Daily Distractions: MLB clarifies its ‘transfer rule,’ but 7.13 is still baffling to Dodgers catcher.

Major League Baseball gave its players roughly one month to adjust to a new, literal interpretation of its “transfer rule.” Catch the ball, transfer the ball from glove to hand, make sure each of these steps is deliberate enough to be discerned on video review, and you’re good. That sounds simple. In practice, the rule demanded that fielders break a lifetime’s worth of hard-worn habits. Hanley Ramirez got burned on the call once this season, when he lost his grip on the ball after recording what looked like a forceout at second base. The umpire on scene ruled Ramirez didn’t make a catch in the first place.

Friday morning, the league officially changed its mind.

Beginning tonight, MLB announced that umpires will enforce the transfer rule according to a new standard — that is, the old standard. According to a league release, a catch or valid forceout/tag has occurred:

…if the fielder had complete control over the ball in his glove, but drops the ball after intentionally opening his glove to make the transfer to his throwing hand. There is no requirement that the fielder successfully remove the ball from his glove in order for it to be ruled a catch. If the fielder drops the ball while attempting to remove it to make a throw, the Umpires should rule that the ball had been caught, provided that the fielder had secured it in his glove before attempting the transfer. The Umpires will continue to use their judgment as to whether the fielder had complete control over the ball before the transfer.

It was too late for Ramirez, but it was nice to see the league act quickly. That said, there’s still at least one rule that the Dodgers would like to see clarified. Ramirez was involved in this one, too.

From my game story last night, in case you missed it, here’s what happened:

With Hanley Ramirez on third base and (Adrian) Gonzalez on first, (Yasiel) Puig hit a ground ball to Phillies third baseman Cody Asche. Asche fielded the ball deep in the third-base hole and threw to home plate, where Ramirez was out by several feet.

Or was he?

Mattingly popped out of the third-base dugout, asking for help. He demonstrated to the home-plate umpire, Mike DiMuro, what he saw from Philadelphia’s Ruiz: A catcher with both feet planted in front of home plate as Ramirez was bearing down.

According to the rule, which was ratified by MLB and the Players’ Association in spring training, “Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher, without possession of the ball, blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe.”

The problem for Mattingly was that Asche delivered a perfect strike to Ruiz in plenty of time to retire Ramirez. Hunter Wendelstedt initiated a crew chief’s review and baseball’s two new rules for 2014 suddenly collided, an instant replay being used to determine whether a catcher illegally blocked home plate.

Three minutes and 18 seconds later, the call stood. Ramirez was out.

Just before the next inning, I saw Dodgers catcher Tim Federowicz in the dugout demonstrating how to block home plate to pitcher Josh Beckett. After the game, Federowicz was still upset and confused by the sequence of events.

“I honestly thought that call was going to be overturned,” he said. “The only thing in their favor is that (Ruiz) got that ball in plenty of time. He probably got it a good 10 feet before the play. That’s what the final decision was probably on. My whole thing is, why have the rule saying you can’t block the plate without the ball, and he blocks the plate without the ball?”

Here’s a still image, taken from the video of the play, that shows where Ruiz was stationed when he caught the ball (unfortunately I couldn’t grab an image just before Ruiz made the catch):

Hanley  Ramirez

Whether Ruiz is illegally blocking Ramirez’s path to home plate represents a judgment call, too. Could Ruiz be more out of the way of the baseline? Of course. But, as noted at the time, Asche made an accurate throw. If Ruiz plants his mitt in the baseline and his body in foul territory to receive the throw, and Ramirez (who left on contact) sprints home at full speed and slides inside the baseline, Ruiz is in jeopardy of not being able to make the tag.

Maybe Wendelstedt factored this into his judgment. Rule 7.13 goes on to state that “it shall not be considered a violation of this rule if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the Umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner.”

Watching the sequence in real time, Federowicz felt that Ruiz didn’t need to lay his right leg in the basepath in order to make the catch. Therefore, Ramirez should have been ruled safe.

“Hanley has nowhere to slide and he’s still out? I guess Hanley’s allowed to hit him in that situation,” Federowicz said. “But again, they scare all these runners from being able to do that. Nobody really knows the correct rule right now.”

Some bullet points for Arbor Day:
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Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling has surgery, but it isn’t Tommy John.

Pitcher Ross Stripling underwent surgery this morning in Los Angeles performed Dodgers team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache.

According to a team spokesperson, the surgery was an arthroscopic procedure to remove loose bodies from an inflamed and swollen elbow. The plan is to allow the inflammation to resolve and restore range of motion before proceeding with the Tommy John reconstruction.

Here’s what Stripling had to say about his elbow after reporting the injury to the team last Friday.

Ross Stripling will have Tommy John surgery tomorrow.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dodgers manager Don Mattingly confirmed that pitcher Ross Stripling will have Tommy John surgery tomorrow morning in Los Angeles to replace a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The surgery will be performed by team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache.

The 24-year-old right hander initially injured his elbow pitching live batting practice Feb. 21. Stripling said he first felt pain while throwing a cut fastball to Joc Pederson, but did not report the injury at the time and even pitched a second inning of live BP.

On Feb. 26, Stripling pitched two innings in the Dodgers’ first Cactus League game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Stripling’s fastball registered in the low-90 mph range, and he did not appear to be throwing abnormally.

However, Mattingly was told that Stripling tore his ligament Feb. 21 throwing batting practice.

“That sucks,” Mattingly said. “The kid was on a good roll. It just changes the timetable more than anything else.”

Stripling is listed as the number-10 prospect in the organization on the Dodgers’ website. He was attending his first major-league spring training on a minor league contract. Stripling went 6-4 with a 2.78 earned-run average in 21 games (16 starts) at Double-A Chatanooga. He posted a 2.94 ERA in six starts with Single-A Rancho Cucamonga before earning a midseason promotion.

More details in tomorrow’s editions.

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.”

Some bullet points for a Holy Experiment Day:
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Morning injury updates on Zack Greinke (calf), Matt Kemp (ankle), Ross Stripling (elbow).

Zack Greinke

Zack Greinke threw three pitches in his first Cactus League start on Thursday before exiting with a cramp in his right calf muscle. (Associated Press photo)

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said that Zack Greinke will receive treatment today on his strained right calf muscle and could be throwing a bullpen session as early as tomorrow.

That was a fairly optimistic outlook one day after Greinke couldn’t get through two batters in his first Cactus League start. Greinke could even play catch today, Mattingly said. He was seen walking through the clubhouse without discomfort.

“Zack actually came in pretty good today,” Mattingly said.

The news was not as upbeat for Ross Stripling, who will undergo a “contrast MRI” on his right elbow after reporting discomfort, Mattingly said. The 24-year-old informed the club that he first felt pain in the elbow “five, six” days ago but didn’t tell the team until after he pitched the final two innings Wednesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“He didn’t tell any trainer, he didn’t tell any coach,” Mattingly said. “It’s one of the things we talk about with young guys. It happens every spring. You ask them to let somebody know and they don’t want to tell anybody because they want to compete and show that they’re going to be whatever. Ross is a great kid but it does go back to that same old thing that happens every spring. Hopefully it’s a situation that puts him a little bit behind schedule. A lot of times we feel that if you’re going to take care of it, it may put you behind schedule for two days instead of a week or 10 days, which really pushes you back.”

There is no news on Matt Kemp, who was scheduled to undergo an MRI today on his surgically repaired left ankle. Kemp actually had the MRI Thursday, but Mattingly said that team Dr. Neal ElAttrache would not be relaying the results until “sometime this weekend.”

Kemp took the field with teammates as usual for stretches but still hasn’t been cleared to run. The team is in no rush to have Kemp on the field for the season-opening series in Sydney, Australia on March 22-23. The 29-year-old outfielder figures to begin the season on the disabled list regardless of the MRI results.

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:
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Dodgers sign free-agent catcher Miguel Olivo, invite Joc Pederson to spring training.

Miguel Olivo

Miguel Olivo was suspended by the Miami Marlins after leaving the club midway through the 2013 season. (Associated Press photo)


The Dodgers bulked up their major-league spring training roster Tuesday with one veteran and a swarm of prospects.

Free agent catcher Miguel Olivo, 35, signed a minor-league contract with an invitation to major league spring training. Olivo batted .203/.250/.392 for the Miami Marlins last year before leaving the team in June. More recently Olivo batted .198/.289/.314 in 26 games in the Dominican Winter League.
The 12-year major league veteran immediately becomes the most experienced backstop in camp. Only three catchers are currently on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster: A.J. Ellis, Tim Federowicz and Drew Butera.
The Dodgers also re-signed catcher Griff Erickson to a minor-league deal and invited him to spring training, along with eight of the organization’s top prospects: Joc Pederson, Zach Lee, Chris Reed, Ross Stripling, Miguel Rojas, Red Patterson, Carlos Frias and Chris O’Brien.

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Daily Distractions: Cut fastball could fast-track Ross Stripling to Los Angeles.

Ross Stripling

Dodgers pitching prospect Ross Stripling didn’t throw a cut fastball in college at Texas A&M, but it led to plenty of success at Double-A Chattanooga. (Texas A&M photo)

If Ross Stripling appears in a major-league game with the Dodgers this season, the 25-year-old will inevitably draw comparisons to all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera.

But hey, the kid started it when he began describing how he embraced the cut fastball, the pitch that defined Rivera’s 19-year career.

“I throw from such a high arm slot, and these balls have such smaller laces than college balls, they’ll just move on their own,” Stripling said earlier this month at the Dodgers’ winter development camp.

“If I just switch the ball a little bit in my fingers” — he turned the ball 30 degrees from a two-seam fastball grip — “it would cut on its own. I struggled to not cut the ball. I wanted to throw the ball where I wanted. They were like, ‘Maybe you should go with it.’ Then you hear the story that Mariano Rivera learned his cutter that way — not that I’m trying to compare myself to Mariano Rivera — but similar fashion. It was natural, then I just tried to fine-tune.”

Stripling posted a 2.78 earned-run average following his promotion to Double-A Chattanooga. Even more impressive was Stripling’s 4.37 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 94 Double-A innings. Continuing the theme of unfair comparisons, not even Clayton Kershaw‘s K:BB ratio was that high at Double-A.

The 25-year-old’s talent is still raw. He still isn’t on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster, though a roster spot is rarely given to second-year professionals in the off-season since there is no risk of losing them through the Rule 5 draft. Stripling never called his own pitches, and never watched video of his performance, before 2013. He’s also got a four-pitch repertoire that he’s still mastering; he added the cutter last year to a fastball, changeup and curveball that served him well in college.

Stripling was a fifth-round draft pick by the Dodgers out of Texas A&M in 2012. In college, Stripling was teammates with Michael Wacha, the St. Louis Cardinals pitcher who was named MVP of the National League Championship Series after beating the Dodgers twice in the Cardinals’ six-game series victory.

Like Stripling, Wacha had all his pitches called for him from the dugout in college. That didn’t stop him from reaching the majors after only 26 minor-league appearances.

“His fastball is so strong, so demanding, that he can just throw that when he wants,” Stripling said of Wacha. “His changeup is kind of the same way,” Stripling said.

Much of the inertia pushing the Dodgers toward signing Masahiro Tanaka is money. That is to say: They have the money, so why not make a run? A lesser factor, not to be discounted, is the fact that Stephen Fife and Matt Magill were starting games by the end of April.

If the Dodgers don’t land Tanaka, it means that Stripling — along with Fife, Magill, Zach Lee and maybe swingman Seth Rosin — all move up the organizational depth chart. And we might get to see that cutter sooner rather than later.

Some bullet points for a National Hugging Day:
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Fifteen prospects invade Dodger Stadium starting Sunday.

Nick Buss

Outfielder Nick Buss is one of 15 players scheduled to participate in the Dodgers’ annual prospects development program this week. (Associated Press photo)

The Dodgers’ annual Winter Development Program, designed to help acclimate prospects to the major-league environment, begins Sunday and runs through Thursday at Dodger Stadium. The program is closed to the public.

Outfielder Joc Pederson, rated by Baseball America as the Dodgers’ No. 1 prospect, headlines a list of 15 prospects scheduled to participate. Others include pitchers Seth Rosin, Zach Lee, Ross Stripling, Jose Dominguez, Pedro Baez, Yimi Garcia, Matt Magill, Chris Reed and Jarret Martin; outfielders Nick Buss and Scott Schebler; infielder Miguel Rojas; and catchers Pratt Maynard and Chris O’Brien.

Their schedule includes seminars with Dodger staffers and workouts that focus on fundamentals, strength training and conditioning. Off the field, the program is highlighted by sessions with Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, general manager Ned Colletti, team president Stan Kasten, former manager Tommy Lasorda, and retired players Don Newcombe, Maury Wills, Eric Karros, Shawn Green. There will be social events in the greater Los Angeles area and a community service visit to A Place Called Home, a youth center in South L.A.

Six of the 11 participants in last year’s Winter Development Program played in the Major Leagues in 2013. Since its inception in 2008, 40 participating players have reached the big leagues.

Here’s a bit about what each player did in 2013, not including the winter league season:
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Devising the Dodgers’ composite prospect rankings.

Before the famous economist/statistician/sabrmetrician Nate Silver was chosen as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2009, he crunched baseball stats for BaseballProspectus.com. He found more success in the political arena by taking an old idea and adapting it to a new subject.

Specifically, Silver aggregated just about every pre-election poll he could find, giving each one more or less weight through a formula he devised, to come up with a reliably accurate “prediction model” for the major U.S. elections.

With a nod to Nate, I decided to aggregate four recently released lists ranking the Dodgers prospects — Baseball America, FanGraphs, Minor League Ball and Baseball Prospectus — into a composite ranking. There’s no weighting formula and this is no prediction model. (Besides, success in baseball can’t be defined objectively; if it were, there wouldn’t be so many damn stats). So while Yasiel Puig is listed first in the table you’re about to read, I can’t tell you what that actually means for his long-term baseball success. I can only promise he will not be elected president of the United States.

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