Early signs of a new Dodgers era

Clayton Kershaw is among the Dodgers players who have made efforts to engage the fans. Harry How/Getty Images

Dodgers players have exercised gallows humor in recent years, as former owner Frank McCourt's ugly financial situation manifested itself in organizational cutbacks. "I don't write any checks," one player said privately last summer, "until I know for sure that my paycheck has cleared."

But times have changed quickly. The Los Angeles Dodgers have new ownership, they are in first place, and this is a time of renewed commitment -- the organization to the players and vice versa.

The family room at Dodger Stadium has already been renovated, and there are more changes to come to make the players more comfortable.

Stan Kasten, the new team president, met with the players recently and provided each of them with two jerseys signed by Magic Johnson -- one personalized to the player, and the other to be used for the player's favorite charity. And Kasten told the players that the Dodgers needed them to be part of the organization's effort to touch the community.

What Kasten said, in so many words, was this: A few minutes ago, your faces lit up when I gave you that autographed Magic Johnson jersey -- and that's exactly the reaction that our fans have when they get something from each of you.

On Sunday, Kasten asked four members of the team to go to a gate at Dodger Stadium as fans came through the turnstiles; a fifth player, Clayton Kershaw, also volunteered. After they finished, pitcher Aaron Harang approached Kasten and told him how much he enjoyed it and how he had thought about what Kasten had said about their possible impact on fans.

The response to this new era in the Dodgers' history, Kasten said, "has been phenomenal."

Lowe's mechanical adjustment

In the midst of the bottom of the ninth inning of Derek Lowe's shutout against the Minnesota Twins the other day, Cleveland Indians catcher Lou Marson went to the mound and asked the pitcher what he wanted to throw with his next pitch.

"Do I really need to answer that, Lou?" Lowe replied, with a smile. "C'mon."

Of course Lowe was going to throw his sinker, which he threw on 115 of his 127 pitches in the victory, the 172nd of his career. It's the quality of his sinker that has been responsible for his remarkable turnaround. Lowe, who turns 39 in 15 days, is 6-1 with a 2.05 ERA.

Even last year with the Atlanta Braves, Lowe said over the phone on Wednesday evening, he knew exactly what he was doing wrong with his sinker. Lowe tended to bend over too far in setting up for his delivery, and then his front (left) shoulder would fly open and his sinker would flatten out. He and Atlanta pitching coach Roger McDowell worked on this problem repeatedly, but Lowe would get into the rush of a game and the needed physical adjustment would evaporate.

But Lowe continued to work through the winter and through spring training on his delivery, and he has been able to maintain it and fight off his own instinct to constantly tinker with pitch grips and pitch selection and mechanics. He's focused on his sinker, and his ratio of ground balls to fly balls is the best it's been in five years. He got 22 ground ball outs against the Twins the other day.

"The most gratifying thing about this start is that I had to put in a lot of time and effort to change stuff, and I've had the results," he said.

The Indians took care of business against Felix Hernandez on Wednesday night, as well.


• The Jim Eppard era began for the Los Angeles Angels, who brought in the hitting coach after firing Mickey Hatcher following Tuesday's game -- and Albert Pujols mashed his second homer of the season. The Angels are hoping that Eppard can spark the offense, writes Bill Plunkett.

Mike Scioscia defended Hatcher's work but says it's time to move on.

For the first time, you have to wonder when Scioscia's time could expire, writes Mark Whicker.

Stephen Strasburg has thrown 48 innings, which means he is about 110-120 innings short of the 160-inning range; when he reaches that, the Washington Nationals will prepare to shut him down for the season.

A rival executive noted the Nationals' current surplus in starting pitching right now, as well as Washington's strong standing in the NL East, and wondered if maybe this might be a good time to sideline the right-hander -- to save innings for September and maybe October.

"The rest of their rotation is healthy," he said, noting the performances of Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler. "They've got [Chien-Ming] Wang coming back, and [John] Lannan is in Triple-A. If they have Strasburg throw light bullpens but not start, that'll save the innings -- which is a really, really hard thing to do."

The Nationals are 23-14 after Gonzalez's most recent masterpiece. The return of Wang may shake up the Washington pitching staff, writes Amanda Comak.

A teammate says the Hot Stuff incident didn't happen.

• The most underrated reliever in the majors so far this year might be Oakland's Ryan Cook, the 24-year-old right-hander who has held opponents to four hits in 17.2 scoreless innings of work. Lefties are 1-for-27 against him.

Brett Lawrie is appealing his four-game suspension. I thought he was lucky he didn't get more, and I'm guessing there are some umpires who are not happy with the length of the suspension. From Richard Griffin's story:

    Because of back-to-back two-game series, the same umpiring crew, led by Dale Scott, stayed in town to work the Yankees series as well. That being the case, Miller was at third base, working right beside Lawrie, who was playing while his suspension is under appeal. Awwk-ward.
    As such, at 6:20 p.m., Lawrie made his way down the tunnel to the umpires' dressing room, knocked on the door and was ushered in to say his piece and make peace with Miller. The meeting lasted all of one minute. The effort was there, but it doesn't mean it's all good between the two.