Break is a call to arms for Dodgers
The Dodgers limped into the All-Star break a grateful and happy bunch Sunday, thoughts of their 9-3 rout of the Florida Marlins allowing them to forget, if only for a few days, that their pitching rotation is frayed at the seams and their bullpen is being held together by adhesive tape and hope.
Given the rare gift of plentiful run support, left-hander Mark Hendrickson earned his first victory in seven starts since May 2. Pitching on three days’ rest, he gave up four hits and struck out six in becoming only the third Dodgers starter to get a win in the last 13 games. The others are Randy Wolf, now on the disabled list because of a sore left shoulder, and Chad Billingsley.
When Manager Grady Little lifted Hendrickson after five innings and 72 pitches, that left Billingsley as the only starter able to get through seven innings since July began. In their 10-game homestand, which included one 10-inning game and one that lasted 12 innings, the Dodgers went to the bullpen 37 times.
Not enough of those calls ended well.
“We’ve been in kind of a turmoil here for a few days with our pitching staff,” Little said before taking off on his motorcycle for a brief trip up the coast.
And if it wasn’t a few too many beers that led two idiots to run onto the field in the ninth inning, maybe they decided it would be less painful to be tackled by security guards and ejected from Dodger Stadium than to watch Brett Tomko, who was loosening up in the bullpen.
“It was kind of do whatever we could this week to kind of give those guys in the bullpen some rest and head into the break where we could get some time off and regroup,” said Hendrickson, who acknowledged that he was “a little bit tired” and didn’t dispute Little’s decision to replace him with Eric Stults.
“We needed this just to get a good taste in our mouth. Obviously, we didn’t play as well as we would have liked to the last couple of nights. In the second half we can take a break, regroup and come out. It’s going to be a dogfight for the rest of the summer.”
They’ll have to fight that battle without Mark Buehrle, the left-hander they had been eyeing at the potential cost of Matt Kemp and at least one other young player.
The White Sox announced Sunday they had reached agreement with Buehrle on a four-year, $56-million contract extension, preventing him from becoming a free agent after the season and taking him off the trade market. The Dodgers now must look elsewhere for the third or fourth starter they’ll need to stay close to the Padres or mount a push for the division lead.
Little said his rotation starting Friday at San Francisco will be Billingsley, Brad Penny, Derek Lowe and Hendrickson, with the fifth spot to be filled as needed. The chant “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain” had a nice ring in describing the Boston Braves’ pitching rotation in the 1940s, but “Lowe and Penny and then we ain’t got any” may be the Dodgers’ mantra if they don’t do anything before the July 31 trade deadline.
Little suggested that the Dodgers’ pitching staff had hit “a little bump in the road,” and that it was merely a matter of getting the pitching in sync with the hitting, which has come alive after a slow start.
“We just need the guys that we have to step it up a little bit and do a little bit better, and I think this will happen,” he said.
They need more than that.
It’s not enough that Wolf is likely to return shortly after the break. He can’t be counted upon at this point. Nor is it enough that Hendrickson has had two decent outings in a row and that the Dodgers’ 8-0 lead after two innings spared their relievers from having to face any pressure situations.
“To give them a chance to recover and rest is going to be important because they’re going to be a vital part of what we do toward the end of the season,” Hendrickson said. “They definitely needed it, the way everything went.”
Pitching was supposed to be the Dodgers’ greatest asset. Instead, their pitching has shown more vulnerabilities than can be solved by a four-day vacation.
Over the last few weeks, the Dodgers have lost free-agent bust Jason Schmidt to shoulder surgery, Hong-Chih Kuo to ineffectiveness and an elbow inflammation, and Wolf to a sore shoulder. They also had to go a few days without setup man Joe Beimel, who spent two nights in the hospital after experiencing heart palpitations.
No staff is going to get through the season intact, and it’s inevitable that shoulders and elbows will tire when a team plays 20 games without a day off, as the Dodgers just did.
Rest and relaxation are short-term cures. The Dodgers need a more lasting fix.
“We have the talent to pitch and actually play at a better level than what we’ve been playing,” Hendrickson said.
After the All-Star break would be a perfect time to start doing that. If they can’t, it will be up to General Manager Ned Colletti to give them the arms to do it.
Colletti has been reluctant to part with any of the youngsters who have become the core of this team, and rightly so. It made no sense to overpay for Buehrle, who would have become a free agent before he got the contract extension.
The Dodgers have earned their rest. Now, it’s time for Colletti to work the phones.
Helene Elliott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Elliott, go to latimes.com/elliott.