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DePodesta Keeping the Faith

June 23, 2005|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — As the old Kenny Rogers chestnut played over the loudspeakers -- You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em -- a poker-faced Paul DePodesta stood in the dugout at Petco Park and discussed the stinker of a hand the Dodgers have been dealt recently.

The trainer's room is full of injured players, losses are mounting, and the sharp scent of ointment can't conceal the sour stench of defeat.

The general manager is expected to do something dramatic -- make a blockbuster trade, call up a promising rookie or fire the manager. DePodesta, though, can't do what he'd like and won't do what others have suggested.

"If we could do something we thought would help, we'd move today," he said. "But there isn't."

DePodesta is itching to pull the trigger on a trade for a big hitter, a proven starting pitcher, or both. But any such deal is probably a month away because few teams consider themselves out of contention. Even as the July 31 trading deadline approaches, sellers could be few and buyers abundant.

"We are already actively talking to every club, but most teams are in a wait-and-see mode," he said.

The Dodger farm system is loaded with highly regarded prospects, but all are considered at least a year away from making a difference at the major league level. Rushing young players could create more problems than it would solve.

Only a minor move such as sending left-handed pitcher Derek Thompson back to the minors and calling up a hitter such as Cody Ross or Norihiro Nakamura to bolster the bench is expected this week.

As for firing the manager, DePodesta isn't inclined. He has said repeatedly over the last several weeks that Jim Tracy is doing as good a job as can be expected given the rash of injuries and roster stocked with unproven players.

"This stretch has been frustrating for the team and for the fans, largely because we've been in most of the games we've lost during this streak," DePodesta said. "We have played well and been right there."

However, the team's slump has lasted two months.

Since a 12-2 start, the team is 22-35, one of the worst stretches in L.A. Dodger history. The most recent comparable run of futility came in 1999, when the Dodgers went 20-36 from June 5 through Aug. 6 en route to a 77-85 record.

DePodesta won't entertain the idea that the roster he put together might not be as good as he believed.

He also won't acknowledge that the Dodgers might fall so far out of contention that they would become a seller at the trading deadline, perhaps shipping out a veteran such as productive second baseman Jeff Kent for young, inexpensive prospects.

"I think we can weather the storm," DePodesta said. "We are talking about a razor-thin margin in many of these games."

Although it might make DePodesta's critics cringe, solutions are sought in the computers and video monitors operated by front-office employees Dan Feinstein and Jason Amoroso.

They add data daily, charting and analyzing every pitch of every major league game, "everything from the moment the pitcher gets the sign until the play is over," Feinstein said.

DePodesta developed the system when he was in the Cleveland Indian front office in the 1990s, polished it while working for the Oakland Athletics and turned it over to Feinstein and Amoroso.

"It is data collection to the nth degree," said Feinstein, who began his front-office career with the Athletics.

Reports the computer spits out provide direction on whom to pursue in a trade, whom to avoid and ways to prepare for opposing teams.

The preparing-for-opposing-team part hasn't gone so well lately, but DePodesta continues to believe in his unconventional methods, saying it is unfair to harshly judge a team missing so many important players to injury.

The Dodgers have had 14 placements on the disabled list, with players losing a total of 370 games. And those numbers do not include pitcher Darren Dreifort, who the Dodgers knew would be unable to play because of injuries.

Closer Eric Gagne and backup catcher Paul Bako are out for the season, and third baseman Jose Valentin, outfielders Milton Bradley and Ricky Ledee, and pitchers Odalis Perez and Wilson Alvarez have been out for long stretches.

Outfielder J.D. Drew joined the injury brigade Wednesday.

"We have yet to have everybody on the field together," DePodesta said. "I've never been through a year like this. Every single part of the club has been hit. And they've been out a long time."

The hits probably will keep coming until help arrives. All the Dodgers can hope is that they are within shouting distance of the first-place San Diego Padres in the NL West when the time is ripe for a major move.

"We can stay close," DePodesta said. "We aren't getting blown out. Everyone is giving great effort. If we continue to play this way, we'll win."

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