No long outings for Broxton, Mattingly says

Jonathan Broxton wasn't very successful last season when former manager Joe Torre asked him to get more than three outs for a save. This year, new manager Don Mattingly wants his beleaguered closer to just focus on the ninth inning.

"If things go the way I want, when it's the ninth inning, he's got the ball," Mattingly said. "It's more a mentality. I want him thinking the ninth inning is his. If we're set up properly, if we've got the arms, we've got to get him the ball in the ninth."

In Broxton's eight blown saves or losses last year, four came when he entered in the middle of the inning. He converted 20 of 25 three-out save chances but just 2 of 5 chances on three-plus outs.

One of the few times Broxton was successful getting three-plus outs was June 26 against the Yankees. He got the final four outs in a 9-4 win. His ERA was 0.83 at the time. The next day, Broxton blew a four-run lead in the ninth inning and threw a whopping 48 pitches in the inning.

Broxton was never the same the rest of the season.

Three weeks later, Broxton was asked to get five outs on a sweltering Sunday afternoon in St. Louis. Broxton's uniform was drenched in sweat, and he threw 44 more pitches in another blown save. By then, his ERA was 2.50 for the year.

On Aug. 12, the Dodgers blew a 9-1 eighth-inning lead to the Phillies. Broxton allowed the final four runs, his ERA was up to 3.50, and he was removed from the closer role. His ERA was 4.04 by the end of the year.

Shortly after the season, Mattingly declared Broxton would be his closer to start the 2011 season. Broxton's first two outings of the spring went well. But he didn't retire any of the five batters on March 10 -- giving up a home run, two singles, a walk, a hit batsman, plus three stolen bases.

That renewed concerns among Dodgers fans about Broxton. Surely, the front office and coaches felt the same way, although they naturally denied it was cause for alarm.

"No, not yet," pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "I still look at this as a work day. You don't want a negative outcome as today was from the point of view of what everybody wants to see, but on March 10 he's not going to have his game velocity."

Kuroda continues on his learning curve
Hiroki Kuroda is working on a curveball this spring. Of course, he was working on it last spring. And the spring before that. And many years before that.

Truth is, Kuroda's been working on the curveball for 10 years now. He's had teammates in Japan show him. He's had teammates in the United States show him, including Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley. He even went to YouTube in search of the ideal grip.

Each year, Kuroda abandons the pitch sometime in March or shortly into the season. According to fangraphs, he threw a curveball 0.2 percent of the time last year, not a single time in 2009, and also 0.2 percent in his U.S. Debut in 2008.

The pitch could be dropped at any moment, as in years past, but Kuroda seems intent on giving the pitch a better chance this season. He dusted off the curveball in his spring training debut.

"I worked on the curve tonight and had good results," Kuroda said. "My hard stuff is not there and that's something that happens every Spring Training. The fastball is not there, but it will get there before the season opens."

Kuroda returned to his native Japan after the season and spent about a month deciding if he wanted to continue pitching in the United States. His agent initially wanted a two-year contract, but Kuroda agreed to the Dodgers one-year offer.

Kuroda, 36 this year, has a few more gray hairs. He's coming off his first healthy season in the U.S., going 11-13 with a career-low 3.39 ERA. He's at an age where performance usually begins to dip, but his strikeouts per nine innings increased from 5.7 to 6.7 to 7.3 since being in America.

The Opening Day starter in 2009, Kuroda will be the Dodgers' fourth starter this season. It's probably his last in the United States, as he'd prefer to pitch the final year of his career back in Japan.

Essentially on a year-to-year contract with himself to remain in this country.

By the time that curveball is mastered, he'll probably be announcing his retirement.

--3B Casey Blake isn't expected to be out for long after leaving Saturday's game in the first inning because of tightness in his back. He was listed as day-to-day, and trainer Stan Conte told reporters Blake probably would be out for only a couple of days. However, Blake told reporters Sunday that his back was tight and kept him from sleeping well Saturday night.

--RHP Rubby De La Rosa, the team's minor league pitcher of the year, felt some slight tendinitis in his throwing shoulder and was held back a few days. But he's fine now and was scheduled to start Sunday's split-squad game in Las Vegas against the Cubs.

--OF Andre Ethier was supposed to start March 9 against the Mariners. But minutes before the game, the Dodgers realized he wasn't stretching. He was in the weight room instead. Ethier forgot to check the lineup and didn't realize he was supposed to play a third straight day. The next day, Ethier was back in the lineup. Somebody circled his name and wrote, "Yes, you're in the lineup."

--LHP Scott Elbert, a former first-round pick who has battled control problems throughout his career, is being constantly advised this spring to slow down on the mound. Elbert has a tendency to get the ball back from the catcher and want to immediately throw it. Catchers are also being instructed to take their time throwing the ball back to Elbert.

--1B James Loney missed four games because of "non-painful swelling" in his left knee. An MRI was taken, just to be safe, and that showed it was nothing major. Loney returned to the lineup March 9, and other than making an error on the first ball hit to him, said he felt fine.

--RHP Hiroki Kuroda was able to check with all his family members after the 8.9 earthquake that ravaged his native Japan on March 11, and most of them are fine. His brother frequently travels on business to the northern part of Japan, however, and he hadn't been able to contact him.

--OF Xavier Paul stands a better chance of making the Dodgers because of the injury to RHP Jon Garland. Paul is out of options, but most people considered him sixth on the outfield depth chart. The Dodgers could start the season with 11 pitchers and six outfielders because they won't need a fifth starter until the 11th game of the season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 32-33 -- Starts that Jon Garland has made each of the last nine years. Barry Zito and Derek Lowe are the only other pitchers with that type of track record.

The Dodgers have signed RHP Steven Jackson, RHP Robert Romero (Fort Worth (American Association)), C Gianison Rosa (Coastal Bend United League). Voluntarily retired: RHP Eric Krebs

Players Optioned:
Inf Russ Mitchell, RHP Carlos Monasterios, of Jamie Hoffman, of Trayvon Robinson, 1b John Lindsey, RHP Javy Guerra, RHP Jon Link (to be converted into a starter).

Monasterios, who spent all of last season in the majors despite having almost no previous experience above Single-A, remains on the club's 40-man roster and still is among their top pitching prospects, was optioned to minor league camp.

Infielder Luis Vasquez.

Not On 40-Man Roster:
SS Dee Gordon, LHP Wilkin De La Rosa, RHP Jon Huber, catcher JD Closser, and RHP Roman Colon to Minor League camp.

Gordon, 22, was in big league camp for the first time since the Dodgers drafted him in the fourth round in 2008, and he was never a candidate for the Opening Day roster. He hit .222 (4 for 18) in 13 Cactus League games, with one double, and he was successful on both of his stolen-base attempts. Gordon is expected to begin the season at either Double-A Chattanooga, where he spent all of last season after making the jump all the way from low Class A, or Triple-A Albuquerque, with an eye toward him possibly being ready for the majors in a year. Gordon is a speedster who has stolen a total of 126 bases over the past two seasons in the minors.

Restricted List: RHP Ronald Belisario.

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