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.

Some bullet points for Valentine’s Day:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: Putting Josh Beckett’s optimism in its proper context.

Josh Beckett

Josh Beckett had a rib removed from the right side of his rib cage in July. (Associated Press)

In his first interview of the spring, Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett declared himself healthy and ready to pitch when the 2014 season begins.

Beckett’s optimism is nothing new. He was so upbeat about his recovery from thoracic outlet surgery last August that one reporter was compelled to ask if Beckett intended to pitch at some point in the postseason.

But Beckett’s optimism is like the cushioned cork at the center of a baseball. It’s surrounded by layers of yarn and cowhide and leather stitching that need to be unwound. By itself, Beckett’s healthy optimism and optimal health are great developments, but they need to put in context.

For one thing, Beckett is 33 years old. His record the past two seasons is 7-19. His early-career track record is stellar: a World Series MVP award at age 23; 80 wins and a 116 ERA+ in the span of his 25-to-29-year-old prime; an all-star appearance with Boston as recently as three years ago. But then you point to Beckett’s age, and his last two seasons, and you wonder what he’s doing in the starting rotation of a team with a $240 million-plus payroll.

Then there’s the nature of thoracic outlet surgery. It hasn’t been in baseball as long as Tommy John surgery, for example. Chris Carpenter had the procedure recently — Beckett told reporters yesterday that Carpenter’s thoracic outlet syndrome was worse than his own — as did Daniel Bard, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Shaun Marcum. That’s a short list. It doesn’t offer nearly large enough a sample size to conclude, with the same degree of certainty, how long Beckett will need to make a full recovery.

So we have Beckett’s word, his medical reports (you and I don’t, but the Dodgers do), and his track record, and not much else. Then we have a locker in the Camelback Ranch clubhouse with Paul Maholm‘s nameplate overhead, and should it really come as a surprise that the Dodgers took out a $1.5 million insurance policy in the form of a sixth starter?

Not really. And that’s not a reflection on Beckett or his health, so much as the Dodgers’ financial wherewithal. As the Dodgers learn what Beckett can do post-surgery, there’s less at stake in the final outcome of the process. Management can sit back, watch, and be happy for Beckett if he makes a full recovery. And hey, maybe you get a fifth starter at the end of camp.

How’s that for some annual start-of-spring-training optimism?

Some bullet points for a Tuesday morning:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: Because it’s never too soon, sizing up the Dodgers’ 2015 rotation.

Zach Lee

Zach Lee will attend his first spring training this weekend. Will he be in the Dodgers’ rotation in 2015? (Associated Press photo)


Today, we look ahead to next fall because, well, why not?

Josh Beckett, Dan Haren and Chad Billingsley — if the Dodgers decline his option — will become free agents after this season. Do the Dodgers have two pitchers in their system who would be ready to fill the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation by 2015?

Maybe. Zach Lee continues to be ranked as a top-100 prospect with middle-of-the-rotation potential. Ross Stripling could be closer than Lee to reaching the majors, depending on who you talk to in the organization. Julio Urias is 17, so probably not. The jury’s still out on the potential of Matt Magill, Seth Rosin and a few others.

The jury’s still out on all of them, actually, since you simply never know how much time a prospect needs to reach his potential. And if the Dodgers’ transactions log over the past two years indicates nothing else, it’s that they prefer proven performance to potential.

So who’s in the next wave of free-agent starters? The list could include Max Scherzer, James Shields, Justin Masterson, Homer Bailey and Jon Lester. Even if Scherzer gets a big extension from the Detroit Tigers, as expected, that’s still a strong class — stronger than this year’s, certainly. All of the Dodgers’ free-agent decisions this year were made with potential 2015 free agents in mind. (That principle applies every winter.)

In the linked piece, FanGraphs.com’s Dave Cameron concludes that Scherzer, Lester and Bailey are the most likely to re-sign long-term extensions. That potentially leaves Shields and Masterson as the cream of the 2015 crop. Depending on their health and performance in 2014, they would almost certainly be the best fourth starters in baseball if they joined the Dodgers.

Cameron predicts that Shields could command a five- or six-year contract “and probably close to the $25 million AAV that many of the better pitchers have attained recently.” Shields turned 32 in December. Despite his career WAR of 28.0 in eight seasons, that’s still quite a bit of risk to take on.

But so is giving the job to a prospect.

Taken together, who do you like in the group to fill out the 2015 rotation?

Some bullet points for a Tuesday morning:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: Why starting the season in Australia might give Don Mattingly headaches.

Don Mattingly Alan Trammell

The Dodgers’ early-season schedule has the potential to frustrate manager Don Mattingly, who isn’t above taking out his frustration on Arizona Diamondbacks coaches. (Getty Images)

So the Dodgers and Diamondbacks play two games in Australia a week before any other team begins its regular season. Does anything about this arrangement make Don Mattingly‘s job easier?

Maybe a little. If he wants to, the Dodgers manager can have reigning National League Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw start a game in Sydney, then the U.S. regular-season opener seven days later, then the Dodgers’ home opener five days after that. Again: if he wants to.

Things start to get tricky, um, everywhere else. Start with the bullpen.

“If you think about it,” Mattingly said Saturday at the Dodgers’ FanFest, “you’re going into two games in a row (in Australia), you’ve got to kind of save your relievers as you get into that. Then if you don’t use them, now it’s going to be a week or 10 days before they’re throwing in a (regular-season) game.”

As of right now, the Dodgers have exactly one game on their schedule between March 17-21, a time when many managers have the luxury of split-squad games to evaluate players pushing for the final spots on their 25-man roster. That one game is an exhibition against the Australian national team in Sydney on March 20. Two days later, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks will celebrate Opening Day.

After the Dodgers play the D-Backs on the afternoon of March 23, they get four days off to fly back to Los Angeles and re-adjust to Pacific Time. All that time off down the road has a ripple effect on players’ routines. Pitchers are hit the hardest.

“These guys are having to throw bullpens before we even get to camp,” Mattingly said. “That seems like a rush to me.”

Don’t expect the three-game Freeway Series against the Angels, on March 27-29, to have the usual look of a “final audition” for roster spots — at least as relief pitchers are concerned. Mattingly said he’ll have to manage his bullpen with an eye toward the March 30 game in San Diego that counts in the standings.

The Dodgers’ position players can’t exactly treat the Freeway Series like an exhibition, either. In a usual year, Mattingly might use those games to rest his projected starting lineup. The quirky schedule makes this year different.

“Starting the season and then not playing for another eight days always bothers me,” Mattingly said, “because once guys turn that clock on, it’s hard to get them to play an exhibition game. That’s where you start to get bad habits. You start the season then it’s like these games don’t count. Guys, they know that. They know that game, the stats don’t count. I worry about bad habits during that period of time.”

The Freeway Series games are scheduled for March 27 and 28 at Dodger Stadium and March 29 at Angel Stadium.

Some bullet points for a Four Chaplains Day:
Continue reading

Josh Beckett’s ‘best-case scenario’ has him hoping for a normal off-season.

Josh Beckett

Josh Beckett had a rib removed from the right side of his rib cage in July. (Associated Press)

Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett was in a good mood Sunday. The rehabbing right-hander called his recovery from surgery to relieve numbness in his right arm a “best-case scenario.”

“There’s no reason for my shoulder not to be as strong as it’s been in 15 years,” Beckett said.

The Dodgers won’t get to find out for sure until spring training of next year.
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: Vin Scully returns, dissecting the trade, real best songs of the millennium.

Vin Scully

Vin Scully is returning to the Dodgers’ broadcast booth in 2014. (photo by J.P. Hoornstra)

The Dodgers announced this morning that Vin Scully will return in 2014, calling all games in California and Arizona as he’s done the past two seasons. It will be Scully’s 65th season behind the mic, and he’ll talk more about it at 2:45 p.m. today. (Follow along on Twitter and Tout for live updates.)

Scully said in a statement released by the team this morning that, “other than being home with my family, there is no place else I’d rather be” than Dodger Stadium. Few would disagree that Scully still sounds right at home in the booth.

Consider this: When he began broadcasting Brooklyn Dodgers games in 1950, the team had yet to win a World Series. Three years later, at the age of 25, Scully became the youngest person to ever broadcast a World Series game.

The Dodgers would love to give him one more before the year’s over.

Some bullet points for a Remembrance of the Slave Trade Abolition Day:
Continue reading

Josh Beckett will rehab his compressed nerve and try to pitch in 2013.

Josh Beckett

Josh Beckett is 0-5 with a 5.19 earned-run average this season while dealing with tingling and numbness in his right hand. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer)

Josh Beckett was back at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday after what the pitcher called a “whirlwind” three days in Dallas to determine the course of treatment for the compressed nerve affecting his right arm.

Beckett visited with Dr. Greg Pearl at the recommendation of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Caprenter, who went to Pearl to have surgery last year to correct thoracic outlet syndrome in his right arm.

Beckett is dealing with a compressed nerve in the same area as Carpenter, but he has been told that he does not need surgery for now.

“We’re going to be doing a lot of aggressive rehabilitation of trying to get the outlet where the nerve and the artery and stuff go under the clavicle and above the first rib,” Beckett said. “They’re going to try to open that up.”
Continue reading

Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett scheduled to visit with nerve specialist.

Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett will visit Monday with Dr. Greg Pearl, a nerve specialist based in Dallas, Texas. Beckett has been dealing with tingling and numbness in his right hand, along with a strained groin that landed him on the disabled list May 14.

Beckett had an MRI performed Wednesday, but further tests are needed to determine the source of the injury.

Pearl consulted with St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter last year when Carpenter was dealing with thoracic outlet syndrome in his right arm. Carpenter ultimately had surgery on the arm and is trying to come back this year. It has not been determined that Beckett has the same condition.

 

Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett shuts down his throwing program.

Josh Beckett

Josh Beckett’s rehab from a strained groin has been set back by “tingling and numbness” in his right hand. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer)

Josh Beckett was scheduled to throw at least 15 pitches off a mound today or tomorrow, but the recuperating right-hander is back to waiting after a recurrence of tingling and numbness in his right fingers.

Beckett will undergo an MRI exam tomorrow to determine the source of his symptoms.

The Dodgers did not initially reveal the extent of Beckett’s injuries after the right-hander fell to 0-5 with a loss to the Washington Nationals on May 13. The next day, he went on the disabled list with a strained left groin, though manager Don Mattingly noted that Beckett was dealing with other injuries.

On Monday, Mattingly said “the groin’s been good and the arm has gone bad.”

In eight starts this year spanning 43 ⅓ innings, Beckett is 0-5 with a 5.19 earned-run average. Opponents have a .336 batting average on balls in play against him.

“Josh, he’s thrown a lot of innings,” Mattingly said. “There’s always a little something.”

Dodgers’ Josh Beckett is on the mend.

Josh BeckettJosh Beckett threw 15 pitches off the bullpen mound Saturday and will throw at least that many tomorrow or Tuesday as he attempts to return from a strained left groin.

The right-hander said he is “getting better” and “progressing every day” after he was forced to shut down his throwing program while the Dodgers were on a road trip to Atlanta.

“I was really sore [last Saturday] in Atlanta,” Beckett said. “I didn’t know what you push through. I had to learn that in Atlanta.”

After taking two days off, Beckett resumed throwing off a mound in Milwuakee and has been ramping up the intensity ever since. He’s also lifting weights and running.

Beckett was placed on the disabled list May 14. He is 0-5 with a 5.19 earned-run average this season.