Hiroki Kuroda's thoughts with family
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- For six innings on Sunday, Hiroki Kuroda made it all about baseball, becoming the first Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher this spring to stick around that long in a Cactus League game. He wasn't especially effective, giving up four runs on seven hits as a Dodgers split squad fell 6-1 to the Chicago White Sox before 8,458 at Camelback Ranch, but he got his work in, which is what it is basically about this time of year.
And then, after talking to a few reporters, showering and getting dressed, he headed back to his computer and the round-the-clock, Internet news reports he has been monitoring for most of the past two days, ever since an 8.9 earthquake struck his homeland of Japan and resulted in the additional disasters of tsunamis and an explosion at a nuclear plant.
Away from the field, for now anyway, it isn't really about baseball for Kuroda.
"I'm trying not to think about it while I'm pitching," Kuroda said, with Kenji Nimura translating. "It's my job, so I need to do it. But off the field, whatever free time I get, I have been home on the Internet. I'm seeing all the horrifying images and the devastation on the news. I really feel for the people of Japan right now."
The Dodgers also lost their other game, 4-3 in 10 innings to a Chicago Cubs split squad before 11,051 at Cashman Field in Las Vegas.
Kuroda's family members in Japan live in the Hiroshima area, a safe distance from Sendai, the site of Friday's quake, and he finally was able to contact his brother, who was in the area of the quake on a business trip at the time it struck.
"He was out of danger, but at first, he wasn't able to go back home," Kuroda said. "He was staying in a refugee camp. But he is back home now."
Kuroda's performance against the White Sox was perfectly acceptable for the midpoint of spring training. He gave up a pair of homers, one of which was a solo shot by the power-hitting Carlos Quentin in the second inning but the other of which was a rather galling, two-run blast by light-hitting, 43-year-old shortstop Omar Vizquel on an 0-2 pitch in the fourth.
Most importantly, though, Kuroda made the most of his prescribed pitch count of 75.
"Hiro pitched to contact," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "His slider was sharp. Unfortunately, he made a couple of bad pitches. They are an aggressive, fastball-hitting team, so it's not like you're not going to throw the fastball. I think really, the only pitch he would love to have back is obviously that 0-2 pitch to Vizquel."
With the Dodgers' only off day of the spring scheduled for Wednesday, Kuroda will get an extra day before his next start on Saturday against the Milwaukee Brewers, at which point Honeycutt plans for him to throw 85-90 pitches.
Broxton bounces back
Judging by his box score line, closer Jonathan Broxton appeared to bounce back from his horrific outing on Thursday against the San Diego Padres. But while he faced the minimum and didn't allow the White Sox a hit in the eighth inning, it wasn't quite as clean as it appeared because Broxton started it with a leadoff walk to Adam Dunn.
Dallas McPherson followed with a double-play grounder, Quentin grounded to third and that was that for Broxton.
"I feel good," Broxton said. "I'm still just trying to fine-tune it with two weeks to go. I still have a lot of games to pitch down here. I just want to get my arm strong enough to pitch every day and take care of all the little stuff."
Broxton had been outstanding in his first two appearances before he was hit hard and lasted just one-third of an inning against the Padres, hitting and walking the last two batters. Against the White Sox, Broxton showed a sharper slider, although he still hasn't really reached full velocity on his fastball yet.
Not to be overlooked
It didn't raise many eyebrows last November when the Dodgers not only signed catcher Hector Gimenez -- a minor league journeyman whose entire major league résumé consists of two games with the Houston Astros in 2006 -- but added him to their 40-man roster. When all the Dodgers' offseason maneuverings were done, all that was apparent about Gimenez, 28, was that he was fourth in the organizational pecking order, behind the assumed major league catching tandem of Rod Barajas and Dioner Navarro and probably Triple-A starter A.J. Ellis.
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Gimenez is hitting just .250 for the spring, but that includes a home run off Chris Carpenter -- the Cubs prospect, not the St. Louis Cardinals' former Cy Young Award winner -- in the eighth inning of the Las Vegas game. But he also is a switch-hitter, is out of minor league options and can play first base. And even his somewhat-modest spring average is better than that of either Navarro (.200) or Ellis (.176).
"Hector has some power from both sides of the plate," said Carlos Subero, the Dodgers' Double-A manager who also has managed Gimenez in the Venezuelan Winter League and strongly recommended that the Dodgers sign him. "He is mostly a doubles guy and a clutch hitter, and he doesn't drop off much from the right side. He hits well from both sides of the plate. But the biggest thing is his leadership. This is a kid with strong character, and he knows how to win because he has been exposed to winning."
Gimenez's winter-ball team, Tigres de Aragua, is a perennial playoff contender.
With the Dodgers having committed a total of $4.25 million to Barajas and Navarro this winter, the reality is that Gimenez probably won't stick, whether he has options or not. But given his lack of big league experience and his recent track record -- Subero said that only in the past year did Gimenez finally, fully recover from surgery to repair the labrum in his right shoulder that caused him to miss all of the 2007 season -- he would be almost certain to clear waivers. That would mean the Dodgers could outright him to Albuquerque, where he and Ellis could push each other for playing time and compete to be the first guy called up in the event either Barajas or Navarro suffered an injury.
Non-roster reliever Mike MacDougal, who is beginning to look like a solid bet to make the club, finally gave up his first run of the spring against the White Sox, but even that was unearned. MacDougal pitched the seventh inning behind Kuroda, allowing a single by Brent Morel and a hard-luck double up the left-field line by Juan Pierre on a ball that should have been played by third baseman Pedro Baez. MacDougal then picked Pierre off second and finished by blowing one past Gordon Beckham. ...
Non-roster infielder Justin Sellers continued to make his pitch in what has become a highly competitive battle for the last utility-infield spot with veterans Juan Castro and Aaron Miles and fellow prospect Ivan DeJesus. Sellers doubled against big league veteran Brian Bruney in his only at-bat against the White Sox, driving in the Dodgers' only run of the game. He is hitting .294 with a .429 on-base percentage for the spring, and he has just two strikeouts in 21 plate appearances. ...
The Dodgers (5-14) play the American League champion Texas Rangers for the first time this spring on Monday in Surprise. Right-hander John Ely will go for the Dodgers against Rangers righty Eric Hurley.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.