Manager Tom Lasorda can't pinpoint what worries him more, his starting pitching or his bullpen.
The Dodgers lost, 7-4, to the New York Mets on Sunday, losing a series they should have won, but for poor pitching. As they packed for Montreal, where they begin a three-game series tonight, they were at least grateful they can hit. In the team's last 19 games, they have hit 22 home runs and averaged 6.58 runs a game.
But of the five home runs that flew out of Shea Stadium on a sunny afternoon, four were hit by Mets, two by Todd Hundley, off three Dodger pitchers.
"Our (pitchers) kept us up early in the season when we weren't hitting, and they didn't blame us," said Tim Wallach, who leads the offense with a .333 batting average, eight home runs and 23 runs batted in. "We would have been 0-6 to start out if they hadn't been doing so well."
Starter Pedro Astacio, the closest the Dodgers had to an ace last season, gave up two home runs and walked six batters in 4 1/3 innings, then left the game shortly after giving up a three-run homer to Joe Orsulak, which put the Mets ahead, 4-2. Reliever Roger McDowell bailed out Astacio in the fifth inning, stranding Bobby Bonilla at third base. But after the Dodgers got even in the sixth on run-scoring singles by Henry Rodriguez and pinch-hitter Chris Gwynn, McDowell gave up a two-run homer to Jeromy Burnitz, who entered the game batting .175.
Jim Gott started the seventh, and gave up a leadoff homer to Hundley--his second of the game--which put the Mets up, 7-4. In between homers, Hundley was hit by McDowell. Omar Daal relieved Gott and held the Mets scoreless the final 1 1/3 innings.
In the last two games, Gott and McDowell have given up seven runs in four innings. Gott, whose 7.30 earned run average tops the staff, has given up three runs in 1 2/3 innings. McDowell, after beginning the season with five scoreless innings in six appearances, has given up six runs in his last 4 1/3 innings.
"Gott's been inconsistent and he knows that," said pitching coach Ron Perranoski. "That last outing in Los Angeles he pitched well and I thought maybe he would get in the groove and be on his way. And he will. But this game goes in streaks and they will work out of it. Everybody can't be good all the time. And it's not everybody, just a couple of guys in the bullpen, and a couple of starters."
Dodger relievers have blown six of eight save opportunities. Only Todd Worrell and Darren Dreifort are pitching well, and they account for all four of the team's saves this season, with two each. Worrell, who has a 1.74 earned run average, has allowed one earned run in his last 8.1 innings. Dreifort, whose 15 innings is the most by a Dodger reliever, has a 1.20 ERA in 11 appearances.
"The bullpen is just not doing the job right now and we have got to get them on the right track again--they are just not spotting the ball where it is supposed to be," Lasorda said.
And what can Lasorda do about it?
"Maybe sit them down, not bring them in for a game or two," he said.
But Lasorda can't sit his starters, who have to pitch effectively to let the relievers rest. In 24 games, the starters have a collective 5-5 record. The other six victories have been earned by the bullpen.
Astacio, whose ERA is 6.60, has given up six home runs this season, nearly half of what he gave up all of last season. After being slowed during the spring with cardiac tests, Astacio gave up three homers in his first start of the season, a 6-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves. He struggled badly during his next two starts, then came back last week to pitch a complete game, a 7-1 victory against the Montreal Expos.
"If it was an epidemic, then he wouldn't have had a good start last time," Perranoski said. "His (problem) was different today than last time. Today, he couldn't get his breaking ball over."
Ramon Martinez, whose ERA is 5.23, has struggled in three of his five starts, giving up 10 earned runs in his last two starts, a total of 11 1/3 innings. Tom Candiotti has pitched well, struggling in one start and Kevin Gross is holding his own. Orel Hershiser has been the most consistent, holding opponents to three runs or less in each of his five starts for a 2.81 ERA.
Meanwhile, Lasorda, who was asked if he is losing confidence in his bullpen, answered with this telling reply:
No comment," he said.