O’Brien: Fredi Gonzalez is “a pretty good manager”

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In a scathing column directed at Braves bloggers, the AJC’s David O’Brien spent a great deal of time setting up and then knocking down a plethora of strawman arguments supposedly made by Braves bloggers and Tweeters. Gonzalez has been the target of criticism ever since he took over for Bobby Cox in 2011.

Look at the wording O’Brien uses in his column:

The most predictable tweets and blog comments today and — depending upon game results — later tonight will come from a segment of the audience that’s convinced itself that Fredi Gonzalez does nothing right (at least not on purpose).

“Will blame”. “Surely will complain”. “Watch the anti-Fredi contingent twist itself into pretzels arguing”.

O’Brien then defends Gonzalez because the Braves have a good record in an arbitrarily-selected period of time, because Gonzalez is bilingual, and because Cox was also the target of criticism during his tenure. It’s just a very curious column overall, one that is very unconvincing.

I cannot speak to the day-to-day strategical decisions made by the Braves’ skipper (Craig can do that), but I do notice a lot of parallels to the praise Phillies manager Charlie Manuel received from the Philadelphia media between the time the Phillies won the World Series in 2008 until they disappointed in the NLDS in 2011. In fact, almost the same exact arguments O’Brien uses in favor of Gonzalez were used by Stan Hochman to praise Manuel back in 2011, just to cite one example.

But Manuel’s flaws are plenty — he is easily one of the worst managers in terms of decision-making. He refuses to use closer Jonathan Papelbon in non-save situations on the road, he has a strong aversion to platoon match-ups (only exacerbated by the same aversion of GM Ruben Amaro), and he is unable to enforce scheduled off-days for oft-injured stars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley despite insistence they would get more rest. The Phillies media, for the most part, either did not recognize these as flaws or ignored them due to the club’s success. Over the past year and a half, though, Manuel has been criticized quite a bit by the same Philly media that was quick to defend him. The Phillies teams circa  2008-11 were good enough to hide Manuel’s flaws; now that the team is weaker in almost every way, his shortcomings are much more apparent.

It seems like the media ebbs and flows between deifying and dethroning managers. It’s not the media’s job to do either. And there’s a difference between rebutting criticism and deifying. Citing team wins since last July 4 and praising bilingualism is about as close to deifying as you can get, at least as far as baseball managers go.

Manuel, by the way, can speak Japanese.

Clayton Kershaw might return to the Dodgers’ rotation next week

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Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw is nearing his return to the mound, according to club manager Dave Roberts. Both Kershaw (left biceps tendinitis) and fellow lefty Rich Hill (left middle finger blister) are scheduled to toss simulated games on Saturday; depending on the outcome, Roberts says Kershaw could forgo a minor league assignment and slot back into the rotation by Thursday.

Kershaw, 30, was diagnosed with biceps tendinitis as the team closed out their Mexico Series at the start of the month. He has not made a start in several weeks, but was finally able to resume throwing on Sunday and managed to get through two successful bullpen sessions. Though Dodgers’ ace hasn’t been completely injury-free over his 11-year career in the majors, this is the first significant issue he’s had with his pitching arm so far. The team is expected to take every precaution with the lefty, and will likely limit him to just four innings during Saturday’s simulated game.

Prior to his injury, Kershaw was working on another dominant run with the club, sporting a 2.86 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 9.8 SO/9 through his first 44 innings of the season. While Kershaw, Hill and left-handed starter Hyun-Jin Ryu served their respective terms on the disabled list this month, the Dodgers utilized a combination of relievers Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart, both of whom impressed during their limited time in the rotation.