Monday, May 13, 2013

Capuano cruises: Dodgers 5, Miami 3

Dodgers left hander Chris Capuano had an easy day against an easy lineup Sunday, mixing together almost nothing but sinkers and changeups to keep the Miami Marlins quiet. The Dodgers' win brought them a little bit closer to leaving the National League West cellar.


Chris Capuano entered Sunday's game against Miami with a 10.38 ERA, then allowed but one run in 6 1/3 innings (Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported license).

By BILL PETERSON
Big Leagues in Los Angeles

The game: May 12, Miami Marlins at Los Angeles Dodgers, National League. Miami entered 11-26, fifth place NL East, 10 1/2 games behind Atlanta. Los Angeles entered 14-21, fifth place NL West, seven games behind San Francisco.

The pitchers: Miami, Tom Koehler, right hander (0-0, 3.18). Los Angeles, Chris Capuano, left hander (0-2, 10.38).

The result: Los Angeles 5, Miami 3.

Summary: A weekend of last-place baseball in Los Angeles came to an end as the Dodgers won the rubber game of a three-day engagement with the beleaguered Marlins. Four different Dodgers drove in runs and Chris Capuano shut down, by far, the weakest offensive assembly in the major leagues.

The pitching: The remarks coming out of the Dodgers clubhouse postgame from starting pitcher Chris Capuano and manager Don Mattingly indicate that the plan was no plan. Just execute pitches, attack the hitters and don't worry too much about exploiting the hitters' weaknesses. Then again, with this Marlins lineup, you don't have to look very hard for weaknesses. And with an inexperienced Tim Federowicz catching for the Dodgers, it probably was out of the question to expect too much sophistication,anyway. But who expected this? With very few exceptions, everything Capuano threw was either a sinker or a changeup. We've heard of left handers shutting down big league lineups with two pitches, of course, because we've heard of Sandy Koufax and Steve Carlton. But a junk dealer doing it with a sinker and a changeup is, at the very least, rare.

Per MLB.com, Capuano threw one curveball in the first inning, one slider in the third, a curve and a slider in the fourth, a curve and a slider in the fifth, and three sliders in the seventh. Of 79 pitches, 55 were strikes, so Capuano certainly executed his pitches. And except for the nine pitches just enumerated, everything was a sinker or a change, about 50-50 between them. Of the six sliders Capuano threw, he offered four of them to Marlins second baseman Derek Dietrich, who crushed a three-run homer against Dodgers starter Matt Magill Friday night in only his second major league game. The first slider from Capuano to Dietrich was the only pitch of a fourth-inning at-bat in which Dietrich ended the inning with a sharp ground out to first. Capuano didn't throw another slider until Dietrich came up with one out in the seventh. He threw it for first pitch strike one, then second pitch ball one. Later, Dietrich hit a slider foul on 2-2. On the next pitch, Dietrich slammed a sinker for a line drive double to left. At that point, the Dodgers called on Kenley Jansen ...

There will be calls to remove Brandon League from the closer's role for the Dodgers after he allowed two runs in the ninth inning Sunday, but we're holding our fire, at least, based on this one game. League worked ahead of hitters, threw 96 on the knees and induced ground balls. If the Marlins were smashing the ball, it would be different. Sometimes, stuff happens. Adeiny Hechavarria's two-out double that drove in both runs went the other way off the end of his bat and fell barely inside the foul line in short right field. And, for whatever reason, the Dodgers couldn't crank out a double play that would have ended the game before Hechavarria batted. Anyway, all's well that ends well, even if this one didn't end especially well.

The hitting: Matt Kemp picked up his 1,000th major league hit Sunday. Befitting the season in which he reached the milestone, the hit did not come with runners in scoring position. Both of Kemp's hits Sunday came with two out and nobody on. Kemp batted with runners on first and second, nobody out, in the first, and it went about the way it's been going. Not only did Kemp fail to drive in the lead runner, but the lead runner got himself thrown out at third. In other words, a double play. Carl Crawford decided to test the arm of Marlins right fielder Marcell Ozuna going from second to third. Ozuna made a nice throw and caught Crawford easily.

Ozuna is 22 and never played above Class A in six pro seasons before the Marlins promoted him to Jacksonville (Southern League) in April. He began the season in Class A Jupiter (Florida State). But with Giancarlo Stanton disabled by a right hamstring strain, Ozuna got the call. At the plate, Ozuna was two-for-four Sunday, raising himself to 15-for-46 (.326) in the big leagues. He is ranked 75th among the 2013 prospects by Baseball America ...

Kemp now has six singles in 36 at-bats with runners in scoring position for batting and slugging averages of .166. But the Marlins still respect him, as they should. In the seventh, with one out and runners at second and third, the Marlins intentionally walked Kemp. The next two Dodgers batters, Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke, each drove in runs. It was a nice day for Van Slyke, who homered in the second inning Sunday before driving in the Dodgers' final run with his two-out single in the seventh.

The base running: We thought, for just a fraction of a moment, about chastising Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier for being less than urgent with his throw to second base in the ninth inning after Miami's Adeiny Hechavarria dropped one off the end of his bat just inside the foul line to drive in two runs. On a second half-thought, though, Ethier probably was stunned that Hechavarria would try to take second and, if he was, he should have been. Bad move by Hechavarria. He got away with it, barely beating Ethier's throw to second, but it was a mistake. Those two runs brought the Marlins within 5-3 with two outs. If Hechavarria had been thrown out, he would have ended the game with the tying run at the plate. He would have taken the Marlins out of the game at the very moment when he put them in it ...

Nick Punto has a career .249 batting average and a career OPS of .654. He has appeared in 100 games or more just once in the last five years. This year, the Dodgers are paying him $1.5 million. Is he worth the $1 million the Dodgers would save by paying some kid the minimum to do the same job? Yes. Punto is not perfect (more on that later), but he has quite a nose for the game. Sunday, in the seventh, Punto led off with a single, then hustled to third on pinch hitter Juan Uribe's one-hop single to center field. The Marlins' center fielder, Justin Ruggiano, had the play right in front of him, but Punto was thinking third base the moment the bat hit the ball. Ruggiano made a weak throw home on Punto's sacrifice fly in the fourth. Think that was on Punto's mind? …

Now, do we blame Carl Crawford for trying to take third from second on Matt Kemp's fly ball to Miami right fielder Marcell Ozuna in the first inning? We say not. No one wants to make the first or third out at third base or home. Crawford's out at third was the second of the inning. More to the point, the Dodgers need to force a little more action, and teams like Miami are the right opponents for doing it. Let's see if the child outfielder can make that throw, even though we've already seen him make a few nice throws in this series. Ozuna made the play. Tip your cap. In the future, we'll know. The Dodgers were back on second base quickly enough, anyway, because Dee Gordon stole it.

The fielding: Brandon League probably would have a couple more friends in town today if second baseman Nick Punto could have turned a double play in the ninth inning. One out, runner on first, Miami's Nick Green hit a grounder right to Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon. Looked like a routine double-play ball. For whatever reason, though, Punto held onto the feed from Gordon. The runner to second, Miguel Olivo, came in hard, but Punto had his front to him, he saw it all the way and we see second basemen make that throw all the time. Maybe Gordon just didn't get the ball out fast enough to start the double play, but he certainly didn't dawdle. The next hitter, Derek Dietrich, singled hard to Punto's right, through a spot where it has become ordinary to see second basemen make a play. Of course, a lot of that is positioning, and positioning is scouting, and Dietrich, to this moment, has 11 major league at-bats, so there's still much to be learned about him ... Best defensive play of the day for the Dodgers was Scott Van Slyke, playing first base, reaching two rows into the seats to snag Ozuna's foul ball in the sixth inning. Van Slyke made another nice play on Dietrich's one-hop smash to end the Miami fourth ...

As for the Marlins, one can see why the Dodgers ran so much on their outfielders. Center fielder Justin Ruggiano's throw on Nick Punto's sacrifice fly in the third didn't exactly resemble a shot from a cannon. Even worse, the Marlins had no one in cutoff position, so the throw just plopped onto the infield dirt on the shortstop side of second base and skidded to catcher Miguel Olivo, who went up the third base line to get it. Later, in the seventh, Punto ran from first to third on a single hit right at Ruggiano ...

Marlins left fielder Juan Pierre, 35 years old, has never been known for his strong throwing arm, and it certainly hasn't improved with age. In that fourth inning, after Skip Schumaker doubled with one out, Tim Federowicz hit a hard grounder towards Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. Schumaker ran on contact, then, seeing that Hechavarria might play it, doubled back toward second base. As the ball skipped off Hechavarria and toward Pierre in short left field, Schumaker headed back toward third base and Pierre didn't even look there, even though a good throw would have nailed the runner. Instead, Pierre made the safe play, throwing to second to keep the double play in order. We can argue about whether Pierre made the right play, but it's pretty hard to stomach just letting the lead runner have third base with less than two out. And the value of having the double play in order diminishes when we consider that the Dodgers had their eight and nine hitters coming up. That eight hitter, Punto, hit the sacrifice fly just now described right after Pierre let Schumaker have third ...

More on Pierre. After the Marlins intentionally walked Matt Kemp with one out to load the bases in the seventh, Andre Ethier hit a fly to Pierre in medium-short left field. As Juan Uribe came in from third for the Dodgers, Pierre's throw home was so weak that it had to be cut at the pitcher's mound by third baseman, Placido Polanco, and it was so crooked that the catcher, Miguel Olivo, was up the first base line waiting for it. So, when Polanco cut the throw and turned to the plate, his catcher was on the first base side of the plate, which isn't where you want your catcher if he's protecting the plate against a runner from third. Fortunately, for the Marlins, Polanco threw to the catcher, instead of the plate, or a three-run inning would have been even bigger for the Dodgers.

Strategic moves: Like a lot of other people, we sometimes wonder what Dodgers manager Don Mattingly is doing. But we don't wonder about it quite as much as some other people. For example, somebody on the MLB.com message board said it didn't make "logical sense" to have Skip Schumaker, batting .183, in the six hole and Nick Punto, batting .333, in the eight hole. But that one is easy. The No. 8 job is harder than the No. 6 job and you need more diversification there. In particular, of course, No. 8 needs to find a way on base with two out and nobody on so the pitcher can make the third out and bring the top of the order up the next inning. Punto did exactly that with a second-inning walk. And it worked out kind of that way in the fourth, when Punto hit a sacrifice fly for the second out, which brought Chris Capuano to the plate for the third out. Sadly, for the Dodgers, the third and fifth innings thusly set up went like this: Carl Crawford out, Dee Gordon out, Matt Kemp single, Andre Ethier out.

Other than that, every button Mattingly pushed in this game gave the right answer. When Punto hit his sacrifice fly, it was Schumaker who scored. Something else to consider: there's next to nothing gained by double-switching the No. 8 hitter, so he's probably staying in the game if the manager makes that kind of pitching change. Mattingly made exactly that change when he removed Capuano in the seventh. He removed Schumaker from second base and replaced him in the six hole with reliever Kenley Jansen, moved Punto from third base to second, and brought in Juan Uribe to play third base and bat ninth. In the bottom of that inning, Punto and Uribe were in the middle of a three-run effort.

What now: Los Angeles is 15-21, still fifth place in the NL West, seven games behind San Francisco. However, the Dodgers have gained two games on San Diego in the last two days, so they are one-half game behind the fourth-place Padres. Miami is 11-27, still fifth place in the NL East, 10 1/2 games behind Atlanta, and the Marlins aren't close to anybody. The Dodgers are 2-4 on their nine-game home stand, which closes with three games against the Washington Nationals Monday through Wednesday at Dodger Stadium. The Marlins finished their ten-game road trip 3-7 and now go back to Little Havana for a nine-game home stand that begins with three against Cincinnati Tuesday through Thursday. Monday night at Dodger Stadium, blue is going with Josh Beckett (0-4, 5.13), who has won four straight against the Nationals. Washington is scheduled to start Jordan Zimmermann (6-1, 1.59), who is as good as it gets right now.

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