Daily Distractions: Another history lesson involving Dr. Frank Jobe.

Frank Jobe

When he was 18, longtime Dodgers team physician Dr. Frank Jobe was involved in the siege of Bastogne near the end of World War II. (Associated Press photo)


GLENDALE, Ariz. — Stan Conte was holding court with a group of reporters at Camelback Ranch on Friday, remembering Dr. Frank Jobe. The two knew each other well, the head trainer and the longtime team physician. They spoke often during their seven-plus years together in the organization about their profession, and about topics that went far beyond the scope of sports medicine.

Conte had been discussing Jobe’s impact on the profession Friday when he stopped to make a separate point.

“His World War II accolades are unbelievable,” Conte said, mentioning Jobe’s role in the Siege of Bastogne.

“Bastogne?” I asked, trying out a French word that I didn’t know how to spell because, well, it’s French. Conte said something about “kids these days” not knowing their history. Everyone had a good chuckle.

Here’s something you may or may not know about Dr. Frank Jobe and the Siege of Bastogne.

Jobe was 18 years old in the winter of 1944, a private sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division of the Army, Medical Company 326. He arrived in Europe just before the invasion of Normandy (June 6, 1944). Under the command of Maj. General Maxwell D. Taylor, the unit received telephone orders on Dec. 18 that it was to move north from its station at Camp Mourmelon in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France. Bastogne was 100 miles away to the northeast. A total of 380 trucks were needed to move Jobe — and roughly 11,000 other men — that night.

Why Bastogne?

The Allied stronghold contained a key network of roads that Adolf Hitler knew would be needed to advance his cause westward. According to authors Leo Barron and Don Cygan in their book No Silent Night: The Christmas Battle For Bastogne, Hitler planned a mission that was “more a punishment for the people of Bastogne. … Civilian targets would be hit indiscriminately and numerous Bastogne citizens would be killed on this Christmas Eve, buried in the rubble of their homes and shops. Collateral damage was not Hitler’s concern, but to him it was a fitting by-product for their support for the Allies.”

A total of 29 officers and 312 enlisted men in the 101st division perished in the attack. Another 103 officers and 1,588 enlisted men were wounded. Owing to the capture of a hospital, the 326th Medical Company recorded the largest number of missing troops of any unit at Bastogne, with 125.

Jobe’s role, according to Doug Miller of MLB.com:

Jobe assisted the doctors. Set back a ways from the front lines, with the sound of shells zipping by, they’d set up light sources and generators if they had to. That’s where they did the amputations. He saw blood, and it was just that. Blood. It was red. You needed it. He didn’t panic. He didn’t see any reason to. That’s just the way it was.

Bolstered by troops under the command of Gen. George Patton, the Allies ended the siege on Dec. 26. The Germans ultimately were forced to withdraw from the Ardennes region on January 7, 1945.

“That’s the reason you’re speaking English and not German,” Conte quipped.

When the larger Battle of the Bulge finally ended on Jan. 25, it was the costliest fight in Army history in terms of casualties.

I’ll have more from Dodgers camp later about Jobe, who died yesterday at age 88. Here’s a great read from Joe Posnanski about one of Jobe’s early non-Dodgers patients. Rob Neyer, writing for FoxSports.com, advocates for Jobe’s inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

So did many folks in Dodgers camp today. There will be a moment of silence in his honor prior to the Dodgers’ Cactus League game against the Texas Rangers.

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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.

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Daily Distractions: What happened to Stephen Fife?

Stephen Fife

Stephen Fife is 3-6 with a 3.49 earned-run average in 17 major-league games (15 starts), all with the Dodgers. (Getty Images)

Through no fault of his own, Stephen Fife was not the talk of spring training a year ago. People were talking about the Dodgers’ high-priced roster of superstars and how they would jell, the eight starting pitchers with guaranteed major-league contracts when camp broke, and the intrigue surrounding rookies Yasiel Puig and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Fife had no chance of starting the season in the major leagues due to the aforementioned surplus of starters. So he began the season Albuquerque, only to be summoned to Los Angeles three weeks later when injuries struck Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and Zack Greinke. His return was hastened because Fife had a marvelous camp, his fastball suddenly sitting in the mid-90s after sporadically breaking 90 the year before.

Manager Don Mattingly said at the time that “this guy has come so far last spring to this spring — huge strides.”

On Tuesday, Fife’s name was among the first group of players optioned to the Dodgers’ minor-league camp. So what happened?

Fife said Tuesday that he was taking a different, less intense approach to spring training this year. The approach was born from wisdom, but also might have led to his premature demotion.

“I have no idea what (my) velocity is so far,” he said. “I’m throwing at a ‘competitive level’ but not a midseason level. Watching (Josh) Beckett, (Clayton) Kershaw, (Zack) Greinke, those guys — some days they take it easy.”

After struggling with bursitis in his right shoulder for much of 2013, Fife began his off-season spending four days a week with Dodgers physical therapist Steve Smith trying to correct the mechanical issues that led to his bursitis in the first place. He said the scapula bone in his right shoulder had actually migrated up his back.

It wasn’t until the second week of January that Fife said he was throwing pain-free.

“I didn’t have much of an off-season,” he said.

Maybe Fife could have touched 95 on the radar gun in camp. After a short off-season, he seemed content to save his best stuff for April and beyond.

There were other factors working against Fife. The Dodgers wanted to see more from Zach Lee, Seth Rosin and Jarret Martin, three younger pitchers getting their first look in the Dodgers’ major-league camp. Each is still an unproven talent against major-league hitters. Lee and Martin might be deserving of a call-up later this season (Rosin is a Rule 5 pick who must make the Opening Day roster or else go on waivers), but they also need more time against major-league hitters in camp to earn that opportunity.

Fife is a known quantity. He went 4-4 with a 3.86 ERA in 12 games (10 starts) last season. The 27-year-old has one option year left on his contract. Fife could always pull a Justin Sellers and sneak back onto the roster before the end of camp, or pull a Stephen Fife and find his way back by the end of April.

That would require a spate of injuries to the team’s top starters, but we’ve seen that before. Keep an eye on Fife; he might be back.

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Daily Distractions: Dodgers won’t say when Matt Kemp will play in a game.


GLENDALE, Ariz. — Somewhere, the AlterG treadmill that served as Matt Kemp‘s exercise lifeline for weeks is collecting dust. Kemp is out in the open, where he should be, taking batting practice and running on a baseball field.

Tuesday, he was cleared to run a curved path with Dodgers first-base coach Davey Lopes watching. Since he was first cleared to run on Saturday, he had only been running straight lines.

His swing (above) looks normal. His body, chiseled from an off-season spent doing upper body work in the gym, looks better than normal. The only question is, when will Kemp be able to start playing games?

“Part of the plan is not to have a timetable,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said Tuesday, “as far as throwing a date out there, so you guys can say ‘April 1,’ then we get to April 1 and he’s not quite ready so now he’s off schedule. If something happened he had ‘a setback.’

“The more he does, the more he steps forward, continues to do more without having setbacks, the more he continues to do and that tells us where we’re at.”

Kemp has said repeatedly that he won’t rush himself back. Playing in the Dodgers’ season-opening series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Sydney, Australia is out. The first game on North American soil, March 30 against the Padres in San Diego, hasn’t been ruled out.

That’s the good news. It’s also all the news.

“Stan (Conte, the Dodgers’ head athletic trainer) has characterized it as kind of like the fifth stage of a seven-stage rehab,” Mattingly said. “So (Kemp) is getting there. We’re confident that he’s going in the right direction. I don’t think anyone wants to put pressure on Matt to say ‘this is the date’ because then it’s an artificial timetable. Then if he’s not ready he starts to feel like he’s behind schedule.”

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Daily Distractions: Chad Billingsley will try to take a big step forward tomorrow.

Chad Billingsley

Dodgers pitcher Chad Billingsley will attempt to throw curveballs off a mound for the first time tomorrow. (Associated Press photo)

When the Dodgers needed to add shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena to their 40-man roster last week, they faced an important decision. Ultimately, Justin Sellers was designated for assignment to open a roster spot, but the Dodgers could easily have placed Chad Billingsley on the 60-day disabled list instead.

“We’re not prepared yet to set a timetable of 60 days for Chad,” general manager Ned Colletti said at the time.

That could change soon.

Tomorrow, Billingsley is scheduled to throw curveballs off a mound for the first time since having Tommy John surgery last April. The right-hander has been throwing curveballs off flat ground and fastballs off the mound since camp opened. However, the stress on his surgically repaired elbow — specifically, the ulnar collateral ligament that was transplanted from his left forearm — has been relatively light.

The curveball, Billingsley said Wednesday, “puts the most torque on the elbow.” At least one study has produced a different conclusion (specifically, that the fastball and curveball require the same amount of elbow torque), but the fact that he hasn’t attempted to throw the pitch with full force yet makes it a new test.

If he passes the test and emerges pain-free, Billingsley said he’ll be cleared to throw sliders. Adding the slider would give Billingsley the full arsenal he needs to face live batters in a rehab game.

In his last bullpen session Tuesday, Billingsley said his fastball topped out at 87 mph — the fastest he’s thrown the pitch since camp began. His fastball has was topping out around 95 mph prior to the surgery, but comparing games to bullpen sessions is unfair.

“When you’re throwing bullpens it’s hard to go max effort and hit a really high velocity,” Billingsley said. “You’ve got to have adrenaline, the hitter’s presence in the batter’s box.”

Billingsley recently said that, in a best-case scenario, he would be able to start a minor-league game by the end of camp.

We’ll know tomorrow whether or not that scenario is still realistic.

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Daily Distractions: Seth Rosin, still a work in progress, makes a good first impression with Dodgers.

Seth Rosin

Seth Rosin is trying to make the Dodgers’ roster as a Rule 5 draft pick. (Associated Press photo)

Seth Rosin has never pitched above Double-A in his life. The 25-year-old right-hander doesn’t look like a rookie at 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds. On the mound Wednesday, he didn’t pitch like one.

Rosin, whom the Dodgers selected in the Rule 5 draft pick in December, faced seven Arizona Diamondbacks batters and struck out five. After the game, Rosin sounded like a kid who had just faced major-league hitters for the first time. He didn’t hide the truth.

“It was really fun to pitch against guys like (Paul) Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock,” he said. “You see them on TV. You always wonder, ‘what would I do if I could pitch against them?’ It was a lot of fun.”

The experience wasn’t as fun for Goldschmidt and Pollock, both of whom struck out in their only at-bat against Rosin. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly called it a “good first impression.”

Rosin gets by on three pitches: A fastball that tops out in the low-to-mid 90-mph range, a slider and a changeup. He said the changeup did most of the damage Wednesday.

The performance was more remarkable when you consider that Rosin’s mechanics are still a work in progress. The Dodgers’ coaching staff, including bullpen coach Chuck Crim, has suggested some tweaks — mostly focused on Rosin’s lower body — designed to add a couple more ticks on the radar gun.

Ben WeberRosin threw entirely out of the stretch. His condensed windup was deliberate nearly to the point of being awkward, almost a less exaggerated version of former Angels reliever Ben Weber (right).

Rosin described his mechanics Wednesday as a mixture of old and new.

“It wasn’t fully incorporated, what I’ve been doing in the dry work, but it’s a process,” he said. “I wasn’t going to go out there and try something totally new in front of the coaches my first time out there. Hopefully by the last couple games in spring training it’s going to be 100 percent there and everything’s going to be like I want it to be.”

For Rosin to make the Dodgers, he’ll need to string together more performances like Wednesday’s. Even then, he might need an injury or two to befall one of the right-handed middle relievers ahead of him on the depth chart — Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, Brandon League, Chris Withrow, Jamey Wright, Jose Dominguez and Javy Guerra.

If Rosin isn’t on the 25-man roster to begin the season, Rule 5 dictates that he must be designated for assignment and placed on waivers, where any of the other 29 teams can claim him.

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Daily Distractions: Alexander Guerrero’s short practice window opens now.

Alex Guerrero

Alex Guerrero said he already feels comfortable playing second base. (Associated Press photo)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Different players have told me on different occasions that only pitchers and catchers need a good four weeks-plus of spring training. Hitters don’t need nearly as much time to prepare for a season — maybe a week or two, as a general rule, if they’re in shape.

There are exceptions to the rule. Alex Guerrero is one.

Guerrero only played 12 games in the Dominican Winter League because of a nagging hamstring injury. That’s simply not enough games to expect the 27-year-old to transform into the Dodgers’ Opening Day second baseman after playing shortstop his entire career. Even Superman doesn’t change capes that fast.

Guerrero will take the field today as the Dodgers’ starting second baseman against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the first Cactus League game for both clubs. (Most other clubs begin playing games no sooner than Friday, since most clubs don’t start the season in the Southern Hemisphere.) Second base is the only Opening Day position remotely up for grabs — unless you count the starting pitcher — so it will be a primary focus on the field, starting today.

In an intrasquad game Sunday, Guerrero flawlessly charged a ground ball, picked it up on the run, and threw across his body to retire the runner at first base. He looked like a second baseman. If Guerrero looks that smooth in today’s game, it will be in large part because of the four lonely weeks he spent fielding ground balls at Camelback Ranch before pitchers and catchers reported to spring training.

“I’ve practiced enough that it comes naturally to me,” Guerrero said through an interpreter. “Training’s always going to be different than the game, but I feel comfortable.”

The Dodgers have 19 days’ worth of games — 21 in all — before leaving for Australia. Guerrero said it will be “very important” for him to see game action over the next three weeks at second base. But it’s not as if he’s picking up where he left off Dec. 12, his final Dominican Winter League game.

After receiving his United States work visa and entering the country on Jan. 13, Guerrero came to Camelback Ranch and got to work.

“I feel so much more comfortable at second now … than I did in the Dominican,” he said. “I feel like it’s natural to me now.”

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Daily Distractions: Some not-so-final thoughts on home plate collisions.

Brian Jordan

Home plate collisions are rare and exciting, but their elimination was a calculated risk by Major League Baseball. (Associated Press photo)

In my story for today’s newspaper about the Dodgers’ reactions to the new rule banning home-plate collisions, I focused on the micro: The thoughts in the moment, the individual experiences that gave birth to the thoughts in the moment.

Here are some big-picture figures and facts worth mentioning:

A.J. Ellis is entering his 12th season of professional baseball. He’s played 890 games and estimates that he’s been part of “a dozen or more” home-plate collisions in his career.

Tim Federowicz is entering his seventh season of professional baseball. He’s played 568 games and has been involved in two collisions.

Drew Butera is entering his 10th professional season. Six hundred ninety two games, “five or six” collisions.

In reality, the scope of Rule 7.13 banning home-plate collisions in baseball is extremely limited. The three catchers on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster have played a total of 2,150 professional games — the equivalent of 13 full seasons, and then some — and have been part of a total of 20 collisions. Let’s call it one collision every 100 games.

The plays are memorable precisely because they are rare. “In all of them,” Butera said of his collisions, “they were in close games, toward the end of the game.” Fans remember those kind of plays.

That said, the tradeoff for the league was a calculated one.

Those are the facts, and baseball isn’t hiding them. If anything, the tipping point might have been when Joe Mauer visited the Mayo Clinic following a concussion and came back a first baseman.

Still, Federowicz wasn’t convinced that he’s entirely safer because of the rule.

“Instead of being able to hit us in the chest,” he said, “they have to take out our knees. I guess we have to learn a new technique for tagging guys out.”

Remember, rule 7.13 is “experimental” for this season. If catchers are still in line for serious injuries, the league will simply change the rule.

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Daily Distractions: The Dodgers love Australia! (Sure they do.)

Dan Haren

Clayton Kershaw (left) and Dan Haren (right) figure to be on the plane to Sydney, Australia to begin the 2014 regular season. (Associated Press photo)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A scrum of reporters was gathered in one corner of the clubhouse Monday, surrounding a player with questions that had nothing do with Sydney, site of the Dodgers’ regular-season opener March 22. Once the questions and answers stopped, the player tacked on three words with a poo-eating grin: “I love Australia!”

Earlier, pitcher Dan Haren was asked about being on a short list of pitchers who might start one of the Dodgers’ season-opening games against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“Which answer do you want, the politically correct answer?” Haren said. “I think Stan (Kasten, the Dodgers’ president) would probably like me to give the politically correct one.”

The fallout from Zack Greinke‘s candid comments about beginning the season in Australia was ringing loud and clear in the clubhouse Monday. Greinke told ESPN.com Saturday that “I would say there is absolutely zero excitement for (the trip). There just isn’t any excitement to it. I can’t think of one reason to be excited for it.”

Haren wouldn’t go that far. He has orders not to. But he articulated a few more practical concerns about the trip Monday.

“Going over there, it’s going to be tough but we have to think of the games as real regular-season games. We have to turn the switch on,” he said. “In regards to the actual trip, it’s going to be a lot to handle, especially for the starting pitchers making the trip. But are we really complaining about flying a charter plane, staying at a hotel, all-expenses paid? I really don’t want to be complaining about it.

“That’s a lot to ask for the players, but I think everyone understands why we’re doing it. We’re trying to build the brand, I guess. We just have to welcome it I guess.”

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has not said who will start the two games. He’s said that five starters might be too many to bring for two games, so the top four — Clayton Kershaw, Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Haren — figure to be on the plane.

“We don’t really know who’s pitching or anything yet,” Haren said. “It would really stink to fly 30 hours and not pitch, I guess. I really don’t know what my role is going to be there.”

Kasten said Sunday afternoon that he had not been approached by organizers of the Australia games. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that this might change.

Haren doesn’t want to give the Australians anything more to complain about, and not because he fears a public booting.

“I’m new on the team,” Haren said. “I only have a one-year contract.”

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Daily Distractions: Dodgers aren’t counting on Matt Kemp to appear in Sydney games.

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp hasn’t begun running in spring training. The Dodgers depart for Australia on March 16. (Associated Press photo)

Don Mattingly solved the “The Four Outfielder Problem.” For two games, at least.

The Dodgers’ manager doesn’t believe that Matt Kemp will be available for the Dodgers’ season-opening trip to Sydney, Australia on March 22. Kemp hasn’t been cleared to run on flat ground and won’t be until he undergoes an MRI exam next week.

“I don’t think we’re — we’re not hopeful for Australia,” Mattingly said. “The MRI next week … will let us know where he’s at.”

Kemp is facing live pitching on a minor-league field at Camelback Ranch today. Throughout spring training he has been able to maintain his weightlifting regimen and exercise on an AlterG anti-gravity treadmill.

But that is different from running on flat ground, or patrolling the outfield, or turning around first base.

“It’s just the fact that he hasn’t been on the grass, running and cutting,” Mattingly said. “How long that takes, once they clear him to start that type of thing, that will be a progression.”

For now, expect an outfield of Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig in Australia — if all are healthy.

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