are a whole different animal. Short series are always tough, even a seven-game.”

Assuming the Dodgers qualify, who will begin the playoffs in the starting rotation? Mattingly ducked the question for a second straight day Sunday and he can for the moment, with only five healthy starters on the active roster. He won’t be able to if/when Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Josh Beckett, Joe Blanton, Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang are all healthy.

This could be the manager’s biggest decision all season, if not in his brief career.
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Rivera healing, expects to avoid DL.

Following up on yesterday’s item about Juan Rivera: The veteran said Wednesday that he does not expect to go on the disabled list as a result of the left hamstring soreness that forced him to leave Tuesday night’s game.

“Give me a couple days,” said Rivera, always a man of few words. “Two days.”

Rivera will not play against the Atlanta Braves tonight, but that was a previously planned day off, manager Don Mattingly said. The Dodgers are off Thursday.

Rivera stretched Wednesday with head trainer Sue Falsone and “he did more than she thought he would be able to,” Mattingly said.

One other injury update: Aaron Harang had a large bruise on his left foot after hitting a ball off the foot Tuesday. He isn’t expected to miss his next start.

White Sox 3, Dodgers 1.

Aaron Harang threw six strong innings, but the White Sox (11-15) prevailed against the Dodgers (12-11-4) before an announced crowd of 5,091 at Camelback Ranch. [box score]

Harang allowed six hits — all singles — walked one, and struck out six in six innings. Three of those singles came in the fifth inning, allowing Chicago to score its only run against the 6-foot-7 right-hander. Harang threw 104 pitches, 66 for strikes, and left with the score tied 1-1. In his last two starts, spanning 11 innings, he has allowed two runs and 11 hits.

Reliever Josh Lindblom allowed a solo home run to Trayce Thompson in the seventh inning and Scott Rice served up an RBI single to Adam Dunn in the eighth.

The Dodgers got their only run when Josh Fields singled and came around to score on an A.J. Ellis sacrifice fly in the fifth inning.

Two days after bunting a ball into his groin, Juan Uribe went 2-for-3. Juan Rivera doubled and a single by Ellis accounted for the Dodgers’ fifth hit of the game.

A few more notes:

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Giants 3, Dodgers 3.

The Dodgers salvaged a point in the standings before an announced crowd of 13,655 — a Cactus League record — at Camelback Ranch. [box score]

Dodgers right-hander Aaron Harang pitched four interesting innings; the stage was set when a whipping wind blowing out to left field picked up prior to the game. Brandon Belt benefited when his fly ball to left turned into a two-run homer that gave the Giants a quick 2-0 lead in the first inning.

But those were the only runs Harang allowed, thanks in part to a first-inning double play started by Justin Sellers at third base. Harang walked none, struck out four, and allowed seven hits in his third appearance of the spring.

The Dodgers got a run back in the bottom of the first. Sellers led off with a double and came around to score on a single by Juan Rivera. That was the only run the Dodgers’ lineup — counting only Rivera, Matt Kemp, James Loney among the projected opening-day starters — could produce against journeyman left-hander Brian Burres in three innings.

Kemp singled in Tim Federowicz in the fifth inning and Luis Cruz homered (to left field, naturally) in the sixth to put the Dodgers ahead 3-2.

In the eighth inning, Gregor Blanco doubled off minor-league pitcher Shawn Tolleson and scored the tying run on a sacrifice fly by Belt.

That accounted for all the scoring which, naturally, barely accounted for the story in the Dodgers’ third tie game of the Cactus League (8-4-3).

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