Tag: Hong-Chih Kuo

MLB Predictions 2011: 15 Setup Men Eyeing the Closer Role

Look at what fantasy baseball has done to us.  We pore over pre-season rankings, stalk the Internet for live game box scores, pray for injuries just major enough to open up opportunities for sleepers.  All in the hope of compiling enough saves to win the category.

Of course, roto leagues aren’t the only reason for the baseball-loving public’s collective love affair with closers, but they sure do bring out the fanatic in all of us.

Prior to 1969, saves weren’t even and official statistic.  Prior to 1960, they didn’t exist at all.  For roughly 70 years, the sport got along just fine without having a specific way of quantifying close-game, ninth-inning success, but in the decades since its inception, the save has come to dominate the way managers deploy pitching staffs.

As relievers became more popular in the latter half of the last century, the best arms were used more and more in high-pressure situations. Ultimately, that led to the modern “closer”, usually a bullpen’s most reliable arm that could come in and preserve ties or leads at the end of games.

With teams depending so heavily on closers, it’s not enough to have just one established guy.  Each club also needs a closer-in-waiting or two, setup men that, if needed, can step in and get the job done.

So who has staked their claim to the closer-in-waiting spot in 2011?  It’s time to review (in no particular order) the 15 best relievers who aren’t closing now, but could be in line for saves before the season is out.

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L.A. Dodgers Closer Quandary: 10 Alternatives If Jonathan Broxton Is Ineffective

After a very successful first four and a half years to start his major league career, Los Angeles Dodgers’ closer Jonathan Broxton had a miserable second half in 2010.

Broxton was an All-Star in 2010, putting up great first half numbers with an ERA of 2.11, as well as 19 saves in 21 chances.  

However, after the All-Star break Broxton proceeded to post an ERA of 7.13 with just three saves in eight opportunities, and Broxton had more walks than strikeouts.

By mid-August, the Dodgers were falling out of contention and essentially went with a closer by committee over the last month and a half of the season, with Broxton, Hong-Chi Kuo and Kenley Jansen splitting the closer duty,

Broxton’s struggles came as quite a shock, considering he had done so well prior to the second half of 2010.

He still has a career ERA of 3.11 and a great strikeout to walk ratio of 3.2, but with Broxton expected to be the primarily closer in 2011, the Dodgers have to be ready to take action in case he struggles.

Here are 10 potential alternative plans the Dodgers can make if Broxton is ineffective in 2011.

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Los Angeles Dodgers: If Jonathan Broxton Can’t, Who Will Close Games in 2011?

The Dodgers know how they’re going to start the games, having assembled their starting rotation before December started, but how they’re going to end their games is another issue.

They enter the season with some big questions surrounding their closer, Jonathan Broxton.

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports that Dodger officials will only be giving Broxton about a month’s worth of rope before they pull him from the closer’s role should he struggle, and it could be even less if Broxton doesn’t throw well in spring training.

Spring training might not be the best place to evaluate how a pitcher will perform during the regular season, especially not for a relief pitcher. However, if new manager Don Mattingly doesn’t like what he sees, there’s no reason to think he’ll give Broxton as much of a chance as Joe Torre did.

Broxton struggled for most of the season, finishing with just 22 saves and a 4.04 ERA.

Broxton’s up-and-down season finally came to an ugly end in late July. On Jul. 18, Broxton gave up two runs in the ninth against the St. Louis Cardinals, blowing a 4-3 Dodger lead and completing a four-game Cardinals sweep.

Less than two weeks later, against the San Francisco Giants, Broxton gave up an eighth inning, go-ahead two-run home run to Pat Burrell, sending the Dodgers to a 2-1 loss.

Manager Joe Torre finally removed Broxton from the closer’s role on Aug. 18. He would make just five more appearances the rest of the season, blowing two more saves in three chances. Broxton finished the 2010 season with seven blown saves overall, his fourth straight season with six or more.

Entering the 2011 season, Broxton is the Dodgers closer. Even if he doesn’t show much in spring training, he’ll likely still start the season in the ninth inning, but he’ll have to have a great April to stay there.

Making matters worse, Broxton’s name was thrown around in a rumored trade, which would have brought Prince Fielder to Chavez Ravine. That deal never really had any legs, but just the fact that Broxton might have been included illustrates how weak his position is within the organization.

For now though, Broxton is still in Dodger blue, but should he struggle again, the Dodgers have a few in-house replacements.

Hong-Chih Kuo took over as closer after Broxton was removed from the job. Kuo, who saved nine games in as many chances in Broxton’s place, was a 2010 All-Star and finished the season with a 1.20 ERA in 56 appearances and a 4.06 K/BB rate.

He is in the best position to take over for Broxton again if needed, but given his history of arm problems, may not be able to handle the job for as much of the season. His 56 appearances in 2010 were the most of Kuo’s career. Over the last five seasons, Broxton averaged almost 72 appearances.

Can Kuo handle being the Dodgers closer for most of the season and the workload that comes with it?

If not, the Dodgers will need a plan C, or even a plan D.

Plan C could start with Vicente Padilla, who made 16 starts for the Dodgers last season, going 6-5 with a 4.07 ERA. The Dodgers’ biggest strength right now is their starting rotation, and Padilla simply adds additional depth. The Dodgers can feel comfortable knowing they can expect at least 200 IP from each of their starters, meaning Padilla can stay fresh in the bullpen.

Should Broxton struggle early in the season, and if manager Don Mattingly is unwilling to push Kuo very far, Padilla could be a well-rested option.

Mattingly may have to employ a closer-by-committee if Broxton can’t get the job done, putting in whichever reliever has the hottest hand.

Broxton is the Dodgers closer, for now. The question is, how long will it last?

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

The NL Fantasy Wire: A Look at Hisanori Takahashi And Others

Greetings fantasy baseballers, and welcome to another edition of the Wire.

Hopefully you heeded the past weeks’ advice and picked up Pat Burrell, Mike Minor, Daniel Hudson and others, before it was too late. This week is sort of a special edition with a look at a trio of closers—mostly of the present, and mostly with no future. Regardless, they have one thing in common—they will receive the lion’s share of save opportunities for their respective teams.

That translates to the potential to rack up some fantasy points all over the land. And the first contestant is…

Hisanori Takahashi, RP, NYM: Owned in 18 percent of CBS leagues

Mr. Takahashi has been somewhat of an enigma for the Metropolitans this season. He had success as a reliever early on, often times bailing out the starters by providing two or three innings of solid relief. 

In fact, in his first 15 relief appearances for the Mets, he went two-plus innings seven times. Before being moved into the rotation on May 21, Takahashi put up three wins with a 3.12 ERA in 24.2 IP and a 33:14 K:BB ratio—not too shabby. 

At that point, the Mets rotation started to fall apart and he was summoned to the rotation. In 12 starts, he did not fare nearly as well, posting a 4-4 record with a 5.01 ERA while surrendering 73 hits in 64.2 innings. In addition, opposing hitters batted a robust .291 against him in those starts. 

Manuel had seen enough of Takahashi the starter and summoned Takashi the reliever, replacing him with Pat Misch in the rotation. Now, with the Francisco Rodriguez meltdown and subsequent thumb injury, Manuel has named Takahashi his closer. He brings a year of closing experience from his tenure in the Japanese league.

In his sole save opportunity, he closed out the Astros in a hitless inning this week. 

You can ride Takahashi for as long as Manuel keeps him as the closer. Keep in mind that the Mets also have Bobby Parnell, who has pitched well as of late. Manual may throw some save chances his way to see how he performs in a late-inning role. 

Hong-Chih Kuo, RP, LA:Owned in 13 percent of CBS leagues

The main difference between Kuo and Takahashi is that Kuo has been in a late inning relief role for his team, the Dodgers, the entire season. Furthermore, he has posted great stats thus far and has been the bridge that every team searches for to get the ball to the closer.

Unfortunately for Jonathan Broxton, the now-deposed closer, Kuo has pitched so well that he’s replacing Broxton, for the time being at least.  If the Dodgers have any chance of making the playoffs, they cannot afford any more meltdowns by the usually-dominating Broxton. This was the main impetus behind Joe Torre’s decision to switch their roles in the pen. 

Including Kuo’s first two save opportunities, he has put up an ERA of 1.48 on the season, which was inflated by more than half a run after his implosion against Atlanta. Torre summoned Kuo in the eighth inning, much like he used to with Mariano in his Yankee days. Kuo ran into trouble in the ninth and blew the save.  
In 42.3 innings pitched this season, Kuo has a tremendous 52:14 K:BB ratio with a minuscule 0.85 WHIP along with three wins and four saves. Kuo has been nothing short of dominant this season and now stands to gain a boat-load of value in fantasy leagues. One would have to believe that as long as he’s successful in the closer’s role, Torre will leave him there.

The Dodgers also have Octavio Dotel to vulture a few saves, but for now Kuo is the closer in LA. He’s a must-add to fantasy rosters as CBS owners have demonstrated, making him the most added player in CBS fantasy leagues. His ownership will jump to 47 percent next week, which is still rather low. Grab him while you can. 

Trevor Hoffman, RP, MIL:Owned in 27 percent of CBS leagues

Mr. Hoffman has had a rocky 2010 thus far. In the first half of the season, he was tagged for four losses and blew five of his 10 save opportunities.

He had an ERA of 8.33 heading into the All-Star break. In 27 innings, he gave up 25 runs on 34 hits along with an unimpressive 17:13 K:BB ratio. These are hardly the numbers expected from Hoffman, or any closer in the league for that matter. 

Since the All-Star break, Hoffman has had a bit of a resurgence. In 12 appearances, his ERA is a more respectable 3.09 along with a 10:4 K:BB ratio. Opposing batters are hitting only .227 against him versus .306 before the break. 

With Milwaukee out of the playoff race and not much else to play for, manager Ken Macha has decided to give Hoffman save opportunities once again. The Brewers would love for Hoffman to reach the 600 save mark and give them something to cheer about in the closing weeks of the season. 

John Axford will presumably continue to get his chances as well, which makes Hoffman far from a sure thing to score significant points for your team. Regardless, Macha will give him every chance to add to his save total.

If you have the stomach for it, pick up Hoffman sooner rather than later and hope for the best, especially if you need to bolster your Save category. 

Honorable Mention

Omar Infante, 2B, ATL: Owned in 34 percent of CBS leagues

Filled in admirably for Martin Prado at 2B and will get regular AB’s with Chipper out for the season.  Hits righties and lefties well. Batting .361 since the break with a .862 OPS and has hit over .300 every month except for one this season.

Jose Guillen, OF, SF: Owned in 45 percent of CBS leagues

Guillen will get a decent amount of AB’s in SF. While he won’t hit for average, he surely has some pop left in his bat. Hitting .375 for the Giants since the trade and has 17 HRs on the season. 

Chris Denorfia, CF, SD: Owned in four percent of CBS leagues

Denorfia is batting .321 since the break with a 1.039 OPS.  He has six homers and 16 RBI plus four SBs in the second half. Solid pick up for deeper leagues. 

Written by Rosti Satanovsky exclusively for TheFantasyFix.com .  You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter @TheSportsFariah

Follow us on Twitter for more updates @TheFantasyFix.


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What Will Save the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Second Half?

It’s been depressing, disheartening, and discomforting to watch the Los Angeles Dodgers (49-45), who have not won a game since the All-Star break (0-6).

Last night the Dodgers suffered a gut-wrenching loss to their rival San Francisco Giants when Andrew Torres hit a go-ahead, two-run double off the wall in the ninth inning off reliever George Sherill. 

Don Mattingly then replaced Sherrill with Travis Schlichting, who gave up an RBI single later in the inning to the Giants’ red-hot catcher Buster Posey. 

Then in the bottom of the ninth, after the Giants had taken a 7-5 lead, the Dodgers last chance at recovery—Andre Ethier—stepped up to the plate with a man on second. After hitting a two-run home run earlier in the game, and notorious for producing in clutch moments throughout the season, Ethier had momentum on his side.

But what began as a hopeful 2-0 count evaporated into a demoralizing strikeout for the All-Star outfielder, sealing the Dodgers’ sixth straight loss.

After manager Joe Torre was ejected earlier in the game, Don Mattingly took over, but made a potentially game-changing, managerial mistake in the top of the ninth. Mattingly approached closer Jonathan Broxton, who appeared just moments away from blowing his second save in three days, but then made the fatal error of stepping off the mound only to retreat a few steps back after hearing first basemen James Loney utter a question in the distance.

Rule 8.06(d) in the Major League Baseball rulebook states that only one visit can be made to the mound per inning by a manager or coach without removing the pitcher. Two visits to the same pitcher in the same inning means that pitcher automatically has to be taken out. The rule declares that “a manager or coach is considered to have concluded his visit when he leaves the 18-foot circle surrounding the pitcher’s rubber.”

Consequently, when Mattingly approached Jonathon Broxton on the mound two separate times, it forced the Dodgers’ intimidating and experienced closer to leave the game and be replaced by Sherill. 

The Dodgers handed the Giants a second victory in a row, but that was just the bitter topping on the cake for the slew of games the Dodgers have thrown away since returning from the All-Star break.

Being swept by the St. Louis Cardinals was a tough blow, but realistically they faced the stellar pitching of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, which completely shut them down. 

But on the other hand, where was the Dodgers pitching? 

Well, it’s where it has been all season, mediocre and inconsistent.

While no team is flawless, the Los Angeles Dodgers most visible and detrimental issue has been their pitching staff. Other than Vicente Padilla, who has proven truly reliable on the mound, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and Hiroki Kuroda continue to struggle and remain in a desperate search of their rhythm.

Even Broxton, a two-time All-Star, continues to underperform. After the Cardinals took two games from the Dodgers last week, Broxton let the third slip away last Sunday in a grueling 5-4 loss.

Neither Dodger All-Star has shined since the break. Other than last night’s two-run home run, the powerful bat of Andre Ethier has been non-existent.

Aside from the burden of a capricious pitching staff, the Dodgers are without a leader. Ethier is too young, Loney too erratic, and Matt Kemp is too unpredictable. Though players like Rafael Furcal and Manny Ramirez have the experience, they have been plagued by injury.

In fact, in the midst of the Dodgers’ despair, Ramirez was just put on the disabled list with a strained calf.

Los Angeles is lagging behind a surprising San Diego Padres juggernaut, a resurgent Colorado Rockies team and the streaky San Francisco Giants.

The Dodgers’ bats need to be reawakened and rescue them from this bundle of losses.

A more consistent, dependable pitcher like Hong-Chih Kuo should replace the turbulent Broxton.

Finally, Joe Torre needs to come to the team’s aid and revive it from this losing streak.

There is still a lot of baseball to be played and with an upcoming schedule that looks to be in their favor, hopefully the Dodgers can take advantage and regain their confidence and control.

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MLB All-Star Game: Four Ways the National League Can Repeat Next Year

After a long 14-year drought, the National League finally beat the American League in the All-Star Game, 3-1. The hero of the game for the NL was Brian McCann, who hit a bases-clearing double in the 7th inning.

Now that the NL can finally relax knowing they can actually win this game, it is now time to look at next year to see what they can improve upon, and see what they need to do to win again.

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How the Los Angeles Dodgers Can Dominate the Second Half

Whether it was Rafael Furcal’s sizzling bat, Jonathon Broxton’s overpowering pitching, or Andre Ethier’s clutch hitting, the boys in blue performed exceptionally throughout the first half of their season.

However, numerous injuries and continual struggles within the pitching staff have obstructed their consistency.

It’s difficult to determine whether the buzz generated about their chances to contend in the NL are too hasty or totally warranted.

A multitude of factors will contribute to the Dodgers’ goals ultimately coming to fruition.

Rafael Furcal

Batting .333 with six home runs and 35 RBI, Rafael Furcal is the ideal lead-off man, captain of the infield, and intimidating presence for the Dodgers.

If Rafael Furcal can maintain his health, the Dodgers will have a powerful advantage.

It’s not his agility, his speed, his range, his bat, or his field vision that distinguishes him from his peers, but instead the fusion of all of his talents that makes him such a threat.

Just today, Furcal was chosen to replace the Mets’ shortstop, Jose Reyes, for the All-Star game; a recognition he undoubtedly earned, but must live up to in the second half of the season.

All-Stars need to continue to perform at the highest level

Outfielder Andre Ethier and pitcher Jonathon Broxton have been on a tear in the 2010 season and deservedly will play in the All-Star game Tuesday, July 13, 2010, in Anaheim, CA.

Ethier was at or near the top of the NL leader lists for all three Triple Crown categories—batting average, home runs, and RBI—for the first six weeks of the season. However, an accident in batting practice landed him on the 15-day disabled list. 

But Ethier has gradually returned, recovered, and been revitalized, batting .324 with 14 home runs, and 54 RBI.

In Jonathon Broxton’s 38 innings pitched, he has struck out 55 batters, recorded 19 saves, and has a 2.11 ERA.

Though he started slowly this season—carding just one save in the Dodgers’ first 28 games—Broxton has revealed his overpowering speed, control, and stamina as the Dodgers go-to closer.

It is absolutely essential that both Ethier and Broxton sustain their stellar play and act as leaders for the rest of the team.

Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Russell Martin need to step it up

Loney: Sure, when you think about first baseman, it’s nearly impossible not to think Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, and Joey Votto.

But James Loney has the potential to become one of the elite first basemen in professional baseball.

His .305 BA and five home runs are decent, but his 59 RBI illuminate Loney’s capacity to swing the bat with force and at the right time. Loney’s consistency is crucial to the Dodgers success.

Kemp: Though Matt Kemp has 16 home-runs and 50 RBI, he has struck out 97 times so far this season. Kemp is obviously aggressive at the plate, but if he can train his eye to select the right pitches to be aggressive with, he will become a threat each time he steps up to the plate.

Martin: Russell Martin is another example of a Dodger who has struggled over the course of this season due to injuries and, consequently, inconsistency.

Though Martin has brute force at the plate, he has only produced five home runs and 22 RBI, which is mediocre for a player of his capacity. Defensively, Martin has the potential to be one of the best catchers in the league, but his injuries have made him appear “sluggish,” as manager Joe Torre recently commented.

Hopefully the All-Star break will benefit his recovery and he will return in the second half as one of the Dodgers offensive and defensive leaders.

Manny Ramirez needs to find his swing

Does anyone else cringe when the ball is hit to Manny in right field?

Defensively, he’s not much of a star or model for emulation.

But, there’s no doubting that his swing is unrivaled in power and precision. Ramirez has unbelievably quick hands, incredible pitch recognition, and when he fully turns his lower-half into the ball, he strikes it with an almost violent force.

However, Dodger fans have suffered unceasing frustration as Ramirez has been struck by injury (allowing him to play only 59 games thus season) and only hit eight home runs, with 39 RBI this season.

There used to be a palpable, roaring presence that permeated the stadium when Manny approached the plate. The pitcher would tense up, outfielders would take steps back toward the warning track, and young kids in the bleachers would slide their gloves on in anticipation of a bomb.

Ramirez needs to be smart about getting healthy and gradually return to his old self because he is far too talented to not shine among the league’s best.

Pitching: The Dodgers Achilles Heel that must subside

It’s as simple as this: Either the Dodgers organization needs to lure in new, effective pitchers, or the current pitching staff needs to come through.

The Dodgers pitching has been wrought with inconsistency and critics have been quick to blame their inadequacy for the Dodgers No.3 ranking in the NL West; one game behind the Colorado Rockies and two games behind the San Diego Padres.

While some pitchers have been plagued by health issues, like Chad Billingsley (7-4), and others by lack of experience, like John Ely (4-7), the pitching staff has been neither effective nor reliable this season.

But this is not just about starters.

Only Hong-Chih Kuo has pitched well this season (recently chosen to replace Jason Heyward of the Atlanta Braves in the All-Star game), while relievers like Carlos Monasterios, George Sherill, and Jeff Weaver have underachieved and ruined far too many possible Dodger victories.

Whether it’s an attitude adjustment or mechanics reconstruction, the pitchers of the Los Angeles Dodgers have the capacity to make or break the second half of their team’s season.

It’s about winning series and gaining momentum

The Dodgers will lose games—that’s an undeniable part of the sport.

But, if the Dodgers can learn to cultivate their strengths and use the momentum of winning series to their advantage, there will an overall surge in the team’s attitude and presence among the league.


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2010 MLB All-Star Game: For Los Angeles Dodgers, Justice Prevails

Just one day after Los Angeles Dodgers’ shortstop Rafael Furcal was named as a replacement on the National League All-Star team, lefty reliever Hong-Chih Kuo was informed of his addition to the squad on Sunday.

Kuo and Furcal will join fellow teammates Jonathan Broxton and Andre Ethier in the Midsummer Classic in Anaheim, which takes place on Tuesday.

Kuo, who was added as a late replacement for Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward, makes his first appearance as an All-Star after four arm surgeries nearly took him out of baseball completely.

In terms of the stat sheet, Kuo normally flies under the radar, but 2010 has proven that he is one of the premier left-handed set-up men in the game.

At the halfway mark in 2010, Kuo is 3-1 with two saves and 12 holds. He boasts a 1.03 ERA, a 0.72 WHIP and has struck out 36 batters in just over 26 innings of work.

His most startling statistic is that left-handed batters are a staggering 0-for-30 when facing him.

Furcal was added to the National League All-Star team Saturday to replace injured Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, and makes his second career All-Star appearance, his last coming as a member of the Atlanta Braves in 2003.

Despite missing almost a full month with a strained hamstring, and another five days on bereavement leave to pay respects to his father, Rafael Furcal’s first half of the season was nothing short of amazing.

His stat line is .333/.379/.513, and he already has six home runs and 35 RBI, which are an added bonus for a leadoff man. His 14 stolen bases are tied for the team lead with Matt Kemp and he’s also contributed with 47 runs scored, 14 doubles, and five triples.

Andre Ethier was selected to his first All-Star team on the original ballot voted by the fans, and Jonathan Broxton was hand-picked as a member of the pitching staff by Philadelphia Phillies and National League All-Star manager Charlie Manuel.

Dodger fans everywhere expressed disappointment with the players’ vote and Manuel’s decision not to include Furcal and Kuo on the team. But in the end, a sense of justice prevailed, and the pair were indeed recognized for their stellar first halves of play.

Besides serving as one of the League’s most popular commercial venues and showcasing all of baseball’s top players on a single stage, an underlying theme of the All-Star Game is that the winner earns home-field advantage for that respective League’s representative in the World Series—an edge the National League hasn’t earned since the rule went into effect in 2002.

The Los Angeles Dodgers certainly hope that their All-Star representatives shine for both Dodgertown and the NL, and gain the very important home-field advantage for the National League—just in case they happen to be that squad competing in the October Classic.

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Los Angeles Dodgers Injury Update 6/6/10

Just over a third of the way through the 2010 season, it is overly apparent: The Dodgers have been hit hard by injuries straight out of the gate.

However, hope is on the horizon. A perpetually depleted bullpen is starting to rebound from injuries to its main characters. Hong-Chih Kuo is beginning to find his form that enabled him to have success in his 2009 campaign.

Jeff Weaver, the Dodgers veteran righty out of the ‘pen has been heckled by numerous health issues all season. However, it appears as though his recent soreness will not force him to the disabled list.

George Sherrill is recovering nicely from a back strain that forced him to the 15-day disabled list on May 24. The set-up man made his first rehab start June 1, and reports were promising. Following more work on Saturday, in which Sherrill pitched a scoreless two-thirds of an inning for Triple-A Albuquerque, the lefty is on pace to return shortly.

Cory Wade is set to start his minor league rehabilitation in the upcoming week, and may make his season debut in the month of June.

Vicente Padilla is scheduled to return on June 18, just in time to start against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. His return will necessitate a decision for Joe Torre. The skipper will have to decide between two young arms.

Charlie Haeger is coming off the DL following a rehab to firm up the healing process on the turf toe that has hindered his delivery over the last month.

Haeger’s competition for the final spot in the starting rotation is fierce. Rookie John Ely has made a strong campaign to remain on the roster. His 2.54 ERA and .208 opponents’ BA would be difficult to dismiss, especially considering Haeger has struggled all season.

Ely has also shown he has the ability to go deep in to games, which had been Haeger’s number one attribute. A rubber arm will certainly be welcomed during a time of inconsistency healthwise on the Dodgers’ 25-man roster.

There is still no estimated time of return for Russell Martin’s veteran back-up, Brad Ausmus. The 41-year-old catcher is still on the 60-day disabled list following April surgery on a pinched nerve in his lower back. Although Ausmus is able to walk around and even play a little toss, his back still tightens up on occasion and there’s no reason to chance it given A.J. Ellis’ youth and versatility.

Finally, the Dodgers will decide the immediate future for starting third baseman Casey Blake. While fielding pre-game ground balls on Thursday, Blake felt pain in his lower back, and was immediately removed from the line-up. He will be evaluated on Sunday, after an MRI showed perplexing and inconclusive results.

If Blake lands on the DL, expect veterans Jamey Carroll and Ronnie Belliard to pick up the slack, and see increased playing time. Blake DeWitt will have to find an offensive groove; he will be called upon to be the every day second baseman in Blake’s absence.

For further updates, fans can catch the Dodgers versus the Braves, with a marquee pitching match-up (John Ely 3-2, 2.54 ERA vs. Tim Hudson 6-1, 2.30 ERA) set for 1:10 PT at Dodger Stadium.

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