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MONDAY, JUNE 4, 2012
Behind the Dodgers' success
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

  • Without Kemp?

Without Kemp?

Steve Berthiaume and John Kruk discuss the play of the Dodgers without their start outfielder, Matt Kemp, and whether they can keep it up until his return.Tags: Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Dodgers Complete Four-Game Sweep Of Phillies

Dodgers Complete Four-Game Sweep Of Phillies

The Dodgers scored four times in the ninth inning to help them complete their first four-game sweep in Philadelphia since 1946.Tags: MLB, Dodgers, Phillies, highlight, sweep

  • Dodgers Win Third Straight Against Phillies

Dodgers Win Third Straight Against Phillies

Dodgers hold off Phillies 6-5.Tags: MLB, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Jimmy Rollins, Dee Gordon, Kenley Jansen

  • PTI Big Finish

PTI Big Finish

Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon discuss the latest news in sports.Tags: PTI, Pardon The Interruption, Tony Kornheiser, Mike Wilbon, Big Finish, Happy Hour

When Los Angeles Dodgers starter Chris Capuano stares in for the sign from catcher A.J. Ellis and they decide whether to go with the fastball, changeup or curve, an additional, subconscious thought flashes across the 60 feet, 6 inches that separate them:
In light of all the obstacles they've endured, they're fortunate to even be in the major leagues right now.
Both are well-spoken, engaging and thoughtful college graduates. Capuano, valedictorian of his high school class in Massachusetts, has an economics degree from Duke University, where he was a Phi Beta Kappa. Ellis, who has a bachelor's in communications with a minor in creative writing from Austin Peay State University, joins George Sherrill and Shawn Kelley of Seattle and Matt Reynolds of Colorado as one of four former Governors players in the big leagues.
Get beyond their curriculum vitae to the unspoken parts of their résumés, and you'll find that Capuano is an erstwhile medical train wreck and Ellis is a career minor league backup who spent four years at Triple-A before landing his big break. Both players are longer on perseverance than raw tools. But where would the Dodgers be without them?
Matt Kemp's march to a National League MVP award has been stalled by a hamstring injury; Ted Lilly is out with a shoulder injury; and the Dodgers rank 14th in the NL with 41 homers. On the way to a major league-best 36-21 record, they've gotten welcome contributions from Aaron Harang, Josh Lindblom, Jerry Hairston Jr., Elian Herrera and Los Angeles Angels refugee Bobby Abreu, among others.
But no one has surpassed expectations for manager Don Mattingly more than the team's surgically repaired lefty and terminally underappreciated catcher.
Although Capuano has hit a speed bump in his past two starts, with back-to-back mediocre outings against the Rockies and Phillies, he's 8-2 with a 2.82 ERA and a .203 batting average against this season. He reeled off eight straight quality starts at one point and threw 24 2/3 straight scoreless innings in April and May while relying on a fastball that averages a tick under 88 mph. That's faster than the No. 1 thrown by Bruce Chen, Mark Buehrle and Barry Zito, but still ranks among the pokiest heaters in the majors.
"Everybody knows what a smart guy Chris is,'' Ellis says. "He really studies and spends time in the video room breaking things down. But when he gets on the mound, he does a great job of pitching with a clear head. He doesn't overthink things. That can be a problem with more cerebral guys. He just gets the sign and goes.''
Ellis, a walking machine, ranks fourth in the majors with a .425 on-base percentage and has reached base safely in 43 of 45 games. He has thrown out 42.5 percent of opposing base stealers (17-of-40) and combined with backup catcher Matt Treanor to get the most out of a Dodgers staff that ranks second in the majors with a 3.26 ERA combined.
"I felt comfortable with him very quickly in the spring,'' Capuano says of Ellis. "He went out of his way to ask questions and catch my bullpens and learn what I like to throw and what my strengths are. He does more scouting of hitters than any catcher I've played with. I can just relax and execute pitches, knowing he has a good idea of our game plan.''

Cheap sign

Ellis, 31, is a native of Cape Girardeau, Mo., the birthplace of Rush Limbaugh. In 1912, his great-grandmother was scheduled to emigrate from Eastern Europe to America for an arranged marriage but arrived too late to catch the passenger liner across the Atlantic. That turned out to be a good thing, since the vessel in question was the Titanic. She later caught another ship and made it to Indiana for the wedding.
After setting a school record with 263 hits at Austin Peay, Ellis received a $2,500 bonus from the Dodgers in the 18th round of the 2003 draft. "Grocery money,'' he calls it. He figured it might be neat to spend two or three years in the minors and have professional baseball on his résumé before moving on to a career as a teacher and coach.
But Ellis gradually found a niche as a reliable backup catcher. During his 2004 season in Vero Beach, Fla., top prospect Russell Martin started four of every five games behind the plate and Ellis caught hotshot pitcher Chad Billingsley every fifth day. He laughs when recalling a conversation he once had with former Vero Beach manager Scott Little.
"He asked me, 'Why do you think you're catching Chad?''' Ellis says. "I said, 'Because you want me to mentor him and shepherd him.' And he said, 'No, you're catching Chad because when he's pitching, we don't need much offense and I don't need Russell to play.'''
Ellis thought his career was on the move when he hit .346 in the Arizona Fall League in 2006. But the next season in Double-A ball, he glanced up at the scoreboard in Knoxville, Tenn., and saw a big fat .160 batting average staring back at him. When his manager, John Shoemaker, summoned him to his office, Ellis thought he was about to be demoted or released. Instead, Shoemaker told Ellis he was pressing and ordered him to refrain from all baseball-related activities for two days to clear his head. Ellis had permission to shag fly balls and watch games from the dugout and nothing more.
He emerged from his hiatus with a fresh, new mindset. "I was back in the lineup the third day, and it wasn't a job or a grind anymore,'' Ellis says. "I was excited to play. That moment made me realize that baseball is supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be a game. And when you try to take control of things you have no control over, you're done.''
In parts of nine minor league seasons, Ellis racked up more walks (336) than strikeouts (283) and logged an impressive .406 on-base percentage. But he had to fight for every scrap. When the Dodgers sent him to the minors last year because he still had options and wouldn't have to clear waivers, his frustration boiled over and he expressed his displeasure to the manager.

"He felt like he was ready,'' Mattingly says. "He was pissed, to be honest. He said, 'You're sending the wrong guy out.'

"I like the fact that he stood up for himself. A.J. has always been the kind of guy who'll take it and do the right thing and say the right thing, but it was like he said, 'I've had enough. I can play here.' He's hard to sell short, because he goes to great lengths to be good.''

Ellis learned a lot about catching from former teammate Brad Ausmus during the 2009 and 2010 seasons and improved his offense through countless hours in the batting cage with former Dodgers coach Jeff Pentland. Three years ago, Mattingly recalls, Ellis could barely hit the ball over the fence in batting practice. This year he has six homers and a .487 slugging percentage.

Medical marvel
In contrast to Ellis, Capuano was an accomplished big leaguer by age 25. He went 18-12 for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005 and made the All-Star team the following year before going on a Chad Fox-caliber medical odyssey. Capuano endured two Tommy John surgeries, a surgery on his right (non-throwing) shoulder and a torn labrum in his hip.

Two springs ago, Capuano suffered a setback and stayed behind in Arizona when the Brewers broke camp. Rather than lament his fate, he stepped back, took stock of his life and gave himself an attitude adjustment. When he accepted the possibility that his arm might never fully recover, it was almost liberating.

"It was like a weight off my shoulders,'' Capuano says. "Since then I've had a much different perspective on my baseball life, and a healthier one. I realized, 'Hey, this could end tomorrow, and I'm OK with that. I have a great family, I love my wife and I'll have other opportunities. I'll be OK without baseball.' It makes me appreciate every day that I have here.''
Capuano regained much of his arm strength in 2010 with the help of former Milwaukee pitching coach Rick Peterson's long-toss regimen, and he parlayed his 11-12 record and 186 innings with the Mets last season into a two-year, $10 million, free-agent contract with the Dodgers. His changeup has always been a weapon, and he has benefited from the addition of a cut fastball to his repertoire and a new curveball grip that he picked up from minor league coach Glenn Dishman in spring training.
Regardless of his velocity, Capuano has never lacked for resourcefulness.. "He's a tough guy to scout,'' Mattingly says, "because he gives you so many different looks.''

Capuano gave up three home runs to the Phillies on the way to his eighth victory of the season Wednesday. But at this stage of his career, he's not about to get flustered by a so-so night at the park. Two elbow reconstructions have a way of changing a man's thinking.

"I don't look back and think, 'Boy, if I didn't have the injuries, I could have been this or that,''' Capuano says. "I'm almost thankful I had them. As a player and a person, I feel like I'm in such a better place now. I'm more confident, and I don't sweat the stuff I used to. I didn't think baseball could be this much fun. It's been amazing.''
Capuano maintains a firm grip on that sentiment with every 86 mph fastball he throws. And if he ever forgets how lucky he is to be pitching for a contender, the presence of Ellis throwing down signs jogs him back to reality. They're just two baseball survivors, drawing strength from each other as a long-lasting battery.
Don Mattingly showing he's a leader
By Tim Kurkjian | ESPN The Magazine
Ruben Sierra took a long time to circle the bases after hitting his first home run as a New York Yankee in 1995. Then-Yankees manager Buck Showalter was not pleased, and prepared to talk to Sierra as soon as he reached the dugout. Yankees first baseman/captain Don Mattingly looked at Showalter and said, "I've got this.'' So Mattingly walked with Sierra up the tunnel that leads to the clubhouse, and privately -- so not to embarrass him in front of teammates -- told Sierra that his deliberate tour of the bases was not the way the Yankees play.
That's how Mattingly played the game, few played it better, and no one played it more correctly, more professionally and more passionately than Mattingly. Now he's becoming as good as a manager as he was a player, using the same principles, fundamentals and the same intensity and integrity. He needed all of that last season to guide the Los Angeles Dodgers to 82 victories during a season dominated by ownership turmoil. And he has needed every bit of that this season as he has led the Dodgers to the best record in the major leagues despite having to use the disabled list 16 times, including twice for star center fielder Matt Kemp.
"He is unbelievable," Dodgers outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. said. "He is such a great communicator, and communication is the most important part to managing. Even though he was a great player, he is one of two managers I've had that haven't forgotten how hard the game is to play. When you are going through a slump, he knows what you're going through. He is always on your side, but he is firm. He's not a yeller, but he'll let you know what is on his mind, but he will do it in a way that makes sure he doesn't disrespect you."
Dodgers utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. is with his ninth team. He has played for all kinds of managers, and says of Mattingly, "He is so impressive. He was a great player, he played in a big market in New York, so he can relate [to] the stars of this team, Matt Kemp and Andre [Ethier] and Clayton [Kershaw]. But he can also relate to the 25th man on the team. He understands all the ups and downs that all players go through. I was blown away by that."
Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon began the season as the leadoff hitter, but struggled so badly, Mattingly sat him down for a few games, then dropped him to eighth in the batting order.

"He talked to me about it before he did it, I trust him with everything he does, I listen to every word he says," Gordon said. "I know he was doing it with the team first in his mind."

Winning, and team, has always come first with Mattingly. He plays the part well of the naive, small-town guy from Evansville, Ind., the hick from the Midwest trying to figure out the big city. But he is so much more than that. He is really smart, and he has an edge to him. He is so observant, having kept his eyes open for all those years while playing for Billy Martin, Lou Piniella and Showalter, and being the bench coach for Joe Torre with the Yankees and Dodgers.

"The most important part of managing is this: When there is an issue, let's get to it right away, right now," Mattingly said. "If I see something in your eyes, I know something is wrong, so let's sit down and talk about it. There's usually a sense of relief when you're done."

In the winter of 2011, before spring training began, Mattingly called reliever Jonathan Broxton, who had struggled mightily down the stretch in 2010, and told him, "You are my closer. Period.'' In spring training 2011, Mattingly's first spring training as a big league manager, he sat Kemp down and explained to what was needed of him. Kemp had exceptional ability, of course, but he was coming off a subpar season. Mattingly told Kemp, "If you're not interested in playing defense, then you're not interested in winning. If you're not interested in getting a secondary lead, you're not interested in winning." Kemp got the message, and went out and had one of the best seasons in the history of the Dodgers.
Mattingly said the biggest lesson he learned from Torre "is that it's a really, really long season. And you have to manage your team that way. Like right now, I have to give [two veteran players] Jerry [Hairston Jr.] and Bobby [Abreu] a day off now and then to keep them fresh so I'll have them for later in the season. It's not easy to do that now with all the injuries, but you have to. But at some point you'll have to play them when they need a rest."
Dodgers utility man Adam Kennedy is with his sixth team, and he said of Mattingly, "I sit on the bench a lot, and I watch him during the games. He is very impressive. You can tell how the dugout is run, and where it comes from. It's a good place to be because of him."
With all of the Dodgers' injuries, Mattingly has had to change his lineup daily. He smiled and said, "Making out the lineup takes a little more time than it used to," but I take it as a challenge, not an excuse. Mattingly has hit Kennedy fourth in the lineup this year, and he also hit Hairston cleanup for the first time in his career. "Obviously it's not ideal when I'm hitting fourth -- not that I can't do it -- but he has to mix and match every day with all the guys that we have out of the lineup," Hairston said. "I just hope he puts me back in the three-hole: I went 5-for-5 there."
“The most important part of managing is this: When there is an issue, let's get to it right away, right now. If I see something in your eyes, I know something is wrong, so let's sit down and talk about it. There's usually a sense of relief when you're done. ” -- Don Mattingly
In order to better prepare to be a manager, Mattingly did something unusual: After being named Dodgers manager after Torre resigned after the 2010 season, Mattingly went to manage in the Arizona Fall League, an invaluable experience. "I was sitting on the bench, managing the game, and it occurred to me that if I thought about each situation as if I was a player, it would help me as a manager," he said. "When I would play first base, and it was in the late innings, and up came a guy that liked to pull the ball, and the pitcher was throwing a cutter, I guarded the line a little more to prevent a double. Once I started thinking that way as a manager, I was much more prepared to handle the strategy of the game."
No player has played the game more intelligently than Mattingly, and no one played it with more conviction. On the final day of the 1987 season, on a cold, rainy Sunday at Yankee Stadium, Mattingly took batting practice on the field, just him and one of the coaches, at 9 a.m. There was nothing to be won that day, there was no batting title at stake, but Mattingly, hitting .327 at the time, was out there anyway. When asked later why he was hitting alone that day, in the cold and rain, a day before heading home, he said, "I had some terrible swings yesterday. I couldn't go home swinging the bat like that."

In 1995, when Mattingly was in the final year of his career, a career that was shortened by a back injury, he went to Showalter and told him to get him out of the No. 4 spot in the order, he no longer deserved to hit fourth, and he was hurting the team. So, Showalter moved him down in the order. Later that year, Mattingly told Showalter that the Yankees needed to go get another first baseman because he wasn't providing what the Yankees needed at that position. In that offseason, they made a trade with the Seattle Mariners for Tino Martinez, who went on to win four world championship rings with the Yankees, four more than Mattingly won.

Now he is trying to bring the Dodgers their first world championship since 1988. He is 51 now, and he "loves being a manager." You walk into his office, and there is always a sense of calm, no matter what is going on, no matter who is hurt that day.
"Donnie is so good at this," Dodgers bench coach Trey Hillman said. "I've told him, 'I am here to help you with whatever you need. If you want me to deliver a difficult message for you, I will.' He looked at me and said, 'No, I will deliver all the difficult messages. That's my job.'"
Tommy Lasorda out of hospital
Associated Press
PHILADELPHIA -- Former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda was released from a New York hospital Thursday morning, three days after suffering a mild heart attack.
A Dodgers spokesman said Thursday in Philadelphia that no further update was available, adding only that the 84-year-old Lasorda will spend a few more days in New York before returning to Los Angeles.
He was hospitalized at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, where a stent was inserted to clear a blocked artery.
He was representing the Dodgers at the Major League Baseball draft.
He is in his sixth decade working for the Dodgers organization, starting out as a pitcher when the team was still in Brooklyn.
He guided the Dodgers to 1,599 victories and won the World Series in 1981 and 1988, the team's past two titles. Lasorda retired as manager in 1996 after suffering a heart attack.
Dodgers complete first four-game sweep in Philadelphia since 1946
Associated Press
PHILADELPHIA -- This was one nifty day for Aaron Harang and the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was simply more of the same for the sliding Philadelphia Phillies.
Harang pitched six effective innings to earn his 100th career victory and the Dodgers won 8-3 Thursday to complete their first four-game sweep at Philadelphia in 66 years.

Juan Rivera, Jerry Hairston Jr., Matt Treanor and James Loney had two hits apiece for the Dodgers, who had not swept a four-game series at Philadelphia since Brooklyn accomplished the feat from May 24-26, 1946, according to STATS LLC.
Manager Don Mattingly was not aware of the significance of the sweep until told by reporters afterward, and acknowledged it was "pretty cool."
"We really just got the momentum going here," he said.
Los Angeles, which improved its major league-best record to 37-21, scored three runs in the sixth to take a 4-3 lead, then broke it open with four more runs in the ninth.
The last-place Phillies (28-31) have dropped a season-high six straight games. They are 12-19 at Citizens Bank Park for the worst home mark in the NL.
Asked about his frustration level, manager Charlie Manuel said: "I never put it up to a level. I just feel how hot my face gets." And it is, he said, "pretty damn hot."

He also said that while teams used to fear facing the Phillies in their cozy ballpark, that is no longer the case.

"We don't scare (anybody)," he said.
The Phillies have been beset by injuries, notably to Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay. But infielder Ty Wigginton said: "That's just an excuse, in my mind."

"I think we're a better team," outfielder Shane Victorino said. "We've all got to get a gut check, including myself."

Harang (5-3) allowed three runs and eight hits while improving to 100-97 in 11 seasons.

"Early on I was getting swings and misses from my fastball," he said. "Later I just tried to work on location. Fortunately I got some quick outs and kept my pitch count down."

Cole Hamels (8-3) also pitched six innings for the Phillies, yielding four runs, three earned, and six hits. The left-hander struck out six and walked one while dropping to 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA in six career starts against Los Angeles.
Hamels carried a 3-1 lead into the sixth, but he couldn't hold off the Dodgers, who have won five of six overall.
Elian Herrera started the rally with a leadoff walk and Rivera followed with a single. Loney drove in Herrera with a one-out base hit, and Tony Gwynn Jr. and Treanor added two-out RBI singles. Treanor's tiebreaking hit was a broken-bat flare to left.
Los Angeles added four runs in the ninth against Chad Qualls. Herrera hit a run-scoring grounder with the bases loaded that second baseman Mike Fontenot booted for one of Philadelphia's three errors. Andre Ethier stopped an 0-for-16 slide with a two-run double, and Hairston followed with an RBI single.

Philadelphia took a 3-0 lead in the third following throwing errors by Alex Castellanos in right and Herrera at third. Hunter Pence hit an RBI grounder as Herrera threw wildly to the plate. Wigginton delivered a sacrifice fly and Fontenot had a run-scoring bloop single.

Wigginton, starting at third base in place of injured Placido Polanco, misplayed consecutive grounders by Herrera and Rivera starting the fourth, leading to Hairston's sacrifice fly.

Game notes

The Phillies recalled INF-OF Michael Martinez from Triple-A Lehigh Valley to fill the roster spot vacated when 2B Freddy Galvis was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a lower-back strain. ... The Phillies open interleague play Friday night in Baltimore, with Joe Blanton (4-6) opposing Jake Arrieta (2-7). ... The Dodgers send Nathan Eovaldi (0-2) to the mound Friday night in Seattle, against Kevin Millwood (3-5). ... The Phils announced that retired catcher Mike Lieberthal will be added to the team's Wall of Fame during ceremonies before the Aug. 10 game against St. Louis. ... The announced attendance was 44,096, the Phils' 235th consecutive regular-season sellout. ... Paula Abdul danced with the Phillie Phanatic on the field after the fifth inning.

Bob Wolfe to Dodgers
Associated Press
LOS ANGELES -- Bob Wolfe, who worked with new Los Angeles Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten with the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, has joined Los Angeles as executive vice president.
The Dodgers announced the move Thursday. Kasten brought Wolfe to the Nationals, where he served as executive vice president from 2006 to 2011. He also worked with Kasten in various capacities with the Braves and the NBA's Atlanta Hawks for more than 20 years, including serving as the Braves' senior vice president of administration from 1992-2003.

Kasten said in a statement that Wolfe's experience and skill in making improvements will be welcome in Los Angeles.

The team said in the statement that Wolfe's expertise in baseball and facility management includes stadium development and operations, finance and administration and minor-league business operations.

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