Daily Distractions: Ricky Nolasco would like to re-sign with the Dodgers.

Ricky Nolasco

Dodgers pitcher Ricky Nolasco becomes a free agent at the end of the season. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer)

Ricky Nolasco‘s next start will be his 10th in a Dodgers uniform. If the last two starts are any indication — the right-hander has pitched 16 innings and allowed zero runs against the Red Sox and Cubs, respectively — he’s grown quite comfortable pitching for his childhood team in a short amount of time.

While some professional athletes simply aren’t able to deal with the unique pressures of pitching near their hometown, Nolasco has adapted well, improving incrementally with each outing. A free agent at the end of the season, Nolasco chose his words carefully Wednesday when asked if he’d want to re-sign with the Dodgers.

“My teammates have been doing a great job of welcoming me here,” Nolasco said after blanking the Cubs. “As far as what the future holds, we’re just going to have to wait and see what happens. I’m from here, and this is where I want to be. We’ll just see what happens.

“I’ll focus right now on winning right now and all that will play itself out.”

The key words there — this is where I want to be — were easily lost yesterday, when Yasiel Puig‘s benching was the media focus after the game. (More on him in a bit.)

Since Magic Johnson and his Guggenheim Baseball Management cohorts bought the club, the Dodgers’ new owners have gone out of their way to show they are choosers, not beggars. This winter, they potentially can choose from a free-agent pitching crop that includes Nolasco, Matt Garza, Phil Hughes, Tim Lincecum, Ervin Santana, A.J. Burnett and Jon Lester (for whom the Red Sox hold a team option worth $13 million). You can certainly argue that Nolasco, who turns 31 in December, isn’t the best pitcher in that group. He isn’t the worst. More importantly, would any accept the job of fourth starter more willingly, with lower contract demands, than the Rialto right-hander?

That question ignores the Dodgers’ plans for Josh Beckett, prospect Zach Lee, and Chad Billingsley, who’s due to return from Tommy John surgery at some point next season if his rehab goes well. (All three would love to have a permanent spot in the Dodgers’ 2014 rotation behind Kershaw-Greinke-Ryu.) But it’s a question that the Dodgers will have to ponder if Nolasco continues to force his way into the team’s long-term blueprints.

Some more bullet points for an off day:
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Yasiel Puig has a new nickname and Chris Capuano has a new catcher.

Andre Ethier

Andre Ethier has started eight straight games for the Dodgers, batting .310 with a home run and a double. He was not in Sunday’s lineup. (Getty Images)

When the pitcher isn’t pitching well, change the catcher.

That was the thinking behind having A.J. Ellis catch Chris Capuano today for the first time since May 29. While the Dodgers haven’t lost a game started by Capuano since July 4, the left-hander has a 7.53 earned-run average in his last three outings and his rotation spot could be in jeopardy come September. Tim Federowicz had caught Capuano’s last 11 starts dating back to June 19.

“I wanted to kind of mix that up just a little bit,” manager Don Mattingly said. “One start with Ricky (Nolasco), A.J. caught him. Then Fed went back to him. I want to keep the mixture of guys’ playing time the same. Cap’s been OK the last couple times out and I just wanted to change the dynamic just a little bit.”

Second baseman Mark Ellis and center fielder Andre Ethier were both healthy scratches against Red Sox right-hander Jake Peavy. Yasiel Puig is playing right field and batting fifth for the first time in his major-league career, while Skip Schumaker is batting sixth and playing center field.

The left-handed hitting Ethier typically sits against left-handed pitchers, and Peavy is almost equally stingy against lefties (.254/.289/.465) and righties (.240/.282/.399).

“I needed Puiggy back there a little bit,” Mattingly said. “It’s easier for me just to move one guy. With the group of guys I have in there today, it’s more balanced.”

Based on an informal press box poll, that might be the first time Mattingly has referred to Puig as “Puiggy.”

Both lineups for the 5:05 p.m. game:
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Daily Distractions: Marlins-Dodgers matchup presents a few juicy subplots.

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Hyun-Jin Ryu will get a look at Jose Fernandez‘s 99-mph fastballs tonight. (Associated Press photo)

A Dodgers-Marlins series in mid-August has no plot really, only subplots. The hottest team in baseball against the team with the National League’s worst record? Move along, nothing to see here.

The Dodgers are 7 ½ games ahead of Arizona in the National League West. The Marlins are 6 ½ games behind (ahead of?) the Astros for baseball’s worst record and the first pick in next year’s draft. Wins and losses are probably only news if the Dodgers lose today — it will be their first back-to-back losses since June 20 and 21. So there’s that.

There’s something else, actually. Subplots galore.

Tonight’s starting pitching matchup pits a pair of rookies, Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu and 20-year-old marlins right-hander Jose Fernandez, who have carved opposing paths to the distinction of National League’s best rookie pitcher. (Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller and Jim Henderson probably have something to say about this.) The Palm Beach Post notes that at 139 ⅔ innings, Fernandez is approaching his limit of roughly 170 innings before being shut down.

Ryu is starting his 24th game of the season today, and is scheduled to make eight more starts after this one, not including playoffs. His career high is 30 starts, which he compiled six years ago as a 20-year-old in Korea. Ryu would have to pitch another 63 innings to reach his previous career high; assuming he averages seven innings per start, he’ll get there. Direct comparisons are difficult to draw, since Ryu typically threw fewer pitches per inning in the KBO, so it will be interesting to see how the Dodgers handle him in September.

In Miami, the more closely watched rookie matchup will be between Yasiel Puig and Fernandez. The two Cubans have reportedly never faced each other.

We’re also looking forward to seeing Nate Eovaldi again on Wednesday. More on him in a couple days.

A few more bullet points for a Monday morning:
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Daily Distractions: MLB owners approve expanded replay for 2014.

Umpires huddle

Photo by Getty Images

Get ready for the “manager’s challenge.”

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig announced that a new instant replay policy was adopted Thursday morning by MLB owners, beginning next season, that would allow one manager’s challenge in the first six innings and two more beginning in the seventh inning. The challenged calls would be reviewed by an off-site crew at MLB headquarters in New York. Balls and strikes would not be subject to review.

The policy is expected to be formally adopted at the next owner’s meetings in November.

The net benefit to the game could be a good one. The policy is a success if a bad call never decides the outcome of a game (or a perfect game) again.

Yet you wonder how much slower the games will be as a result of the policy and how soon — not if — MLB will make the inevitable tweaks to the system. It’s not likely that baseball gets this right on the first try.

Some more bullet points for a Dodgers off-day:
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Ethier’s calf still sore, but outfielder now available

Andre Ethier is available to pinch hit today, one day after a bruise on his calf sparked enough concern to send him to the hospital prior to Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the New York Mets.

“It’s still a little sore, but nothing to be concerned with,” Ethier said. “I’ll just keep progressing.”

Ethier sustained the injury Aug. 4 when he was hit by a pitch in the series finale against the Chicago Cubs, but it worsened after Monday’s game. When Ethier woke up Tuesday morning, the condition had worsened such that there was alarm a blood clot could be forming, something that was ruled out during his visit to the hospital.

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Bruised left calf forces Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier to hospital.

When Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis was caught on the wrong end of a hard slide in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals last year, he was rushed to the hospital and had emergency surgery — a decision that might have allowed him to keep his left leg below the knee.

Andre Ethier‘s situation isn’t that dire. But like Ellis, Ethier’s bruised left calf wasn’t improving, even nine days after getting hit with a pitch by the Chicago Cubs’ Pedro Strop on Aug. 4.

“That’s why I went over to the hospital, just to see if there was a clot,” he said. “Kind of the same thing Mark (Ellis) had last year — they were concerned it was something along that line.”
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Andre Ethier (calf tightness) scratched from Dodgers’ starting lineup against Mets.

Andre Ethier

Andre Ethier is batting .241 (7 for 29) since getting hit with a pitch by Chicago Cubs pitcher Pedro Strop on Aug. 4 (Getty Images)

Andre Ethier was scratched from the Dodgers’ starting lineup before Tuesday’s game against the New York Mets because of tightness in his left calf.

Ethier wasn’t at the ballpark during clubhouse media availability and did not take batting practice on the field with the rest of the Dodgers on Tuesday. It’s possible that he would be able to get in a late round of batting practice indoors, but manager Don Mattingly was noncommittal when asked if Ethier would be available off the bench.

Ethier was hit in the calf late in the Dodgers’ 1-0 win over the Cubs on August 4. Mattingly said the outfielder has been dealing with tightness in the area ever since. The pain worsened to the point that Ethier visited a doctor Tuesday; a better update on the severity of the injury should be available after the game.

Skip Schumaker took Ethier’s place in center field and was inserted directly into the fifth spot in the lineup against the New York Mets’ Matt Harvey. Schumaker is batting .286 against right-handers this season compared to .287 for Ethier. Both have one single in their career against Harvey — Ethier in three at-bats, Schumaker in six.

Harvey enters the game second in the National League in earned run average (2.09).

Daily Distractions: How Ned Colletti plans to upgrade the Dodgers’ bench.

Andre Ethier reacts happily to scoring the game-winning run Tuesday. (John McCoy/Staff photographer)

When Yasiel Puig was in the midst of his historic first week with the Dodgers, one question hovered around the team: What would the Dodgers do if all four outfielders were healthy?

Since then, the question has quietly faded into the background. Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Puig have been healthy enough to play in the same game exactly once. That game ended with Kemp spraining his ankle and going back on the disabled list, and he’s still there.

So with the trade deadline set for 1 p.m. today, the Dodgers are expected to keep all four outfielders.

I asked Ned Colletti about it anyway, and his response was interesting.

“You always talk about addressing your bench,” he said. “That’s something we think about, but when you get your four outfielders back, you’ve got somebody that’s not starting that game, that’s obviously a really good problem.”

Basically, Colletti turned the question of how to handle the four-outfielder situation into a question about how to upgrade the Dodgers’ bench. The answer is that either Kemp, Crawford, Puig or Ethier becomes a bench player as soon as Kemp comes off the disabled list (and Don Mattingly said Tuesday that he plans to play Kemp as soon as he comes off the DL). It makes sense; the Dodgers won’t be able to acquire a better bench player in a trade today without mortgaging their farm system. And — getting way ahead of ourselves here — if the Dodgers advance to the World Series they will have an obvious choice for a designated hitter sitting on their bench, a luxury few National League teams enjoy when they play in an American League park.

The likely takeaway: Ethier isn’t going anywhere today and the Dodgers aren’t likely to add a position player. They aren’t closing the book on adding a starting pitcher, but are not desperate for change with Chris Capuano pitching adequately for a number-five and Stephen Fife preparing to come off the DL. (The teams that pull the trigger on last-minute deals usually do so with a sense of desperation.)

There are some question marks in the bullpen in Carlos Marmol (13.50 ERA) and Chris Withrow (nine career games), but there are also reinforcements waiting in Brian Wilson and Jose Dominguez. So don’t be surprised if the Dodgers stand pat.

Some bullet points for a trade deadline day:
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Four outfielders, three outfield positions. What can the Dodgers do? Smile.

With center fielder Matt Kemp back on the job Tuesday for the Dodgers after nearly a month on the disabled list because of a strained hamstring and with Yasiel Puig firmly entrenched in right field and with Andre Ethier filling in capably in Kemp’s absence and with Carl Crawford on the mend, how is Dodgers manager Don Mattingly going to juggle his outfielders? Kemp will play in center and Puig will be in right, Mattingly said.

Ethier could move to left or take a seat on the bench.

Crawford could play left or take a seat on the bench.

Puig could play left in order to make way for Ethier or Crawford.

“It’s not a problem,” Mattingly said of the Dodgers’ impending return to health.

“We’ve been saying we’re pretty much at full strength,” Mattingly added. “This (Kemp’s return from the DL) kind of puts us there. Obviously, Carl’s not back yet, but w kind of inserted Yasiel there. We’ll figure that piece out when Carl gets back, but our lineup is pretty much back to full strength.”

 

Daily Distractions: Yasiel Puig mythology grows; draft tidbits; have a doughnut.

Yasiel Puig

Yasiel Puig squares up his first major-league hit in his first major-league at-bat on Monday. (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)

Since at least 1916, no Dodgers player hit a grand slam in his first four major-league games. That changed Thursday night, when Yasiel Puig checked another milestone off his shrinking career checklist.

Puig is racking up RBIs at a record rate, too. He’s driven in nine, which ties the most RBIs through four games among players that began their career since 1920 (the year RBIs became an official statistic) per the Elias Sports Bureau.

Meanwhile, the superlatives are piling up.

“He is the Dodgers’ one-man version of Showtime, so far, on a team owned by the leader of Showtime, Magic Johnson,” writes Buster Olney.

“That is what makes Puig so fun: When he comes to bat you pay attention, regardless of the game score,” writes Tom Verducci. (Actually it’s more than that. Fans were paying attention Thursday when hits found their way to right field, and it first dawned on them that Puig would have to throw the baseball. You could literally hear the gasps and imagine the thoughts: “What’s he going to do?”).

“I do not believe he will be” a star, writes Keith Law. Wait, that’s from a month ago.

“Meantime, the game lurks,” writes Tim Brown. “It’ll come for even [Puig], like it did for (Jason) Heyward, and therein lies the fight. It’s what they’re all trying to do.

Some more bullet points for National Doughnut Day:

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