- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
- 0 Shares
TUCSON -- It's not always about results. Not in the early stages of spring training. Not for pitchers.
And that's a good thing for Eric Gagne.
The right-handed reliever and reclamation project was knocked around for the third time in three Cactus League appearances Saturday in the Dodgers' 7-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks before a sellout crowd of 11,571 at Tucson Electric Park. But to hear Gagne tell it, and to hear Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, it is far from "Game Over" for the former Cy Young Award-winning closer and admitted HGH user.
"I felt really good," Gagne said after failing to complete his allotted one inning. "I have to throw strikes and not fall behind hitters, but I felt strong. I had a good bullpen and good mechanics, all that stuff."
Gagne entered to start the seventh, a point when the Diamondbacks didn't exactly have a major league lineup on the field. He was greeted by Brandon Allen, the big Arizona first baseman who is one of baseball's top prospects, and Allen drove a 2-and-0 changeup -- a pitch Gagne said he never would have thrown in a regular-season game -- over the right-field wall.
Gagne got Jeff Bailey to pop to short, gave up a single to John Hester, threw a wild pitch and struck out Ed Rogers. That was pretty much where the positives ended. Cole Gillespie then tripled off the right-field wall, and Collin Cowgill put Gagne out of his misery with a run-scoring single to left that brought Honeycutt out with the hook.
Not that Gagne would admit to any misery.
"It's early in the spring," he said. "In my position, I have to look at results, but I'm not really focused on that. I felt good physically, and that was the most important thing."
Gagne is in camp as a non-roster invitee, trying to earn a spot as a middle reliever after spending last season pitching in the independent Can-Am League. His current lot in life is a far cry from those heady years when he was baseball's most dominating closer. He knows nostalgia won't be a factor when it comes time to set the final roster.
But if his insistence that it's all good seems dubious, Honeycutt is backing up his story.
"His fastball command still isn't there, but there was depth on his breaking ball and on some of his changeups," Honeycutt said. "He is getting back out there, and it's not going to happen overnight, but he is getting better and feeling more like himself. The results haven't been good, but sometimes that isn't the whole thing you're trying to accomplish here."
In three appearances, Gagne has given up six earned runs and eight hits in 2 2/3 innings. He has walked one and struck out one.
Mattingly gets to coach his son
On a day when four different sons of former big leaguers suited up for the Dodgers, hitting coach and acting manager Don Mattingly got a rare treat. He got to insert his son, Dodgers outfield prospect Preston Mattingly, into the game in the fifth inning, then saw him line a clean single to center off Arizona minor league reliever Leyson Septimo.
"That was good," Don Mattingly said. "I see him all the time in the winter, and we always try to work on his swing."
Preston was a supplemental first-round pick for the Dodgers, the 31st selection overall, in the 2006 amateur draft. But after he hit .290 that summer in the Gulf Coast League, his development seemed to get off track and stayed that way. He hit .238 at high Single-A Inland Empire last season, striking out 150 times in 501 plate appearances. And although he was drafted as a middle infielder, he never quite mastered either shortstop or second base and is now listed as a left fielder.
Preston, 22, certainly doesn't lack for quality instruction. His father had a .307 batting average in 14 big league seasons, winning an American League batting title in 1984. But his one-on-one time with Don is usually limited to the offseason because Don gets busy with the big league team once spring training starts, and the Dodgers' minor leaguers are in such a distant part of the Camelback Ranch complex they tend to be out of sight, out of mind.
"Dads usually don't know too much, but he seems to trust me with the hitting part," Don said. "I just keep teaching the swing. If he has corrections that need to be made, you just keep working on it. With a young guy's swing, you want to keep building a solid foundation. For the most part, the swing is pretty simple. You just want to be able to keep doing it over and over. It's like a pitcher wanting to repeat his delivery and mechanics. If you can do that, you have a chance to get yourself in the right position.
"It's pretty simple, but it's not easy to do."
Family ties run deep in camp
Also coming over from minor league camp to fill out the travel roster were shortstop Dee Gordon, son of former big league reliever Tom Gordon; and outfielder Scott Van Slyke, son of former big league outfielder Andy Van Slyke. Shortstop Ivan DeJesus Jr., son of the former Cubs standout, is a minor leaguer in big league camp.
Dee Gordon is one of the Dodgers' most coveted prospects, a speedster who stole 73 bases for low Single-A Great Lakes last year. He also played on Thursday against Kansas City and was out by half a step on a routine bouncer to second. He didn't enter Saturday's game until the eighth inning and never came to the plate, but he made his presence felt with his glove, robbing Rogers of a hit with a diving stab of a line drive to end the inning with two men on.
"I'm just trying to have fun," said Gordon, who is listed at 150 pounds. "I want to work on my whole game, my leadership qualities, being good on the field and being a good teammate. I saw it with my dad, and I'll just try to do everything he did."
Bowa feeling better after trip to ER
Don Mattingly said Dodgers third base coach Larry Bowa felt much better after Friday's mid-game trip to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with a 24-hour bug, given a prescription and sent home.
"He said it left him as suddenly as it came on," Mattingly said. "I think he's going to be back at the complex today working some guys out."
Billingsley shaky but effective
Chad Billingsley started and pitched three shaky, but shutout, innings against the Diamondbacks.
After giving up a two-out double to Conor Jackson in the first, he struck out all-time single-season strikeout king Mark Reynolds to end the threat. Then, after giving up a pair of one-out singles and a walk in the second, he got out of the jam by getting Augie Ojeda to line to second baseman Blake DeWitt with the runners breaking, allowing DeWitt to throw to first for an easy double play.
Billingsley was better in the third, although he did hit Jackson with a pitch before, yes, striking out Reynolds.
Billingsley has given up only one run and six hits over five innings for the spring. He has struck out five and walked three in his two starts, and he has yet to have a perfect inning.
DeWitt hits his first spring homer
DeWitt hit a three-run homer off Kevin Mulvey in the third inning, his first of the spring. DeWitt, who is trying to win the starting job at second base, is hitting .375 (six for 16) and has played excellent defense at a position that is still relatively new to him.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
Former Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne has struggled in Dodgers camp, but he says he's not concerned.