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Dodgers bullpen falters in 4-2 loss to Cardinals

Reliever Juan Nicasio can't protect one-run lead in eighth inning and Dodgers lose to St. Louis, 4-2

To protect a one-run lead in the eighth inning Sunday night, the Dodgers turned to … Juan Nicasio?

Nicasio was a starting pitcher for the overwhelming majority of his previous four seasons. He was acquired in the off-season to be a long reliever.

So it wasn't entirely surprising when the St. Louis Cardinals scored three runs in the inning to send the Dodgers to a 4-2 defeat, their third loss in the four-game series at Dodger Stadium.

Why Nicasio?

"He's been throwing the ball best for us, really, late in the game," Manager Don Mattingly said.

In other words, Mattingly had no other options. He was back to where he was last fall.

The much-maligned bullpen of 2014 was comprised of recognizeable names, including former All-Stars Brian Wilson, Chris Perez and Brandon League.

Under the direction of a new front office, the Dodgers tried a new approach in constructing their bullpen last off-season. The strategy seemed to be working early in the season.

But Joel Peralta landed on the disabled list in late April with a nerve-related problem. Right-hander Pedro Baez and left-hander Paco Rodriguez are now sidelined as well.

Projected late-inning option Chris Hatcher, who was acquired as part of the trade that sent National League batting leader Dee Gordon to the Miami Marlins, has a 6.88 earned-run average.

Rookie Yimi Garcia had a 0.63 ERA through May 10. He has an ERA of 9.00 in his last 12 games.

"We haven't been, obviously, as consistent as we were early, when everyone seemed to be getting their outs," Mattingly said.

Finding the links between the starting pitchers and closer Kenley Jansen has become a problem.

"We have been searching for that," Mattingly said.

Mattingly's first move to the bullpen Sunday came with two outs and a runner on first in the seventh inning, when he replaced starting pitcher Zack Greinke with Adam Liberatore. The rookie left-hander struck out Kolten Wong to preserve the 2-1 lead.

But Liberatore returned to the mound in the eighth inning and walked leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter.

In came Nicasio, who promptly served up a rocket to Matt Holliday that went down the right-field line. The ball rolled under the glove of Yasiel Puig, allowing Wong to score and Holliday to reach third base on what was ruled a triple.

Jhonny Peralta followed with a single to left field that drove in pinch-runner Peter Bourjos and moved the Cardinals in front, 3-2. Two batters later, Matt Reynolds doubled against Nicasio to knock in an insurance run.

In a previous era, Mattingly said, the Dodgers would have likely had a different plan.

"In the old days, you're going to go for a two-inning save there," Mattingly said. "That's not the way it is now."

Mattingly didn't sound as if he was inclined to use Jansen in a high-leverage, non-save situation, like, say, the situation the Dodgers encountered Sunday.

"You're going to get the same situation in the ninth if you use him in the eighth," Mattingly said.

The Dodgers played the Cardinals seven times in the last 10 days. They lost five times.

"The past two weeks, we haven't been playing our best baseball, in my opinion," Greinke said.

Overall, the Dodgers have lost eight of their last 12 games.

"Just not everything is clicking," Greinke said. "It's been OK, but I wouldn't say anything's standing out positive. Just a lot of OK."

Their problems extend beyond the bullpen. They also can't score.

The Dodgers have scored two or fewer runs in 14 of their last 22 games.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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