Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez, in 1 for 17 slump, insists his left hand is fine, timing is off.

Hanley Ramirez boldly claimed that his left hand is fine after going 0-for-3 with a walk in the Dodgers’ loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday. Then he claimed — equally boldly — that he wouldn’t speak up if anything were wrong with his hand, which was struck by a pitch last Wednesday in San Francisco. Ramirez is 1 for 17 since.

“It is what it is right now,” he said. “But I’m 100 percent.”

Ramirez went on to lament his timing, saying “I’ve got to get back on track.” On Tuesday, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly agreed.

“More than anything, Mac (hitting coach Mark McGwire) sees him every day. I see him every day. We know what’s going on.

“I feel like he’s healthy. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. That part I’m not worried about. I think he’s just a little bit off.”

Today could be a get-well game for Ramirez. He’s 3 for 5 with a home run and a walk in his career against Phillies starter A.J. Burnett.

Daily Distractions: Why Sunday’s sixth inning encouraged Dodgers manager Don Mattingly.

Andre Ethier

Andre Ethier and Adrian Gonzalez made outs in the sixth inning Sunday, but impressed Don Mattingly in the process. (John McCoy/Staff photographer)

The Dodgers hit four home runs Sunday against the San Francisco Giants, but that’s not what had Don Mattingly excited.

Hanley Ramirez can hit home runs. That’s no revelation. Even Matt Kemp, Mattingly said, had his power swing on display from the time he reported to camp, with his high follow-through leaving many pitching machines in Glendale, Arizona with stratospheric ERAs.

No, what had Mattingly excited was the sixth inning.

Ramirez led off with a double into the left-field corner. Adrian Gonzalez was next up, and he hit a ground ball directly into the Giants’ shift. First baseman Brandon Belt fielded the ball and tossed to pitcher Matt Cain covering first base for the out. That didn’t matter to Mattingly, because Ramirez advanced to third base, then scored on a deeply hit sacrifice fly by Andre Ethier.

“That was a big run for us,” Mattingly said. “They cut it to 4-2 with a couple homers there. Hanley starts the inning with a double, Adrian gets him over with the ground ball, Andre gets him in. Sometimes last year we didn’t get that done very well. I was encouraged by that tonight.”

Indeed, the biggest complaint about the Dodgers’ offense for the first six weeks of 2013 was its lack of situational hitting. On June 14, the Dodgers were 10 games below .500 and averaging 3.5 runs per game. From June 15 on, they averaged 4.3 runs per game. The arrivals of Yasiel Puig and Ramirez were integral. They added two dimensions the offense lacked, speed and power. More importantly, they didn’t make as many outs as the men they replaced. By extension, the Dodgers had more runners on base and had more success moving them over. Their situational hitting improved.

The Dodgers might never have another inning like the sixth this season. But if it becomes a trend, that’s one less way a lineup full of superstars can fail to score.

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Daily Distractions: Julio Urias gets his Mexican food, and Dodgers fans in Rancho Cucamonga get their prospects.

Julio Urias

Julio Urias struck out Will Venable and Yonder Alonso and got Chris Denorfia to ground out in his only spring training inning. (Associated Press photo)

This is a rough map of all the Mexican restaurants in Rancho Cucamonga.

Julio Urias is waiting.

On March 15, after he pitched a scoreless inning against the San Diego Padres — something Brian Wilson couldn’t do last night — Urias still didn’t know where he would begin the regular season. At least the Dodgers’ prized pitching prospect had no trouble identifying the hardest part of being uprooted to the United States at 16.

“It wasn’t really hard except for the food,” he said in Spanish. “The food was probably the hardest part for me.”

Fortunately for Urias, now 17, there are many options in the neighborhood of the Dodgers’ Single-A affiliate in the California League.

As we reported yesterday, Urias will be assigned to Rancho along with 2013 first-round draft picks Chris Anderson and Tom Windle, along with Corey Seager, the Dodgers’ first-round pick in 2012.

In case you’re counting at home, that’s four of the club’s top 10 prospects (per MLB.com) playing in one spot, about an hour east of Los Angeles.

Urias, Anderson and Windle all finished last season with Class-A Great Lakes, and each saw action in one Cactus League game. The Dodgers drafted Anderson and Windle in the first and second rounds of the 2013 draft, respectively, out of college. Urias was signed as a free agent out of Culiacan, Mexico.

Pitcher Zach Lee and outfielder Joc Pederson will begin the season with Triple-A Albuquerque. So will Matt Magill and possibly Onelki Garcia once he’s healthy.

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Spring training ends poorly for Dodgers’ Dan Haren.

Miguel Rojas

Miguel Rojas, who grounded out on this at-bat Saturday, finished spring training with a .387 batting average, second on the Dodgers to Justin Turner’s .389. (Associated Press photo)

ANAHEIM — Dan Haren‘s final spring tuneup was one to forget.

The right-hander allowed all six Angels runs in a 6-2 Dodgers loss before an announced crowd of 43,553 at Angel Stadium on Saturday.

The Dodgers resume regular-season play tomorrow in San Diego. It’s the Padres’ first game of the season. Opening Day for most major-league teams is Monday.

Last weekend, the Dodgers beat the Arizona Diamondbacks twice in Sydney, Australia and have a regular-season record of 2-0. They came back and lost two of three to the Angels, officially finishing spring training with a 7-12-5 record.

Haren didn’t go to Australia. Since the Dodgers only needed two starting pitchers (and kept Paul Maholm for insurance), Haren stayed behind and pitched minor-league spring training games in Arizona.

The playing environment changed dramatically Saturday. Haren went from games with no official statistics and no names on the back of players’ jerseys to a sold-out stadium. The change seemed to have caught him by surprise.

The Angels scored two runs in the first inning on back-to-back RBI doubles by Albert Pujols and David Freese. In the second inning, Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun hit back-to-back home runs.

Trout’s home run came on a hanging split-fingered fastball, Haren said, while almost all of the Angels’ other hard hits came off his cut fastball. Haren allowed six hits in two innings.

“It was just kind of getting it a little bit flat,” Haren said of his cutter. “I have to have the mindset of driving it down and away to a righty rather than just leaving it out there.

“I’m going to throw quite a few of them in the bullpen. I need to get that sharpened up. My other pitches were actually OK. I struggled with it last start too in the minor leagues. I threw a bunch in the last inning of that game.”

Haren starts Wednesday in San Diego, the finale of the three-game series with the Padres. His final major-league spring training ERA: 6.00.

“It’s the last one that doesn’t count,” Haren said. “No use thinking about it too much. I got some work in. It’s been a while since I felt like I’ve been on a mound, it seems like, at least in a real game. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. I feel OK. Just flush it down and move on to the next one.”

Said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly: “I’m glad it’s tonight and not Wednesday.”

The Dodgers scored both of their runs in the third inning on a two-run double by Chone Figgins. Most of the starters played only two defensive innings.

It was a good day for the Dodgers’ bullpen. Against almost entirely major-league competition, they combined for six scoreless innings: One by Brandon League, three by Matt Magill and two by Red Patterson.

The box score is here.

A few more notes:
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Dodgers’ lineup takes on a normal look against the Kansas City Royals.

Dan Haren

Dan Haren will make what could be his final Cactus League start today against the Kansas City Royals. (Associated Press)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The end is near.

If Twitter’s brief, apocalyptic mid-morning shutdown (for “maintenance,” we were told) didn’t hint at the end of life as we know it, the Dodgers’ schedule does — at least for those of us who have been with the team in Arizona the better part of a month.

There are six days and seven games left on the schedule beginning with today’s tilt against the Kansas City Royals in Surprise, Ariz. There’s no Andre Ethier, no Hanley Ramirez and no Dee Gordon or Alex Guerrero in the Dodgers’ lineup. Otherwise, it has a very start-to-the-regular-season kind of look.

“We want to play Dre (to play) probably the last five,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “Same with Hanley.”

Yasiel Puig is in right field and Scott Van Slyke in center, a late switch. “We just wanted to see Slyke in center as much as anything,” Mattingly said, dropping the “Van” that makes for so many good last-name puns. “It seems like the right day.”

In one of those great only-in-spring training curiosities, the Dodgers will not use a designated hitter. The Royals will.

Dan Haren is making what ought to be his final Cactus League start. More on him later.

Here are the full lineups for both teams:
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Daily Distractions: Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks won’t have expanded instant replay in Sydney. That’s OK.

Sydney Cricket Ground baseball

A construction crane works on the area around the right field foul pole at the Sydney Cricket Ground. (John Blundell’s Twitter account)

The Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks won’t have expanded instant replay available to them for their season-opening games at Sydney Cricket Ground on March 22 and 23.

From the Associated Press:

The technology that MLB will use at other games during the regular season won’t be in place for the opener. Standard replay will be available in Australia for disputed home run and boundary calls under the format in place since 2008.

That could be a good thing.

There have been a few concrete takeaways from the use of instant replay so far in Cactus League. One is that the managers and umpires truly need time to practice. Learning what calls can be challenged by a manager, what calls can be challenged by an umpire — and when — hasn’t happened overnight.

Another is that some stadium camera angles suck.

Take this incident from yesterday’s game between the Angels and Cincinnati Reds:

(Angels catcher) Hank Conger was called safe at second base trying to stretch an RBI single into a double in the fifth inning. Reds manager Bryan Price challenged the call made by umpire Jim Reynolds. A television replay showed that Conger was tagged out, but the call was upheld by umpire Gerry Davis, who was monitoring replays from a truck in the parking lot.

Randy Marsh, MLB’s director of umpires, said that the television replay wasn’t available to Davis during the 2-minute, 15-second review. Only four in-house camera angles at Tempe Diablo Stadium were available, and none conclusively showed Conger being tagged out.

Davis saw the television replay after the call was upheld.

“It was an umpires’ nightmare,” Marsh said.

Price lost his only manager’s challenge of the game because of the decision to uphold the call.

Here’s a relevant question for the two games in Sydney: What’s worse, relying on the umpires to get the call right like baseball has for 125 years, or relying on less-than-conclusive camera angles just because the rules say you can?

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Dodgers’ intrasquad game is in the books; Dee Gordon, Hanley Ramirez make some noise.

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Hyun-Jin Ryu allowed home runs to Dee Gordon and Hanley Ramirez in the first inning of the Dodgers’ intrasquad game on Sunday. (Associated Press photo)

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.)
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Daily Distractions: What Derek Jeter taught a 22-year-old Hanley Ramirez.

Hanley Ramirez

Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez (left) participates in the first pitcher/infield drill of spring training. He considers retiring Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter his idol. (@jphoornstra on Twitter)

Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez learned many lessons in his rookie season with the Florida Marlins. One was a lesson in leadership.

“Don’t let my teammates down. Where I go, they go,” Ramirez recalled. “I’ve got to be their leader, keep my head up and play hard. Be a leader on and off the field.”

The message came directly from no higher authority than Derek Jeter, who knows a thing or two about leadership and is “pretty close” to Jesus.

So it was that Ramirez took on a leadership role with the Marlins early in his career. He was only 22, working on an eventual Rookie of the Year campaign, when he met Jeter during a series against the Yankees in June 2006.

When the Yankees’ shortstop announced his retirement Wednesday, Ramirez wrote an unusually candid tweet:

Why is Jeter Ramirez’s idol?

“Because he has respect for the game on and off the field, and how much dedication he’s put into the games,” Ramirez said. “We’re going to miss him in the game. Nobody I think can replace him.”

And not many players can get through to Ramirez like Jeter.

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Daily Distractions: Dodgers to sign Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena, per reports.

The Dodgers are reportedly close to signing 23-year-old Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena.

Here’s what we know about the latest Cuban defector:

According to ESPN Deportes, Arruebarruena is a “defensive artist” who batted .320 in 2011-12 and .293 last season. Arruebarruena played for Cuba in the most recent World Baseball Classic. He went 6 for 16 (.375) with a stolen base in six games. Here’s a clip of his two-run single against Brazil.

Since Arruebarruena has six years’ experience in Cuba, the Dodgers aren’t limited by the spending restrictions placed on international amateurs. ESPN reported that most scouts believe Arruebarruena is capable of winning a Gold Glove but don’t consider him an “offensive force” in the majors. BaseballAmerica.com recently offered this scouting report:

At 6 feet, 195 pounds, Arruebarruena has clean hands, quick actions and good body control. He’s a below-average runner, but his quick first step and instincts give him good range. He has a quick transfer and a plus-plus arm with accuracy, which allows him to make throws from deep in the hole and turn 4-6-3 double plays with ease. His awareness in the field is advanced and he’s shown the ability to make the barehanded play look routine and make strong throws from different angles.

The video above certainly confirms the “clean hands.”

Knowing nothing else, Arruebarruena could be a valuable complement to offensive-minded shortstop Hanley Ramirez, if his defense is as good as advertised. But without any sterling offensive evaluations to point to, it’s not clear if Arruebarruena is major-league ready. It will be interesting to see what kind of a contract he commands.

Arruebarruena established residence in Haiti and displayed his talents for teams in the Dominican Republic.

His name is admittedly difficult to pronounce.

 

If it seems like the Dodgers practically have their choice of Cuban defectors, well, maybe they do.

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Daily Distractions: Devising the Dodgers’ resolutions for 2014.

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw is set to become a free agent at the end of the 2014 season. (Associated Press photo)

While others lose weight and read more books and call their parents, we tried to go beyond the obvious here — i.e., “Win a World Series” — to come up with a checklist of some New Year’s resolutions more specific to the Dodgers.

In no particular order, here we go:

1. Don’t let Clayton Kershaw reach free agency. Jan. 17 is when teams and players exchange salary arbitration figures, and Kershaw is in his final year of arbitration eligibility. There’s an element of curiosity here: How much could the game’s best pitcher make in arbitration? The Dodgers, and their fans, would rather not know. The other important date to circle here is sometime in late October, the date when eligible free agents hit the market once the World Series ends. If Kershaw doesn’t have a contract by then, what will it take for the Dodgers to re-sign him? Would a championship and the largest contract in baseball history — the Dodgers might be able to offer both — be enough? The longer the left-hander goes without a multiyear extension, the more tempting it is to speculate why he’s determined to test the market. Until he re-signs, that speculation will linger.

2. Stay healthy. OK, this one applies to every team, and the Dodgers have enviable depth in their outfield, starting rotation, and bullpen to withstand the inevitable DL trips of 2014. That said, it’s not a stretch to say that the October injuries to Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp and (to an extent) Andre Ethier are what separated the Dodgers from the 2013 World Series. Dodger players spent more days on the disabled list in 2013 than all but six MLB teams. Luck always plays a significant role in injury statistics, but Stan Conte will try to create some better luck in 2014. He’ll absorb the duties of head athletic trainer Sue Falsone, who left to pursue other opportunities.

3. Re-sign Ramirez. Ramirez is set to become a free agent at the end of the season, too. Thanks to a lot of bad injury luck, he played only 86 games in 2013, but he was the Dodgers’ most productive offensive player when healthy. A full season of a 191 wRC+ is probably unsustainable. Anything close to that will result in a lucrative payday.

4. Manage the farm intelligently. A concern for any team in any year, but consider recent history. Relatively speaking, there wasn’t much to manage in the Dodgers’ system until mid-2012. Because of that, they aren’t in great position to package any prospects in an off-season trade — say, for David Price — or sign a free agent who would cost a first-round draft pick. Now, the Dodgers at least have some intriguing prospects at Double-A (Joc Pederson, Ross Stripling, Zach Lee), High-A (Corey Seager) and Low-A (Chris Anderson, Julio Urias). If they aren’t traded, they need to produce. If they are traded, the return needs to be huge.

5. Make a decision on Don Mattingly. At the end of the season, this is what I wrote: “If [Mattingly's] contract isn’t extended by the time the 2014 season begins, questions about his standing within the organization remain legitimate. The challenge of commanding a clubhouse as a ‘lame duck’ manager will linger. If Mattingly does get his extension between now and spring training, then we’re all left to wonder what took so long.” These questions haven’t been answered yet.

Some bullet points for a Berchtold’s Day:
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