Alex Castellanos is back tonight. And Scott Van Slyke. And Jerry Sands.
Hey, even Josh Fields, Luis Cruz, Trent Oeltjen, Matt Angle and Tim Federowicz are here too. It’s like a seven-game winning streak ‘Topes reunion. But instead of trading stories about how good they used to be, they’re going to make new ones about how good they actually are.
“The nucleus of our club looks pretty close to what he had at the start of the season right now, and that’s a good thing,” Isotopes Manager Lorenzo Bundy said.
You don’t say.
That was the team that had six different guys batting over .300. Actually, that was the team that, as a whole, was hitting almost .300 (.289). They ranked second in home runs (20), third in RBI (111) and third in runs (119). They ate Powerbars for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
And now they’re back, and presumably, better than ever. With three of the everyday starters having seen time with the Dodgers already, PLUS a lineup that features the scorching hot Brian Cavazos-Galvez, the ‘Topes shouldn’t have any problems in the near future.
Except maybe fitting everyone into the lineup.
“That’s the time when your managerial skills come in as far as spreading time around,” Bundy said. “But at this level you don’t know who is going to be here one day and gone the next.”
Well, while they are here, I plan on thoroughly enjoying each and every day they crank up the bats. I plan on soaking in every box score that could easily belong to a football game: 7-3, 14-6, 21-0… A little too far? I think not.
“Obviously having everyone back here makes us strong again in a sense,” Isotopes Hitting Coach John Valentin said. “We hope to get back on a roll like we did early in the year and get back to first place.”
Go ahead and put us back on the fast track for the top rung. In the last week or so, the ‘Topes have moved from four and a half games back of first, to only one and a half. During the streak, as the big leaguers have begun to slowly trickle back to Albuquerque, the Isotopes have scored 10 or more runs in three of the four most recent victories.
“We’ve swung the bat really, really well the last few nights,” Valentin said. “Hopefully it’s a good sign that we’re going to start to get hot with the bats and help our pitching out.”
Oh yeah. I nearly forgot about the guys out on the mound for us, who, arguably, have been the biggest cause for the improved play. Between starters Fernando Nieve, Will Savage, Stephen Fife and John Ely, none of the hurlers have allowed more than four runs in their previous starts at home. And yes, that includes the rarefied air of Isotopes Park, which is not especially known for aiding pitching.
“We’ve been getting really good pitching, and that’s been a key point,” Valentin said.
Whatever you want to attribute our hot streak to lately, winning six of the last eight, it’s been vintage ‘Topes. Hitting. Scoring. Winning. It’s all coming together, much like the core of this season’s starting roster. However, the trick is going to be not chasing first place, just taking care of business day by day at the yard.
“We try not to look two or three days down the road, we just go for the day,” Bundy said. “I try to keep the guys focused on the moment and whatever happens tomorrow we’ll deal with it when we get there.”
He’s right. Who knows, maybe we’ll even get Elian Herrera back —
And have some real roster issues.
For nearly a decade Elian Herrera had played minor league ball. He spent almost ten years slowly advancing through the ranks; the Dodgers’ facility in the Dominican Republic, Rookie Ball, Single-A, Double-A, Triple-A, BACK to Double-A. He’d seen pitches at every level of the game, except the majors.
Why should this season be any different?
“Elian’s been solid,” Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly told MLB.com after Herrera’s 17th game with the Dodgers, where he went 2-for-5 with two RBI. “It’s like you’re getting as close as you can to a grizzled veteran coming up from the Minors. Nine years of polish and learning to play the game. He’s been through a lot.”
But that still doesn’t explain it.
Why should the team with the best record in baseball find a spot for a guy that’s barely played a full season at Double-A? Why should he hit safely in 15 of 19 Major League contests? Why should he have three game-winning RBI already? Why should he, over five other players that were called up, make the cut instead of them?
“It’s (his success) from both sides of the plate,” Mattingly said. “He’s shown power, he’s had good at-bats, he’s shown awareness, he can steal a base, he can try to get a bunt down. He’s got a lot of different things to his game. It’s not like he’s a one-dimensional guy that came up and got hot. He looks like he belongs here.”
He also looked like he belonged with the Isotopes.
Before the call-up on May 14, Herrera was hitting .358 and on a 17-game hitting streak. He was a huge part of the ‘Topes’ winning ways, helping the team climb from the basement of the PCL American Southern Division to sole possession of first.
“It’s a great story,” Isotopes Manager Lorenzo Bundy said of Herrera. “He came here and worked his way into the lineup. He was part of the reason we turned our season around. He’s gone up there (to the Dodgers) and he’s definitely holding his own and doing a great job.”
Another thing that may have separated Herrera is his versatility. In 28 games with Albuquerque, he played six different positions on the diamond, and outside of catching or pitching, saw time everywhere except right field. At the plate, he mostly fit into the leadoff role but also had success batting in the bottom end of the lineup.
He’s the definition of utility player, and with consistent numbers at so many spots on the diamond and in the batting order, finding playing time with the Dodgers wasn’t the point of concern for Herrera or Bundy.
“The main question was could Elian handle the pressure,” Bundy said. “He’s played in pressure type situations before, but was it Dodger Stadium with 45,000 people? No. So I said the only way you find out is to give him a shot.”
In return, Herrera’s been ripping shots off any and all Major League pitching. Last night’s victim was none other than three-time All-Star and Cy-Young award winner Cliff Lee. The lefty held the first-place Dodgers to only two runs on the night. Herrera’s line? A hit with two RBI.
“He’s a baseball guy, he has great instincts,” said Isotopes Hitting Coach John Valentin of Herrera’s smooth transition to the Majors. “It especially shows when you see him have success in the big leagues, when he’s facing the best of the best when it comes to pitching.”
The greatest part of his story is that Herrera came out of nowhere and was picked up for almost nothing. When he signed with the Dodgers in 2003, he was inked with only a $15,000 bonus. As a catcher.
“I’d like to tell you that I studied the minor league system and knew this guy could play, but I can’t say that,” Mattingly said. “It’s a testament to him that he continued to work hard.”
And finally, it’s all paying off.
“In the Dominican they say, ‘Give 100 percent. What happens happens,'” Herrera said. “Even if you don’t reach your goal, you could always tell your children, ‘I gave the most I could give.'”
Here in America, we say, “Welcome to ‘The Show,’ Elian. You’ve earned it.”
Here we go again.
Just as the roster battle in the Dodgers infield came to a conclusion with Luis Cruz and Josh Fields heading to the ‘Topes, another competition heats up out of the bullpen.
Starting pitcher Ted Lilly, who has been on the Disabled List since the beginning of the season with neck stiffness, is set to start against the Padres on Saturday night. This means the crowded bullpen in Los Angeles will be forced to make a decision between relievers Jamey Wright and Josh Lindblom, and factoring in a number of variables, may send one down to Albuquerque.
Trust me, we welcome the extra pitching.
As far as stats go, Lindblom holds a quiet advantage over Wright after pitching four scoreless innings without allowing a single hit. The hurler also picked up his first Major League win on Opening Day for the Dodgers, and hasn’t slowed down since.
“It’s been an awesome 48 hours,” Lindblom told the LA Times after making the LAD roster and earning his first win. “I couldn’t even imagine making my first opening-day roster. And now having that win on opening day and being able to pitch and a part of all of this. It’s a special, special experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
As for Jamey Wright, the advantage may lie in the fact that his counterpart, Lindblom, still has two years of minor-league options. Otherwise, on paper the two pitchers are nearly indiscernible, posting almost identical stats through all of Spring Training and six regular-season contests.
Same position. Same stats. Same first letter of their first name. It’s made for a daunting task for Dodgers skipper, Don Mattingly.
When was asked about keeping one pitcher over the other, Mattingly responded, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
More like, thanks, but no thanks.
If Josh Wright, excuse me, Jamey Lindblom, (I did it again)… Josh Lindblom is sent to Albuquerque, the ‘Topes will fortify their shaky pitching rotation with a consistent right-hander out of the pen. Lindblom has appeared in 134 innings with Albuquerque since the 2009 season, collecting a 5.37 ERA in the pitching obstacle of Isotopes Park.
Not necessarily a dream job for the 24 year-old on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster.
Still, knowing he’s on a day-to-day basis in the Dodgers rotation, Lindblom has taken the meaning of “team player” to a whole new level.
“Whatever role I have to fill on this team – whether it’s long, short, one batter, whatever it is – I’m just going to come out and compete,” Lindblom said. “I want to give the team a chance to win.”
That’s the Wright mentality.
It had been a long time coming when the Dodgers optioned outfielder Trent Oeltjen to minor-league camp after Saturday’s 9-3 win against the D-backs.
Oeltjen was vying for a roster spot in a crowded Dodgers outfield that included four players ahead of the former ‘Tope, perhaps most importantly versatile fielder Jerry Hairston. Even so, Oeltjen didn’t make it easy on the Dodgers after batting .289 this spring and scoring two runs in Saturday’s exhibition game. But despite the solid performance, Los Angeles’ roster couldn’t support a spot for the outfielder.
Oeltjen has appeared in 99 big-league games since his MLB debut with the D-backs in 2009. He batted .220 during that tenure, most recently dropping to .197 through 61 games with the Dodgers in 2011. Conversely, the outfielder racked up 149 hits in 465 at-bats (.339) with the ‘Topes last season, the highest among all Isotopes with more than 55 games for the Triple-A club.
The roster move leaves the next and near final Dodgers transactions to involve an infield position between former ‘Tope Justin Sellers and non-roster invitee Josh Fields. Sellers’ performance has fluctuated during spring training and currently includes a .308 batting average, while Fields got off to a hot start before recently cooling off to hit .273.
Stay tuned for more up-to-the-minute roster updates as the ‘Topes prepare for the 2012 campaign beginning April 5 at the Omaha Storm Chasers.
Relief pitcher, Ramon Troncoso, has cleared waivers and will be sent to Triple-A Albuquerque to begin the 2012 season. Troncoso was originally designated for assignment last Thursday to reinstate Ronald Belisario from the restricted list. The reliever was out of options on his minor-league contract and had to clear waivers in order to return to the Dodgers’ organization.
Troncoso got off to a shaky start in spring training, posting a 5.40 ERA through five innings pitched. He will likely continue his role of the previous few years, spending most of the season with the Isotopes while making a few, spot relief appearances with the Dodgers.
The left-hander looked like a promising reliever during the 2009-10 seasons under then-manager, Joe Torre. In a somewhat bittersweet situation, Torre relied heavily on the lefty’s arm throughout both campaigns, pitching Troncoso 73 times in 2009 and 15 times in a 21 game stretch during 2010. The heavy workload may have worn on the reliever’s arm as he hasn’t posted consistent numbers since the call-ups.
Following his big league stints of two seasons ago, Troncoso has pitched 79 innings in the hitter-friendly confines of Isotopes Park. His 2011 highlights include tossing nine consecutive, scoreless innings during a six-game span last season, and earning 18 relief appearances with the Dodgers.
If Troncoso can return to “2009 form,” he could serve as a consistent reliever in both the ‘Topes’ and Dodgers’ bullpen.
We thought it might be enough to hang on.
When Jerry Sands stepped into the box Monday afternoon, facing a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the ninth, he had the chance to leave the stadium as a hero.
And he did. (http://atmlb.com/GUPoXc)
Sands ripped a walk-off single to send the White Sox packing in a not-so-important spring training game. To the Dodgers, a walk-off hit is nice. To Sands, a walk-off hit can be the difference between Prime Rib in Los Angeles and Green Chile in Albuquerque.
The game-winner also came in the wake of Sands’ nine consecutive hitless at-bats. The hit had the potential to give the infielder some of his confidence back, which up until Monday, came at a premium. Without putting the former Isotope to too much shame, Sands was hitting only roughly better than I am while I sit at my desk.
“I have been feeling pretty brutal,” Sands told ESPN. “I’m just trying to work on some things. I have made some adjustments here and there, and I’m trying to get comfortable with some of the changes that I have made.”
You have to feel for the guy who showed such great flashes of potential last season when he hit .342 in 20 games during September for the Dodgers. Sands had tinkered with his swing a few times before posting those numbers, a sort of foreshadow to spring training.
At camp, Dodgers’ hitting coaches (that’s plural, coaches — all three of them) each offered their own insight to perfect Sands’ swing. And Sands, a teacher himself, knows three different voices telling you three different things can lead to trouble.
“You like to get help, and a lot of different people were trying to help,” Sands said.”But everybody is different as a hitter. I appreciate the help, and I love to listen, because I know I don’t know all of it. But I was up there thinking so many things at the plate, thinking about my swing and all that, and it’s tough enough already when you have that pitcher throwing 95 (mph).
A classic case of over-thinking.
Sands had initially entered camp with a legitimate, if not almost certain, shot at making the Opening Day 25-man roster. He has the ability to serve as a power-hitter for the Dodgers against lefties, but was never able to perform quite up to par in Glendale, Arizona.
“Even with the hit yesterday, he doesn’t feel good, he doesn’t feel right,” Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said. “It’s been a rough camp for Jerry, and obviously, Jerry knows it.”
With those final words to seal Sands’ fate, Mattingly today announced he had optioned Sands to minor-league camp, most likely placing him in Albuquerque for the start of the 2012 season. From there, Sands has been told he may still figure into the Dodgers’ game plan at some point later this season.
“Right now, I’m just trying to see some pitches and get good swings on them,” Sands said. “I’m taking it at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch.”
May I suggest walk-off to walk-off?
For Dodgers catching prospect, Gorman Erickson, spring training isn’t as much about honing his skills as it is just figuring out how the whole process actually works.
Gorman, or Griff, as he’s known around Dodger Town, is wrapping up his first stint at a big league spring training after playing as a professional since the 2007 season. The catcher has already been reassigned to minor-league camp, where his eventual landing spot is still unknown.
Luckily, finding an opening on the Dodgers starting roster takes a back seat to simply finding out where the camp-rookie is supposed to be on a day-to-day basis.
“I haven’t seen the way (camp) is perceived when you’re a player,” Erickson told Dodgers Independent Blogger Kenny Shulsen. “The little things you have to do – how to get to the clubhouse, how to deal with people, where you’re staying – the team has done a really good job helping us out with all the small things you need to know when you get to the big leagues.”
Like how to approach your first at-bat when you hit the diamond in Glendale, Arizona?
“The first at-bat didn’t go so well,” Erickson laughed. “It was all just a blur that first time. I then settled in and got a few knocks in there.”
Griff didn’t get a chance to settle in for too long before the Dodgers gave him the expected news of playing in the minors. Erickson originally survived the first round on of cuts on March 15, but faced the inevitable reassignment almost halfway through spring training on March 18.
“It’s like everyone always says, you just have to keep working hard,” Erickson said. “Every day is a competition. You have to go out there and leave it all on the field and try as hard as you possibly can.”
That’s the kind of refreshing attitude found only in a player who’s happy just to be at spring training.
Still, even after adjusting to the workout’s daily grind, Griff admitted the Major League learning curve is an eye-opening experience.
“You don’t know what it’s like until you actually get here and get to talk to all the guys,” Erickson said. “You realize just how much information and how many little things you can pick up… if you’re willing to. It’s unbelievable”
After being drafted in 2006, Griff signed with the Dodgers organization at the start of the ’07 season. He’s suited up for parts of three seasons in Rookie ball, two in Single-A, one in Double-A and a few games at the Triple-A level. This year’s spring training may serve as the eventual launching pad for Erickson’s MLB debut.
“It’s a great introduction to what life would be like when you get called up,” Erickson told MiLB.com. “Coming to your first big league camp it’s all about soaking up all the information you can. Just being here for the short amount of time I have, I still feel like I’ve added a lot of things to my game.
His question now becomes not IF he will be a part of the Dodgers organization, but WHERE in the minors he’ll actually end up.
But to Erickson, that’s not really an issue.
“Any chance is a good chance,” he said. “It’s another opportunity for me to be a part of something bigger.”
I’m scared to write this blog. I’ll admit it. I seem to have brought bad luck, bad at-bats and a bad spring training in general to anyone I spotlight in the ‘Topes Tattler. I’m sincerely sorry Jerry Sands (now batting .174), Justin Sellers (injured on March 19, and going 3-for-his-last-13 before) and Scott Van Slyke (hitless in 5 of 10 exhibition games). Please don’t hold it against me.
So, to at least make myself feel better about all of this, I’ll blame the recent streak of terrible luck on the ‘Topes Tattler, and not myself.
We’ll call it “The Curse Of The Tattler.”
Fingers crossed, knocking on wood, rabbit foot in my other hand, witchcraft book open to any page but 13 — deep breath — here we go: Hello, Josh Fields.
Anyone who is anyone knows about the final roster battle waging between former ‘Topes Jerry Sands and Justin Sellers, now also features another PCL player from 2011, Josh Fields. The trio is in a daily competition against each other, where every at-bat weighs as much, if not more, than all previous playing time in each prospect’s career. The winner to the Pro’s, the losers (though not really “losers” in our book) to the Isotopes.
No pressure or anything.
Even at the very top the situation is as unclear today as it was before spring training started. Dodgers General Manager, Ned Colletti, recently told Dodgers Radio that the ever-changing shape of the Opening Day roster is “fluid.”
“We’ll see what the situation is day-by-day and do what’s best for everybody,” Colletti said.
Given the nature of this year’s spring training, day-to-day is about as fair as any player can ask. This also means the last reserve, bench spot on the Dodgers 25-man will likely be decided within the next nine spring training games.
Three players. Two at-bats a game. One roster spot.
And one Curse of the Tattler.
But as of recent, nonroster invitee Josh Fields has slowly begun to emerge as the likely candidate, hitting .385, second on the team to only Andre Ethier (.440). In fact, Fields credits much of his success at the plate to the point that he WASN’T a roster invitee this spring.
“It gives you a little bit more to strive for, a little bit more drive to come in,” Fields told the LA Daily News. “I’m going to earn every single bit of it. I’m past the point of having things handed out and given (to me).”
Fields’ lack of notice from other teams may come from his decision to split from Triple-A Colorado Springs last season, to finish out 2011 overseas for Yomiuri in the Japan Central League. Playing the corners of the infield for the Giants, Fields appeared in 50 games while hitting a lack-luster .202.
That’s the kind of numbers that cause coaches to hesitate when offering a new contract, especially when they’re unsure of a player’s loyalty to staying in Major League Baseball.
However, Fields was eventually offered, and signed, a contract to play in the Dodgers system, most likely beginning the season in Albuquerque. Now that overseas ball is a thing of the past, Fields insists he’s here for the long-run.
“I had an offer to go back to Japan, but I chose not to,” he told ESPN. “My focus is here. This is where I want to be… But I know I’m going to have to hit my way back to the big leagues.”
Hitting .385 in 15 games (tied for most on the team) is a good start for Fields. As is playing enough positions around the diamond you’d think the Dodgers had six guys named Josh Fields.
“He’s been pretty good,” Manager Don Mattingly said. “We’ve been trying different things — first, third, left (last Monday) — and you can’t complain about any of his at-bats.”
An all-around utility fielder seems to be the go-to route for this final roster position. Between Fields, Sellers and Sands, the nonroster invitee is beginning to stake out a small advantage with his versatility. He’ll be able to fill-in across the field, which in-turn will likely create a few more at-bat opportunities as spring training comes to its conclusion.
And although his recent tagline may read “Made in Japan,” Fields assured the entire organization that he wants to be here, battling it out for the last roster opening.
“I’m a Dodger,” Fields said. “I just want to stay healthy and show them what I can do.”
I just hope for curses’ sake, he doesn’t read this.
The Dodgers made further progress towards setting their opening-day 25-man roster with a second round of cuts on Sunday.
Eight players in total will put their Major League dreams on hold for now, seven being assigned to minor league camp and one pitcher, Alberto Castillo, being released by the Dodgers. The club has now reassigned 16 prospects to minor league camp, which runs from March 18-30.
“All those guys, they’ve all had pretty good camps as far as work,” Manager Don Mattingly told the Associated Press. “It’s just getting to the point (where) there’s not enough at-bats to get guys any playing time.”
Below is a list of players re-assigned to minor league camp through the first two rounds of Dodgers cuts:
Matt Chico (2011; 5.06 ERA in 10.2 innings, Triple-A Syracuse)
Ryan Tucker (2011; 5.40 ERA in 68.1 innings, Triple-A Round Rock)
Will Savage (2011; 3.95 ERA in 141.1 innings, Double-A Chattanooga)
Chris Withrow (2011; 4.20 ERA in 128.2 innings, Double-A Chattanooga)
Josh Wall (2011; 3.93 ERA in 68.2 innings, Double-A Chattanooga)
Stephen Fife (2011; 3.66 ERA in 103.1 innings, Double-A Portland)
Michael Antonini (2011; 4.01 ERA in 148.0 innings, Double-A Chattanooga)
Shane Lindsay (2011; 1.98 ERA in 63.2 innings, Triple-A Charlotte)
Matt Wallach (2011; .247 in 186 AB, Double-A Chattanooga)
Gorman Erickson (2011; .275 in 142 AB, Double-A Chattanooga)
Lance Zawadzki (2011; .233 in 326 AB, Triple-A Omaha)
Jeff Baisley (2011; .303 in 538 AB, Triple-A Salt Lake)
Alfredo Silverio (2011; .306 in 533 AB, Double-A Chattanooga)
Scott Van Slyke (2011; .348 in 457 AB, Double-A Chattanooga)
Alex Castellanos (2011; .322 in 121 AB, Double-A Chattanooga)
Russ Mitchell (2011; .283 in 336 AB, Triple-A Albuquerque)
For now, former Isotopes Jerry Sands, Justin Sellers and Ivan DeJesus Jr. still have a chance to earn a roster spot for Opening Day. However, DeJesus left last Saturday’s game in the seventh inning after pulling his left oblique muscle. The middle infielder complained of discomfort on his first swing of the at-bat, and is awaiting results of Monday’s MRI to know the extent of the injury.
“It’s hard to compete when you can’t be out there,” Mattingly said. “With this type of injury, there’s not a lot you can do. If you lose eight to 10 days, how many days does it take just to get your timing back? Not a good time to get hurt. You could see it on his face last night. These guys know it hurts your chance.”
Either way, it’s a safe bet Isotopes fans will greet DeJesus with a warm welcome if he’s back in Albuquerque again this season.
Big league roster experience or not.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to sift through Dodgers Spring Training headlines without seeing a mention of Justin Sellers.
Thrown into the mix of three new free-agent infielder signings this offseason (Mark Ellis, Jerry Hairston and Adam Kennedy), Sellers needs to continue to make the most of his opportunities to stand out from the pack.
And it certainly doesn’t help that his three competitors have appeared in over 1,000 Major League games each, compared to Sellers’ 36.
“Kennedy, Ellis, those guys are vets and I can’t control it,” Sellers told MLB.com. “I just have to play as hard as I can to help this team.”
Which Sellers is consistently doing this spring, ranking seventh in overall batting average — In the entire National League.
Through seven games with the Dodges in Spring Training, Sellers has ripped a base hit in five of his 13 at-bats, posting a solid .385 batting average. The utility fielder also lifted a three-run home run in a pinch-hit situation Monday against the Angels.
Unfortunately, power hitting isn’t exactly what the Dodgers are looking for from Sellers, as Manager Don Mattingly expects a more balanced approach at the plate.
“When he got back to the dugout, the first thing I told him was to hit the ball to right field next at-bat,” Mattingly said, referencing hitting line drives. “He knows he has to. He led the team in fly-ball percentage last year. I don’t want to see him trying to hit home runs… He has to keep working on his swing to keep the ball down.”
Try telling that to Sellers, who’s belted 14 home runs in each of his last two seasons with the Isotopes.
Even with his strong start, most still consider Sellers a long-shot to make the opening-day roster, largely due to the long list of Dodgers veteran infielders. This leaves a single reserve spot to come down to a friendly battle with fellow Isotopes teammate, Jerry Sands. Both have drawn attention in the first half of Spring Training, but Mattingly seems to be leaning towards keeping Sellers while sending Sands back to Albuquerque.
“We all like Jerry (Sands), but he’s at a point where he can still get better,” Mattingly said. “He has hit lefties pretty well, but struggled on the other side with the righties. I think he can do that, but still remains to be seen.”
Despite such news, Sellers knows he must continue to adapt his game (specifically avoiding fly outs) if he wants to become an everyday player in the big leagues. This also comes on the back of the Dodgers bringing in three players, who, in their attempt to earn a starting role, will try to keep Sellers in Albuquerque.
“It’s frustrating a little bit,” Sellers said. “But it made me work harder and gave me a little fire to come out and work my butt off.”
And also keep the ball down in the process.