Dodgers Ripping the Ball In Old Arizona

In Arizona as far as the Dodgers are concerned, the hitters are ahead of the pitchers, and that's generally good news. Dodger scouting director Logan White, who lives in a Phoenix suburb, regularly monitors the progress of the players in the Fall League and reports, All four of our guys are really hitting the ball hard," and since those are a foursome of the brightest offensive hopefuls in the system, their progress at the plate is noteworthy.

This season the Dodgers sent to the league, which annually features some of the best of the minors younger set, are playing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs, managed by Scott Little, who led Vero Beach in the regular season. The hitters are first baseman James Loney, second baseman Tony Abreu, third baseman Andy LaRoche and outfielder Matt Kemp.

Originally, Loney was to have part of the "taxi squad", which only plays on Tuesdays and Thursdays, since he had a full season in this league last year. However, he's been doing so well the Dogs received league approval to move him onto the regulars so he's now in there on that basis- and doing well.

Loney's currently hitting .371 but what is even more pleasing to the Dodgers is that in the nine games he's played, he's already hit four home runs. It has been the contention of many of the team brass that his power output would be what is required of a first baseman as he matures . That seems to be coming to pass, at least as far as this league is concerned.

"He's hit everything hard," White notes. "In a game the other day, he only went 1-for-5 but on one of those he faced Weaver (Jared, the Angels' much-touted first-rounder of 2004) and turned on a ball and hit a shot. The right fielder made a great play to rob him of what looked like a sure hit."

LaRoche had only moderate success at first but he, too, is scorching the ball better than any other hitter in the league as he's increased his batting mark to .375. He hasn't homered but does have a slugging percentage of .453.

Kemp is hitting .333 with one homer while Abreu is at .316, also with a single rip out of the park . Oddly, Loney, LaRoche and Kemp have all driven in 10 runs apiece while Abreu has accounted for 6 RBI.

The pitchers as noted haven't fared as well. All three are substitutes since the originally scheduled trio of Chad Billingsley, Edwin Jackson, and Greg Miller have all been excused. Billingsley and Jackson never did report because it was felt each had accrued enough innings during the regular season that rest was in order. Miller checked out with soreness in his left shoulder as a precautionary measure.

The replacements are Eric Hull, Beau Dannemiller and the just-reported Casey Hoorelbeke. Hull is doing okay; although he's 0-1, his ERA is 3.94. Dannemiller, however, has a 9.64 ERA to go with his 1-1 mark. Hoorelbeke had two good games, then was roughed up in his third, pitching an inning in each. He's 1-0, 6.00.