CHICAGO -- Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said he couldn’t fault his players.
He couldn’t fault his players for their lack of production in their 3-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Monday or for squandering a solid start by Chad Billingsley. He couldn’t fault them for managing only a pair of infield hits in the 17 at-bats they had with runners in scoring position or for scoring only seven runs in their last four games, three of them defeats.
What the Dodgers’ lineup lacks is experience, Torre said, not effort.
“The key for me is going out and playing hard,” Torre said. “As long as they do that, I can’t fault them.”
The Dodgers fell behind early -- Billingsley surrendered a two-run home run to Derrek Lee in the first inning that accounted for the only runs he gave up over six innings -- and became overly aggressive at the plate in the eyes of their manager.
“That’s one thing we have to make sure we guard against,” Torre said. “We have to stay within our abilities and be patient. It’s a boring game sometimes, but that’s what you have to do if you expect to be successful. The toughest thing for inexperienced players is the patience part.”
The Dodgers got to within 2-1 when Matt Kemp scored on an infield single by Juan Pierre in the fifth inning, but Aramis Ramirez extended the Cubs’ lead back to two when he hit a solo home run off Scott Proctor in the eighth.
Twice, the Dodgers had the bases loaded with one out. Twice, they failed to score any runs.
The first time was in the sixth inning, when Blake DeWitt struck out and Luis Maza flied out to right to let Cubs starter Ryan Dempster escape unscathed. In the same situation two innings later, James Loney struck out and Delwyn Young flied to center.
The Dodgers are five for 46 with runners in scoring position over their last five games, and they figure to be without leading hitter Rafael Furcal for the remaining five games of this trip, as he is in Los Angeles resting his strained back.
Torre tried to remedy the ailing bats of two slumping players with days off, keeping Loney and Chin-lung Hu out of the starting lineup. Mark Sweeney started in place of Loney at first and Maza started in place of Hu at short.
Loney was 0 for his last 12 with six strikeouts and Hu entered the game hitting .188. Both players pinch-hit and struck out, Hu doing so to end the game.
Loney spent part of batting practice talking to special assignment coach Don Mattingly, who lives in Indiana and is in town for the three-game series.
Mattingly said he planted seeds of thought more than he did lecture, noting to Loney that some left-handed hitters use their bottom hand more to guide their swing.
“Over time, you really would like the bottom hand to be the guide hand,” Mattingly said. “It shortens your route a little bit.”
A career .307 hitter with the New York Yankees, Mattingly said that he, like Loney, used his top hand too much early in his career.
Mattingly and Loney also talked about his approach, with Loney conceding that he swung at first-pitch strikes too infrequently in the preceding six-game homestand. Loney was five for 22 in those games.
“I probably took too many pitches,” Loney said. “Maybe I’m not aggressive enough in the strike zone.”
That was why hitting coach Mike Easler was so pleased with Loney’s bases-loaded at-bat against Bob Howry in the eighth even though the result wasn’t what Loney wanted. Loney fouled off the first two pitches, took a ball, and fouled off two more before striking out.
“I liked the way he attacked the ball,” Easler said. “He was swinging at strikes.”