Depleted Dodgers Just Keep Plugging
LOS ANGELES -- A man walks down the street and finds $20. Then he sits on a park bench and sees $10. Wow, look over there -- $5 in the parking lot.
That's how life is these days for Joe Torre's Dodgers.
"It's found money, for sure," Torre was saying on Saturday, before his battered and bruised Dodgers made another opponent black and blue.
Too wise to baseball's mean streak to expect better, Torre figured that if his team could play .500 ball while it weathered a recent injury barrage, it'd be doing swell.
Instead the Dodgers have won 12 of 13 games, moving atop the National League West with the Padres.
Saturday's 6-4 victory over the Tigers, watched by 45,117 at Dodger Stadium, echoed Torre's found-money comment.
"There's a lot of truth to that," said Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake.
Next we'll see if the Dodgers (25-18) find any money under the sofa cushions by completing a sweep of Detroit (24-19).
Regardless, it's cool to see someone profiting at Chavez Ravine other than divorce lawyers. A bad start by the Dodgers would've encouraged pundits to link the ongoing divorce between club owners Frank and Jamie McCourt to the team's performance on the field. The players, for their part, say there's no connection. It's a tired subject, they added. "No one in here talks about it," said catcher Brad Ausmus, one of several players on the disabled list.
Baseball, though, usually spins some form of money-ball, and the divorce reportedly will cost the McCourts nearly $20 million in legal fees alone. If the Dodgers need to add talent this summer, will ownership allow general manager Ned Colletti to take on salary? "I haven't asked the question, and I haven't been told no," Colletti said on Saturday.
Doubting that pixie dust is a renewable resource, I told Colletti that despite the team's recent success, it looks like the Dodgers will need to acquire a good starting pitcher this summer. He replied that he'll know more in mid-June, when the team's Opening Day starter, Vicente Padilla, might have returned from a forearm ailment. But he added:
"I sense we'll be in the market for pitching after the All-Star Break."
Colletti declined comment when asked if he and Astros GM Ed Wade have discussed a potential swap involving Astros ace Roy Oswalt, who's asked Wade to deal him.
If Colletti must shop for pitchers in what will be a seller's market, the improbable spate of victories can only help his leverage.
What's more, the GM can make a case to his boss, club chairman Frank McCourt. that he knows what he's doing. The payroll is $25 million less than it was a year ago, yet partly because of Colletti's retooling, the Dodgers have gone a majors-best 16-4 this month despite being without Padilla, shortstop Rafael Furcal and, for at least a week apiece, star hitters such as Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez.
Here are the players who've led the way:
• John Ely. Yeah, the John Ely. A right-handed pitcher whose fastball averages 87-89 miles per hour, Ely was in minor league camp when spring training opened. The Dodgers, failed by knuckleballer Charlie Haeger and thinned by the offseason departure of Randy Wolf, desperately needed a pitcher to give them decent work. Ely (3-1, 3.41 ERA) has done that and more by being fearless and accurate. He went 89 batters without a walk until throwing four consecutive balls to Brandon Inge in the first on Saturday. Colletti got Ely and fellow minor leaguer Jon Link from the White Sox last winter for outfielder Juan Pierre. Talk about found money. The Dodgers' prime goal was to shed some of Pierre's salary. Drawing on reports from assistant Toney Howell and scout Dennis Moeller, Colletti said he expected Ely to pitch in the majors, although not so soon..
"He throws strikes and he competes. That's a lot of it," Colletti said. "That's a lot of the game. Jamie Moyer is still pitching because he can throw strikes and ... is a great competitor."
• Jamey Carroll. The replacement to Furcal has supplied a .377 on-base percentage and reliable defense. Torre and Blake said it's one thing for a utility man to fare well over a few games, quite another to do it for nearly a month. "His body is used to the backup role, but he's stepped in and done a great job," Blake said. The Padres are sick of seeing Carroll. He ended their season in 2007, hitting the sacrifice fly that scored Rockies teammate Matt Holliday in the disputed clincher of the season's 163rd game. Against San Diego this year, Carroll has batted .462 with a .556 on-base percentage -- helping L.A. win four of five games from the Padres.
• Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley. It's easy to forget that Kershaw is only 22 and Billingsley is only 25. Their hot fastballs put them in the big leagues early. Both have moved past bumpy starts, a vital turnaround for a rotation that has Ramon Ortiz as its No. 5 starter. Kershaw ignited the 12-1 streak by matching Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez, a two-hit performance over eight innings that Colletti referenced Saturday. "It gave him a lot of confidence," the GM said. " He was pitching against the best guy in the league at that time."
Colletti noted that Kershaw wasn't afforded the luxury of easing into the majors. Rather, he was summoned to a Dodgers team that two years ago was fighting for a playoff berth.
"All things being equal, this was probably his second month in the big leagues," Colletti said. "He probably should have been coming up here to start the season this year for the first time. But we fast-tracked it. We rushed it a little bit. And when you rush somebody like that you're going to have some inconsistencies and growing pains."
The Dodgers aren't counting on Carroll and Ely to lead them to a franchise-record third consecutive playoff berth.
Nor are they planning for Xavier Paul to stay in right field when Ethier's fractured pinky heals. But they are grateful for Paul's many tools, including a bat that's "deathly" quick, Torre said.
Looking more like an answer than a question mark, second baseman Blake DeWitt, formerly a third baseman, has sharpened his pivot skills, strengthening a defense that went eight games without an error. He has three triples in the last five games.
"Bottom line, you have to have good surprises," Torre said. "You're going to have bad surprises. You have to have good surprises to offset them. And it just gives you an indication of how important pitching is -- that's the one area that can cover up a multitude of sins.".