Dan Haren has another good day

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
11:45
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LOS ANGELES -- It's all about the now for Dan Haren. He looks back on the past few years and sees disappointment. He looks ahead and can't see much of anything, just a haze of unknowns. So, what else does he have to lean on but the day at hand?

The Los Angeles Dodgers are hanging on tight in these touch-and-go times for a starting rotation that was a shining beacon three weeks ago and, at the moment, has only one bright light, Clayton Kershaw. It's going to take more than one bankable starting pitcher, great as he is, to get them where they thought they were heading.

[+] EnlargeDan Haren
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsDan Haren needs only 30 innings this season to trigger a $10 million contract option, but he'd rather the Dodgers win the division.
So, getting Haren straightened out would be nice. And he'd love nothing more than to be that guy again. He'd love nothing more than to help the Dodgers reach the playoffs and, after that, who knows?

It has been a grind of a season for Haren, 33, but three of his past four starts have been strong, leading to the suggestion, however fleeting, that he can be a part of this team's final drive. He might have to be, with Zack Greinke trying to pitch with a sore elbow and two other starters on the disabled list.

Ask Josh Beckett about pitching for the moment. He was among the best starting pitchers in baseball for three months. Now, after a serious hip injury flared up, his season is probably over and his career just might be, too. Beckett is only one year older than Haren, and Haren has actually pitched about 100 more innings in his career.

"I have to be able to step up," Haren said. "I've been one of the five guys all year and, however many starts I have left, they have to be as good as they can be."

Two seasons ago, Haren was on an Los Angeles Angels team that had just signed one of the game's greatest players, Albert Pujols, and was a heavy World Series favorite. They finished third. Last year, Haren was supposed to be the final piece of a starting pitching puzzle that would make the Washington Nationals perhaps the most dominant team in the National League. They finished second, 10 games out, and went nowhere in October.

Don't you think Haren would love a chance to help get his hometown team into the playoffs? Oddly, if he does just that he might find he has the option of continuing the run for another year. Haren went seven strong innings in the Dodgers' 6-2 win over the New York Mets on Friday night, cruising after Curtis Granderson's leadoff home run.

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Haren leads Dodgers over error-prone Mets 6-2

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
10:02
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LOS ANGELES -- Dan Haren overcame a leadoff homer by Curtis Granderson and a pair of failed sacrifice bunt attempts to help the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the error-prone New York Mets 6-2 on Friday night.

Haren (11-10) allowed a run and three hits in seven innings, striking out six and walking none. The victory was his third in four starts after going 0-5 with a 10.03 ERA in his previous five outings.

The NL West-leading Dodgers maintained their 3 1-2 game lead over San Francisco.

Jonathon Niese (7-9) allowed five runs -- two earned -- eight hits, and three walks in 6 2/3 innings. The unearned runs were the result of a throwing error by shortstop Wilmer Flores on a routine grounder by Adrian Gonzalez. It was one of four Mets errors, matching a season high.


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Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 6, Mets 2

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
9:50
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LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers got a good start from one of the pitchers at the struggling back of their rotation and beat the New York Mets 6-2 Friday night to keep their lead over the San Francisco Giants at 3½ games.

How it happened: The jokes at Dan Haren's expense were flying fast and furious on Twitter after Curtis Granderson homered on the third pitch of the game. The home run was the 25th Haren has given up this season and it seemed as if Haren would have another rough first inning. He didn't. He got through the rest of the inning quickly and barely got into trouble after that, pitching seven strong innings and giving up only three hits to go with six strikeouts. Haren (11-10) has been strong in three of his past four outings, a huge boost to a rotation that has been battered by injuries.

The Dodgers remain stuck in a rut offensively, but Dee Gordon (3-for-4, RBI) and Justin Turner (2-for-3) helped scrape together just enough to win. It also helped that the Mets' infield played atrocious defense, committing four errors.

Hits: If you lower the parameters to 250 plate appearances, Turner is third in the National League in batting average (.318). According to Baseball Reference's WAR, he is the second-most valuable Dodger position player after Yasiel Puig and the fourth-most valuable Dodger overall behind Puig, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. So, yeah, it looks as though Turner was a good signing, especially when you consider it was a minor league deal right before spring training. His old team, the Mets, got a good look at what they lost when they non-tendered him last fall.

Misses: The Dodgers have lacked oomph at home, particularly on this homestand. The latest reason is that the middle of their order has been in a collective funk. Exhibits A and B are Adrian Gonzalez (4-for-24) and Matt Kemp (4-for-22), batting .174 collectively on this homestand. Gonzalez had one tough-luck at-bat, lining to the shortstop, but he also hit a harmless roller with the bases loaded to end the fifth inning. He hit another ground ball in the seventh with runners on, but shortstop Wilmer Flores threw it away for his second error of the game. Kemp may have broken out of his slump with a two-run double the same inning.

Stat of the game: Haren twice flubbed bunt attempts. He hit one too hard and grounded into a double play in the third inning, then he missed a squeeze attempt and left Turner out to dry between home and third. On the other hand, he had an RBI single. Dodgers pitchers have 13 RBIs and Haren has five of them.

Up next: The series continues Saturday at 6:05 p.m. with Zack Greinke (12-8, 2.75 ERA) pitching and testing his sore right elbow against the Mets' Jacob deGrom (6-5, 2.87), who will come off the disabled list (shoulder) to make the start.

The pluses and minuses of Hanley Ramirez's return

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
5:35
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LOS ANGELES -- All signs point to Hanley Ramirez coming off the disabled list on Sunday, exactly 15 days after he landed there because of a strained muscle in his right side.

Ramirez's return is a good thing for the Dodgers' lineup, which has struggled to score runs in its past nine games. It comes with a tradeoff, however, and an appreciable one.

Ramirez's primary replacement, Miguel Rojas, couldn't come close to matching Ramirez's offensive impact. Rojas is batting .203 with a .520 OPS. Ramirez, though he hasn't been as electric as he was in 2013 at the plate, still has an .822 OPS, which is good at any position and elite for a shortstop.

The defensive metrics indicate that Ramirez is a major liability at shortstop. His defensive WAR is the worst in the majors aside from Tampa Bay's Yunel Escobar. According to Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), Rojas has been 20 runs better than Ramirez at shortstop. The Dodgers' other option at shortstop, Erisbel Arruebarrena, is also a strong defender though he hasn't played enough in the majors to establish reliable numbers.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly ruled out Ramirez playing any other position when he comes back. Third baseman Juan Uribe currently is on the DL and Ramirez took some ground balls there earlier in the week. Mattingly said the team will continue to sub Rojas or Arruebarrena in the final two innings of close games, but Ramirez's offense is simply too important to the team to leave on the bench, no matter how badly he struggles with the glove.

"When you get the kind of offense that Hanley gives you out of that position, it's a bonus," Mattingly said. "Early in the season, Hanley wasn't moving as well. As the season has gone on, he has moved better. I don't want to say it as a negative, but we're still willing to defend those last couple innings. We have a couple guys that are outstanding defensive shortstops. If you get the lead, then you try to do it."

Ramirez, 30, is a free agent after this season and it appears the Dodgers are grooming Arruebarrena as his replacement. The Dodgers signed him to a five-year, $25 million contract in spring training.

Cuban player smuggler pleads guilty

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
1:44
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MIAMI -- A man accused of masterminding a human-trafficking ring pleaded guilty Friday to U.S. extortion charges involving the smuggling of more than 1,000 Cubans, including baseball players such as Texas Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin.

Eliezer Lazo, 41, entered the plea Friday in Miami federal court. Lazo is already serving a five-year prison sentence for money laundering in a Medicare fraud case and now faces up to 20 additional years behind bars. Lazo agreed to cooperate with investigators, which could reduce his prison time when he is sentenced later this year.

Prosecutors say Lazo led an organization that smuggled Cubans by boat into Mexico, where they were held until ransom payments were made. The cost was typically about $10,000 for each person, although it could be much higher in the case of Cuban baseball stars such as Martin.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Davidson said the migrants who were not sports stars were often crowded together in rooms of 20 or more under armed guard, in prisonlike conditions. If the smugglers weren't immediately paid, Davidson said, "the Cuban migrants in Mexico were restrained and beaten while relatives could hear the screams on the phone."

Court documents show that the valuable Cuban baseball stars were treated far better than others involved with the smuggling ring, even though they were watched over by armed guards.

If the money was paid up front, prosecutors say the Cubans were brought directly to the U.S. without incident. Under the U.S. "wet foot, dry foot" policy, Cubans who reach shore generally are allowed to stay in the U.S. while those intercepted at sea are returned to the communist island.

All told, Davidson said Lazo's smuggling venture netted up to $1.5 million for the group.


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Series preview: Mets at Dodgers

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
6:00
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LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers continue to try to piece together a pitching rotation that, because of injuries, has gone from being their greatest strength to their biggest concern.

This weekend will provide some more answers, with Dan Haren fighting hard to get his form back and nail down his spot and Zack Greinke trying pitch through a sore elbow.

It should help that the team they’re facing, the New York Mets, has lost six of its last nine games, scoring more than two runs in only three of those contests.

Speaking of the Mets’ recent hitting funk, New York general manager Sandy Alderson said in a radio interview this week, “I do believe that offensively we will get better. The question is how much better.”

The Mets have some players with power, including Lucas Duda (23 home runs) and Curtis Granderson (15), but they also have some players who are seriously under-producing from their career norms. David Wright, for example, has only eight home runs and a subpar .699 OPS.

Both teams are getting closer to full strength. The Dodgers expect to activate shortstop Hanley Ramirez before Sunday’s game, and the Mets look to activate two pitchers, Jacob deGrom and Bartolo Colon, for the series.

Some people expect the Mets to trade pitcher Jonathon Niese, possibly this month, and the Dodgers have made no secret of their desire to continue adding pitching. They’ll get an up-close look at Niese on Friday night, when he works the series opener opposing Haren, who had made two excellent starts before Sunday’s clunker against the Milwaukee Brewers.

DeGrom will come off the DL to pitch Saturday. He has been dealing with some rotator cuff tendinitis. Colon, another trade candidate, will be activated from the bereavement list to pitch on Sunday. Colon, who won the 2005 Cy Young award for the Angels, traveled to the Dominican Republic to attend his mother’s funeral. Greinke will go Saturday -- and his Thursday bullpen session gave the Dodgers reason to think he can pitch through the injury -- and Kevin Correia will make his third Dodgers start on Sunday.

The series will be a reunion for Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, who is looking forward to meeting up with several of his teammates. But it also will be a chance for Turner to do some damage to the team that non-tendered him last fall and leaked innuendos to the media he wasn’t hustling out ground balls.

Clayton Kershaw's MVP case gets an unlikely assist

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
11:05
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LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw’s left arm was packed in ice and wrapped up tight in a towel, but that was no obstacle.

When Justin Turner’s deep fly ball cleared the left-field fence, Kershaw sprinted the length of the dugout, both arms pumping wildly. The two-run shot in the eighth would make a winner out of the Los Angeles Dodgers and of Kershaw, who was in danger of dominating again and losing

“That ball goes out, that’s pretty awesome,” Kershaw said.

Turner called it “one of the biggest hits” of his career, which seems like an understatement considering he spent the bulk of his career with the New York Mets, who never won more than 77 games while he was there. It was the biggest hit, so far, of this Dodgers season. Indeed, despite their recent rash of injuries, the Dodgers still have World Series aspirations.

[+] EnlargeClayton Kershaw
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillClayton Kershaw on Thursday struck out 10 batters, gave up just three hits in eight innings and lowered his ERA 1.82. And that the Dodgers' bats gave him a late victory only improves his MVP chances.
The victory kept the San Francisco Giants from creeping within 2 1/2 games of the Dodgers’ lead for the first time in more than two weeks, but it also erased a very dark narrative. Outside of Kershaw, the Dodgers’ starting rotation is in shambles, with three starters down with injuries. If the Dodgers wasted eight brilliant innings from Kershaw -- as they were about to do before Turner’s dinger -- they would have had to wait at least five long days for their ace to try to get them right again.

Kershaw said he didn’t go into Thursday thinking it was any more important than any other regular-season start, even though the Dodgers had fallen in early holes during each of their previous four games and the bullpen was on fumes.

“Not really,” he said. “We need wins no matter what. The Giants are playing better right now, and we just need to keep winning games.”

In a way, Turner’s clutch moment preserved Kershaw’s MVP hopes. Though Kershaw (15-3) has participated in just 21 of the Dodgers’ 129 games, the case seems to grow stronger by the week that he is, in fact, the National League’s most valuable player.

“Yeah, why not? When he has the ball, he’s the best player on the field,” Turner said. “He’s got my vote.”

Turner, in fact, doesn’t have a vote. Those all reside with members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, who will cast their ballots before the end of the regular season and wait with everyone else for the winners to be announced sometime in November. Kershaw doesn’t seem to be thinking about winning his third Cy Young in four years or being the National League’s first MVP pitcher in 46 years. He doesn’t seem to think about anything except how to make sure the Dodgers win the game on the day he pitches.

“I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t think I’ve seen anybody like this guy,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “We’ve talked about it so many other times, but he’s just constantly driven. It’s start-to-start. Tomorrow will be on to the next one, and he’ll be on a mission for that one. He’s a guy with just a huge motor as far as wanting to compete. Again, I don’t know how much more I can talk about him without saying the same things over and over.”

They all seem to blend together at this point, one brilliant Kershaw start after another.

The relevant details Thursday were these:

• He didn’t give up a hit until opposing pitcher Tyson Ross singled off him with two outs in the sixth inning.
• He struck out 10 batters and gave up just three hits in eight innings.
• When one comes into a game with 1.86 ERA, it’s not that easy to improve on it. But Kershaw (15-3) did, chipping it down to 1.82.

And none of it looked like it was going to matter, because Ross was just as good, holding the Dodgers scoreless until Carl Crawford smacked one off his glove for an infield hit leading off the eighth. Turner had done his homework. He had been watching Ross all game, and when the tall right-hander fell behind in the count, he tended to throw his slider.

Kershaw wasn’t sure whether Turner would be instructed to bunt to move Crawford into scoring position to represent the tying run. Turner hadn't been, so the third baseman jumped on a slider that lingered a millisecond too long in the strike zone and drove it over the left-center fence.

That prompted another bubble party. The Dodgers continue to ignore Major League Baseball’s gentle admonition and party with bubbles after one of their players hits a home run. It was a first for Turner, who had hit all three of his previous home runs before the bubble-making toy entered the scene.

“I think I’ve got a concussion, the guys pounded my helmet so hard,” Turner.

It seemed like that moment released a lot of built-up tension.
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LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw scattered three hits over eight innings while outdueling Tyson Ross, Justin Turner hit a two-run homer and the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers rallied to beat the San Diego Padres 2-1 Thursday night.

Kershaw (15-3) struck out 10 and walked two, tying Johnny Cueto, Wily Peralta and Adam Wainwright for the major league lead in victories. The left-hander was originally scheduled to start Friday, but he was moved up to give Zack Greinke extra rest for his sore elbow.

Pitching on regular rest after Monday's day off, Kershaw retired 12 in a row before giving up his first hit -- a single by Ross -- with two outs in the sixth.

Kenley Jansen pitched the ninth to earn his 36th save.

Ross (11-12) allowed two runs and four hits in eight innings, struck out eight and walked two.


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Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 2, Padres 1

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
9:33
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LOS ANGELES -- The bubbles were floating out of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ dugout way before Justin Turner hopped down the steps. When he got there, the party really roared to life, the players bobbing and dancing around Turner.

The Dodgers continued to celebrate their home runs in their own unique style, with their in-dugout bubble machine, and this was probably the most rollicking one yet. Turner’s two-run home run in the eighth inning of the team’s 2-1 win over the San Diego Padres on Thursday evening may have been the biggest hit of the Dodgers season thus far.

It made a winner of ace Clayton Kershaw -– who was certainly deserving in another dominant performance –- and kept the San Francisco Giants from creeping closer in the race for the NL West. The Dodgers, in fact, gained a half-game and now lead by 3 1/2.

How it happened: Kershaw, who entered the game with a 1.86 ERA, locked up in a brilliant pitchers’ duel with Tyson Ross, who came in with a 2.70 ERA. The matchup lived up to its billing, and more. Both lineups were unplugged, though in different fashions. Ross relied on the ground ball, piling up nine outs with them, while Kershaw was his normal dominating self. Neither team scored until fatigue began to creep up on both pitchers by the late innings.

Hits: There wasn’t much more Kershaw could have done to bring this one home. He struck out 10 batters over eight innings and gave up only three hits, the first of which came off Ross’ bat with two outs in the sixth inning. Kershaw breezed through the first five innings, giving the game a lively pace. Kershaw (15-3) had won 10 straight decisions until taking a loss Saturday. He got back on track Thursday to keep his Cy Young and MVP candidacies in good stead.

Misses: Kershaw can’t do it alone. He got tagged with the loss Saturday, even though he gave up only five hits (two home runs) and pitched a complete game. The Dodgers' offense needs to heat up now that the starting rotation is wobbling under the weight of injuries. Instead, it has been in a funk for the most part. The Dodgers have scored three runs or fewer in six of their last eight games. Ross is a very good pitcher, but he hardly had to work Thursday, cruising through his first six innings in only 63 pitches.

Stat of the game: Before Thursday, the Dodgers were 0-46 when trailing after seven innings. They're now 1-46.

Up next: The Dodgers open a three-game series with the New York Mets on Friday at 7:10 p.m. PT at Dodger Stadium. Dan Haren (10-10, 4.59 ERA) goes for the Dodgers opposite Jonathon Niese (7-8, 3.50).

Dodgers see rapid progress from RP Baez

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
5:52
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LOS ANGELES -- Earlier this month, the hardest-throwing reliever in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bullpen faced Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton and emerged unscathed. Two days later, he went through Jonathan Lucroy, Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez and, again, got through a scoreless inning.

[+] EnlargePedro Baez
G Fiume/Getty Images"He's growing up, he's getting better. I think he's going to be a piece for us in the future," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of relief pitcher Pedro Baez.
And, as often happens to young players, he was packing his bags for Triple-A Albuquerque two days after that, optioned to make room for newly acquired veteran Kevin Correia. But on his way out the door, Pedro Baez accomplished something. He left his most indelible impression yet on Dodgers’ decision makers, who have been searching far and wide for solutions to the team’s porous relief all season.

Maybe the solution was right under their noses.

“When a young guy like him comes up here and has success, sometimes he starts to think, 'I can do this,' " Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “Now, all of a sudden, he’s pitching with purpose.”

The Dodgers have seen rapid progress from Baez, whose fastball routinely touches 98 and 99 mph. He had one rocky outing back in May. Since then, he has pitched eight scoreless innings, opponents batting .148 off him.

As Mattingly said, Baez, 26, still needs to develop another pitch to complement his fastball, “something that’s soft and goes down.”

But the Dodgers have grown more and more excited about his upside, as he has demonstrated his ability to pitch at this level. Two years ago, Baez was still a third baseman. He batted .221 between Class A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Chattanooga in 2012 before the Dodgers decided to turn him into a pitcher.

“Just keep giving him bites. We’re going to need guys as we go,” Mattingly said. “He’s growing up, he’s getting better. I think he’s going to be a piece for us in the future.”

Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon played alongside Baez in rookie ball and at Rancho Cucamonga.

“He was a really good third baseman. He just couldn’t hit for nothing,” Gordon said.

Baez appears to have found his niche. Now, it’s just a matter of digging in.

Red Sox, Tigers in lead for Castillo

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
3:24
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[+] EnlargeRusney Castillo
RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty ImagesThe Red Sox and Tigers lead the list of teams vying to add Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo. A decision is expected no later than this weekend.

The Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers appear to be the front-runners for the services of Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo, two league sources said Thursday, with a decision expected no later than the weekend.

The Red Sox would like to add Castillo to an outfield that already includes another Cuban defector, Yoenis Cespedes. The Tigers, who have fallen behind the first-place Kansas City Royals in the AL Central, are looking for a replacement for center fielder Austin Jackson, who was traded to the Seattle Mariners as part of the three-way deal in which Detroit acquired left-handed ace David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays last month.

A source with direct knowledge of the negotiations said the Red Sox are "optimistic" they will ultimately sign Castillo.


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Bartolo Colon Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsWith the injury to Garrett Richards, the Angels could use a return of their 2005 Cy Young Award winner, Bartolo Colon.
As front-running teams gear up for the home stretch, these leading clubs have the chance to impact the last month of the season with a significant move or two. Making these moves could mean the difference in having great postseason success or perhaps not even making the postseason.

Here are five moves I'd like to see before Aug. 31, the deadline for which players can be traded after clearing waivers and the date by which a player must be on a roster in order to be eligible for the postseason.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Clayton Kershaw
WINS ERA SO IP
15 1.82 184 153
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .307
HRA. Gonzalez 17
RBIA. Gonzalez 83
RY. Puig 70
OPSY. Puig .893
ERAC. Kershaw 1.82
SOC. Kershaw 184