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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Daily Distractions: How relationships made a difference for Skip Schumaker, Dan Haren.

Brian Wilson

Skip Schumaker, left, and Nick Punto have fun after tearing the jersey off Brian Wilson after the Dodgers beat the Giants in September. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff photographer)

Skip Schumaker had never been a free agent before this year, and he wasn’t a free agent for long. Less than a month after the World Series ended, Schumaker signed a two-year contract with the Cincinnati Reds.

“I didn’t really want to wait because I felt so good about Cincinnati,” he said on a conference call Tuesday.

The idea of waiting in traffic on the way to Dodger Stadium didn’t appeal to Schumaker, either. His carpool buddy, Nick Punto, had just signed with the Oakland A’s on Nov. 13. That mattered.

“I didn’t know who was coming back,” Schumaker said. “I didn’t know what coaches were coming back, which players. My friends were signing elsewhere – especially Nick Punto – becoming free agents.”

Dan Haren had been a free agent before. This time, the pitcher had help from Zack Greinke, his teammate with the Angels late in the 2012 season.

“I kind of talked to (Greinke) throughout the whole process,” said Haren, who finalized a one-year deal with the Dodgers on Monday. “He said the team is amazing. … It’s nice coming into a situation where there’s a familiar guy.”

This principle is nothing new, but it was interesting to see it work both for and against the Dodgers in the span of two days.

Schumaker’s contract with the Cincinnati Reds was widely reported last week and became official Tuesday. Mark Sheldon of MLB.com reported that Schumaker will make $2 million in 2014, $2.5 million in 2015 and there is a $2.5 million club option for 2016 with a $500,000 buyout.

Apparently the Dodgers weren’t that interested in bringing him back.

“They had so many things going on initially,” Schumaker said, “I felt I was maybe on the back burner.”

Some bullet points for a Thanksgiving/Hanukkah weekend. These will be the last until Monday:
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Daily Distractions: Dodgers’ Chad Billingsley, Matt Kemp making progress in surgery rehab.

Chad Billingsley

Chad Billingsley is able to throw from 120 feet at 75 to 80 percent effort, his agent said Monday. (Associated Press photo)

The agent for Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp and pitcher Chad Billingsley said Monday that both players will be able to participate in spring training activities from the start of camp.

Dave Stewart, the former Dodgers pitcher who now represents both players, said that the road back will be slower for Billingsley, who underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in April.

“I think (the Dodgers) will be conservative,” Stewart said, “but (Billingsley) will be starting with everybody else in spring training.”

Stewart said that Billingsley believes he’ll be able to pitch in games starting in April. The 29-year-old right-hander underwent the ligament replacement procedure April 24; the Dodgers didn’t announce a specific timetable for Billingsley’s recovery at the time, only that pitchers typically return to competition in 12 months.

For now, Stewart said that Billingsley is throwing from 120 feet at 75 to 80 percent, and hopes to start throwing off a mound in January.

Kemp is already at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona, recuperating from October surgeries on his left ankle and left shoulder. Kemp had arthroscopic surgery Oct. 24 to remove several spurs and a loose body, and do a microfracture on the talus bone in his left foot. He’s expected to be in a walking boot “for another couple weeks,” Stewart said.

Some bullet points for a Veteran’s Day:
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Daily Distractions: Gauging Brian Wilson’s progress.

Brian Wilson

The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes had fun with this photo on Instagram yesterday. When Brian Wilson was asked for thoughts on his Single-A manager, the pitcher replied “he’s a dinosaur.” Not really. That’s my fake caption.

A reporter said to Brian Wilson yesterday, “The clock had you throwing at 91. Is that satisfying for you?” Wilson, the most-watched Rancho Cucamonga Quake in a while, replied, “for now.”

Wilson is expected to make his next rehab appearance on Friday for Triple-A Albuquerque after his 8-pitch, 1-2-3 inning last night at Rancho Cucamonga.

Eight pitches is enough for a photo op, but not really enough to draw a conclusion about the type of pitcher he will be if (and when) he pitches for the Dodgers. During the 2011 season, the last time Wilson was an effective major-league pitcher, his fastball was in the 88-97 mph range and his slider 83-95 – often with tremendous movement. Yesterday, Wilson’s slider was clocked in the 86-87 range, his fastball at 91-93. Good enough to pitch a 1-2-3, 8-pitch inning at the Single-A level. Sure, that’s good enough for now.

But the better test — maybe with less media attention — will come at Albuquerque.

Some bullet points for a Taiwanese father’s day:

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Dodgers designate Ted Lilly for assignment and recall Elian Herrera.

Ted Lilly

Ted Lilly spent more time on the disabled list than the Dodgers’ active roster this season, going 0-2 in five starts. (Associated Press)

The Dodgers designated Ted Lilly for assignment Thursday, ending the 37-year-old pitcher’s tenure in Los Angeles — and maybe his career.

“More than anything this year, it’s been an injury thing,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “Nobody wanted to do this. We like Ted. We think he can pitch. He just wouldn’t stay healthy.”

Lilly spent more time on the disabled this season than the active roster.
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Daily Distractions: The Dodgers get a chance to show if their road trip was for real.

Adrian Gonzalez

The Dodgers have won 10 straight road games, a first since the team moved to Los Angeles. (Associated Press)

To put the Dodgers’ 6-0 road trip in perspective — a different kind of perspective — consider that the two teams they swept, the Washington Nationals and Toronto Blue Jays, had completely winless homestands too.

Before losing three straight to the Dodgers, the Blue Jays were swept by the Tampa Bay Rays.

After losing three straight to the Dodgers, the Washington Nationals lost three straight to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Take nothing away from the six-game winning streak and what it meant in the standings, but the Dodgers’ four-game weekend series against the Cincinnati Reds should provide a more accurate gauge of how well the team is playing.

It begins tonight against a pitcher, Mat Latos, who is 0-5 in his career at Dodger Stadium. Zack Greinke is 6-0 in his career at Dodger Stadium. So there’s a good omen.

Some bullet points for a Thursday morning:
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Dodgers place Matt Kemp on 15-day disabled list, activate Ted Lilly.

The Dodgers placed Matt Kemp on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained left ankle and activated Ted Lilly.

Kemp injured the ankle sliding at home plate in the ninth inning Sunday night against the Washington Nationals, his first game in the lineup after returning from a 15-day stay on the DL with inflammation in the AC joint of his left shoulder.

Lilly is expected to pitch out of the bullpen after missing approximately six weeks with a recurrence of pain in his neck. He last pitched June 4, pitching just four innings in a Dodgers win over the San Diego Padres.

Dodgers set post All-Star break rotation.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly announced his starting rotation coming out of the All-Star break, when the Dodgers will travel to Washington D.C. and Toronto for a pair of three-game series.

Ricky Nolasco, today’s starter, will pitch on five days’ rest next Friday against the Nationals. He’ll be followed by Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Chris Capuano.

If that rotation order holds, Greinke and Kershaw will be the starters July 30 and 31 when the New York Yankees visit Dodger Stadium.

In other rotation news, Mattingly and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt have decided on a plan for injured left-hander Ted Lilly, but the manager wouldn’t say what that plan is.

Lilly, who’s been on the disabled list since June 9 with a sprained neck, is 0-2 with a 5.09 ERA in five starts this season.

“We talked about some different scenarios,” Mattingly said. “We settled on the one we want. We haven’t talked to Teddy yet.”

Mattingly upset with Lilly for not informing team of back pain

Ted Lilly’s most glaring fault Monday night wasn’t getting shelled for three innings before having to exit a 12-2 loss to the Rockies with back pain. It was the silence the Dodgers starter maintained about tightness in his back since making his first start of the season five days earlier.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was none too pleased to discover after the series opener against the Rockies that Lilly, who began the season one the disabled list due to left shoulder labrum surgery, hadn’t informed the Dodgers training staff of his ailment following a five-inning outing against the Mets a week ago in which he only allowed one run.

“He can’t just keep that to himself,” Mattingly said. “Then at least we know going in to the game that we possibly should have a guy that can go four or five innings, instead of having to use the whole group.”

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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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