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Dodgers Are Looking for Closure With Osuna

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Antonio Osuna pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning Saturday in the Dodgers’ 8-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.

If only the would-be closer did the same under pressure.

The right-hander has started slowly again, and he isn’t sure why. Osuna is frustrated.

“The only person I’m upset at is myself,” said Osuna, who doesn’t have a save in seven appearances. “I have to do my job, no one else can do that for me. I’m responsible for my problems.”

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Osuna is 1-0 with a 3.38 earned-run average, and opponents are batting .286 against him. But his statistics aren’t the only concern for the Dodgers.

He simply hasn’t inspired the confidence team officials have hoped for in someone challenging for the closer role.

“He’s having some problems, so you have to think about that,” Manager Bill Russell said. “The bottom line is that we have several guys who we feel can get the job done. We’re going to use all of them until things start to settle in.”

Osuna is a notoriously slow starter. He was demoted to triple-A Albuquerque for the first month of last season, and some in the organization say he worries too much after bad outings.

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He got the victory when the Dodgers defeated the Houston Astros, 7-6, in 10 innings April 12. But he gave up a solo home run to Moises Alou in the top of the 10th, which gave Houston a 6-5 lead. Raul Mondesi hit a two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the inning.

“He’s struggling right now, and it might take him a little while to break out of it,” catcher Mike Piazza said. “It’s not all going to happen at once, so everyone else just has to be there to help pick him up.”

Russell removed Osuna in a save situation during the team’s 4-3, 10-inning victory over the Colorado Rockies on Thursday.

He recorded one out after giving up a leadoff double to Mike Lansing, but Russell didn’t want Osuna facing Colorado left-handed power hitter Larry Walker. Walker grounded out against left-hander Mark Guthrie, and Jim Bruske earned the save when Dante Bichette popped out to end the game.

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“You play the matchups in that situation, but I might have left [Osuna] out there if he was going a little better right now,” Russell said. “He doesn’t have a problem with his stuff, it’s his location.”

Osuna wanted to close the game, but he understood Russell’s decision.

“I can’t be angry at the manager, or the pitching coach, I know why they did that,” Osuna said. “I felt good, I felt I could get [Walker] out, but I haven’t been throwing the way I know I can.”

Osuna, 25, is in his fourth season. He has a fastball clocked at 95 mph, and team officials want him to emerge as the winner in his competition with left-hander Scott Radinsky for the closer job.

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Signaling their confidence in him, the Dodgers rewarded Osuna with a two-year, $1.5-million contract during spring training, although he wasn’t eligible for arbitration until next season. The club holds two option years that could push the total package to $5.5 million.

“He’s in a little slump, but we’re confident he’s going to break out of it as he continues to get opportunities,” pitching coach Glenn Gregson said. “Before this season is over, he’s going to be a key member of that bullpen for us. I’m confident about that.”


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