Daily Distractions: ‘Analyzing’ the Dodgers-Diamondbacks ‘rivalry.’

The rivalry between the Dodgers and Giants has coasted for more than a century on a steady undercurrent of organic circumstances. There have been personal grudges (Wilbert Robinson vs. John McGraw), geographical allegiances (Manhattan vs. Brooklyn; San Francisco vs. Los Angeles), beanballs and brushbacks (Juan Marichal vs. John Roseboro). The fan violence is beyond unhealthy but there it is, holding up the ugliest corner of the narrative. It’s raw. It’s real.

And really, what says “raw” and “real” more than this:

The Arizona Diamondbacks have a pool to protect when the big, bad, overpaid Dodgers invade Chase Field for three games starting Friday. You know, when they “renew a rivalry” that has already been renewed three times in spring training and twice in Sydney. To protect the pool, the good people of Phoenix deployed their finest … mermaid, flanked by another woman dressed as the Jolly Green Giant and a dude wearing a Neptune costume. We can only hope that Arizona Sen. John McCain approves.

How seriously can we take a “rivalry” symbolized by a woman wearing a dolphin’s tail?

Seriously enough that MLB.com ran with the headline “Dodgers, D-backs return to ‘pool party’ scene.” The topic will probably get some airtime on Phoenix sports-talk radio. Maybe in Los Angeles too, unless the Lakers decide to “relieve Mike D’Antoni of his coaching duties” (or however someone gets fired these days … do coaches still get fired?).

Here’s a better storyline: Who wants these games more, a 3-8 Diamondbacks team that has been outscored 67-45, or a 6-4 Dodgers team that just split a pair of 10-inning burners against arguably the most talented club in the American League? It’s early April, not an important juncture in the baseball season. Though, for what it’s worth, no team is farther out of first place in any division than Arizona (four games).

Maybe that matters. Maybe it doesn’t. Until someone drops a shark in the pool, let’s not dwell on the pool.

In the meantime, here is the Diamondbacks’ PR director doing some kind of shoulder-shake dance. Or something:

 

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Stephen Fife scratched, Zach Lee starting against the Angels.

Zach Lee

Dodgers pitching prospect Zach Lee allowed three runs in 4 2/3 Cactus League innings. (Associated Press photo)

Stephen Fife, the scheduled starter Friday, isn’t even at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers told Fife to stay home after he was vomiting Friday morning. Zach Lee, the 22-year-old right-hander who’s never pitched a game above Double-A, is starting in Fife’s place.

“The decision was made more that you (don’t) really want to bring a guy that’s been throwing up into the locker room,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “The next thing you know you’ve got a whole club like that.”

Lee will face an Angels lineup featuring Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton — but no Mike Trout, who’s also battling a stomach virus.

Saturday’s starter in Anaheim for the Freeway Series finale is still to be determined. Mattingly said that either right-hander Matt Magill or right-hander Dan Haren will get the start, and that both will pitch at some point in the game.

The Dodgers’ roster will be supplemented by minor leaguers Magill (#36), C Tim Federowicz (#26), RHP Sam Demel (#38), RHP Zach Lee (#64), RHP Red Patterson (#78), C Jose Capellan (96), INF Miguel Rojas (#72), INF Corey Seager (#94), INF Darnell Sweeney (#87), OF Joc Pederson (#65), OF Trayvon Robinson (#90) and LHP Tom Windle (#97).

Here are the lineups for both teams:
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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.

Some bullet points for a Multiple Personality Day:
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Dodgers cut 10 players from spring training roster.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Dodgers announced their first round of cuts from their major-league camp roster Tuesday.

Pitcher Pedro Baez, outfielder Nick Buss, pitcher Stephen Fife, pitcher Yimi Garcia and pitcher Jarret Martin were optioned to the Dodgers’ minor league camp. Pitchers Sam Demel, Chris Reed and Daniel Moskos, and catchers Griff Erickson and Chris O’Brien were optioned to the minor-league camp.

“Some of our decisions are just based on the length of this camp, and us having to try to get down to a working number, and to prioritize the number of innings and at-bats we have left,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “That’s the biggest reason. It seems early, but for us it’s getting there, toward the 22nd.”

The Dodgers have 46 players on their camp roster, plus Scott Elbert (on the 60-day disabled list) and Erisbel Arruebarrena (who is in the Dominican Republic awaiting a work visa).

Daily Distractions: Who will be the next Hall of Fame inductee with a Dodgers logo on his cap?

Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux pitched 23 games, regular and postseason, in separate stints with the Dodgers in 2006 and 2008. (Getty Images)

Greg Maddux won’t have a logo on his Baseball Hall of Fame cap. It was never going to be a Dodgers logo, but that got me to thinking: Who will be the next Hall of Fame inductee with a Dodgers logo on his cap?

The Hall of Fame has a list of future candidates, listed by year of eligibility. (They haven’t gotten around to scratching Bobby Abreu‘s name off the 2018 list, assuming Abreu makes the Phillies’ roster.) Another future eligible is still on the Dodgers’ payroll (Andruw Jones). Jeff Weaver and Chan Ho Park become eligible in 2016.

Among the serious candidates, Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield did some of their best work in Dodgers uniforms.

Manny is 14th on the career home run list, and ninth in career slugging percentage and OPS. But he spent eight seasons in Cleveland and eight in Boston before his brief tenure as a Dodger. He also failed a drug test. Given the current climate toward known PED users among Hall voters, that won’t bode well for Ramirez. It didn’t bode well for the candidacy of Rafael Palmeiro (12th on the career home run list, off the ballot next year).

Sheffield played for eight teams in 22 seasons. If that doesn’t scream “please don’t put a logo on my hat,” I don’t know what does. And despite his gaudy career numbers, they aren’t much gaudier than those of Jeff Bagwell (listed on 54.3 percent of ballots this year) or Larry Walker (10.2 percent). He also took a designer steroid by his own admission, albeit by accident, and that might be enough to earn a thumbs-down from three-quarters of Hall voters.

Looking at the current ballot, Mike Piazza will wear a Mets hat if he gets in. Jeff Kent (listed on 15.2 percent of recent ballots) isn’t getting in.

In reality, you might be looking at someone on the current roster — one of these four — but only if their skills, health and the voters cooperate. Don’t hold your breath.

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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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Dodgers’ rotation is set up for Chris Capuano (or Stephen Fife) to start September 1.

Chris Capuano

Chris Capuano is 4-6 with a 4.70 earned-run average in 19 games (17 starts) this season for the Dodgers. (Associated Press photo)

The Dodgers have an off-day in their schedule next Thursday. It’s a chance for Don Mattingly to reset his rotation by skipping Chris Capuano‘s scheduled turn Aug. 31 and having Zack Greinke start against the San Diego Padres instead.

Instead, the manager said he’ll give his starters an extra day of rest.

“We traditionally try to use those days to get guys pitching on their sixth day so everybody gets an extra day,” Mattingly said. “especially this time of year as you get into August. We have no plans of skipping anybody at this point.”
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Daily Distractions: Maybe the Dodgers don’t need to make any trades.

Dodgers Red Sox trade

Last year it was Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto. Who will be on a plane to Los Angeles this year?

OK. Time for some numbers.

In July, the Dodgers’ pitching staff has been among the best in the National League in terms of ERA, fielding-independnt pitching (FIP) and batting average against, and they’re getting more run support.

Throw in their MLB-best 18-5 record this month, and the Dodgers look like baseball’s least likely team to acquire a major-league player at the trade deadline. There aren’t any bombshells on the horizon this year, unlike a year ago, when Dodger Stadium was hailing firebombs full of big-name acquisitions.

There is usually room for at least a minor upgrade, of course, and general manager Ned Colletti has mentioned the bullpen as a possible area for improvement. While Carlos Marmol has underwhelmed since becoming a Dodger, number-five starter Stephen Fife can return from his rehab assignment this weekend (his turn comes around Saturday), meaning incumbent number-five starter Chris Capuano could go to the bullpen as a long reliever. That could be the upgrade Colletti aims for.

The Atlanta Braves took one veteran reliever off the market Monday morning, acquiring Scott Downs from the Angels. Other contenders are in the market for relievers too, teams that are probably more hungry for relief pitching than the Dodgers.

For now, at least. Like last year, the horizon is farther away than it looks. The Adrian Gonzalez/Carl Crawford/Josh Beckett/Nick Punto trade didn’t go down until August 25 of last year. Joe Blanton became a Dodger on August 3.

Inevitably, some deals are being discussed right now that will fizzle, some will go down before 1 p.m. Wednesday, and others won’t be consummated until August. So we won’t really know what team the Dodgers are taking into September until September, though it will probably look a lot like this one.

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Suddenly, the Dodgers are out of long relievers.

Matt Guerrier

Matt Guerrier allowed two home runs in relief of Matt Magill on Saturday night, further depleting a short-handed Dodgers bullpen. (Associated Press photo)

For all the money the Dodgers have spent building their 2013 roster — about $230 million when the regular season began — they didn’t have a single pitcher available if last night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers had gone to the 12th inning.

That’s not exactly unusual. If taxed enough, any bullpen will run out of arms. The Dodgers didn’t even get to the 10th inning yesterday, but manager Don Mattingly had to line up his possibilities when the Dodgers had runners on second and third base with two outs in the ninth inning.

“I’ve got to bring Josh (Wall) back out” for the 10th inning, Mattingly said. “I’ve got one (inning) with Kenley (Jansen). Then it’s Schu.”

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