Rubby De La Rosa impresses Dodgers
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- In what undoubtedly was one of the last chances this spring for Los Angeles Dodgers officials to get a firsthand look at their top pitching prospect, Rubby De La Rosa got his first look at the world champion San Francisco Giants, their veteran-studded lineup and their sold-out spring training ballpark full of anti-Dodgers sentiment.
Alas, intimidation wasn't part of the equation for De La Rosa.
If this was the young right-hander's final Cactus League appearance before his inevitable reassignment to minor league camp, he certainly gave manager Don Mattingly and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt something to remember him by, holding the Giants scoreless and hitless over four dazzling innings of what for the Dodgers became a 6-3 victory over the Giants before a Scottsdale Stadium-record 12,188.
De La Rosa, who turned 22 just two weeks ago, allowed only one ball to be hit out of the infield, a fly ball to left by Aubrey Huff leading off the fourth. He struck out two and walked three, and the Giants never really came close to getting a hit off him.
"What's not to like about him?" Honeycutt said. "You like for a young guy to come out and compete, and that is what he does. He wants the ball, and he doesn't want to come out. He just wants to pitch. ... His changeup is just filthy. If I had that changeup, I'm not sure I would have thrown anything else. But when you're throwing 97 [mph] all the time, I guess you have to show that every once in a while."
De La Rosa's best moment might have come in the third inning, when he got the Giants' Travis Ishikawa to swing and miss at three changeups.
"He kept the ball down," Ishikawa said. "If you can do that, you're going to have a pretty good career."
De La Rosa drew the start on Ted Lilly's normal day to pitch because Mattingly wanted to avoid giving the Giants -- who will see the Dodgers 18 times during the regular season -- an early look at Lilly. So while Lilly pitched six innings at Camelback Ranch against a bunch of Texas Rangers Class A hitters, De La Rosa gave the Dodgers and the Giants a glimpse of just why he was named the Dodgers organization's minor league pitcher of the year last season, when he went a combined 7-2 with a 2.37 ERA in 22 appearances, including 13 starts, at low Class A Great Lakes and Double-A Chattanooga.
After skipping right over advanced Class A, De La Rosa pitched exclusively out of the rotation for the Lookouts, going 3-1 with a 1.41 ERA in eight starts. He probably will begin the season at Chattanooga, with a chance to jump to Triple-A sometime during the summer, but his odds of a September call-up probably are long because that would mean adding him to the 40-man roster.
A year from now, though, De La Rosa could be ready to compete in spring training for a spot in the Dodgers' rotation or the bullpen.
"He obviously has a plus arm and good pitchability," Honeycutt said. "His two-seamer is very good, also. If there is one thing [still lacking], it's consistency with his slider. But when you're  years old, I don't think you're going to have everything figured out."
De La Rosa, whom the Dodgers signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2007, has made four appearances in his first big league camp, giving up only two runs and four hits with seven strikeouts, and he hadn't walked a batter until the three he walked against the Giants. And his efforts haven't been limited to the mound. Almost every morning during the past week or so, he could be seen sitting at a table in the middle of the clubhouse with Kenji Nimura, the Dodgers' employee who interprets for both Spanish- and Japanese-speaking players, trying to brush up on his English.
With the Dodgers' season opener now less than two weeks away and the available innings getting scarce, there probably won't be room for De La Rosa much longer. But the Dodgers have been known to bring players to Los Angeles for late-spring exhibition games even after sending them down, so the fans back home might get a glimpse of him after all.
Even if they don't, they probably can count on getting a much longer look at him somewhere in the not-so-distant future.
Seizing the opportunity
With Mattingly now having admitted there is a real possibility third baseman Casey Blake could begin the season on the disabled list because of his lower-back/rib-cage injury, there could be an additional roster spot opening up, at least to begin the season. And that means the recent offensive surges by two players who figured to get squeezed out of the picture couldn't have been more perfectly timed.
Xavier Paul, who hit his second home run of the spring in the ninth inning off Guillermo Mota, now has seven hits in his past 15 at-bats, with a double, a triple and the homer, and has raised his Cactus League average to .312. The longtime prospect also is out of minor league options, another factor that could play in his favor.
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Meanwhile, Ivan DeJesus went 3-for-4 with a double against the Giants, now has five hits in his past eight at-bats and is hitting .333.
Blake's absence obviously would work more in DeJesus' favor than Paul's because DeJesus in an infielder. But while DeJesus ostensibly is in a three-man battle with non-roster veterans Juan Castro and Aaron Miles for the last utility spot, Mattingly said after the game that he doesn't want to keep DeJesus unless he is in the everyday lineup, something that might not happen even with Blake on the DL.
"He'll get more looks [in spring training with Blake sidelined], that's for sure," Mattingly said. "[But] if it's a situation where he ends up on the bench and doesn't hit for a while, that isn't a good situation. In that case, we probably would need to send him down to give him more of an opportunity."
DeJesus says he just wants to be on the team, regardless of what role it is.
"I understand what he is saying," DeJesus said. "They want me to play. But it's the big leagues, and I want to be there no matter what."
It's OK if it works
Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, who has more or less sizzled all spring, took a calculated risk with two outs in the third, turning an easy double to the wall into an agonizingly close play at third. It all worked out, though, as Kemp was called safe with a triple and then scored on a wild pitch by Giants starter Jeff Suppan.
"He has another gear between second and third," Mattingly said. "It was one of those where you're saying, 'Don't go, don't go.' With two outs, you're already in scoring position. But he did put himself in position where he was able to score on that kind of a play. You don't want to take his aggressiveness away, but it was pretty much bang-bang [at third]."
Kemp also lost a ball in the sun in center, giving Mike Fontenot the gift of a two-out, two-run, tying double in the fifth inning. No matter, though. The Dodgers still beat the hated Giants, and Kemp still came away hitting .325 for the spring.
Hector Gimenez, who is expected to share time behind the plate at Triple-A Albuquerque this season with A.J. Ellis, homered for the third time in less than a week, also off Mota in the ninth inning. Gimenez, whom the Dodgers signed as a free agent last winter and who played two games in the majors for the Houston Astros in 2006, has been entering games in the late innings at first base while most of the catching time has been taken up by Ellis and the big league tandem of Rod Barajas and Dioner Navarro. ... In addition to Lilly -- who threw 72 pitches and allowed two runs and seven hits against those Rangers minor leaguers in Glendale -- infielder Jamey Carroll (hand injury) and outfielder Jay Gibbons (contact-lens problem) traveled to Surprise to play in a Triple-A game against the Rangers to make up for the at-bats they had been missing of late. In a loosely structured setting in which they could bat in every inning, Carroll went 2-for-3 with two walks and Gibbons went 1-for-4. ... The Dodgers (8-15) host the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday. Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda will start for the Dodgers against former teammate Randy Wolf.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.