Some eyebrows were raised Saturday night when Manager Jim Tracy had closer Eric Gagne warming up in the ninth inning with the Dodgers leading the Padres, 4-1, and two runners on base.
Gagne had saved the three previous games, including a 11/3-inning effort Friday night. The converted starter had been untouchable in 10 outings, but would Tracy use Gagne in four consecutive games, possibly running the risk of overextending his young closer before the team even gets to May?
Giovanni Carrara retired Ray Lankford on a fly ball to end the game, but Tracy said he wouldn’t have hesitated going to his closer.
The reason: Tracy isn’t looking so much at innings as he is pitch counts, and Gagne has thrown more than 18 pitches only once, in a two-inning effort against Colorado on April 6. Gagne has thrown 15 or fewer pitches in eight games.
“If what he’s getting now is just enough, we won’t burn him out,” Tracy said. “He’s accustomed to throwing 110 pitches as a starter, and he’s gone from that to 18. It also takes him only 13 pitches [in the bullpen] to get ready. I wouldn’t call that wear and tear.”
The key for Gagne, whose save Tuesday night against the Pirates was his eighth in eight opportunities, has been his ability to throw first-pitch strikes. Gagne, who has a 0.00 earned-run average and has held opponents to a .100 (four for 40) average, and has thrown first-pitch strikes to 34 of the 41 batters he has faced.
“But it hasn’t been strike one over the middle of the plate,” Tracy said. “It’s a well-located strike that makes it difficult for the hitter. He’s done a very good job of maximizing the efficiency of his pitches, and that has kept his pitch count down.”
On the flip side of the bullpen is 39-year-old Terry Mulholland, who has a 15.26 ERA and has given up seven homers--half of the Dodgers’ season total--in 72/3 innings.
With starters averaging almost six innings a game, Mulholland has gotten little work in his middle relief role. He will begin pitching early batting practice to Dodger hitters--simulating game conditions--in an effort to sharpen his curveball.
With Mulholland guaranteed $3 million, the Dodgers will be patient with the veteran left-hander, but his struggles make one wonder how much longer Tracy can continue using him in key situations.
“It’s very important I have trust in him, because there are going to be days the starters don’t go seven innings,” Tracy said. “I have to show confidence in him, and he’s going to have to get some outs in the sixth inning of close games, because I can’t use those other guys every day.”
Pirate reliever Mike Fetters thought he’d retire as a Dodger after signing a two-year deal with an option for a third before the 2001 season. He was extremely disappointed with the trade that sent him to Pittsburgh for Mulholland and a minor league pitcher July 31.
“Of course I took it personally,” Fetters, 37, said. “I had no idea what happened. I thought I did everything they asked, but they didn’t feel I fit in, and I was gone.... The way I look at it is they didn’t want me. So, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t fired up about facing them [this week].”
The trade isn’t looking so good for the Dodgers; Mulholland had a 5.83 ERA in 19 games last season and has struggled in 2002, while Fetters has a 2.84 ERA in eight games.
“But I would make that deal again if I had the choice,” General Manager Dan Evans said.
“Mike wasn’t doing the job [6.07 ERA in 34 games], and we were a very right-handed staff at the time. We had only one left-hander, Jesse Orosco, and we felt we needed another one.”
Dodger ace Kevin Brown, on the disabled list because of inflammation in his surgically repaired right elbow, threw 50 pitches off a mound Tuesday and experienced no pain, stiffness or increase in swelling.
Brown will throw again Thursday and Saturday, and the Dodgers hope they can activate the right-hander for Tuesday’s game against Cincinnati.... The Dodgers released triple-A outfielder Mark Whiten on Tuesday.
DODGERS’ OMAR DAAL
(2-0, 1.23 ERA)
PIRATES’ DAVE WILLIAMS
(2-1, 2.65 ERA)
PNC Park, Pittsburgh, 4 PDT
Radio--KXTA (1150), KWKW (1330).
Update--Daal, the left-hander who replaced Brown in the rotation, gave up two unearned runs in 61/3 innings of his first start, a 5-2 win over San Diego on Thursday night. The Pirates are without third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who is serving a seven-game suspension for charging the mound against Milwaukee last week.