The Dodger pitching staff has been so good, taking a major league-best 2.77 earned-run average into Saturday’s game against the Brewers, that it might be inhibiting the Dodger offense to a degree.
It’s something subtle, left fielder Brian Jordan said, but he’s beginning to notice it. When you know you need only three or four runs a night to win, you start playing for three or four runs a game.
“I think our mind-set is, we’re so worried about getting that one run, one run, at the start of the game -- forget about one run, let’s get three or four,” Jordan said. “We’ve got to play more aggressively, stop trying to get guys over early in the game and start trying to get them in.”
The Dodgers ranked last in the National League in runs (176), home runs (29) and walks (134) and were 10th in batting (.254) before Saturday, but Manager Jim Tracy said he has made a point of not playing too conservatively.
“When you play for one run early, that suggests you think your starter is going to throw a shutout, and that’s a stretch,” Tracy said. “But there have been a couple of times when a guy has come to the bat rack after moving a guy over [from second to third] and I’ve said, ‘Good job, but I don’t want you to take the bat out of your hands that early in the game.’ ”
Jordan just hopes the lack of offense doesn’t begin to take a toll on the pitchers.
“Let’s not keep putting pressure on those guys, because down the stretch, that’s not going to help them,” Jordan said. “I know we have a great pitching staff, but we can’t use that as an excuse [for not being aggressive enough offensively]. We’ve got to score more runs and make it easier for those guys.”
Andy Ashby hasn’t pitched since May 10, and Steve Colyer hasn’t pitched at all since being recalled from triple-A Las Vegas on May 13, yet the Dodgers continue to go with a seven-man bullpen.
The Dodgers aren’t alone in this approach. As of last week, roughly two-thirds of baseball’s 30 teams had a seven-man bullpen and five-man bench, a departure from the traditional six-man bullpen and six-man bench.
“The way the games unfold, you ask yourself, ‘Which guy is going to help you more, the sixth guy on the bench or a seventh pitcher?’ My answer is the seventh pitcher,” Tracy said.
“Right now, it doesn’t look like it makes much sense.... But the last two seasons, we haven’t exactly been a picture of health on the mound. Did we use our bullpen more earlier on, and did it catch up to us? I admit it. Yes, it did.”
Tracy’s comment was basically an admission that Matt Herges was overworked in 2001, when he threw 99 1/3 innings, and Giovanni Carrara was overworked in 2001 and 2002, when he combined for 176 innings. Herges was traded before 2002, and Carrara was released this past spring.
“I’m not suggesting we did anything wrong -- we were trying to stay in pennant races,” Tracy said. “But when you go through that, it sticks in the back of your mind and you learn from it. The extra pitchers allow you to give innings to guys in [lopsided] games you don’t want your [front-line relievers] to throw in.”
Dodger shortstop Cesar Izturis was fielding a grounder in the eighth inning Friday night when a bank of lights in Miller Park went out. Izturis completed the play and didn’t think much of it, because he has been through worse.
“I remember a winter league game in Venezuela four years ago when the lights went out just as our pitcher was releasing the ball to home plate,” Izturis said. “Luckily, the ball didn’t hit anyone and went to the backstop. It was pitch black. It wasn’t that bad [Friday] night.”