Some stuff from workout day

In the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t there. So these tidbits are just rehashed from what others were tweeting.

First and most importantly, Hyun-Jin Ryu is fine and still scheduled to start Game 3. Dodgers are claiming only reason he threw a rare pen was because of so much time between starts. They’re also claiming Stan Conte always watches pens and Dr. Neal ElAttrache was just there hanging out for no particular reason.

Don Mattingly says he’ll be very surprised if Andre Ethier can play defensively in this series.

And the Dodgers are having only a light workout today, no batting practice.

Following up on Mattingly speculation, and some other off-day items


In 2010, Reed Johnson was a fourth or fifth outfielder — off the top of my head, I can’t remember which — for the Dodgers, and his hitting coach was Don Mattingly. Three years later, there suddenly is all manner of speculation out there about Mattingly’s immediate future should the Dodgers fail to win this National League Division Series, and Johnson, now a fourth or fifth outfielder for the Atlanta Braves, just might have unwittingly become a central figure in that story during the seventh inning last night, when Mattingly made the rather bizarre choice to intentionally walk him with first base open and pitch to Jason Heyward with the bases loaded.

By now, you all know how that turned out, and while I don’t wish to keep beating a dead horse here, it is worth mentioning that Mattingly, whose status for next season still hasn’t been resolved, may have put himself squarely in the line of the front office’s fire with the way he managed Game 2.

Here is USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, speculating on Mattingly’s job security. Here is the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke, speculating on Mattingly’s job security.

In a perfect world, it would seem unthinkable that a manager could get fired after guiding his team into the playoffs. But there is precedent for it. Just ask Grady Little, the former Dodgers manager who was fired by the Boston Red Sox after leaving Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series just long enough to cough up a three-run lead to the New York Yankees in the late innings. Just ask Davey Johnson, who was fired by both the Cincinnati Reds (1995) and the Baltimore Orioles (1997) immediately after leading each of those teams to the LCS — although in his case, neither of those firings had anything to do with postseason game management.

The point is, it COULD happen because it HAS happened. My gut feeling, though, is that it WON’T happen — and that it probably SHOULDN’T happen. It bears mentioning, however, that when my plane landed this morning and I turned my phone back on, I had a waiting text message from a buddy who is a devoted Dodgers fan, who lent a new perspective to last night’s seventh inning.

“You PRAY for Reed Johnson to come up in a big spot.”

Keep in mind, he was saying that as a Dodgers fan, not a Braves fan.

On a completely different subject, I have been meaning to mention this to you all week and just keep forgetting, but just so you know — the media isn’t allowed in the clubhouse before postseason games. AFTER games, it’s just like any other game, when we are allowed in to interview players, except there are a lot more of us than usual. But before the games, we are barred, and it makes complete sense. These are important games, and the players need their alone time to focus, relax and go through their usual individual routines, without the usual distractions of a bunch of reporters in the room with them.

So anyway, that is why there hasn’t been a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff this week. Mattingly mentioned something in the interview room the other day about how the players are really enjoying the fact we’re not in there before games. He didn’t say it in a gloating sort of way, just a matter-of-fact way, and we all understood.

Finally, the Dodgers ARE working out this afternoon, even though Mattingly briefly considered canceling it. We should know with absolute certainty in the next couple of hours that Hyun-Jin Ryu will pitch Game 3 as scheduled, but at this point, I see no reason to think he won’t. Kudos to Ken Gurnick of for being the only person to notice this and report it, and it makes me wonder if all that speculation about whether the increased workload of Ryu’s first season in the U.S. might be taking some toll on him physically.

For now, though, I fully expect Ryu to take the ball tomorrow night.

And finally, one more video …

Just in case the Dodgers don’t come back to Atlanta anytime soon, and just in case you haven’t heard enough of this over the past two nights, here is a short video of the tomahawk chop. I’m not sure when the high-school drill team whistle thing was introduced into it, but here you go. This was just before game time.

A frame-by-frame breakdown of tonight’s seventh inning


I’m not quite sure where to begin here, so let’s just start at the top. The top of the inning, specifically, an inning that would last the better part of an hour and may go down as the pivot point in this National League Division Series, which now heads back to Los Angeles in a 1-1 tie. Dodgers down a run, Braves lefty Mike Minor having kept them in check since the first inning, Skip Schumaker leads off with an infield single. A glimmer of hope. Catcher A.J. Ellis up next, the pitcher’s spot behind him in an obvious pinch-hitting situation.

Most of you know by now that I’m not a fan of the sacrifice bunt. So rather than spend a bunch of words here telling you why Ellis shouldn’t have been ordered to sacrifice, I’ll just tell you I disagreed with it. I get why Don Mattingly did it, trying to stay out of the double play on a night when the Dodgers already had hit into two of them, trying to move the tying run into scoring position. But let’s move on.

Ellis lays down a successful sacrifice, Schumaker scoots into scoring position. Michael Young is on deck to hit for Zack Greinke, who to that point had held the Braves to four hits over six strong innings, even though he had allowed a 1-0 lead to get away on a couple of two-out, run-scoring hits.

Let’s stop here and look at the situation. You need a measly single to tie the game at this point. You have a depleted roster, no Matt Kemp, a hobbled Andre Ethier, and you might have to burn two players if Ethier pinch hits and reaches base because you might have to pinch run for him. An outside-the-box manager might consider letting Greinke bat here — he had thrown only 83 pitches to that point, but more importantly, he batted .328 this season with a .409 on-base percentage. But Mattingly isn’t an outside-the-box manager, and that’s fair. It takes a lot of, ummm, gumption to be an outside-the-box manager, and maybe some cachet, too, especially in the glare of the postseason. Mattingly has only been at this for three years. Generally, it takes a little longer than that to build up cachet. If he lets Greinke hit there and it blows up in his face, he is going to face a room full of second-guessing media types after the game and maybe even a second-guessing front office.

So, understandably, Mattingly goes by the book here and sends the right-handed-hitting Young to pinch hit. And predictably, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez comes to get Minor, bringing in veteran right-hander Luis Ayala to face Young. And Young hits a grounder that first baseman Freddie Freeman ranged far to his right, possibly too far, to snare it, and Ayala might have been a tad late breaking for the bag, and by the time he got there to take the throw from Freeman, Ayala couldn’t find the bag with his foot, and Young was safe. Runners on the corners, tying run on third, one out.

And that brought up lefty-hitting Carl Crawford. Crawford’s batting average against left-handers this season was .206, more than 100 points lower than he hit against righties. And so Gonzalez went to his pen again, this time calling on lefty Luis Avilan.

Mattingly had two right-handed pinch-hitting options on his bench at this point in Scott Van Slyke and switch hitter Nick Punto. Punto wasn’t really an option because if you take Crawford out, somebody has to play left field. Van Slyke plays left field. But Mattingly, who had reiterated before the game that he is absolutely committed to Crawford as his leadoff man, stuck with Crawford. Crawford grounded into a double play, the Dodgers’ third of the night, snuffing out the rally and sending the already-vocal crowd of 48,966 at Turner Field into a frenzy.

Three outs in the inning. One of them a gimme out on a sac bunt. The other two on a single swing of the bat by a guy with speed, who just happened to hit it right to a spot where the Braves had a chance to double him up.

“We felt like Carl would put the ball in play somewhere,” Mattingly said. “We felt like if he got it on the ground, they’re not going to get two unless it’s just a bullet right at somebody.”

It was.

That was the top of the seventh, when Mattingly made some tough choices that didn’t work out, but they at least were choices that could be justified, choices that were logical, choices you could understand.

And then came the bottom of the seventh.

It started out innocently enough. Rookie Chris Withrow, who has been pretty good all year for the Dodgers, came on to make his first career postseason appearance. Maybe it was nerves, but he issued a leadoff walk to Brian McCann, and with B.J. Upton pinch running, Chris Johnson lined a single through the left side. But then the Braves returned the favor, giving the Dodgers a free out when Andrelton Simmons bunted the runners into scoring position, and Withrow stood tall at that point, getting Elliot Johnson on a called third strike to put the Dodgers on the verge of getting out of the jam.

Due up next was the pitcher’s spot. And Gonzalez had sent a light-hitting outfielder named Jose Constanza to the on-deck circle. If you aren’t familiar with Constanza, he wasn’t a character on Seinfeld. He is listed as 5-feet-9 and 150 pounds. He had 31 big league at-bats this season, which he split between Atlanta and Triple-A Gwinnett. And Constanza is apparently a model of consistency, because his major league batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage this season were all EXACTLY THE SAME (.258).

But Constanza is a left-handed batter, and the flamethrowing Withrow is a right-handed pitcher. And so, in an attempt to create a more favorable matchup, Mattingly popped out of the dugout and brought in lefty setup man Paco Rodriguez, who also would be making his postseason debut. To set up a lefty-lefty matchup. For Jose Constanza.

Now, it’s entirely possible that Mattingly fully knew that if he brought in Rodriguez, Gonzalez was going to counter with a right-handed batter. But what happened over the next few minutes seemed to suggest otherwise — as did Mattingly’s own words in the postgame press conference.

More on that later.

Anyway, with Rodriguez warming up, Constanza was called back and replaced by right-handed-hitting Reed Johnson, the former Cal State-Fullerton guy. Now, keep in mind Johnson may be even less of an offensive threat at this point than Constanza. Johnson hasn’t had a hit since July 28. That’s mostly because he missed about six weeks with Achilles’ tendinitis, but still, he went hitless in 10 plate appearances after coming back a couple of weeks ago. Rodriguez, meanwhile, is much tougher on lefties, but he ain’t all that easy on righties, either. He held them to a .202 average this season, with 19 strikeouts in 96 plate appearances. Righties did touch him for four home runs, but I mean, this is REED JOHNSON.

And so, naturally, with first base open, two outs and Jason Heyward on deck, Mattingly ordered Rodriguez to intentionally walk Johnson. The first batter he faced. Reed Johnson. To load the bases. With Jason Heyward on deck. Yes, the same Heyward who hit a disappointing .254 this season and came back just two weeks ago after missing a month with a broken jaw that required surgery. OK, fine. But he is still one of the most dangerous hitters in the league. And the Dodgers intentionally walked REED JOHNSON to get to him. To get to JASON HEYWARD. All so Rodriguez could pitch to a lefty, presumably giving him a better chance of getting out of the jam.

And, oh, by the way, while it’s true that Heyward hits for more power against right-handers, he actually batted 14 points HIGHER against lefties this season than against righties. Just sayin’.

After the game, Mattingly was asked about bringing in Rodriguez to issue an intentional walk to the first batter when he just as easily could have allowed Withrow to do that.

“Well, if a guy is up there we know we’re going to walk, we would do it differently,” Mattingly said.

Does that mean he really thought Constanza was going to hit against Rodriguez?

And also, Mattingly was asked about walking Johnson to get to Heyward.

“Paco is a guy that pitches down and fits into Reed,” Mattingly said, meaning Rodriguez pitches to Johnson’s strengths. “We felt like Paco fits into Reed, (but) he is a guy we think gets Heyward out. Been getting those guys out all year long for us.”

Heyward was asked later what he thought of the decision.

“Play the matchups,” he said, being as charitable as he could. “That is what the postseason is about. You go lefty-lefty there. Me personally, I’m glad to have an opportunity to come through big for my team right there. I got a pitch, and I didn’t miss it.”

Heyward lined a two-run single up the middle against Rodriguez, giving the Braves a 4-1 lead. Hanley Ramirez hit a two-run homer in the eighth, cutting it to 4-3, but that only served to magnify all that questionable, head-scratching stuff that had transpired back in the seventh. The Dodgers mounted a mini-rally in the ninth against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, working him for back-to-back one-out walks, but in between those, Dee Gordon got himself thrown out trying to steal second on a bang-bang call that umpire Bill Miller may or may not have gotten right.

And just like that, the series was even. And Mattingly was left to explain himself.

How well he managed to do that, well, that is for others to decide.

Don Mattingly postgame video

I got there after it started, which is the reason for the weird camera angle in the beginning. As you might imagine, this was a second-guess-fest.

Jason Heyward postgame video

I’m posting this in full, but the question you’re probably interested in is the first one he is asked, by Jill Painter of the Los Angeles Daily News, about the Dodgers intentionally walking Reed Johnson to get to Heyward with the bases loaded in the seventh, to which Heyward responded with a two-run single that proved the difference in the game. Heyward does his best here to acquit that decision, attributing it to matchups.

Braves 4, Dodgers 3

In a postseason that had been a testament to lopsided blowouts, the Dodgers and Braves finally delivered a thriller here tonight, one that left plenty of room for handwringing, second guessing and head shaking. In the end, the Braves got just enough offense — every bit of which came on clutch, two-out hits by Andrelton Simmons, Chris Johnson and Jason Heyward — and a four-out save from their lights-out closer, Craig Kimbrel, to even this National League Division Series at 1-1 before it heads to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4.

The Dodgers got a strong performance from Zack Greinke, but after being staked to a 1-0 lead before he took the mound for the bottom of the first inning, Greinke couldn’t hold it. He gave up a game-tying, RBI double to Simmons in the second and a go-ahead, RBI single to Johnson in the fourth.

And then, in a seventh inning that from top to bottom seemed to last the better part of an hour, the game became a chess match between the two managers, the Braves’ Fredi Gonzalez appearing to get the better of the Dodgers’ Don Mattingly. Mattingly elected at one point to intentionally walk Riverside and Cal State-Fullerton product Reed Johnson, who hit .244 this season, in order to face Heyward, who even in a down season in which he suffered a broken jaw and hit just .254 remains one of the most dangerous hitters in the league. With the bases loaded and two outs, Heyward put the game out of reach with a two-run single up the middle.

Hanley Ramirez hit a two-run homer in the eighth to bring the Dodgers back to within a run, but Kimbrel shut them down from there. Their last was essentially snuffed out when pinch runner Dee Gordon was called out trying to steal second with one out in the ninth on a questionable call by second base umpire Bill Miller.

NLDS Game 2: Dodgers at Atlanta


You know what’s great about tonight’s game? That the starting eight for each team, as well as the order in which those players are to bat, is IDENTICAL to those of last night’s game. In this day and age of constant tinkering by managers, constant mixing and matching and switching, this is what the postseason SHOULD be, IMHO. As a kid who was first falling in love with this game back in the late 1970s, I could name the starting eight for almost every team. Now, nobody even HAS a standard starting eight anymore. Don Mattingly was actually asked before the game today why he didn’t juggle his lineup with the Dodgers facing a lefty in Mike Minor. He said it was because of the injuries to Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, that he was limited in what he could do without those guys. I guess that implies that he WOULD have juggled the lineup against Minor if those guys were available. Look, I get it. All that lineup juggling that managers do nowadays is for a reason. They have access to a lot more information now than they did back then. But as a fan of the game, I just like to see the same eight guys out there every night, batting in the same order.

By the way, the Dodgers come into tonight with a seven-game winning streak in the NLDS. This means absolutely nothing, of course, but it’s notable in one regard: before they went on this seven-game run, we used to write all the time about how they had won ONE postseason game since the 1988 World Series. They lost 12 of their first 13 NLDS games after MLB went to the six-division format in 1995, suffering three-game sweeps at the hands of the Reds (’95), the Braves (’96) and the Mets (’06) and dropping three of four to the Cardinals (’04). If you will recall, the one game they did win in that ’04 NLDS was the Jose Lima masterpiece. Until the Dodgers went on this current run, there was one local columnist who was pushing (tongue-in-cheek, of course) for the team to erect a statue of Lima outside the stadium, given that he was the Dodgers’ only pitcher to win a postseason game for, like, a generation.

Since then, though, the Dodgers have swept the Cubs (’08) and the Cardinals (’09), then won the first game of this series here last night.

Earlier start tonight, with a small sliver of the outfield still in sunlight as we begin, but that won’t last long.

Play ball.

Miscellaneous pregame notebook-emptying


I took a picture of these people, who were all dressed in Braves gear, lined up outside the door to the press box after the game last night as I was waiting for the elevator downstairs. They obviously were waiting for an autograph from somebody. I asked one of the Braves writers who they were waiting for, and he said, “Probably Vin Scully.” And you know what, he was probably right, because who else would they be waiting for? The man is just huge, everywhere he goes, even with fans of other teams. And while I didn’t have time to stick around to find out, I’m betting he signed for every person, because there were only a dozen or so, and he probably smiled and greeted each one as he did so.

When I arrived here today, there already were a couple of guys waiting in that same spot.

Speaking of Vinnie, I just ran into him at the coffee pot. I filled up my cup as he was grabbing a cold drink, then one of the Japanese reporters stepped in and filled her cup, and then Vinnie said, “Is that Georgia coffee? Yeah, I’ll have some Georgia coffee.” If there is something about Georgia coffee that is supposed to be special, I was unaware of it. But I have to admit that after hearing Vinnie say that, the cup I was drinking suddenly started tasting better. You know, there really IS something special about Georgia coffee. If Vinnie implied it, it HAS to be true.

As of right now, the Dodgers are scheduled to have one of those customary off-day workouts at Dodger Stadium tomorrow, but manager Don Mattingly said he is considering canceling it.

“Those are basically eye-warsh,” Mattingly said, using the Indiana pronunciation of “eyewash” — he eventually corrected himself, but I liked it better the way he originally said it.

Anyway, what they basically are is media events. MLB doesn’t really care that much if teams actually work out, they just want the manager and the next day’s pitcher to show up for the interview room. My guess is the Dodgers will hold some kind of optional, voluntary workout on the field, but anybody who doesn’t want to come to the ballpark — except for Mattingly and Hyun-Jin Ryu, of course — will be excused.

“Do we really need to take batting practice again?” Mattingly asked, rhetorically.

The Braves, however, WILL hold a full workout, from 5-7 p.m.

On another note, there is a new development in the saga of Jonathan Denver, the Dodgers fan who was stabbed to death on a San Francisco street corner near AT&T Park last week. Now, Denver’s brother is saying HE was the one who swung a chair at Michael Montgomery, the Giants fan who is claiming he stabbed Denver in self defense. Robert Preece says he swung the chair in an attempt to protect his brother.

Game times set for remainder of this NLDS

If there is a Game 4, it will be at 6:37 p.m. (Pacific time) on Monday night at Dodger Stadium. If there is a Game 5, it will be at 8:37 Eastern time, 5:37 Pacific on Wednesday night back here at Turner Field. Game 3, which we already knew, is at 5:07 on Sunday at Dodger Stadium. This means every game of this series is officially a night game.