Daily Distractions: How Alex Guerrero changed the narrative at second base.

Alex Guerrero

Alex Guerrero is hitting .294 (5 for 17) in his first spring training with the Dodgers. (Associated Press photo)


GOODYEAR, Ariz. — The narrative in camp surrounding second base so far goes something like this: Alex Guerrero is a project. He didn’t play last season in Cuba, he’s still learning second base, and Triple-A might be the best place for him to get up to speed once the regular season starts. That leaves Dee Gordon as the best option on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster to be the starting second baseman Opening Day. But he hasn’t played much second base either, so Chone Figgins, Justin Turner, Brendan Harris and Miguel Rojas are all getting a long look at the position. (Buster Olney of ESPN.com picked up the Gordon vs. Figgins narrative here, while Ron Cervenka at ThinkBlueLA.com makes the case for Gordon here.)

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.

Some bullet points for a Day of the Dude:
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Daily Distractions: Nomo, Gagne, Lo Duca, Gonzalez, Kent, Maddux join Mattingly, McGwire on HOF ballot.

Mark McGwire

Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire is listed on the Hall of Fame ballot for the seventh time. (Associated Press photo)

The 2014 Hall of Fame ballot was announced today, and the window for eligibility has struck the Dodgers square in the 2000s. Hideo Nomo, Eric Gagne, Jeff Kent, Luis Gonzalez, Greg Maddux and Paul Lo Duca are all on the ballot for the first time.

They join Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, hitting coach Mark McGwire, former catcher Mike Piazza and several other holdovers on a crowded field. Only 10 players can be listed on a ballot. Voting results will be announced at 11 a.m. on Jan. 8, 2014, on MLB Network and the web sites of the Hall of Fame and the BBWAA.

Nomo was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1995 and no-hit the Colorado Rockies the following season at Coors Field. Gagne saved 161 games from 1999 to 2006 after converting to a reliever, including a record 84 in a row. Kent hit 75 home runs in a Dodgers uniform from 2005-08, finishing his career with 377 — 351 as a second baseman, an all-time record. Maddux made 19 starts as a Dodger in the twilight of a career that included 355 wins, eighth on baseball’s all-time list.

Lo Duca played seven of his 11 major-league seasons with the Dodgers, while Gonzalez spent one season (2007) in Los Angeles and was benched at midseason to make room for Matt Kemp.

Gagne and Lo Duca were both identified in the Mitchell Report as having been connected to performance-enhancing drug use. Their career numbers alone are enough to keep them out of the Hall, but the PED issue has proven impossible to overcome for even some of the best players on the ballot — McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and possibly Piazza. They’ll need to be named on at least 5 percent of all ballots to remain eligible.

McGwire (listed on 16.9 percent of ballots last year) and Mattingly (13.2) are closer to 5 percent than the 75 percent needed for induction. Players can remain on the ballot for 15 years after their retirement, and this will be Mattingly’s 14th appearance.

MLB.com has Hall of Fame profiles on several of the top Hall candidates, including Mattingly, McGwire, Piazza and Kent.

Some bullet points for a Mongolian Independence Day:
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Daily Distractions: The Dodgers’ strikeouts are shrinking.

Mark McGwireIn digging through some numbers yesterday, here’s one:

This Dodgers team might well finish with no 100-strikeout batters.

Andre Ethier is the club’s most prolific whiffer, with 82 coming into today’s game against the San Diego Padres. He and Adrian Gonzalez (79) are likely to get a fair amount of rest in September, so keep an eye on Yasiel Puig (79 strikeouts) and, remarkably, Matt Kemp (69) over the final month too.

If the Phillies’ Ryan Howard can avoid striking out five more times over the final month of 2013, and Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig doesn’t stay stuck on 94, the Dodgers might be the majors’ only team without a 100-strikeout man.

How’s that for a statistical anomaly from a Mark McGwire-coached lineup?

Did we look up the last time that happened? Sure did: 2007, when Russell Martin whiffed a team-leading 89 times. Before Martin, the last Dodger to lead the team with fewer than 100 strikeouts was current third-base coach Tim Wallach in 1994.

But it’s a more impressive feat in 2013 with strikeouts at an all-time high, with a hitting coach whose final major-league season featured twice as many strikeouts as hits.

But McGwire took the job last fall with a mantra about patience, and has stayed true to that in his first season as hitting coach.

Some bullet points for a Friday morning:

• Kemp went 0-for-5 with a strikeout and two double-play groundouts in his first rehab game with Single-A Rancho Cucamonga last night. Kemp was the Quakes’ designated hitter and figures to play center field the next couple days. There were no ankle problems, mercifully, but Kemp was fooled by a couple changeups.

• The Padres must be happy to be rid of Edinson Volquez.

• In one early-morning pre-waiver deadline trade, John Axford went from the Milwaukee Brewers to the St. Louis Cardinals. If the Dodgers hook up with the Cardinals in the postseason, they will face a bullpen that can claim this:

• From ESPN.com: “Scorekeeping in baseball, however, is an art form, individual expression that makes you feel you are part of the game. It personally and precisely records every moment of the game, allowing you to replay and relive it forever.” • Not a baseball photo, but: Championship-winning coach takes a photo of himself and his wife kissing a championship trophy in 1976, loses hair, joins Twitter, re-stages the photo in 2013, shares photo with the world. Enjoy. • Baseball photo.

 

• Whenever I need a laugh, I do drugs:

Skip Schumaker discusses Ryan Braun and Mark McGwire.

Ryan Braun

Dodgers utilityman Skip Schumaker believes Ryan Braun should be suspended from Major League Baseball for life. (Getty Images)

Dodgers utilityman Skip Schumaker was among the most outspoken players on the topic of Ryan Braun‘s recent suspension. Here’s what he said:

“Watching him talk right now makes me sick,” Schumaker said. “I can’t stand it. It needs to be eliminated from the game. I have an autographed Braun jersey in my baseball room that I’ll be taking down. I don’t want my son identifying what I’ve worked so hard to get to and work so hard to have, I don’t want him comparing Braun to me.

“In my opinion, he should be suspended — lifetime ban. One strike, you’re out. It’s enough. It’s ridiculous,” Schumaker added. “He lied to a lot of people. I was convinced, after that MVP, that he didn’t do it.”

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Daily Distractions: Clayton Kershaw joins an exclusive group of Dodgers All-Stars.

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw became the fourth Dodgers pitcher to appear in three consecutive All-Star Games. (Associated Press)


Clayton Kershaw didn’t start the All-Star Game — Matt Harvey did — though he did join a different exclusive group Tuesday.

Kershaw became the fourth Dodgers pitcher ever to throw in three straight All-Star games. He fared better than the last Dodgers pitcher to do so; Eric Gagné gave up a solo home run in the 2002 game to Alfonso Soriano, allowed three runs in one inning the following year, and tossed a scoreless inning in his final All-Star appearance in 2004.

Fernando Valenzuela pitched two scoreless innings in the 1984 All-Star game, one scoreless inning in relief of Nolan Ryan the following year, then pitched three (!) scoreless innings in his final All-Star appearance in 1986.

Don Newcombe (1949-51) is the other. Like Gagné, his third and final All-Star appearance was the only one in which he didn’t allow a run.

Whit Wyatt, Ralph Branca and Sandy Koufax were all chosen to pitch in three straight All-Star Games or more, but for various reasons did not.

Of course, some were still focused on one Dodger who wasn’t in the game Tuesday.

The American League won the game, 3-0, and will have home-field advantage in the World Series. Mariano Rivera threw a scoreless inning, was named MVP and will be responsible for every baby born today in New York City named “Mariano,” “Mo” or, perhaps, “Sandman.”

Some bullet points for a Slovakian Independence Day:

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Daily Distractions: Hanley Ramirez announces another rehab assignment on Twitter.

Hanley Ramirez

Hanley Ramirez will be in a Rancho Cucamonga Quakes uniform again Thursday (Photo courtesy of MILB.com)

To be fair, Hanley Ramirez warned us.

“I think it’s soon. I’m going to tweet it for my fans,” Ramirez said five days ago, asked when and where his rehabilitation assignment would begin.

“You can just tell us,” I replied.

“No,” he said.

So here was the “official” word Wednesday morning:

The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes play the Bakersfield Blaze Thursday through Sunday before returning home Monday.

Ramirez has played four major-league games since Opening Day, the last coming May 3. His assignment with the Dodgers’ Single-A affiliate is good news, however it’s delivered, and it means Ramirez could be back with the Dodgers next week if his hamstring holds up.

Some bullet points for a Nigerian Democracy Day:

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Dodger pitchers are finding their stroke.

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Despite not batting between high school and this season, Hyun-Jin Ryu is batting .333 (4 for 12) with the Dodgers. (Associated Press photo)

Without prompt, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly did something Wednesday he rarely does: He criticized himself publicly.

Dodger pitchers have a .484 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) this year, third in the National League. That’s quite a bit higher than the .273 (13th) and .354 (9th) OPS that Dodger pitchers posted in 2012 and 2011, respectively. It’s not by chance, either.

“We’ve really tried to push our pitchers to work on it more,” Mattingly said. “I’ve been at fault, I think, in my first couple years for not putting emphasis on the pitchers and you start giving those at-bats away. The guy that can handle the bat really helps himself out. For the most part, he’s got to be able to bunt. A guy that can handle the bat and put it in play, you’re able to do some things.”

Are they doing more work in the cage, or different work?

“We started differently in the spring, working off the tee and putting them with Mac (hitting coach Mark McGwire) a bit,” Mattingly said. “Putting them in a situation that we’re actually giving them some drills on things that we do.”

Hyun-Jin Ryu is batting .333/.333/.417. Clayton Kershaw is tied for sixth on the team in home runs (OK, he’s only hit one, but still.) Zack Greinke is 1 for 4 with a walk.

Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp gets his first day off of 2013, and he doesn’t like it.

Matt Kemp“I don’t like days off,” Matt Kemp said as he bounded up the dugout steps before his first off-day of 2013, on his way to take batting practice for the second time Wednesday.

The last time he took a day off was Sept. 9, 2012. Kemp was nursing a then-undisclosed torn labrum in his left shoulder. This time, the problems aren’t physical. Kemp is batting .185 with no home runs and just four RBIs through the season’s first 14 games.

“Just body language, more than anything,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “Being around the game, you see guys struggle. Sometimes it helps to sit back and watch a game where you don’t have to be out there. … It gives him another day tomorrow, almost three days with the night game (Friday) in Baltimore. I wanted to give him 10 to 12 days off over the course of 162 anyway.”

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Daily Distractions: Picking a new WBC favorite; Cactus League attendance down; Mike Piazza ads.

WBC logoI started toying with this mental exercise last night: What if the state of California had a team in the World Baseball Classic?

Forget about how many players would decline invitations. Forget about generational eligibility — if you were born in California, you’re eligible (which is fine, since I had a better chance of making Team Wisconsin anyways). What would that team look like? Could it contend?

The answer is yes.

C: John Jaso, Mariners/Rod Barajas, Diamondbacks
1B: Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers
2B: Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks
SS: Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
3B: Ty Wigginton, Cardinals
LF: Ryan Braun, Brewers
CF: Coco Crisp, A’s
RF: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
DH: Prince Fielder, Tigers
UT: Skip Schumaker, Dodgers

SP: Jered Weaver, Angels
SP: CC Sabathia, Yankees
SP: James Shields, Royals
SP: Cole Hamels, Phillies
SP: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
RP: Sergio Romo, Giants
RP: Brandon League, Dodgers
RP: Addison Reed, White Sox
RP: Dale Thayer, Padres
RP: J.P. Howell, Dodgers
RP: Bryan Shaw, Diamondbacks
RP: Kris Medlen, Braves

Manager: Dusty Baker, Reds
Hitting coach: Mark McGwire, Dodgers
Pitching coach: Chris Bosio, Cubs

Apologies to C.J. Wilson, Mark Trumbo, Michael Young, Will Venable, Brandon McCarthy, Kyle Lohse, Mike Moustakas and Carlos Quentin. Perhaps you can dig into your family tree and find another state to play for.

On to some bullet points:

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Shawn Green’s thoughts on the Hall of Fame, Sandy Koufax, and the Dodgers’ new owners.

Shawn Green

Former Dodgers outfielder Shawn Green was in camp and in uniform as a special instructor this weekend. We got his thoughts on a variety of topics Sunday, including Sandy Koufax, the Hall of Fame, the Dodgers’ new owners, and his playing ambitions.

Green still has playing ambitions — more WBC ambitions than MLB ambitions — but he isn’t pressing the issue. At age 40, he’s content to be a father to his 7- and 10-year-old daughters. I’m saving that story for tomorrow’s editions.

Here’s what else Green had to say:

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