GLENDALE, Ariz. — Josh Beckett had a bad day.
Joc Pederson had a long day.
Neither was alone.
The 22-year-old pitcher only reached Double-A last year, three years after the Dodgers selected him with the 28th overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft. Only a strained right latissimus dorsi muscle suffered early in camp forced Lee to temper his expectations.
By waiting until Friday to make his Cactus League debut, Lee knows he’s ticketed to the minors to start the season.
“Anytime you set a goal you want to set it high,” he said. “If you set it too low, you’ll probably meet it and get content with it.”
Lee pitched two scoreless innings in the Dodgers’ 2-1 victory over the Texas Rangers on Friday at Camelback Ranch. He allowed only two hits, walked none and had something to be proud of at the end of his long-awaited debut.
The right-hander from McKinney, Texas survived a loud leadoff double to Shin-Soo Choo — “a 2-1 fastball right down the middle that you don’t want to throw,” he said — to survive a 21-pitch first inning on consecutive ground-ball outs by Elvin Andrus, Mitch Moreland and Adrian Beltre.
After a smooth second inning in which he allowed a single to Jurickson Profar, Lee’s day was over. He faced eight hitters, almost all major leaguers, and did not look out of place on the mound.
“He just looks like he belongs around the clubhouse, around the fields. He does everything well,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s got a clean delivery. We feel like he’s going to be able to throw the ball where he wants. Just like in his composure — pretty much everything about him.”
Lee has a preternatural calm in the presence of almost anyone — reporter, major leaguer, minor leaguer. He said he’s tried to stay in the background like most rookies, while also trying to pick the veterans’ brains.
“I’ve talked a lot with (Josh) Beckett and (Zack) Greinke,” he said. “Probably Greinke a little more than Beckett from a baseball standpoint just because me and his game are kind of similar as far as our repertoire goes, how we pitch. It’s always good to get an outside perspective, especially with a guy who’s had the success he’s had and kind of the similar stuff we have and how we approach the game.”
Both pitchers share an analytical approach to baseball, something that impressed Dodgers management about Lee since his first days in the organization. Lee’s numbers in his second season at Double-A Chattanooga were better in almost every category in 2013, when he was named the organization’s pitcher of the year.
Lee took part in the Dodgers’ prospect camp at Dodger Stadium in January. Finally on Friday, he had a chance to show everyone what he’s gained since last season.
“Growing up, the way I looked at pitching, I was more of a cerebral, analytical person,” he said. “I really thought more kind of gameplanning and what (Greg) Maddux did back in the day, where he was able to pinpoint location rather than overpowering people. I kind of took after them and that’s where my game’s developed.”
Young power pitchers are often the first to reach the majors. The St. Louis Cardinals’ Shelby Miller, a 2012 draft pick who beat the Dodgers twice in last year’s National League Championship Series, is a protypical example.
Pitchers like Lee, who mix and match an assortment of pitches and rely more on location and guile, often take longer. This season marks his fourth in the organization and only his first major-league camp.
Lee said he threw all his pitches Friday and “some worked better than others.” For Mattingly, the first impression was a good one.
“I think that’s what you like about him: You see him around the clubhouse, the way he handles himself, gets after his work, does everything pretty well, takes fielding his position seriously, holding runners — all the things you don’t get a lot of attention for — but we like everything about him.”
Some more notes and observations:
TEMPE, Ariz. — Scott Van Slyke’s grand slam in the sixth inning and an exciting play at home plate in the first highlighted the Dodgers’ 4-4 tie with the Angels before 6,457 at Tempe Diablo Stadium. The 10-inning game is the second tie this week for the Dodgers (3-4-2).
The umpiring crew used instant replay to determine that Mike Trout was indeed thrown out at home plate attempting to complete an inside-the-park home run. Angels manager Mike Scioscia had a lengthy discussion with the umpires on the field before initiating the challenge. A 72-second review confirmed the call.
With one out in the first, Trout hit a long, sinking line drive just left of center field. Yasiel Puig dove at the last second but missed. The ball rolled past Puig and all the way to the warning track, where Puig got to the ball ahead of left fielder Scott Van Slyke. His relay throw to shortstop Hanley Ramirez on the short outfield grass was perfect, and Ramirez made an accurate throw to Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis just in time to retire the speedy Trout.
The only question seemed to be whether Ellis got his glove on Trout or not, but that wasn’t the only question circulating through the Dodgers’ dugout.
Meanwhile, Ned Colletti ought to be working the phones, because no respectable team with a payroll in the neighborhood of $240 million ought to be entertaining notions of a platoon involving Gordon/Figgins/Turner/Harris/Rojas at second base. Jim Bowden of ESPN.com recently explored the trade possibilities. (A couple of those scenarios actually make quite a bit of sense.)
With one swing of the bat Wednesday, Guerrero changed the narrative.
His grand slam in the Dodgers’ 10-3 Cactus League victory over the Cincinnati Reds was the first extra-base hit for Guerrero in his seventh Cactus League game. That it came off a left-hander, veteran Jeff Francis, is significant. Gordon has a career .221/.267/.232 slash line against left-handed pitching, compared to .271/.316/.348 against right-handers. (Andre Ethier, by comparison: .235/.294/.351 against lefties.) The Dodgers will take that right-handed slash line from Gordon, maybe with a few walks thrown in for good measure.
The more significant development is that Guerrero, in the words of Don Mattingly, looked “more comfortable.”
“I thought in general, he just looks more fluid and smoothing out a little bit,” the manager said. “For me, early on it was really rough and stiff. It’s gotten better. With Alex, we’re just going to try to keep playing him as much as we can. We’re going to try to keep getting him at-bats.”
Is that progression typical for a player in his first spring training?
“I think it’s typical for a guy who hasn’t played in a while,” Mattingly said. “BP’s a whole lot different from games. As you get in playing every day, I think things just come back to you — more natural. As you get a little tired, you’ve been doing your work and you want things to just come out naturally. That’s what I’m looking for, to see what it’s going to look like when he gets tired taking his ground balls every day.”
If the grand slam was no fluke, and Guerrero has really settled in to the comfort level that earned him a four-year, $28 million contract, it carries an important implication. Namely, that he can be ready for the majors by Opening Day.
That doesn’t bode well for Figgins, Turner, Harris or Rojas. The sample sizes are still small and skewed, but for what it’s worth Rojas — statistically a poor Triple-A hitter in his career — has the best spring batting average of all of them at .417. None of their numbers will matter if Guerrero remains comfortable in the field and at the plate.
The Dodgers will play their first Cactus League night game — one of three on the schedule — at 6 p.m. Pacific Time against the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Stadium. Hyun-Jin Ryu will make his second spring start against right-hander Homer Bailey.
As manager Don Mattingly indicated yesterday, Dee Gordon is in center field for the first time all spring. Carl Crawford is the designated hitter one day after playing left field for the first time since he strained his right quadriceps muscle on Feb. 26. Alex Guerrero is back at second base, and Matt Magill, Paco Rodriguez, Javy Guerra and Jose Dominguez are scheduled to pitch in relief.
Here are the starting lineups for both teams:
GLENDALE, Ariz. — A 0-0 pitchers’ duel through six innings turned in the Dodgers’ favor on a two-run home run in the seventh inning by Joc Pederson. Pederson ripped into a 2-2 pitch from Jake Petricka, showing some impressive opposite-field power in lifting the ball high over the left-field fence.
The Dodgers tacked on three more runs in the eighth inning. Dee Gordon walked and stole second base, then scored on an RBI double by Mike Baxter. Clint Robinson followed with a two-run home run that provided the final score.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, making his first Cactus League start of 2014, did not allow a run in two innings. Brian Wilson, Kenley Jansen, Chris Perez, J.P. Howell, Jamey Wright and Matt Magill finished the game with seven shutout innings. The White Sox were limited to three hits and three walks.
Miguel Rojas broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning, scoring from second base on an RBI single by Brendan Harris. Harris smacked a line drive to right field off Marcos Mateo, a right-hander who split last season between Double-A and Triple-A. Arizona right fielder Matt Tuiasosopo made a good throw to home plate, but it was slightly up the first-base line. Catcher Blake Lalli reached back to the plate a moment too late to tag Rojas.
Juan Uribe tied the game with a solo home run in the fourth inning off Diamondbacks right-hander R.J. Hively, who hasn’t pitched an inning above high Single-A ball in his life. It was the Dodgers’ first home run of the spring.
The Dodgers got on the board in the bottom of the second inning when Adrian Gonzalez dropped a double just inside the left-field line, then scored on an RBI single by Uribe.
Chris Withrow had the unenviable task of relieving Greinke with a 1-1 count on Cliff Pennington. The 24-year-old right-hander, who’s on the bubble for a bullpen job this spring, came in cold and had to warm up on the mound. He retired Pennington but couldn’t get out of the second inning, allowing a walk, a single and an RBI double, followed by a strikeout and an RBI groundout. Five of the nine batters Withrow faced reached base.
The box score is here.
A couple more notes:
If Alex Guerrero and Dee Gordon weren’t the Dodgers’ preferred candidates to man second base this year, they wouldn’t be on the 40-man roster. Sure, Chone Figgins, Justin Turner, Brendan Harris and Miguel Rojas are in camp as non-roster invitees, and that’s a testament to Guerrero and Gordon’s relative inexperience at the position.
Some of the NRIs might eventually have outstanding Cactus League seasons, but Guerrero and Gordon are getting the first crack. That was confirmed Sunday and Monday, when Guerrero and Gordon played all seven innings at second base over the Dodgers’ two intrasquad games.
Each did a little something to impress. Let’s start with Gordon, who drove the second pitch he saw from Hyun-Jin Ryu on Sunday over the right-field fence.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dee Gordon and Hanley Ramirez hit home runs against Hyun-Jin Ryu in the first inning of the Dodgers’ 4-inning intrasquad game Sunday at Camelback Ranch. Those accounted for all the runs in a 3-1 victory for Team Wills (drafted by Matt Kemp) over Team Koufax (drafted by Zack Greinke.)
Infielders: Turner, Chone Figgins, Miguel Rojas, Brendan Harris, Clint Robinson
Outfielder: Joc Pederson
Catchers: JC Boscan, Griff Erickson, Chris O’Brien, Miguel Olivo
Pitchers: Sam Demel, Carlos Frias, Zach Lee, Daniel Moskos, Red Patterson, Chris Reed, Ross Stripling
Two years ago, Jamey Wright made the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster out of camp as an NRI. Last year, no non-roster invitees made the roster — though you figure Kevin Gregg was close. The Dodgers’ surplus of starting pitchers squeezed Gregg out of a job in Los Angeles, and he eventually became the Chicago Cubs’ closer.
So recent history says that the 17 NRIs are competing for one job at most. Not all have a realistic chance of making the team. In most cases, injuries will dictate the winner of the logjam. That’s particularly true for Pederson, the catchers and the pitchers.
The Dodgers are carrying four outfielders (Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig) with large guaranteed contracts. The fifth is Scott Van Slyke, who has value as a corner outfielder/first baseman with power off the bench. Pederson, who turns 22 on April 21, can turn heads in camp if his .912 OPS in the Venezuelan Winter League was no fluke, but that might be all he can do. There’s no job for him without another significant injury hitting the outfield — and remember that Kemp still isn’t running on his surgically repaired ankle.
Among the catchers, all A.J. Ellis and Tim Federowicz need to do to reprise their 2013 Opening Day jobs is stay healthy. Olivo, who’s played in more than 1,100 major-league games since 2002, knew that when he signed with the Dodgers on Jan. 17. He’ll try to push Drew Butera for the primary catcher’s job at Triple-A Albuquerque.
The pitching staff is also surprisingly stacked with veterans who are difficult to displace. Lee, Stripling, Reed, Patterson and Frias are competing to make an impression and learn the ropes in their first camp, not land an Opening Day job. Demel and Moskos have major-league experience but are slotted for roles in the Albuquerque bullpen and rotation, respectively.
So that leaves us with the infielders. Second base is an open competition until Alex Guerrero learns the position defensively. Until we see him in camp, it’ll be hard to pin down Guerrero’s learning curve. Other than starting third baseman Juan Uribe, and light-hitting utilityman Justin Sellers, Dee Gordon is the only player on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster with experience at second base. He only learned the position last year. There’s a reasonably wide opening here.
Rojas will go as far as his bat will take him – historically, he’s struggled to hit at the Triple-A level.
The same goes for Figgins, whose 68 OPS+ the last three seasons isn’t enough to justify a 40-man roster spot. Figgins will have to prove in camp that his bat speed at age 36 is as major-league ready as his foot speed and defensive versatility — he’s played 647 career games at third base, 274 at second and 27 at shortstop. No other player in camp is quite as versatile, and the longtime leadoff hitter will help his cause if he can steal a base.
In some ways, the 33-year-old Harris is a slower version of Figgins. He’s able to play third base, shortstop and second base, and carries a light bat (.695 career OPS).
Robinson is a 28-year-old first baseman whose career consists of 3,337 at-bats in the minors and four in the majors. With at least two first basemen ahead of him on the depth chart in camp, Robinson’s chances of getting a major league at-bat this season range from slim to none.
Turner is an above-average fielding second baseman and has been for parts of five major-league seasons. What really makes him stand out in this group is his track record at the plate. Turner is the definition of an average hitter, as a 100 OPS+ and 0.9 oWAR last season attest. Baseball-reference.com’s version of oWAR rated Turner a 1.6 in 2011, his only full major-league season.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti have agreed that second base can be a defensive position in 2014. But if they want to give the second-base job on Opening Day to an above-average fielder and an average hitter, Turner might be the only man in camp who fits that description.