Dodgers manager Grady Little cites the starting rotation as the biggest offseason improvement for the Dodgers. Little participated in a live Web chat with fans Tuesday afternoon, and shared his thoughts on a number of topics, including the middle relief, the young players and veterans, the batting order and the Spring Training focus.
Grady Little: Thank you all for taking part in today's chat.
bleedblue: Who was the biggest surprise last year and who do you think will surprise you this year?
Little: I think by far the biggest surprise last year was the combination of the kids that got called up and that they were very successful -- Russell Martin, Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Kemp and Chad Billingsley. To be as productive as they were was the biggest surprise for me. This year, it would just be any other youngster that gets called up, which we'll need before the season is over, who winds up doing well. That's one of the benefits of our ballclub. We kind of know what to expect right now.
crehnke: First of all, congratulations on making the playoffs. I want to know what will you do as a manager to push the team to the next step, and what can we expect to see next year?
Little: I think we're going to put a lot of emphasis in Spring Training on the fundamentals of baseball. The end result of that should be that our very talented players are able to get the job done a little bit better.
2maglie2: Thanks for a very exciting 2006 season. Will Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra be healthy going into Spring Training?
Little: They certainly are right now and we certainly hope they will be -- not only through Spring Training but also into the season.
blondiepad: Hi, Grady. How do you see your pitching rotation setting up? Will you rest Nomar again like you did last year and do you see James Loney as his backup?
Little: Well, we feel very comfortable with the idea of Jason Schmidt, Derek Lowe, Brad Penny and Randy Wolf as four of our starters. As of right now, the fifth spot is up for grabs between several other pitchers -- Chad Billingsley, Hong-Chih Kuo, Mark Hendrickson, Brett Tomko, Eric Stults, etc. As for Nomar, our intentions are that with the success that Loney had last year, to rest Nomar a little bit more to try and protect him against injury. Not too much more, but a little bit more. I don't think we rested him enough last year when he wasn't injured.
Dgr_Lifer: What are your thoughts on Jason Repko? Does he have a shot to make this team?
Little: Jason Repko has a very good shot to not only make the team, but be a very productive player on the team. He's an outstanding young player who has the talent to play every day in the Major Leagues, but at this point in time, he has a chance to be an outstanding reserve player for us. He can play center field, he can pinch-hit, he's a great baserunner and I look at him as a player who can play a lot.
isteve00: In your opinion, what is the best thing that has happened to the Dodgers in this offseason so far?
Little: I think the best thing that's happened to us is that we've been able to improve our starting pitching. We added some valuable innings to that starting staff.
Dana: Hi, Grady. Thanks for chatting with us. What number will you be wearing in 2007? How do you feel about the addition of names on the jerseys? Go Dodgers.
Little: My feelings on that are that I kind of wish they did it last year because this year, my familiarity with the players is a lot better. I'm sure Ned Colletti and I both wish they had the names on the jerseys last year. But this year is a different story. I think a lot of the fans are going to get enjoyment out of having the names on there. As for me, I'm going to wear No. 22 this year. I sacrificed my number to Juan Pierre because he's always worn that number. It all depends on how he plays. I might take it back if he doesn't do too well. For me, it's okay to take the number off my back, but if they take the name off the front, I'm in trouble.
truebloo: What did you do this offseason?
Little: I relaxed a lot and spent a lot of time with my family -- and as much time as I could with my two grandsons, only to find out that there's a third one coming in June.
johnnysak: From what you've seen in winter ball, has Matt Kemp learned how to hit a breaking ball yet?
Little: Matt Kemp is a better player today than when we last saw him. He spent the whole winter down in the Dominican Republic and his average didn't show it, but him spending the whole winter down there was very impressive. He's trying to make himself better, he's trying to learn and be as good as he can be.
Ryantf: Having two rabbits (Pierre and Rafael Furcal) at Nos. 1 and 2 in the lineup seems exciting. Is the possibility ruled out with Furcal penciled into the No. 3 spot or could we see them back to back at the top of the lineup?
Little: You know, back in the winter when I made mention of that it was before we signed Luis Gonzalez and with his addition, I think that kind of inks in Nomar hitting third, Kent fourth and then Luis. The one and two hole, in whichever order they hit, those guys will create a lot of excitement. We don't want either one of them to get too much out of character just because of where they're hitting in the order, like the No. 2 hitter taking too many pitches so the leadoff guy can steal bases. At this point, the idea of Furcal hitting third is out the window with the ballclub we have now. Both these guys will do whatever we ask them to do to make us the best we can be.
timber_dog: Mr. Little, do you have any plans to play Nomar at third base?
Little: I can't tell you what the season might bring to us, but at this point in time, the answer to that is no. But we all know that as the season goes on, things happen and different situations dictate changes and we'll do whatever we have to do to win games.
Moss41: Do you think that if the Dodgers had the roster that they have right now, they would have been able to beat the Mets in the playoffs?
Little: We had a good club in the playoffs last year, we just picked a bad time to play badly. You work so hard to get to that point and you have to play good baseball and in October, we didn't play good baseball. With the team that we have on paper right now, if we play bad baseball right now, we won't win either. We've got to play good baseball.
braidd1: What team in the NL West (in your opinion) do you think is the biggest threat in 2007?
Little: The Dodgers. I'll tell you what, the division continues to be pretty evenly balanced. We feel like we're going to be better, just like other teams in our division think they're going to be better, too. We were so evenly balanced last year, it's not going to be a cakewalk for anybody. You've got to keep playing baseball all the way until the end. To answer the question, if I had to pick one, I couldn't. The Giants, the Padres, the Diamondbacks have made themselves better and the Rockies have a good collection of young players and one day soon, everything is going to start to click.
VeroBlue: Will the surplus of starters provide an effective bullpen of middle relief?
Little: I think that goes without saying, definitely yes. We just don't know who those people will be yet. Whichever pitchers are not one of our starters will surely be a big asset to us in the bullpen. Last fall, Billingsley and Hendrickson were outstanding coming out of the bullpen and neither one of them had much experience.
beisbolu: How about Broxton? Can he be the everyday closer?
Little: We think that that's a possibility in this kid's future. He showed us a few times last year that, given the opportunity, he's close to being ready for that role. But going into the season, if Takashi Saito is healthy, he'll be our closer -- but we have the comfort of knowing that we have Broxton there just in case something happens.
truebloo: Do you get any managing tips from Tommy Lasorda?
Little: No. I have a lot of respect for Tommy Lasorda and everything he's done for the game of baseball and what he's doing now for the Dodgers and baseball. I don't give him tips on that and he doesn't give me tips on being a manager.
johnnysak: Will there be any changes to the coaching staff this year?
Little: No. All of the coaches will be back. They all did a great job for us last year in their respective roles and I'm looking forward to working with them now that we all have another year under our belt together.
cortez310: Do you think Luis Gonzalez will have a good year?
Little: Yes. Luis is a true professional. He's a professional hitter. He's going to be a huge asset to our club, not only with what he does on the field, but what he does in the clubhouse as well. And he showed us last year what he's still capable of doing.
2maglie2: How was your experience with the fans in L.A. in 2006?
Little: I love the fans in L.A. I love the fact that they just want to cheer for a winner. They want a team to give the effort and they want a team to cheer for in October. Right now we're on the caravan and we're getting to meet a lot of the fans all day in various spots around the community.
johnnysak: What advice did you give to Ethier so he can be prepared for a full season this year and not three-quarters of a season like last year?
Little: Well, this guy had a great year for us last year until he got fatigued going into the last month of the season. I think he learned a lot from that and he's worked hard this offseason to prepare not only his body, but his mind for a 162-game season and I don't think you'll see what happened to him last year ever happen to him again.
truebloo: Are you as excited to get this season started as us Dodger fans?
Little: I can't tell you how excited I am to be on this caravan because it means that the season is right around the corner. We leave for Vero Beach one week from Thursday and we're all looking forward to a really great 2007.
Little: Thank you all for being a part of the chat today. I've got to get back to the caravan where we're about to do a clinic, but we hope to see you over at the Speedzone in the City of Industry in a couple of hours.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.