Los Angeles Dodgers Hope Lightning Strikes Again with Vicente Padilla Signing

Leroy Watson Jr.Senior Writer IAugust 26, 2009

Manny Ramirez paid huge dividends for the Los Angeles Dodgers last fall.


However, how many Dodger fans can confidently—and honestly—say that they had zero trepidation at the thought of “Manny Being Manny” hitting Hollywood?


Come on, now, Dodger fans. Give it to me straight; didn’t you have huge knots in your stomach after the transaction?


How many of us thought, “Ned Colletti, what the hell?”


After all, Ramirez was a known clubhouse cancer. He clearly tanked on the Boston Red Sox last year. He had a long, tumultuous history of relationship with the Sox, with management, with the very city of Boston.


Forgive me for not exactly rolling out the red carpet or firing up the welcome wagon for Manny. He had the reputation of being goofy or spacey (at best) or a malignant malingerer (at worst).


We see how that worked out for the Boys in Blue. The team took the NL West by storm, played like the best team in the Senior Circuit for two months, and won their first playoff game and series since 1988 (you read that right, in case you didn’t already know).


That’s ancient history; it’s 2009 and this is a “what have you done for me lately” world.


The Dodgers were world-beaters through the All-Star break. No one in the majors could keep pace with them. The young core (Billingsley, Kershaw, Martin, Loney, Ethier, and Kemp) were the heart of the Big Blue Engine that Could.


Hiroki Kuroda rebounded from injury to ably support Bills and Chinstrap (Kershaw).


Despite ManRam’s 50-game suspension for a failed drug test, Los Angeles thrived behind the rejuvenated Juan Pierre (on the short list of first half NL MVPs) and the best overall pitching staff in the major leagues.


However, just before the second half began, Jonathan Broxton suffered a right toe injury, Eric Milton was injured, and the relievers were being used at an alarming rate.


After the All-Star game, all hell broke loose.


Relievers began dropping like flies: Broxton didn’t bounce right back, Ronald Bellisario, Will Ohman, and Ramon Troncoso went down to injury, Hong Chi Kuo was disabled for seemingly the 100th time.


Scott Elbert proved unable to plug a gap anywhere, whether it be in the rotation or the ‘pen.


Suddenly, the Dodgers needed pitching.


Trading a couple of B-level prospects for Baltimore’s George Sherrill, one of MLB’s most reliable closers, was brilliant.


The O’s got two promising pieces for their rebuilding puzzle, and all the Bums had to give up was two kids (third baseman Josh Bell and pitcher Steve Johnson) who were not prominent in the team’s future plans.


Then the starting pitchers’ health began to implode.


It started with Milton, who at the age of 34 had been a nice comeback story for the Dodgers, going 2-1 with a 3.80 ERA (including 20 Ks and just six walks in 23.2 innings) in five starts.


His balky lower back forced him to the disabled list twice, with the team shutting him down for the season the second time. He ultimately underwent a successful microdiskectomy and should be ready come spring training 2010.


Let’s leave the Jason Schmidt discussion for another day; suffice it to say that he made a few starts and strolled off into the sunset, $47 million richer.


Billingsley had hamstring issues and had to skip a start against the Giants.


Kuroda was struck in the temple by a line drive off the bat of Arizona’s Rusty Ryal on Aug. 19. Miraculously, he escaped serious injury, but he is on the shelf indefinitely; the consensus is that he might be ready to go sometime in September.


For those of you scoring at home, that leaves Bills with a still-recovering hamstring, the 21-year-old Kershaw, and Randy Wolf, he of the 2005 Tommy John surgery and shoulder surgery in 2007, as the only reliable hurlers in the Dodger rotation.


Meanwhile, in Arlington, TX, Vicente Padilla was fast wearing out his welcome in the Texas Rangers’ organization.


Here’s an excerpt from Baseball Time in Arlington, a respected Texas Rangers blog:


There was a fleeting -- but highly publicized -- moment after home plate umpire Bob Davidson issued empathic warnings to both the Rangers' and the Athletics' dugouts on Wednesday evening that Vicente Padilla, after insolently mocking Davidson's pointing gestures, turned to his right and flashed a toothy grin in the direction of Derek Holland, who was seated immediately next to his veteran rotationmate.

The elder hurler's antics did not even elicit an acknowledgement from the blank-faced junior hurler, much less a reaction, which pretty much told you all you needed to know about which of the two was the more mature and less easily distracted character.

Take note of these comments from the “Foul Territory” blog on the (Dallas-Fort Worth) Star Telegram website:


          Padilla designated for assignment

The Rangers have cut ties with Vicente Padilla, designating the right-hander for assignment. General manager Jon Daniels announced the decision, essentially saying that Padilla finally crossed the line of being a good teammate. Dustin Nippert will take his spot in the rotation.

"We're putting together a club and an organization that's pulling on the same end of the rope," Daniels said. "It wasn't a fit for us anymore."

Daniels said Padilla didn't do anything off the field to get booted off the roster, a spot that will be taking by outfielder Julio Borbon. Daniels also said that Padilla's knack for hitting batters wasn't the specific reason for the move.

Padilla hit Mark Teixeira twice in the same game June 2 at New York and was put on waivers the next day. Padilla plunked Kurt Suzuki on Wednesday in Oakland after allowing a first-inning home run. Each instance led to relatiation, with the A's hitting Michael Young on Wednesday.

"When we have a disciplinary issue with a player, we talk to him," Daniels said. "It had gotten to the point where the club was better off without him."


Not exactly the stuff that warm welcomes are made of.


Padilla and the Dodger organization downplay his reputation.


“First, I’m not a headhunter,” he said in an interview with mlb.com’s Ken Gurnick. “Second, I’m an inside pitcher and that’s my pitching style.”


Dodgers third base coach Larry Bowa, and hurler Randy Wolf, who know Vicente from his days in Philly, both endorsed the acquisition.


Manager Joe Torre was not concerned by his newest pitcher’s troubled past.


“Through my experience, I’ve had players who have been questions for one thing or another, and I always felt it would be fair to judge them on the time you spend with them,” Torre told Gurnick. “He’s here to be part of the staff and to help us win ballgames. If an issue comes up in contradiction to that, we’ll deal with it. Until then, it’s a clean slate.


“I don’t think it’s a risk. We’re, as a team, far enough along that if somebody is a bad influence, it won’t affect other people.”


Padilla was sent down to pitch for the AAA Albuquerque Isotopes, and he did well enough that he was named the Dodgers starter for the crucial Thursday night tilt against the Colorado Rockies.


After Tuesday night’s heartbreaking, 5-4 loss to the Rox in 10 innings, the lead in the NL West is a mere two games.


The Dodgers send Padilla to the hill in one of the single most critical game of the season so far.


He’s come a long way from being the closer for Nicaragua’s international team in 1998.


He’s been an Arizona Diamondback, Philadelphia Phillie, and Texas Ranger.


This year, he compiled an 8-6 mark, allowing 120 hits and 42 walks in 108 innings, with a mere 59 strikeouts for Texas.


Not exactly an overwhelming resume’; in fact, it would be fair to call him a journeyman. Cliff Lee would have been a home run signing; Padilla looks like a squeeze attempt on an 0-2 count.


However, desperate times call for desperate measures when there's a pennant race to win. Last year, Colletti turned to Ramirez, and it paid huge dividends.


What will be the ultimate verdict on Padilla? Thursday night, we will begin to get an answer.


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