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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Report: Chicago White Sox sign former Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario for one year, $3 million.

Ronald BelisarioAccording to the Chicago Tribune, Ronald Belisario is leaving Los Angeles to sign a one-year, $3 million contract with the White Sox.

Belisario, who is eligible for arbitration, was not tendered before the 9 p.m. Monday deadline. The right-hander led the Dodgers in appearances in 2013, posting a 3.97 earned-run average in 77 games.

Earlier Thursday, the Dodgers agreed to terms on a one-year contract with right-hander Brian Wilson.

The Tribune reported that Belisario’s contract will become official once he passes a physical.

Daily Distractions: As bullpen market settles, Brian Wilson reportedly ‘close’ to settling with Dodgers.

Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson posted a 0.66 earned-run average in 13 games as a Dodger. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff photographer)

In the midst of all that pesky logic that preached pessimism, there was always this shred of hope for the Dodgers: Brian Wilson never insisted on closing in 2014.

Not publicly, at least.

Here’s what I wrote on Oct. 31:

It’s reasonable to expect the Dodgers will enter the bidding for Wilson. Just don’t be surprised if a team desperate for a closer (Detroit? Cleveland? Arizona?) guarantees more money and more years to a pitcher who’s saved one game the past two seasons.

Well, Detroit appears to have entered and exited the picture. The Tigers are reportedly close to signing Joe Nathan to be their closer, in part because their Plan A didn’t work out:

And, according to multiple reports Tuesday morning, Wilson is close to rejoining the Dodgers.

After the Dodgers declined to tender an offer to Ronald Belisario before last night’s 9 p.m. deadline, the need for a set-up man to Kenley Jansen became clear. And if Brian Wilson was keen on staying close to his Southern California home, why not Brian Wilson? He had a 0.66 earned-run average in 18 games after joining the Dodgers midway through the 2013 season, with his velocity increasing as the season progressed. He also threw six shutout innings in the playoffs.

Those stats would be nearly impossible to maintain in 2014, but he doesn’t appear to be regressing after undergoing Tommy John surgery in April 2012.

The closer market is settling quickly this off-season. If Wilson and Nathan leave the board, only Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney would remain among free agents who closed full-time in 2013. Heath Bell and Jim Johnson have been traded in the last 24 hours.

I mentioned John Axford as a possible replacement for Belisario. Re-signing Wilson wouldn’t necessarily rule that out, and with this sense of humor you hope it doesn’t:

 

Some bullet points for an International Day of Persons with Disabilities:
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Dodgers non-tender pitcher Ronald Belisario, making him a free agent.

Ronald BelisarioThe Dodgers signed Ronald Belisario as a free agent on Jan. 16, 2009. On Monday, they declined to tender him a contract before the 9 p.m. deadline for arbitration-eligible players, making him a free agent again.

The intervening four-plus years were hardly quiet.
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Daily Distractions: Tender deadline looms at 9 p.m. tonight.

Ronald Belisario

Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis (left) and pitcher Ronald Belisario (right) are both arbitration eligible. (Associated Press photo)

By 9 p.m. tonight, A.J. Ellis, Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen will have been tendered a contract by the Dodgers. That much we know. The deadline for teams to tender a contract to their arbitration-eligible players is fast approaching, and the Dodgers won’t leave Kershaw, Ellis and Jansen behind.

We don’t know how much the Dodgers will offer each player, how much they’ll ultimately sign for, or if Ronald Belisario — the final remaining member of the Dodgers’ arbitration-eligible class — will get an offer at all. MLBtraderumors.com made some predictions here.

So far, the Dodgers have only dipped into the free-agent market for a starting pitcher, Dan Haren. But they had enough interest in adding a right-handed reliever that they were among the first teams to offer a contract to Joe Smith. Smith ultimately signed a three-year, $15.75 million contract with the Angels.

Did the Dodgers hope to replace Belisario with Smith, a sinker/slider pitcher who rarely exceeds 90 mph on the radar gun? Or do they still see a need for a power arm to complement Brandon League, Chris Withrow, Jose Dominguez, and any other right-handers who might be in the mix for 2014?

Belisario’s lousy September (7.94 ERA, .842 opponents’ OPS) obscured what was previously a solid year. Statistically speaking, the Dodgers had one of the National League’s better bullpens in 2013. Bringing back everyone, or attempting to, isn’t out of the question.

Three other arbitration-eligible Dodgers already agreed to contracts for 2014. Scott Elbert signed for $575,000 for 2014 with up to another $100,000 in possible incentives on the table. Drew Butera and Mike Baxter both signed for $700,000.

That’s three down, three (or four) to go.

Some bullet points for a Laotian National Day:
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Arizona Diamondbacks 9, Dodgers 4.

Don Mattingly

Don Mattingly wipes his brow after Adrian Gonzalez was ejected in the sixth inning of the Dodgers’ 9-4 loss. (Associated Press photo)

Hold the champagne.

The Dodgers still haven’t figured out this whole playoff-berth-cinching thing in the Don Mattingly era.

Their magic number is still two, and the division title could be theirs by this time tomorrow — before any other team in the majors wraps up a playoff berth — but the Dodgers endured a frustrating evening Wednesday in their first opportunity to clinch the National League West.
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Paco Rodriguez says arm feels “great,” but seeks consistency amid struggles.

Paco Rodriguez

Dodgers pitcher Paco Rodriguez said he works on his mechanics every day. (John McCoy/Staff photographer)

The Dodgers added left-handed pitcher Onelki Garcia to their major-league roster Wednesday, in part to give southpaws Paco Rodriguez and J.P. Howell a breather out of the bullpen every now and then.

Coincidentally, Rodriguez and Garcia were practically inseparable in right field Wednesday afternoon while the Dodgers took batting practice. Rodriguez said he was showing Garcia the ropes, so to speak. More details of the conversation between the two 2012 draft picks will appear in tomorrow’s editions.

As for his own left arm, Rodriguez said it’s doing “great.” The numbers show otherwise: In his last five appearances, Rodriguez has faced 16 batters, allowed five hits and walked four (a .563 opponents’ OBP).

One theory for Rodriguez’s struggles is that he’s a victim of overuse. The 22-year-old is tied for the team lead in appearances (70) with Ronald Belisario. But his 51 innings pitched are less than the 88 ⅓ he pitched between college and the professional ranks — including the final 6 ⅔ for the Dodgers — in 66 games in 2012. He insists that the extra four appearances this year, not including an additional 12 spring-training games, haven’t caught up to him.

“My body’s been feeling fine, I’m just a little inconsistent,” Rodriguez said. “My mechanics could be wrong.”

Rodriguez has an unusual delivery — he pauses with the ball behind his head before whipping his arm around — which has been attributed to much of his success. Is it a problem now? That’s been a point of daily discussion with Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt.

“We just talk about it. … It’s just a matter of being consistent and bringing it every day,” Rodriguez said.

“At the end of the year everybody’s tired. It’s all about mindset, how you approach everything.”

Cincinnati Reds 3, Dodgers 2.

Aroldis Chapman

Aroldis Chapman touched 102 mph on the radar gun again Sunday. (Associated Press photo)

When the Cincinnati Reds visited Los Angeles for a four-game series in July, the Dodgers were starting to get hot. At one point, Aroldis Chapman threw a 102.1-mph fastball and Mark Ellis pulled it into left field for a single. The cushion was thin — the three wins were decided by a total of five runs — but the Dodgers used the series as a launching pad and won 16 of their next 18 games.

Looking at the won/loss column, this series seemed different. Looking closer at the Reds’ three-game sweep — which ended Sunday with a pair of Ronald Belisario sliders in the ninth inning — it was essentially a repeat of that July series. The venue was reversed but the home team had a slight edge again. Chapman threw hard again. Hanley Ramirez homered off Homer Bailey again.

If only Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke didn’t look so human this weekend, it would all seem so normal.
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Dodgers pitcher Chris Withrow made an impression in his debut game.

Chris WithrowChris Withrow went from a minor-league starter to a major-league reliever, a jittery ball of nerves to a statistic, booed briefly when he gave up the game-tying run in the seventh inning Wednesday then golf-clapped off the Dodger Stadium mound following his major-league debut.

A whirlwind, to be sure.

“It was still a lot of fun,” the 24-year-old pitcher said after the game. “Definitely to get out there and get my feet wet was an awesome experience. I wish my results were a little better. When you come into a game, it’s 4-3, you want to hold the lead. I wasn’t able to do that so i didn’t get my job done.”
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Dodgers WBC update: Ramirez, Dominican Republic top Punto, Italy.

Hanley Ramirez

Italy, the Cinderella team of the World Baseball Classic, almost did it again.

The Dominican Republic trailed Italy 4-0 in the second-round opener for both teams Tuesday, before clawing back to win 5-4 in Miami. Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez‘s sacrifice fly tied the game 4-4 in the seventh inning and Nelson Cruz‘s RBI single sealed the Italians’ fate. Ramirez finished 1 for 2 with a walk and a single in four plate appearances.

Ramirez played the entire game at third base, with Jose Reyes playing shortstop and Erick Aybar DHing.

Dodgers utilityman Nick Punto reached base in three out of his four plate appearances, scoring one run and driving in another.

Ronald Belisario, whose Venezuelan team was eliminated from the tournament over the weekend, arrived in the Dodgers’ clubhouse Tuesday afternoon.