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June 20, 2013

On the Beat

Pitchers Take the Wheel

by John Perrotto

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Don Mattingly is not a cockeyed optimist. He is plain spoken and admittedly frustrated that his team with a $200-million-plus payroll has an awful record and is in last place in the National League West. Yet the manager remains hopeful the Dodgers can somehow get back into the pennant race with more than half the season remaining.

“The reason I think that is is because we have the starting pitching, one through three, that can dominate and allow us to run off some winning streaks,” Mattingly said. “I’ll stack our top three starters up against anybody’s top three. If we could just solidify the No. 4 spot, I think we’d be fine. When you have the starting pitching we have, you always have a chance to win, but we need to get on a winning streak and do it pretty soon.”

The Dodgers do have an ace in left-hander Clayton Kershaw (2.59 FIP). Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu (3.09) has adapted quickly to the major leagues in his first American season. Right-hander Zack Greinke (3.83) hasn’t lived up to being one of the highest-paid pitchers in the game after signing with the Dodgers as a free agent in the offseason, but he also had his season derailed early on by a broken collarbone.

As Mattingly said, all are capable of winning a lot of games. However, Kershaw is living proof that pitching great does not necessarily result in wins, as his record is a pedestrian 5-4. The Dodgers are going to need more than three above-average starting pitchers if they are going to mount a comeback in the NL West, and that’s where the questions lie.

Ned Colletti gave Brandon League a three-year, $22-million contract to stay on as the closer, a move that raised eyebrows all around the game. Mattingly removed League as closer and gave the job to Kenley Jansen, who held up for a while last season until he got into the bad habit of giving up untimely homers. Jansen has been the closer for less than two weeks, and he is again being victimized by the long ball.

The offense has plenty of big names, to be sure, but Mattingly hasn’t been able to write all those names on the lineup card at the same time. Balky hamstrings have sidelined left fielder Carl Crawford and center fielder Matt Kemp; it’s the same problem has plagued shortstop Hanley Ramirez all season. The rest of the offense has been wracked by inconsistency and underperformance, which is why the Dodgers are scoring just 3.53 runs a game, which is 13th in the NL and 27th in the major leagues.

“We’re going to have to score more runs on a consistent basis,” Mattingly said. “We've got Hanley back. We're hoping to get Matt and Carl back soon—or at least one of them. So you're hoping at some point to be able to throw more runs up there and support that pitching.”

Perhaps that will happen, but it seems it’s up to the top of the Dodgers’ rotation. Thus, it would seem that most of the responsibility will fall on the Dodgers’ top three starters. Kershaw isn’t giving up but is also realistic about the big task ahead of his team.

“We need to start winning some games,” Kershaw said. “It’s the easiest thing in the world to say, but sometimes it’s the toughest thing to do. We can’t keep winning one, losing one, winning one, losing one. We’ve dug ourselves such a big hole that we’ve got to put some winning streaks together. We can talk about it all day, but we’ve got to start doing it.”

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Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer insists that his team will not release reliever Carlos Marmol, regardless of how poorly the former closer keeps performing. However, after Marmol blew another save Sunday against the Mets while filling in for closer Kevin Gregg, who was rested after pitching in four straight games, his teammates had had enough. Even left fielder Alfonso Soriano took a shot at Marmol while talking to the Chicago Tribune after the 4-3 loss in which his close friend gave four runs in the ninth inning.

“When Alfonso Soriano says something bad about someone, you better sit up and take notice because you won’t find a better teammate than Sori,” a Cubs insider said. “I think Jed and Theo (Epstein) and ownership need to rethink their position. No one in that clubhouse has one bit of confidence in Marmol anymore, and his trade value is zero. Would you want him pitching for your team in a pennant race? The Cubs need to release him, eat the money, and realize that sometimes there is addition by subtraction.”

Marmol is making $9.8 million this season in the final season of a three-year, $20-million contract. The Cubs would be on the hook for a little over $5.25 million if they were to release him now.

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Rays right-hander Alex Cobb became the second pitcher to be carried off on a stretcher this season after being struck in the head by a line drive Sunday. The Blue Jays’ J.A. Happ also was carted off last month as he, too, was skulled, also at Tropicana Field. Major League Baseball wants pitchers to begin wearing head protection as soon as next season, either in the form of a batting helmet device without ear flaps or a Kevlar protective liner to be placed inside the hat.

“We’ve got to come up with a solution, and the sooner the better,” said a head athletic trainer. “Sooner or later, there is going to be a real tragedy if we don’t start protecting the pitchers.”

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The subject of whether the Athletics should be allowed to move to San Jose can be debated endlessly. One can take the Athletics’ side, that they need to move into a better market, or one can take the Giants’ side, that San Jose is their territory and they have rights. Regardless, it is a subject many people in baseball have tired of.

“The absolute inertia shown by the commissioner’s office on this matter is ridiculous,” a high-ranked executive of one MLB club said recently. “I’m not in favor of franchises moving, but it’s clear that the Athletics need to get out of Oakland. It isn’t just a money grab. They truly need a new stadium. The Coliseum is the biggest dump in the game. It’s a blight on the whole sport.”

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Scouts’ takes:

Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu: “He’s the Korean Fernando Valenzuela. He doesn’t look like an athlete, but the kid can really pitch.”

Giants left-hander Barry Zito: “His home/road splits are so severe that it’s clear that he’s going to have to play for a team with a pitcher’s park if he’s going to even be a serviceable starting pitcher. If he’s smart—and he is—he’ll factor that into his decision when he becomes a free agent in the winter.

Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas: “He’s a really intense kid, and it works against him. There is so much tension in his swing that he’s giving himself no chance to succeed.”

Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton: “There isn’t anyone who could command a bigger haul in a trade than this guy. I’d give up my whole farm system for him because you’re talking about a guy who is heading to the Hall of Fame, and his career is just getting started.”

Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar: “The Rangers are wasting his athleticism by playing him in left field. What they should do is play Profar at second base and move Ian Kinsler to left field, though I realize that’s it easier said than done with a veteran player who isn’t very open to switching positions.”

Yankees outfielder Vernon Wells: “The clock has struck midnight, and he’s back to being Vernon Wells again.”

Mariners catcher Mike Zunino: “In a perfect world, he would have stayed in the minor leagues a little longer, but he’s got so much talent and such a good feel for the game that he’s going to hold his own in the major leagues and learn as he goes.”

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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