Los Angeles Dodgers News and Notes: Hiroki Kuroda Out, Chad Billingsley Returns

Bleacher ReportSenior Analyst IAugust 18, 2009

Uncertain Recovery Ahead for Kuroda

Hiroki Kuroda is injured, and it will long resonate with Dodger fans as one of the scariest moments they will remember.

Arizona’s Rusty Ryal smacked a line drive off the right side of Kuroda’s head in Saturday afternoon’s game.

The ball ricocheted high into the air and landed on the warning track next to the on-deck circle. It hung in the air for so long that catcher Brad Ausmus almost caught the ball on the fly.

According to Kuroda, he never even had a chance to react. The ball was on him so fast that he couldn’t protect himself from the blow.

He was able to call his wife from the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and when he finally got a hold of her, she was very shaken.

"She thought I died," he said.

Vin Scully, the man who has seen it all, seemed so disturbed by the situation that he was almost at a loss for words.

As Kuroda was carted beyond the right field wall and into the bowels of the stadium, Scully threw it to commercial and commented that he (and everyone else in the stadium and on TV) needed a few minutes to regroup.

Dodgers trainer Stan Conte cited recent studies, which concluded that a batted ball striking a pitcher on the return from a 90 mph pitch creates twice the amount of force needed to cause a serious brain injury.

Fortunately, Kuroda suffered only a mild concussion, as was confirmed by more extensive testing done over the weekend.

Kuroda will miss his next start on Thursday, and the team is still unsure about a timetable for his return. He is still experiencing headaches and some dizziness when he rises from a seated position.

Fans, players, and others involved all expect injuries to occur in football. But when a player goes down in the same way Kuroda, as well as David Wright, did this weekend, the game of baseball is put into perspective.

That’s the risk baseball players take at all levels: Every day and every game there are near misses, and some days, a player might not be so lucky.

Conte sums up the seriousness of the situation with his expectations for his physical preparation and rehab.

"I've said this about four times today—this is not a rotator cuff, this is not tendinitis," Conte said. "This is a brain injury, and he needs to be at 100 percent before he gets back out there."

Billingsley Back to the Mound

After missing his start last Wednesday with a strained left hamstring, Chad Billingsley will return to the mound tonight in game two against the St. Louis Cardinals.

There’s no doubt Joe Torre and Conte will be keeping a close eye on him throughout the night, but the club thinks he is good to go.

"He feels real good. He's excited about starting, and we're certainly in need of him,” said Torre after Monday night’s loss.

St. Louis won’t be an easy team to make his return against, however.

On July 28, Bills gave up six runs in one inning en route to an embarrassing 10-0 loss to the Cardinals. Chad knows that it will be a tough outing tonight, and he’s going to have to work hard all night long.

"They've got a tough lineup all the way down," Billingsley said. "[Matt] Holliday, [Albert] Pujols, and [Ryan] Ludwick. It's not an easy trip through that lineup."

The key thing to watch for will be the placement of Billingsley’s fastball.

Prior to the injury, he was running into trouble by simply missing spots with his four-seam fastball. Normally overpowering, it becomes problematic when he falls behind in the count.

This happens because pitches intended to be on the back of the plate start off the plate, which allows the hitter to decide right when the ball comes out of his hand whether or not it will be a strike. There’s no guessing on pitches like that.

Let’s just hope he takes it easy running to first base.

NL West Lead Continues to Shrink

The Los Angeles Dodgers are mired in their worst stretch of games this season.

They are just 14-17 since the All-Star break and have a closer who has blown three saves in his past five chances—and it’s not often they’ve been able to hand him the ball.

The San Francisco Giants routed the New York Mets 10-1 on Monday night behind the arm of Joe Martinez, whom the Dodgers beat last Monday.

The second-place Colorado Rockies had a day off but still gained a half-game on Los Angeles in the standings, creeping to within just 4.5 games of the Boys in Blue.

Jim Tracy’s Rockies will start a series with the Washington Nationals, who have found their stride as of late and also signed No. 1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg at the 11th hour last night.

The Division Lead Isn’t the Only Thing Shrinking

Since Aug. 3, James Loney’s average has regressed from .293 to .279.

Over that 13-game stretch, he’s hitting .163 (7-for-43) with four RBI—not exactly the production you expect from your first baseman.

I was relieved to see Loney lace an RBI single into right field last night to bring home Matt Kemp in the fifth inning.

That broke him out of his most recent slump, when he was batting .111 (4-for-36) in his past 11 games; he hasn’t recorded an extra base hit in 10 games. Despite still ranking third on the team with 70 RBI, he now has just 16 runs driven home in his past 25 games.

The most bizarre thing about Loney this year has been his struggles at Dodger Stadium, where he’s hitting just .240 (50-for-208) in 58 games this season.

Compare that to .313 (71-for-227), including all seven of his home runs, in 58 road games, and you start to wonder if James might not be getting his proper sleep when he returns to the nightlife of Southern California.

Juan Pierre Is a Professional

Too bad Juan Pierre can’t play first base.

Pierre pinch-hit in the eighth inning and bounced a single into center field to lead off the inning. He was advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, but back-to-back strikeouts by Rafael Furcal and Orlando Hudson left him stranded there.

He is now batting .321 (9-for-28) as a pinch hitter this season.

I bring this up because of the way Manny Ramirez has been slumping recently. Manny is just 4-for-16 in his past four games with zero RBI, but the most concerning stat is his five strikeouts in that span.

He continues to get his hands tangled up on inside pitches and is having a difficult time adjusting to getting his bat inside the ball. Instead, he has been using a very long swing that completely takes the inside part of the plate away from him.

In addition, he still is having trouble with pitch selection on outside pitches. Manny is taking pitches that he normally would drive to right field, which is causing him to work from behind in the count more often than he would like.

I said a few weeks ago that perhaps he was playing through a hand injury that was causing his slump at the time—well, there are no excuses now. Manny needs to produce more runs as the team watches its lead slip away a little bit more with each passing game.

It seems, now a month and a half since Manny’s reinstatement, that the offense was clicking better with Pierre in it every day.

The only problem is that Andre Ethier is hitting the cover off the ball with Manny as protection, and you really can’t take Manny out of the order anyway.

Ramirez is the workhorse, the centerpiece, and the heart of this Dodgers order.

As long as he keeps falling short in late and clutch situations, this team will not be championship-caliber.

PJ Ross is a Featured Columnist for the Los Angeles Dodgers.


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