Dodgers set for Tucson charity game
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Andre Ethier had just come in from doing yard work in his Phoenix-area home late on the morning of Jan. 8 and was about to take a shower. Before getting in, the Los Angeles Dodgers' right fielder happened to turn on the television, whereupon he immediately learned what had just taken place some 100 miles to the south in Tucson.
"They said there was a mass shooting at a grocery store, at a [time] when there was a crowd of people around," Ethier said before the Dodgers' Cactus League game Thursday, a 7-5 victory over the Colorado Rockies before 7,533 at Camelback Ranch. "I just sat on the edge of the bathtub for about a half-hour watching the news report."
Several weeks later, when the Dodgers announced plans to make the 100-mile trip to Tucson on Friday -- a trip they thought they never would have to make again with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies having abandoned their spring training facilities there for new digs in Scottsdale -- for a charity game to benefit the Tucson Together Fund, Ethier was one of the first players to volunteer for what used to be the one Cactus League trek nobody wanted to make.
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The shooting claimed the lives of six people, including the 9-year-old daughter of Dodgers scout John Green, and eight others were wounded, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
"I just think it's important to go down there and, first of all, support a fellow Dodger who works hard for this organization and support him through a tough time," said Ethier, who has lived in the Phoenix area all his life. "I also just wanted to help out after what went on in Tucson. It is part of the state I grew up in and live in, so it's important to help."
The Dodgers will play the Diamondbacks in their former spring training facility, now known as Kino Sports Complex. The Diamondbacks also played a game there against the Chicago White Sox on March 5 to benefit the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Fund. But all proceeds from this one will benefit the Tucson Together Fund, which was established to assist all the victims, their families and those who witnessed the mass shooting.
The game is sold out, and fans are encouraged to make additional donations. One person who will be making such a donation is Dodgers first baseman James Loney, who says he probably will split that donation between the Tucson Together and Christina-Taylor Green Memorial funds.
"I just want to support the family of that girl and all the other people out there, too," said Loney, who also volunteered for the trip and declined to say how much he is donating. "Hopefully, there will be a great crowd."
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said several players were quick to volunteer for the trip, which involves a two-hour bus ride each way -- despite the fact the Dodgers, who are nearing the end of a long spring training, also play a split-squad night game against the Seattle Mariners just a dozen miles away in Peoria, and players going to that game instead will have the luxury of sleeping in and reporting to Camelback Ranch in the early afternoon.
The bus to Tucson departs at 8 a.m. sharp.
"It's the right thing to do, and we should be going there," Mattingly said. "It has been good because guys actually signed up to go. Dre signed up, and [infielder] Jamey [Carroll] signed up, and James signed up. This is a trip guys don't mind making [even though it's] two days before camp ends, so it feels good that guys actually want to go."
Rising to the occasion?
A.J. Ellis' three-run, walk-off homer against Rockies minor league camper Chris Malone couldn't have been more timely, and not just because it capped a seven-run, ninth-inning rally to give the Dodgers a dramatic but ultimately meaningless win.
It came on a day when backup catcher Dioner Navarro was scratched from the starting lineup and sent for an MRI exam after feeling pain in his right side while taking batting practice. While it won't be known until Friday how serious the injury is, it does create the possibility of another roster spot for another catcher if Navarro is forced to go onto the disabled list.
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Whether that catcher would be Ellis isn't clear. Hector Gimenez is hitting .289 for the spring, while Ellis is hitting .138. But Gimenez's big league experience consists of two pinch-hitting appearances for the Houston Astros in 2006, while Ellis has caught 53 games in the majors, 43 of them last year.
"I'm just trying to work through it," Ellis said of his offensive struggles this spring. "It had been a while since I had squared a ball up like that. But I feel like my at-bats have been getting better, and I have been seeing the ball better, which means my body is in a better position. I'm just trying to stick with it and work on what [hitting coach Jeff Pentland] has been telling me and go from there."
Ellis is superior defensively to Gimenez, although Gimenez also can play first base and, in a pinch, left field. In fact, when he caught the first six innings against the Rockies after Navarro was scratched, it marked Gimenez's first action behind the plate in two weeks. On the other hand, Gimenez is a switch hitter with more power than Ellis, and he also is out of minor league options, which might be the biggest factor in his favor.
Ready for prime time?
One player who appears primed to make his major league debut, at least at the start of the season, is longtime infield prospect Ivan DeJesus Jr. With third baseman Casey Blake now certain to begin the season on the disabled list, the door would appear to be wide open for DeJesus, who went 3-for-5 against the Rockies -- including a key RBI single in the midst of that ninth-inning rally -- and is hitting .348 for the spring.
DeJesus was facing long odds at the start of camp because he is viewed as such an important prospect that club officials don't want him sitting on the bench in the majors and not getting regular at-bats.
"He is obviously looking good," Mattingly said. "I think with the fact Casey is out, it kind of opens a little window for him, and it allows you to go, 'OK, there are some at-bats there.' It may not be every day ... but there are enough at-bats to say it's not going to retard this kid's progress like it would if he got two at-bats a week."
DeJesus can play second, third and shortstop, but even if he makes the team, his initial stay in the majors could be a short one. Blake, who has been out for almost two weeks because of inflammation in his lower back, is progressing well. Barring a setback, he could be activated as soon as he becomes eligible on April 6, which could push DeJesus to the minors.
DeJesus admitted tension is high with less than a week to go before the opening day roster is officially set.
"I'm a little bit nervous, but I'm excited about what could happen," he said. "I know I have some good competition, but I also know I'm having the best spring training of my life. I just want to keep it up for the three or four days we have left and see what happens."
Blake returned to the field and took part in regular workouts before the game. Mattingly said Blake could be ready to play in minor league games by Monday. ... Vicente Padilla (right-forearm surgery) threw off a mound and is slated to throw batting practice on Sunday. Mattingly said he has ruled out the possibility that Padilla will be ready by opening day, but says he definitely believes Padilla will return sometime in April. ... The Dodgers (12-16-1), who have won seven of their last nine games and tied one of the other two, will send right-hander Tim Redding to the mound in Tucson. Right-hander Armando Galarraga, he of last year's perfect game that wasn't, goes for the Diamondbacks, who acquired him from the Detroit Tigers in January for two prospects. Right-hander John Ely will pitch for the Dodgers against the Mariners, who will start lefty Erik Bedard.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.