Withrow Fights Command But Shows Quality Stuff

Dodgers righthander Chris Withrow showed plus stuff but erratic command, with the latter getting him in trouble with the long ball at Double-A Carolina last Friday.

Pitching for Chattanooga, Withrow struck out five in 4 2/3 innings, but he also gave up five runs, walked five and hit three batters in Carolina's 9-7 victory. Withrow gave up six hits, three of which were home runs, raising his ERA to 7.48 through six starts. That figure ranks eighth worst in the minors (through May 10) among those who qualify.

"He's got the stuff," Chattanooga manager Carlos Subero said, "it was just one of those nights where his command wasn't there."

Despite his struggles, Withrow has two above-average pitches, including a four-seam fastball that sits at 92-94 mph. His curveball is another weapon, a 74-78 mph offering that was inconsistent but was a swing-and-miss pitch with late action when he threw it well. This squares with amateur accounts of Withrow, the Dodgers' first-round pick in 2007 from a Midland, Texas, high school.

Yet Withrow, 21, had problems throwing strikes all night. He did hit the corners of the plate and was able to drive the ball down in the zone at times, but too often he either missed the strike zone entirely or left his pitches up over the plate.

Withrow allowed only one run through his first four innings, but he flirted with danger all night and finally surrendered four runs in the fifth. The free passes and especially the long ball ended up hurting Withrow. Third baseman Eric Eymann launched a 1-0 changeup Withrow left up for a home run in the second inning. Second baseman Jake Kahaulelio led off the fifth inning by sending the first pitch of the inning, a fastball up in the zone, over the fence in left field. Eymann struck again in the fifth, homering on an 0-1 curveball that hung up too long.

The Mudcats nearly hit four home runs, but first baseman Yonder Alonso's second-inning blast hit the very top of the wall in dead center field—a home run in almost any other park—and landed for a double.

Withrow's 83-85 mph changeup still needs work, but Subero, who also managed Withrow in 2009 at high Class A Inland Empire, said his changeup has improved from where it was last year. Mostly it's just a matter of Withrow learning to locate his pitches better. Withrow is an excellent athlete with a fluid delivery, but he needs to repeat it more often to hone his command.

"It's not a mental thing—he's a pretty tough kid—he's just a kid who likes to win, who likes to battle in there," Subero said. "You could see him when he gave up that four-spot and was taken out; he was disappointed in not getting that win. But he'll be all right. It's just a matter of making the adjustments. He's smart enough and he's athletic enough to make those adjustments."

Gordon Athletic But Still Raw

One of the most aggressive Opening Day assignments was the Dodgers sending their No. 1 prospect, shortstop Dee Gordon, to Double-A. Gordon, 22, certainly isn't young for the Southern League, but the move jumped him over the high Class A California League after he spent the entire 2009 season with low Class A Great Lakes.

Gordon is the son of major league righthander Tom Gordon, but he didn't play baseball until his senior year of high school and has just one full season of minor league experience. Yet Gordon's aptitude for instruction has helped him rise quickly.

"He has the instincts," Subero said. "Probably the background has a little bit to do with it. Being around the game, you can tell that even though he started playing late, he's a kid that has all the intangibles. That definitely helps with the talent you've got, and that's part of the reason he's been able to move so fast up the ladder."

The transition to Double-A hasn't been easy for Gordon, who is hitting .278/.308/.349 in 133 plate appearances and has eight errors in 29 games, one year after his 34 errors were the most among Midwest League shortstops.

At 5-foot-11, 150 pounds, Gordon is built like a lanky teenager and has little power—he has now gone nearly three weeks without an extra-base hit—and he's an aggressive hitter who has drawn just five walks. Gordon's game is putting the ball in play and using his outstanding speed, and he showed the ability to bunt for a base hit as well.

"He's a kid with tremendous athletic abilities, a kid who you don't need to say much to," Subero said. "The little you say, he tries to put it in play as soon as he can. He's a pretty smart kid who has the speed to avoid slumps. He swings the bat well. He's an aggressive hitter, he utilizes his speed well, knows how to bunt, so he has more than one weapon to beat you."