Ryu gets the nod in Game 2, along with Gordon and Baxter

The Dodgers are changing things up in the second game of the season in Australia, inserting two new players into the lineup and switching up the batting order. Scott Van Slyke is sitting for Mike Baxter and Justin Turner is being replaced by Dee Gordon, but perhaps the most interesting move is the decision to bat Gordon leadoff.

The changes are understandable with a switch in handedness of the opposing starting pitcher (though SVS had a reverse platoon split last year), and I think it’s actually a positive sign for the future if this indicates a new willingness to platoon going forward. Here’s hoping Don Mattingly doesn’t give up on it if a few tries are unsuccessful … and that he doesn’t view players like Baxter as a legit platoon option going forward.

Meanwhile, starter Hyun Jin Ryu has high expectations for his 2014.

“Our one and two starters are so strong, but after Zack Greinke was hurt, I started thinking I might pitch,” said Ryu, who gets the ball for the Dodgers on Sunday against the D-backs. “I had a really good spring, and I feel really good. I have high expectations.”

Diamondbacks
Dodgers 
7:00pm PT
Sydney, Australia
CF
Pollock
2B
Gordon
2B
Hill
RF
Puig
1B
Goldschmidt
SS
Ramirez
LF
Prado
1B
Gonzalez
1B
Trumbo
CF
Ethier
RF
Montero
C
Ellis
C
Parra
LF
Baxter
2B
Gregorius
3B
Uribe
P
Cahill
P
Ryu

In injury news, Chad Billingsley continues to progress in rehab.

Billingsley said he expects to throw a few more BP sessions against hitters, and he remains on track to make the first of at least five rehab appearances in the Minor Leagues starting on April 6. The right-hander estimates that he has already thrown close to 20 bullpen sessions this year.

“My arm felt good, so that’s definitely good, especially being the first time going full bore with the heater and the first time throwing a hard curveball and changeups,” Billingsley said. “I was a little rusty, but I was very pleased with the curveball. The timing was a little off, but I threw some good pitches, and overall, I’m pretty pleased with it.”

And no, Matt Kemp is apparently not banned from getting hits in minor league games.

Kemp finished 2-for-4 with a home run and a double in a Triple-A game against the a White Sox.

“I’m getting my work in and getting ready for the season,” Kemp said. “I felt pretty good. Today was a good day.”

Have a feeling the Dodgers are really going to need him in 2014, for better or worse.

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-Carl Crawford‘s fiance gave birth to a baby boy. No complications and he should be ready to go when the Dodgers get back. Congrats to him.

Dodgers, Chad Billingsley, shouldn’t rush his return

Billingsley thin beard

Chad Billingsley could provide the Dodgers with a midseason pitching boost.

When the Dodgers signed Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena, if was a foregone conclusion the team would place Chad Billingsley on the 60-day disabled list to clear a 40-man roster spot for him.
Much to everyone’s surprise, the Dodgers designated Justin Sellers for assignment to make room for Arruebarrena. Sellers is no big loss, but the Dodgers not putting Billingsley on the 60-day DL is questionable. Some have even suggested Billingsley could be back in less than two months (before June), which would be awfully aggressive.

Almost everyone knew last year Billingsley was destined for Tommy John surgery. Mike broke it down pretty well. So here we are, just a little more than 10 months removed for Billingsley’s surgery, and it appears the Dodgers expect him back sooner, rather than later.

What’s the rush? I’ve always been of the opinion he’d be back around the All-Star break because there’s no reason to rush him back. The Dodgers have enough starting pitcher options outside of Billingsley — none of whom are better than he is — to survive until he’s 100 percent. If Matt Kemp is any example, the last thing the Dodgers need is a guy trying to come back too soon from a major injury.

Sure, the Dodgers are probably going to be without one of the myriad of starting pitcher options this season in Ross Stripling (seriously, his UCL is probably fubar, unfortunately), but guys like Josh Beckett, Stephen Fife, Zach Lee, Matt Magill and Paul Maholm are more than capable of providing decent starts every five days. The same can’t be said for Chris Reed, who gave up five hits and four runs in his 2014 Cactus League debut on Saturday. The Dodgers lost to the Brewers 6-5.

Billingsley threw curveballs today, and Eric Stephen of True Blue LA has some of the details.

“Chad Billingsley in a bullpen session on Saturday threw curve balls for the first time since his Tommy John surgery last April.

‘I had good spin on it. Just getting the feeling back and the release point. I definitely was rusty, but overall it was good,’ Billingsley said. ‘At this stage of the rehab, we’re really testing it, stressing the ligament a little more, building strength into it.’

In addition to his curve, Billingsley threw a fastball and changeup, and said he would mix in his cutter his next time out.”

I tend to overshoot things so I’m not disappointed when expectation aren’t met. Billingsley back at the All-Star break, Kemp back in May, etc. It’s a flaw, but it really isn’t the worst thing for these guys to be completely healthy before they come back and play Major League Baseball.

It seems Billingsley is ahead of (my) schedule, and some folks in the organization think Billingsley could be back sometime in May or June. I’ve always been a big Billingsley fan, and I just don’t want to see him do anything to jeopardize his career.

The Dodgers are going to have to make a couple of decisions about Billingsley. First, they have to decide his role when he comes back. While things could change dramatically by the time he returns, a bullpen role to ease him back into baseball could be best. He has experience throwing out of the bullpen, but hasn’t done so since 2007, when he made 23 relief appearances. Once he’s feeling good — and if there’s a spot available — he should go back in to the Dodger rotation.

Second, they have to determine what they’re going to do with him in the future. Billingsley is in the last year of a 3-year deal he signed before the 2011 season. He’s making $12 million this season and is due $14 million in 2015 on a club option. His buyout is $3 million, so it’s an $11 million decision the Dodgers will have to make. Obviously, they won’t have to make it until the offseason, but Billingsley — provided he’s “fixed” — can still be a quality pitcher in the majors. With the going rate of starting pitchers skyrocketing, the Dodgers could possibly trade him in the winter if his value is re-established. Or they could keep him — something that will be determined in eight or nine months. It will also impact the futures of Lee, Magill and Stripling.

This is a good problem for the Dodgers to have. It’s certainly better than not having enough quality pitchers.

Mailbag #2: Billingsley, Numata, Kemp, Spring Training

guerrero_2014-02-26-stance

Mailbag! Don’t forget to hit us with new questions using the form at the right. Lots of good questions today, and the lineups for today’s game against Milwaukee and old friend Elian Herrera are below, though it sounds more than questionable at the moment if the weather is going to allow the game to be played.

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John: “We seem pretty set to me with the pitching. I know we don’t have much depth in certain areas, but if Billingsley comes back strong, and so do Beckett and others, who would we trade as a starting pitcher and what could we realistically get for him?”

MP: All reports on Chad Billingsley‘s recovery have been stellar so far, and he’s expected to try throwing breaking balls for the first time today. Even so, he’s a good three months from being big-league ready — don’t forget, he’ll need at least a few rehab starts in the minors first — and as we learned last year, so, so much can happen in three months. Maybe Josh Beckett gets hurt again or is just awful. Maybe Hyun-jin Ryu decides he loves Australia and never wants to come home. So it’s all a bit premature right now.

Dodgers
Brewers (ss)
12:05pm PT
Maryvale, Ariz.
DH
Crawford
2B
Weeks
CF
Figgins
DH
Gindl
RF
Puig
RF
Braun
1B
Van Slyke
C
LuCroy
3B
Uribe
CF
Gomez
C
Ellis
3B
Francisco
SS
Harris
1B
Morris
LF
Baxter
LF
Rogers
2B
Gordon
SS
Herrera
P
Haren
 
P
Lohse

But, let’s say that Billingsley is ready to come back and everyone is somehow still healthy and productive. What then? It’s maybe not the worst idea in the world to ease him back into the bigs in relief, though it’s not like the bullpen has a lot of openings, either. Safe to say, this is not  a bad problem to have.

James: Any way you guys can keep us up to date on TWC negotiations with other providers as to if and when the rest of us might get Sports Net LA? It’s hard being in the dark about it all with the season fast approaching.

MP: Of course! So far, it’s still only TWC in Los Angeles and Bright House in Bakersfield, with some additional markets to come there, as we outlined a few days ago. As I said at the time, no one should be surprised that there would be gaps on launch day. But as the season looms, fan discontent will grow, and we’ll keep an eye on all of that for you here.

Brian: Hey guys, do you have any info on Takumi Numata. I dont see him on our top 50, which is kinda unfortunate since we got in a big fuss with Japan over him.

MP: After some controversy about whether foreign teams should sign Japanese high school players, the Dodgers officially signed the 19-year-old righty in December, and he’s expected to be in minor league camp in Arizona, maybe starting off in extended spring training and potentially landing in Rookie league Ogden.

Chad provided some detail on him at the time, indicating that he’s likely a reliever, and sharing this scouting report (from Kazuto Yamazaki via Jonathan Mayo): At 6-1, 188 pounds (that’s according to the release), it doesn’t sound like there’s that much physical projection to look for. His fastball sits in the upper 80s to low 90s, according to the report, topping out at 92 mph. He goes right after hitters with it and largely pitches off of his fastball, though he also has a slider.

Gabe: Hey guys, LOVE the new blog, in a perfect world where we don’t consider contracts, would you choose Andre Ethier over Carl Crawford as an everyday outfielder? Dre had a better OPS+ and WAR last season, even with his noted struggles against lefties. I guess the hope is Crawford returns to 2010 form?

MP: In a world where we don’t consider contracts, I’m not entirely sure Crawford is on the team. Remember, he was essentially a tax that the Dodgers had to swallow in order to get Adrian Gonzalez, and while he was surprisingly useful — I’m not going to complain about 2.9 WAR — I imagine that if he didn’t have $82.5m left on his contract, the team might have moved him by now, if only to make room for Joc Pederson.

Crawford turns 33 in August and it’s not realistic to expect him to get back to his peak, especially with continued leg issues. Then again, considering how awful his 2011-12 seasons were in Boston, merely being a two-to-three win player is useful, even if wildly out of proportion with his contract.

But to answer your question, I’m not convinced yet that they need to choose. Ethier will almost certainly be playing center in Australia, leaving left for Crawford, and until Matt Kemp proves that he’s fully healthy, the Dodgers don’t have four outfielders. Good news on that last front, however — Ken Gurnick reports that his MRI was “favorable,” and that Kemp will be “allowed to do more baseball drills.” Of course, he adds “maybe” some running, which means there’s still no real ETA here.

Brian: If the Dodgers don’t make it to the World Series this year, will the season be a disappointment?

MP: It will be portrayed that way, sure. The media will laugh at how such an expensive team didn’t make it. The players and executives will say how disappointed they are. Every team says that winning the World Series is their goal, but many of them don’t really have a chance to make it happen. This team does.

That said, winning the World Series is really, really hard, and the team that wins the most regular season games rarely takes the title. The 2001 Mariners (116 wins) didn’t win. Neither did the 1998 Braves (106 wins) or the 2004 Cardinals (105) or the 2002 Yankees and A’s (both 103) or the 2011 Phillies (102) and on and on. Over a short series, talent sometimes takes a backseat to randomness and health, as we saw with Hanley Ramirez last fall. If this team doesn’t make it to October, that’s a huge disappointment. From there, when very good teams like the Cardinals and Nationals and Braves and Tigers and Red Sox and Rays and others await, you cross your fingers and hope.

Nick: In your 2/19 mailbag, you listed Ross Stripling as trade bait because he didn’t profile well as a reliever. Can you elaborate? Stripling relieved in college and his fastball got a nice boost in shorter outings. Combine that with a plus spike curve and plus command, and he could be a great back-end of the bullpen arm in my opinion.

CM: Yeah, sure. I honestly don’t see the plus out-pitch and I do think he’ll work out as a back-end starter. He’s more of a summation of parts than a guy with a plus or plus-plus arm that you might find in the late innings for the Dodgers. Four solid-average to above-average pitches to go along with strike-throwing and sinkerballer/groundballer tendencies profiles as a starter more than a guy you want to put at the back-end and hope that all the balls batters put into play don’t find holes (Brandon League/Ronald Belisario).

(MP: Of course, it may not matter now, since we’re waiting to hear how badly he’s mangled his elbow.)

Nate: Read in this past mailbag that the Dodgers have what seems to be a weak bench. I think we have to consider that if Kemp is healthy, Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier (or both maybe on LHP starts) are going to be bench players, two guys that have their flaws but would be regular starters in other circumstances and on other teams. Doesn’t that fact mean we have at least a decent bench?

CM: Was referring mainly to the utility problem on the infield, the outfield reserves should be fine.

Becca: I would love to see a post about how to watch spring training. You have discussed the value of spring training stats, but then how should we watch theses games? Should there be concern when pitchers miss locations? Or should we watch to see how tired players are rounding the bases? How should we watch spring training games?

MP: This is a great question, and likely a reaction to Brim’s recent posts on how spring stats don’t matter. And they, really, really don’t, perfectly illustrated by this brief excerpt from former major leaguer Dirk Hayhurst‘s new book:

“They want me to work on a slider, or a cutter, something with that cross-plate action.” He shook his head. “Thing is, I don’t want to add something that I’m not confident in, then spend all spring training getting beat on a hunch they have. You know how often you hear that, right? Guy comes into camp, coaches all want him to learn something new, player does his best to please them, gets his ass kicked, then spends the whole year in Triple-A because he wasn’t true to himself.”

So don’t put any stock whatsoever into ERA’s or batting averages or team wins, especially team wins, since the last few innings are always populated by guys with no prayer to make the big club.

Still, spring training can be useful for some of the reasons you listed above and others that aren’t reflected in the stats, especially for players who came into came with questions. For example, there’s probably no bigger question in camp than whether Alexander Guerrero can play second base, so I’ve been watching every defensive chance of his particularly closely. That’s a similar thing for Dee Gordon, since he claims to have bulked up and might be on his last chance to prove himself with the Dodgers. With the pitchers, I want to know if Brian Wilson‘s hot final weeks are for real.

And of course, there’s the injuries. I want to see how Kemp and Billingsley look as they progress. I want to know if Beckett has anything left. That’s the kind of stuff you watch out for in spring, not the numbers.