Daily Distractions: Dodgers brace for first meeting with Nate Eovaldi.

Nathan Eovaldi

This is what Nate Eovaldi looked like after his first start for the Dodgers, a win on Aug. 6, 2011 in Arizona. (Getty Images)

It was said a couple days ago on the Dodgers’ broadcast that Nate Eovaldi‘s fastball is up to 100 mph these days. Sure enough, FanGraphs don’t lie.

Before the Dodgers dealt Eovaldi to the Miami Marlins in the Hanley Ramirez trade last year, the right-hander could dial up his fastball to 98-99. This year, batters are hitting .201 off his fastball — which bottoms out around 89 mph, a notable spread — and .269 off his other pitches, a cutter, curve, change, slider and two-seam fastball.

It’s easy to forget that Eovaldi was 22 at the time of his trade and that his arm probably had more in it. Now he’s 23 and coming off a serious bout of inflammation in his right shoulder that left him on the disabled list until June, and throwing harder.

The extra speed didn’t help much five days ago, when Eovaldi (2-3) endured the worst outing of his career. He was shelled for 11 runs by the San Francisco Giants, nine earned, on 12 hits in just three innings. The Marlins lost 14-10 and Eovaldi became the second pitcher to allow 11 or more runs in a game this season.

Eovaldi’s skill is raw but unrefined, which merely means that he fits in with the rest of the Marlins. Certainly the Dodgers have no buyer’s remorse on Ramirez. Still, it will be interesting to see how Eovaldi fares tonight against Zack Greinke — who, by the way, has the best ERA in the majors (min. 40 inning pitched) since July 8:

1. Greinke                             1.45 (9 ER/56.0 IP)
2. Jose Fernandez, MIA     1.53
3. Hiroki Kuroda, NYY        1.54
4. Clayton Kershaw, LAD  1.56 (9 ER/52.0 IP)
5. Jarred Cosart, HOU       1.60
6. Yu Darvish, TEX              1.73

Some bullet points for a hump day:
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Postgame thoughts: Dodgers 4, Philadelphia Phillies 0.

Cliff Lee

Hanley Ramirez hit a two-run home run off Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee in the fourth inning of the Dodgers’ 4-0 victory Friday, their ninth straight win. (Associated Press photo)

To the guy who emails me nearly every day asking for Cliff Lee trade rumors:

The Dodgers don’t need Cliff Lee.

Would he give the Dodgers the best 1-2-3 combination in all of baseball? Yes.

Would he make them a better team? Maybe, depending on the number of prospects the Phillies demand in return, which is usually quite high two weeks before the waiver trade deadline.

But should a team that is adequately built for the present (see: 41-8 record since June 22), and needs all its elite prospects to maintain momentum through the future, trade for a guy like Cliff Lee? Probably not.

And the fact that the Dodgers don’t need Lee, after watching what he did to them Friday, is just as strong a testament to their turnaround as any statistic we could insert here.
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Daily Distractions: When time zones matter.

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You don’t realize how much travel can take a toll on a baseball team until a game like Thursday’s, when a Dodgers team that had scored 41 runs in its last four games scored only two against a pitcher who’d never won at Dodger Stadium in his life.

That’s what happened when Mat Latos beat Zack Greinke — who’d never lost at Dodger Stadium in his life.

Of course, there were also times that the Dodgers didn’t look sluggish or lifeless, and the fact that their inbound flight from Toronto touched down at 4 a.m. Thursday may have amounted to nothing more than a convenient excuse for a 5-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

After the game, I asked Greinke if the previous 24 hours were the worst travel he’d experienced in his brief time as a West Coast pitcher. They weren’t, he said, but he didn’t deny that the last year has been an adjustment.

“Travel in the west is definitely not good, but people do it. It’s the only way you can do it,” Greinke said. “Central travel is amazing. You don’t realize it until you’re somewhere else. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

Greinke had pitched his entire career in either Kansas City or Milwaukee before being traded to the Angels mid-season in 2012.

The impact of travel is something you might never notice by simply reading the box scores, but if you looked at the Dodgers’ schedule before the season, you would have been wise to circle the game in Toronto followed by the game in Los Angeles 24 hours later.

Looking ahead, there’s some good news: The Dodgers don’t play games three time zones apart on consecutive days after August 22.

Some bullet points to tide you through the weekend:
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Mark Ellis activated from disabled list; Tim Federowicz optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque.

Mark EllisThe Dodgers activated Mark Ellis from the 15-day disabled list Sunday and optioned catcher Tim Federowicz to Triple-A Albuquerque. Ellis is playing second base and batting second against the Atlanta Braves.

Federowicz has started three games behind the plate this season, two in May since his most recent call-up from Triple-A. He’s batting .176 (3 for 17) with three singles this season. Ramon Hernandez goes back to being A.J. Ellis’ primary backup.

Ellis hasn’t played since straining his right quadriceps muscle on April 26. He went 0 for 4 with a walk in two rehabilitation games with Double-A Chattanooga on Friday and Saturday.

Daily Distractions: Important roster decisions coming. Who will the Dodgers cut?

Jerry Hairston Jr.Mark EllisThe Dodgers are in the market for a pair of infielders.

Mark Ellis and Jerry Hairston Jr., currently on the disabled list with a strained right quadriceps and left groin, respectively, are expected to join the team at some point during this weekend’s road trip to Atlanta. Both are rehabbing tonight with the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts.

But to take each off the disabled list means that another player must come off the active roster, and the choices are not obvious. After all, who expected Elian Herrera to get the first call-up when Hairston went on the disabled list two weeks ago?

That said, barring any (more) injuries, these are the four players whose time with the Dodgers may be at least temporarily up:

Luis Cruz. A gifted third baseman/shortstop, Cruz hasn’t hit enough this year to justify being on a major-league roster. In 69 at-bats, he has six singles for a .087 batting average and slugging percentage. Cruz is out of options, so the Dodgers would probably have to designate him for assignment. The prospect of closing the book on last year’s feel good story (and a player whose jerseys are still displayed prominently in the window of the Dodgers’ team store) has become a story in and of itself.

Ramon Hernandez. At 38, Hernandez’s bat speed isn’t what it used to be. He’s batting even below the Cruz Line, at .045, and the Dodgers have two catchers ahead of him on the depth chart. The Dodgers have two first basemen ahead of him on the depth chart, too, in Adrian Gonzalez and Scott Van Slyke. Like Cruz, Hernandez would probably be designated for assignment since he’s been out of options since 2002.

– Van Slyke. Sending Van Slyke out doesn’t make as much sense, given the Dodgers’ need for power and a backup first baseman/corner outfielder, but they’ve cut him loose before. In nine plate appearances, SVS has a single, a home run, two strikeouts and a walk.

Dee Gordon. Like Van Slyke, there are reasons to keep Gordon but history isn’t on his side. The Dodgers never wanted Gordon playing an everyday shortstop role in the majors until he was ready, and Gordon’s .220 batting average and negative UZR (which is actually up from last season) aren’t strong signs of readiness. The Dodgers could easily platoon Cruz, Nick Punto, Juan Uribe and Hairston on the left side of the infield until Hanley Ramirez returns from the disabled list.

Some bullet points to tide you through the weekend:

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Mark Ellis, Jerry Hairston Jr. are Chattanooga-bound.

Mark EllisJerry Hairston Jr.Mark Ellis and Jerry Hairston Jr. are tentatively scheduled to begin rehabilitation assignments with Double-A Chattanooga on Friday, then rejoin the Dodgers when they swing through Atlanta.

The Dodgers begin a three-game series against the Braves on Friday.

Ellis ran the bases Tuesday for the first time since straining his right quadriceps on April 27. The Dodgers’ second baseman has been participating in all other baseball activities for more than a week.

Hairston is currently in Arizona rehabbing a left groin strain. Tonight’s game against the Washington Nationals will be the sixth he has missed because of the injury. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said Hairston will participate in a simulated game Thursday, and play two defensive innings in the infield and the outfield.

The Chattanooga Lookouts are hosting the Tennessee Smokies for five games beginning Friday.

Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis progressing, but no rehab game scheduled yet.

Mark EllisMark Ellis ran closer to full speed today than he has since straining his right quadriceps muscle on April 26. The Dodgers second baseman looked good as he sprinted in the outfield under the watch of head athletic trainer Sue Falsone, and felt fine afterward.

“It’s not there yet but it’s getting close,” Ellis said. “It’s better than it was a couple days ago.”

Ellis hasn’t run the bases yet and that’s the next item to check off his rehab schedule. He won’t play in a minor-league rehabilitation game until that happens.

“We haven’t talked about when a rehab game would be,” Ellis said.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he thinks Ellis could return close to May 22, the final day of a six-game road trip to Atlanta and Milwuakee. May 23 is an off-day before the Dodgers return home for a five-game homestand.

Daily Distractions: Going to WAR over the Dodgers’ worst position.

Nick Punto

Is infielder Nick Punto part of the Dodgers’ solution or part of the problem? (Getty Images)

What has been the least productive position for the Dodgers this season? Third base? Shortstop?

Guess again.

FanGraphs.com recently calculated the WAR (wins above replacement) for every team by position. (For an explanation of the frequently misunderstood statistic, which is calculated differently by FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com and has gained popularity in recent years, click here.) According to FanGraphs’ WAR, second base has been the least productive position for the Dodgers this year.

In fact, only five teams have gotten less out of the position than the Dodgers, in terms of offense, baserunning and defense. Mark Ellis (17), Nick Punto (10) and Skip Schumaker (6) are the only three Dodgers who have started games at second base this season.

The Dodgers’ best position, relatively speaking, is first base. Only the Reds and Tigers have gotten more WAR out of the position this season.

The chart has its limits. Take the Angels, for example. Add up their position-by-position WAR, and they should have the fourth-best team in baseball. In reality the Angels are 10 games under .500. The Baltimore Orioles are tied for first place in the American League East, yet their combined WAR ranks 21st in the majors.

This is why you play the games.

More bullet points for a Thursday morning:
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Mark Ellis goes on the disabled list, finally.

Mark EllisThe Dodgers placed second baseman Mark Ellis on the 15-day disabled list Monday retroactive to April 27, the day after Ellis strained his right quadriceps muscle running out a ground ball against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Ellis has been on the bench, but hasn’t been active for a game since then. “He got a lot better quick then kind of leveled off,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.

Chris Capuano

Chris Capuano was activated from the disabled list so he could start tonight’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The left-hander had been on the DL since April 17 with a left calf strain and made a rehab start on Wednesday for Triple-A Albuquerque against Memphis, allowing two runs on seven hits with three strikeouts in 5 ⅓ innings.

Prior to his injury, Capuano made three appearances (one start), going 0-1 with a 9.64 ERA.

The Dodgers have Justin Sellers, Skip Schumaker, Luis Cruz, Ramon Hernandez and possibly Jerry Hairston Jr. available off the bench tonight, though Hairston is still dealing with a strained groin.

Daily Distractions: Dodgers face an important roster decision.

Mark Ellis, Juan Uribe, Justin Sellers

One of these men might not be on the active roster by game time tomorrow. (Associated Press photo)

Expect the Dodgers to shed an infielder for this weekend’s series against the San Francisco Giants.

Before we assume that Mark Ellis will be placed on the 15-day disabled list to make room for Clayton Kershaw, who must be activated from the bereavement list before he starts Friday, consider Ellis’ career numbers against the San Francisco Giants’ scheduled starters.

He’s never had much success against Friday’s starter, Barry Zito (.217/.280/.304 in 23 at-bats). Yet Ellis has had no problems with Saturday’s starter, Ryan Vogelsong (.313/.313/.375 in 16 ABs) or Sunday’s starter, Matt Cain (.333/.385/.417 in 24 ABs).

So if Ellis’ right quadriceps is healthy tomorrow — he wasn’t far off Wednesday — it’s entirely possible that the Dodgers would use him Saturday and Sunday and keep him on the bench as a late-innings option Friday.

If that’s the case, look for the Dodgers to option Justin Sellers to Triple-A Albuquerque. Sellers is hitting .200/.278/.262. His slugging percentage is the fifth-lowest in the National League, just ahead of Juan Pierre (.253). The Dodgers don’t need a slugger at every position, but they’ve got an extra infielder if Ellis and Hanley Ramirez are both healthy. Sellers’ numbers could leave him the odd man out.

A less likely move, if the Dodgers are so inclined, would be to designate Luis Cruz for assignment. Cruz hasn’t hit all season (.088/.117/.088), allowing Juan Uribe to surpass him on the depth chart at third base. While Sellers still has an option year to burn, Cruz does not, so this would be the most convenient means for removing Cruz from the active roster.

It’s a rash move, sure. By designating Cruz for assignment, the Dodgers would risk losing him altogether when they could just as easily keep Sellers or Ellis in the organization. But it’s an option, and something to keep an eye on in the next 24 hours.

Some bullet points for a Thursday morning:

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