The Return of Hiroki Kuroda
As if the National League West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers (80-55) didn’t have enough options in the starting rotation already, Joe Torre has announced that Hiroki Kuroda would start for the team on Sunday, at home against the San Diego Padres.
Kuroda suffered a frightening, gruesome looking injury on August 15 in Arizona, being beaned in the head by a line drive off the bat of the Diamondbacks’ Rusty Ryal.
Initially, anyone watching—or even reading about it the next day—immediately feared the Japanese righty was done for the season. There were also hidden fears about his career being in the balance.
After all, Ray Chapman was killed by a baseball traveling at what was surely a similar speed.
Miraculously, Kuroda never lost consciousness. A subsequent CT scan was negative, and uncovered no bleeding or fractures. Though he had a concussion, Kuroda surely experienced the best-case scenario for such a scary incident.
Hiroki was extremely impressive in a rehabilitation stint at High-A Inland Empire, hurling five innings and allowing a single run.
He tossed 62 pitches, gave up five hits and one run, struck out five, and allowed the only run on a passed ball in the third.
In a bullpen session on Thursday night, the first ball was scorched to straightaway centerfield, and Kuroda didn’t flinch.
“That pitch, a lot of people make a big deal out of it, but it was a line drive to the center fielder,” Kuroda downplayed later. “It wasn’t really close to me. It was probably above my head. It came toward me, but it was above my head, so it wasn’t a big deal.”
This left Manager Joe Torre with plenty of choices in his starting rotation.
No fewer than six major league starters stand at the ready: Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Randy Wolf (the presumed top three should the Dodgers make the postseason), Vicente Padilla (signed after Kuroda went down), newly acquired Jon Garland (who just beat his erstwhile team, Arizona, 4-2), and now the returning Kuroda.
Padilla will be pushed back one day. . . for now.
“If (Padilla) pitches Monday then everybody gets pushed back,” Torre said.
The additional hurler gives the Dodgers the luxury of buying extra rest for the young lefty, Kershaw.
The veterans, Billingsley and Wolf, will likely stay on strict five-day cycles. Everyone else will get in where they fit in.
Knuckleballer Charlie Haeger will apparently be relegated to long relief and mop-up duty for the indefinite future.
Kuroda has pitched very well of late, having a 2-0 record after the All-Star break, with a 3.15 ERA in six starts. Both of the decisions came in August, when he crafted a 2.60 ERA.
He also pitches very well against the Padres. He has won both of his starts against the Pads this season, accruing a 3.27 ERA in 11 innings while allowing just eight hits.
He’s 5-5 on the year with a respectable 4.08 ERA, allowing 85 hits in 88.1 innings, with 63 strikeouts and a mere 17 walks in 16 appearances (15 starts).
Garland Takes Down the Diamondbacks
Jon Garland admitted that it would be “awkward” to face the Arizona Diamondbacks in his first start as a Los Angeles Dodger.
He never said it would be particularly difficult.
Garland, a native of Garland Hills, CA, a mere 25 miles from Chavez Ravine, went seven innings in a 4-2 Dodger triumph.
He gave up only five hits and two earned runs, throwing 97 pitches, 62 for strikes in advancing to 9-11 for the season.
George Sherrill got his eighth hold with a one-hit effort in the eighth, and Jonathan Broxton got his 31st save of the year while striking out two in the ninth.
“Growing up and coming to games here, a chance to pitch for them is definitely a dream come true,” Garland said afterward. “I always envisioned pitching for the Dodgers. It was just an awkward way for it to happen, being with them the first game of the series and coming over after that game.”
He will face his old team once again during a midweek road trip to Arizona, likely on either Tuesday or Wednesday.
“The first couple innings, I had extra adrenaline, and I don’t know if it was because I was pitching for the Dodgers or that I wanted to do well with them (the D-backs) on the other side,” Garland continued. “But I calmed down and got my feet under me and got more ground balls.
“Me and Russ (catcher Russell Martin) got on a good page and we rattled off a good little roll. The first few innings, everything was coming up. I had a little extra on the ball.”
What About the Acquisition of Jim Thome?
Dodgers acquire: Jim Thome, 1B/DH, Chicago White Sox
Dodgers give up: Justin Fuller, Infielder, High A Inland Empire 66ers
This was robbery, plain and simple. Truly felonious in nature!
For a likely MLB Hall of Famer, the Dodgers gave up a prospect with a slick glove and a weak bat. Think a modern-day Mark Belanger.
For younger readers, think of Omar Vizquel before and after he could hit; the only difference is that Fuller has never hit at the professional level.
Fuller hit .230 and .232 at the Rookie League level; .239 and .277 at Low-A Great Lakes; and .240 and .254 at High-A Inland Empire. He never appeared in more than 56 games in any single campaign (this year for the 66ers) and never had more than 179 at bats (2008).
The Dodgers selected the young man in the 11th Round (323rd overall) of the 2006 Amateur Draft. The Juneau, AK native was selected to the 2006 All-NAIA Team and was named by Baseball America as the best defensive player in the Dodgers’ 2006 draft class.
The fact still remains that he was nothing more than organizational filler for the Dodgers, strictly a utility infielder who couldn’t even break in as a regular with Inland Empire.
But what value, conversely, does Thome bring to the Dodgers?
He is the active leader in career walks (1,619) and third among active players in HR (564). However, he has only logged 28 innings at first base over the last three years.
That means he can spell James Loney at first in an emergency, but Thome was acquired as a big bat off the bench, and as a calming influence on the youngsters in the Dodger lineup.
However. . .
We will monitor the situation closely. Loney is, by far, the weakest core member of the young Dodger attack. While Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp have taken their respective games to another level this year, Loney has regressed badly.
If Thome starts practicing with a first baseman’s mitt, then Joe Torre might be seriously contemplating a move.
If Thome could start and give the team six good innings and a couple of good at bats, Torre could turn it over to Loney, a remarkable glove man, to finish games out.
If Torre hasn’t at least given the idea a thought, given the struggles of his young first baseman, he’s simply not human.
Keep in mind that Torre has always had an affinity for veterans throughout his entire managerial career, showing a proclivity to start a vet over a youngster. If Loney doesn’t start holding up his end of the bargain and rake, he might find this out firsthand.
Leroy Watson, Jr. is a Bleacher Report Los Angeles Dodgers Featured Columnist