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Dodgers and Yankees a tale of two MLB titans

(From left) Injured stars Derek Jeter and Zack Greinke.

AP Photos

(From left) Injured stars Derek Jeter and Zack Greinke.

The tale of the two highest-payroll teams in baseball, the Yankees and Dodgers: similarly beset with injuries, but opposite in terms of results.

The overachieving Yankees ($228 million, according to Cot’s Contracts) have a big chunk of their payroll on the disabled list, and have used fill-ins to not only hang in, but excel to the point where one American League scout said, “Do they really want those injured guys [Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, and Mark Teixeira] back?”

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Conversely, the Dodgers, whose payroll soared to almost $217 million after last season’s big trade with the Red Sox, have not been able to overcome a rash of injuries, to key pitchers Zack Greinke and Chad Billingsley, and shortstop Hanley Ramirez.

The Dodgers seem to be salvageable because their lack of success is mostly because of the injuries, though general manager Ned Colletti cites the team’s poor hitting with runners in scoring position as a major reason for its last-place showing in the National League West.

The Dodgers entered the weekend ranked fifth in batting average (.255), and second in on-base percentage (.330) in the NL, but 14th in slugging and 11th in OPS. With runners in scoring position, the Dodgers are hitting .213, 13th in the NL. They’re also 12th in OBP, 15th in slugging, and 14th in OPS in the NL with runners in scoring position.

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“The key for us is execution,” Colletti said. “We’re getting runners on base but we just can’t seem to get that one hit at the right time.”

The Dodgers had a game recently in which they had 11 hits and seven walks, and scored just one run. They’ve lost a lot of close games. They’ve had a couple of bullpen injuries, which forced pitchers into unfamiliar situations.

Colletti doesn’t want to blame injuries, but even he was taken aback when the team went through all eight starting pitchers they had by April 21.

“I had people constantly asking me, what are you going to do with all your starting pitching?” said Colletti. “Well, you can see what happened.”

And the high expectations with the highest payroll in the NL?

“The expectations are always there for me,” Colletti said. “I always have high expectations. I’d rather have a full deck than half a deck like I’ve had in the past.”

Concerning the criticism of manager Don Mattingly and his job security, Colletti said, “The last time Donny drove in a run was 1995. I can’t see how he’s responsible for how we don’t hit with men on base. The players respect him and enjoy playing for him.”

Colletti said Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez have performed extremely well, and that while Josh Beckett has struggled, he’s not the reason for the team’s struggles. The Dodgers aren’t looking back wishing they hadn’t made the deal, but do wish injuries hadn’t taken place and that performance was better.

“I think we have a lot of talent and we have the pieces in place for a very good ball club,” Colletti said. “We had a tough April, and May hasn’t been great so far, but we expect things to improve soon.”

Brian Cashman could easily win executive of the year for adding Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, and Lyle Overbay to a team that has lost iconic players to injuries.

“It’s a tribute to the players,” said Cashman. “It’s a long season. These players deserve a lot of credit for coming to the Big Apple and taking a big bite out of it.”

Asked about the notion that the Yankees could be disrupted by the return of the big-name players, Cashman laughed and said, “No, no, no. We want our players healthy and back in our lineup. It’s going to make us that much better.”

Wells has been the biggest coup. He was acquired from the Angels after Teixeira was lost with a wrist injury. Cashman said he had tried to obtain Wells last offseason, but at the time “I wanted them to take on much more of the salary and they weren’t willing to do it.” But when Teixeira was lost, the Yankees received $7 million of insurance money because he was injured while participating in the World Baseball Classic.

“We used that money and were able to work out the Wells deal with the Angels and we were also able to work so zero of his salary counts against our player salaries for next season, so we’re better able to get under that $189 million [luxury tax] for next season,” Cashman said.

Cashman said he also had his eyes on Hafner for a while, and was willing to deal A.J. Burnett to the Indians for him two years ago, but the trade never materialized. Cashman was able to sign Hafner as a free agent in the offseason after it was determined Hafner was over his injuries.

Because of it, the Yankees may be the best story in baseball. They have a 43-year-old closer (Mariano Rivera) and a 40-year lefthanded starter (Andy Pettitte). When the Yankees won the championship in 2009, they had A-Rod, Teixeira, Jeter, Robinson Cano, and CC Sabathia, etc. The Yankees now are having success with fill-ins.

We’ll see how it turns out. The Dodgers feel they have better days ahead. But the Yankees have survived and thrived in what should have been their darkest moment.

A REAL CORKER

Study: Mantle got no help

So, “The Mick” used a corked bat?

Evidently, one is being sold at auction.

Mickey Mantle was a great all-around player (.298/536/1,509), a Hall of Famer, the greatest baseball athlete of his day. Later in his career, word is he started having his bats corked by Twins clubhouse man Ray Crump, who said in his autobiography that he corked Mantle’s bats.

How did it benefit Mantle?

According to Alan Nathan, a University of Illinois physics professor who did a study on corked bats and their benefit, “It’s pretty much a wash.” Nathan concluded that corking the bat “reduced the weight in the barrel and definitely allowed for higher swing speed, but when the ball hit the bat it didn’t travel as far if the barrel was all wood.”

Nathan, a native of Rumford, Maine, and an avid Red Sox fan, added, “If if the goal is to hit the ball harder, that doesn’t happen.” Nathan said a corked bat is a few ounces lighter, but he never understood why Mantle would need to cork a bat with his bat speed and power.

Nathan said the “trampoline” effect some hitters have said exists, really doesn’t. In Nathan’s study, he hollowed out a bat, stuffed it with cork, and fired a ball at the bat from a cannon. The ball came off the corked bat at a slower speed than with a normal bat.

So, we ask the question, does this taint Mantle’s legacy?

What we don’t know is, how often, if at all, did Mantle use a corked bat in a game? Or did it he use it merely in batting practice? If he did use corked bats, for how long?

The answer seems to be that the corked bats probably didn’t make much of a statistical difference.

“[Cork] does have value with the bat speed,” Nathan said. “But if you’re looking to hit a long home run, it doesn’t do that for you.”

There you go. With all the recent talk about Clay Buchholz being accused of loading up the ball, here’s one of the greatest players who ever lived, who played from 1951-68, having bats with cork in them.

The game is never completely pure, is it?

Apropos of nothing

1. In light of the fractured skull suffered by Toronto’s J.A. Happ when hit by a line drive, the issue of pitcher safety is going to start heating up. We wonder if it will get to the point where pitchers wear some protection on their head, even a fitted helmet. Tampa Bay’s Matt Moore suggested putting a sensor on the ball, and if it comes close to a sensor in the pitcher’s hat, the ball explodes. Ok, then.

2. Daric Barton was batting .484 with runners in scoring position at Triple A when he was recalled by the A’s. Barton has received heat from Bay Area fans over the years for not swinging more. “I understand what kind of hitter I am,” he said. “I don’t read the crap people write about me, I don’t listen to the crap people say about me. Who gives a crap what people say? People are going to love me or hate me. They’re entitled to their opinion, that doesn’t bother me at all.”

3. In a week of strong words, Nick Hundley got his feelings for Yasmani Grandal off his chest when asked about having to share catching duties with Grandal when he returns from a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drug use. “You want to talk about a guy who is unproven and had a good couple months on steroids, go ahead, I’ve got a job to do,” said Hundley.

4. Major League Baseball had to admit two umpiring mistakes last week, one on an obvious home run by the A’s. The obvious solution is to have an eye-in-the-sky official in the press box or league headquarters. What we have to keep in mind, however, is there will be always be the human element involved. For even after umpire Angel Hernandez and his crew reviewed the home run, they ruled it wasn’t one.

5. Why don’t we do this: Pick a substance that pitchers can use to get a better grip on the ball. This is 2013, there has to be something that can provide a better grip. Or do something to the ball before a game to get it pitcher-ready, other than or in conjunction with the mud rubbed on the balls.

6. You want dominant? Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is 12 for 15 with three doubles, three homers, and nine RBIs against Dodgers lefthander Chris Capuano after hitting two singles and a two-run homer against him in Arizona’s 9-2 win on Monday. Goldschmidt’s OPS in 16 career plate appearances against Capuano is 2.413.

7. Do I sense a Washington Nationals upturn?

ETC.

Updates on 9

1. Neal Cotts, LHP, Rangers — Cotts had a streak of 14 scoreless innings and has retired 21 of the last 22 batters he’s faced for Triple A Round Rock. Lefthanded batters are 0 for 24 with 18 strikeouts overall against Cotts for the season. Cotts could be had, as the Rangers have a team policy that they will let go of players such as Cotts if they are unable to put them on the roster.

2. Yu Darvish, RHP, Rangers — Darvish has become one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, as evidenced by his 14-strikeout performance against the Red Sox last Sunday. One concern might be his pitch counts. Darvish has made it past the sixth inning in only three of his seven starts this season, and he does not have a complete game in 37 career major league starts. Darvish said he could throw “up to 200’’ pitches in a game. “I don’t really care about how many pitches I throw,’’ said Darvish, who is averaging 107.1 pitches.

3. Mike Scioscia, manager, Angels — Every owner has his breaking point, and you wonder what Arte Moreno’s is with Scioscia. Once considered invincible and firing him to be pure blasphemy, it’s rumored often these days as the Angels have struggled again out of the chute. One Angels executive said of a possible firing, “I doubt it. It’s Mike Scioscia. Did he get dumb all of a sudden? Or do we have a few issues with our pitching and a couple of our big hitters?”

4. Francisco Liriano, LHP, Pirates — One would think this is Liriano’s visit to the Last Chance Saloon of baseball. If he can’t make it in Pittsburgh, he’s liable not to make it anywhere. Liriano has recovered from a broken arm. He switched to a more over-the-top delivery while pitching winter ball in his native Dominican Republic last offseason, and believes that has made a difference. He feels he can throw more strikes. Liriano averaged five walks per nine innings over the last two seasons. “I think we’re all curious to see what he looks like,” said one National League GM. “He’s got all the ability in the world, but could never repeat that delivery enough. He can keep things together for a few starts and then it falls apart. If he continues to go that way, he won’t be in the league long.”

5. Fieldin Culbreth, umpire, MLB — Umpires do not get much criticism in this space because we understand mistakes. But Culbreth didn’t enforce the rules properly, and for that the two-game suspension he received was justified. When Astros reliever Wesley Wright came in from the bullpen and threw several warm-up pitches, he was in the game and needed to throw at least one pitch. But Culbreth allowed manager Bo Porter to make an immediate pitching change to Hector Ambriz. Scioscia argued, but Culbreth allowed Ambriz to pitch. In defense of the numerous umpiring mistakes lately, one American League GM said it best: “I just think they’re under incredible scrutiny all the time. The league really whips them, evaluates every detail. I think the pressure on them is really tough.”

6. Scott Kazmir, LHP, Indians — He’s back. What an ordeal Kazmir has endured to get back to good health. In his last two starts, Kazmir is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA with 17 strikeouts and one walk in 12 innings. “This is the Kazmir that, when I was in Boston and we faced him, I would tell David Ortiz he was getting a day off, and David didn’t argue,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. Kazmir’s fastball velocity has risen from the low to the mid-90s. He’s getting tons of swings and misses.

7. Cliff Lee, LHP, Phillies — There’s always a lot of talk about Lee being trade bait should the Phillies decide to pack up the season if they don’t turn it around. But one Phillies insider said, “Every time I hear a Lee rumor, I don’t believe it. Don’t think we’d be that dumb unless what we got back in return was so overwhelming that we’d be dumb to pass it up. Will that happen? My gut is it won’t.”

8. Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins — The prospect won’t be long for Double A. In a game last week, Yelich went 5 for 6 with two triples, a homer, and two RBIs. If the Marlins could ever keep Giancarlo Stanton and this kid, they will be a dynamic duo.

9. Allen Webster, RHP, Red Sox — One scout who watched him in the minors and watched him allow eight runs in 1 innings against the Twins on Wednesday was shocked. “This kid is money,” said the scout. “I don’t know what happened except for the fact that he leaves too many balls over the plate and he doesn’t make the hitter bite on stuff in the dirt. If he corrects that, and I think he will, he’s money.”

Extra innings

From the Bill Chuck files: “When Ubaldo Jimenez is ahead on the count this season, batters are 0 for 31.” Also, “From the seventh inning on, with runners in scoring position, the Reds lead the majors with 38 hits; the White Sox are last with 11.” . . . Happy birthday, Bob Heise (66).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.
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