Nomo Remains the Dodger Mystery Man


Maybe this wasn’t a true survival test for Hideo Nomo.

Maybe this Saturday start against the New York Yankees couldn’t be classified as making or breaking his ongoing status as de facto ace of a fragile Dodger rotation.

Maybe all of that would be making way too much of it.

One thing is certain: The importance of this latest assignment for the impassive and indomitable right-hander had to be modified with the maybes only because the Dodgers have no obvious replacement for him.

After all, Jose Lima is already in the rotation, Wilson Alvarez and Darren Dreifort are now bullpen fixtures who won’t be moved, Edwin Jackson continues to struggle at triple-A Las Vegas and whether the Dodgers have enough ammunition to outgun the Yankees, Chicago White Sox or any other club in pursuit of the Seattle Mariners’ Freddy Garcia -- the most attractive starter now on the market -- is problematic.


Still, as Manager Jim Tracy noted going in, “sooner or later we need some results” from Nomo, who had been doing anything but providing them with his six consecutive losses, 3-7 record, 7.56 earned-run average and failure to pitch more than six innings in any of his 11 starts -- his shoulder and velocity seemingly sapped by off-season surgery and all those two hemisphere innings at 35.

So, on a gray afternoon at Dodger Stadium, in front of a crowd of 54,876, there were Tracy and the Dodgers looking for results and Nomo seeking to improve, to step up, perhaps, and finally provide some of that competitive leadership and stability that Kevin Brown took to the other dugout.

Did it happen? Did Nomo respond? Does he have enough left with which to respond?

Well, when it was over, when the Yankees had prevailed, 6-2, and Nomo had been outpitched by 23-year-old Brad Halsey in his first major league start, there was another “L” next to Nomo’s name in the box score but a hint of optimism in the Dodger clubhouse.

There was the opinion that the pitcher who has become a veteran work in progress definitely showed some progress, delivering six shutout innings in a seven-inning stint that was his longest of the year.

Of course, he also gave up the four decisive runs in the first inning, after which he put up zeroes, so it is hard to say what was reality and what was mirage, and no one can say for certain where he goes from here except back to the mound in five days.

For now, General Manager Paul DePodesta isn’t hanging up the phone.

He still has Bill Bavasi, the Seattle GM, on speed dial and he will continue to look for pitching -- and hitting -- help in the market.


“I think we can still improve in both areas,” DePodesta said after Nomo and the Dodgers were done Saturday. “I’ve said all along that we’re not going to overreact to one performance, good or bad, but today was definitely encouraging.

“We’ve been looking for increased velocity and command from Hideo, and we saw some of that today. There was definitely improvement.”

Perhaps, but if Nomo’s velocity was up, DePodesta should have the batteries on the stadium speed gun checked. His fastball seldom registered over 80 mph, let alone 90, but then his forkball or split finger may simply have been misidentified as a fastball.

More important than the speed readings in a game in which Nomo hit the fourth home run of his big league career was that he reestablished his warrior tenacity by giving up only one more hit after countryman and acknowledged admirer Hideki Matsui hit a three-run homer to highlight the four-run first. Nomo had two outs with no Yankees on base in the first only to walk Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi (in a 13-pitch battle), yield a single to Gary Sheffield and then permit the homer to Matsui, badly fooled on a split finger that he basically one-handed into the first row of the right-field corner, about 335 feet away.

“I give credit to Matsui, but I don’t know how he hit that ball given the extent to which his body was going in different directions,” Tracy said. “He hit it to the only area of the park where it would have gone out. If Hideo gets through that [inning], he puts up seven zeroes. It was his best outing of the year.”

Presumably, Tracy was aware that he wasn’t providing much of a yardstick. Nor did he offer any guarantees when asked if this performance indicated Nomo had turned a corner.


“You certainly hope so,” he said. “That’s the Hideo Nomo I remember seeing in 2002 and 2003.”

Nomo won 16 games in each of those seasons and pitched 438 2/3 innings. The Dodgers have to hope there’s some firepower left.

While this may be the National League’s Mild West, the champion needing only 85 or so wins, San Francisco has Jason Schmidt at the front of its rotation, San Diego has David Wells pitching well and Arizona, of course, has Randy Johnson.

Can the Dodgers count on Hideo Nomo?

The appropriate word again is maybe.