Dodgers batting coach Jeff Pentland is confident the team will continue… (Jake Roth / U.S. Presswire )
Reporting from Phoenix — The Dodgers didn't hit in the last three months of last season and they haven't hit this spring.
So hitting coach Jeff Pentland said he understands if fans are concerned about the offense.
"I bet they are," Pentland said. "Fans are fans."
The Dodgers, whose .232 average after the All-Star break last season was the second worst in baseball, are again among the poorest-hitting teams in spring training. They ranked last in the majors as recently as last week.
But Pentland said he is confident the lineup will not be the team's Achilles' heel.
"No, no, not at all," he said.
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Pentland pointed to the team's improved form in recent games — they collected 11 hits in a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday to increase their average to .258 — and said that as the regulars play more in the days leading up to opening day, production should increase.
Pentland, who served as a second hitting coach last season behind Don Mattingly, now the team's manager, identified three keys to the Dodgers' offense: 3-4-5 hitters Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and James Loney.
The left-handed-hitting Ethier, who is batting .255, appears to be fully recovered from a broken pinkie he suffered last season. Ethier said that even when he returned from the injury, the finger still bothered him. Pentland said he could tell.
"I think it's one of the worst injuries you can get as a hitter," Pentland said. "The little finger on your bottom hand, all the pressure and torque goes down into that finger. Obviously, if it's broken, it's kind of hard to finish the swing off."
Kemp looks more focused and Loney continues to work on his balance, which could result in him hitting balls harder. They are hitting .304 and .297, respectively.
Pentland said spring statistics shouldn't be overly analyzed.
"The most important thing is getting the work done," he said. "What they've done in games hasn't been a high priority."
Before dismissing that as coach-speak, consider this: before Tuesday, the New York Yankees were the spring's worst-hitting team in the majors. A place ahead of them were the Boston Red Sox.
Billingsley is ready
Chad Billingsley said he felt ready for the start of the season after holding the Cubs to a run and six hits over six innings. He struck out six and retired 12 consecutive batters in one stretch.
Billingsley threw 94 pitches in his penultimate start of the spring. He will scale back his workload in his final start to prepare for his April 1 regular-season start against the San Francisco Giants.
"I wanted to build off today and take it into the season," he said.
Billingsley said he was pleased with how he threw his curveball and changeup. The latter is a pitch Billingsley started to use effectively in the second half of last season.
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"He even threw a couple to right-handers," pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said of the changeup. "It's not just for lefties. To have that mix makes him so much more a complete pitcher."
Carroll is close
Utilityman Jamey Carroll, who hasn't played in a Cactus League game in more than a week because of a bruised finger that made throwing uncomfortable, said he played catch without any problems.
"It's pretty much pain-free," he said.
Carroll said he should be ready for opening day. He is expected to start if Casey Blake, with whom he played catch, doesn't recover from a back injury in time.
Carroll has been getting regular at-bats in minor league games as a designated hitter, taking grounders and riding a stationary bicycle to remain in shape.