Saito still has his closing job

Times Staff Writers

Takashi Saito pitched so poorly in Game 2 of the National League division series Thursday that when he looked ahead at the remainder of his postseason, he started by saying, "If they let me pitch again . . . "

But Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said Friday that Saito would remain his closer, even though he was charged with two runs and three hits and failed to get an out in his ninth-inning nightmare.

"I think it could've been the score," Torre said of how Saito entered the game with a 10-1 lead. "I haven't had any report back that this is any physical problem. That's what's important for me."

Saito said Torre spoke to him after the game.

"He asked me if I was OK," Saito said. Laughing, he added, "I couldn't say I wasn't OK, could I?"

Saito said he took some solace in that he had the backing of Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, who told him he probably would pitch tonight.

"When the team is playing as well as it is," Saito said, "you hate to be the only one who's doing poorly."

Saito said he had balance problems and that he would try to fix that by pitching exclusively out of the stretch, even when the bases are empty.

Kershaw in the 'pen

Clayton Kershaw didn't make it into Game 2 on Thursday, but he came close, having been asked to warm up in the ninth inning.

Pitching in relief is alien to the 20-year-old left-hander, which is why he was happy to get the chance to do so in the Dodgers' regular-season finale in San Francisco. His only previous experience pitching out of the bullpen consisted of two appearances in double-A Jacksonville this year and two more in rookie ball in 2006.

"I'm glad I got the first one under my belt," Kershaw said of the scoreless inning he pitched in San Francisco. "It was different. One time really taught me a lot."

Warming up wasn't the problem.

"When you start a game, there's a different atmosphere," he said. "You control the tempo. When you come in in the middle of a game, there's already a tempo that's established. But I'll know what to expect next time."

No WBC for Ethier?

Andre Ethier said he was asked by Vinny Castilla about the possibility of representing his mother's native country of Mexico in the World Baseball Classic next year. Castilla is expected to manage the team.

Ethier, born in Phoenix, didn't seem particularly enthusiastic. "I'd have to think about it," he said. "I value my off-season time and I have to compete for a starting job again next year."

Harden's turn

Chicago's playoff hopes now rest in large part with its Game 3 starter, Rich Harden, a hard-throwing right-hander the Cubs acquired from Oakland in July.

"It's a very big game, but I don't want to change anything in my preparation," Harden said.

Harden, who was 5-1 with a 1.78 ERA in 12 starts for the Cubs, said he understood the disappointment felt by Chicagoans and other Cubs fans nationwide, and the pressure the Cubs themselves felt to play well in the playoffs after posting the league's best regular-season record.

"It's part of the game, you just deal with it," he said. "We've got a game tomorrow that we've got to win and go from there."

Outfield switch

Cubs Manager Lou Piniella plans to bench struggling right fielder Kosuke Fukudome, saying "the kid is struggling [at the plate] and there's no sense sending him out there anymore."

In Game 3 tonight, Mark DeRosa will move to right field and Mike Fontenot will take over for DeRosa at second base, Piniella said, adding that Fontenot has been "swinging the bat well."

Fukudome didn't participate in the Cubs' optional workout.

Short hops

Every indication points to Derek Lowe being the Dodgers' starter in a potential Game 4, but Torre wouldn't say it. Although it's customary for a team's next-day starter to take part in the pregame news conference, the Dodgers will be making third baseman Casey Blake available instead . . . Dodgers left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo, who is out for the series because of elbow problems, is scheduled to throw off a mound Sunday. Kuo said he remained optimistic that he'd be able to pitch in the NL Championship Series if the Dodgers got there.



Dodgers vs. Chicago

Dodgers lead best-of-five series, 2-0;

all times Pacific; all games on TBS

Game 1: Dodgers 7, at Chicago 2

Game 2: Dodgers 10, at Chicago 3

Game 3: Tonight, 7.

Chicago (Rich Harden, 5-1, 1.77) at Dodgers (Hiroki Kuroda, 9-10, 3.73)

Game 4: Sunday, 7:15 p.m.

Chicago (Ted Lilly, 17-9, 4.09) at Dodgers (Derek Lowe, 14-11, 3.24)*

Game 5: Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.

Dodgers (Chad Billingsley, 16-10, 3.14) at Chicago (Ryan Dempster, 17-5, 2.96)*


*If necessary



On the air: TV -- TBS. Radio -- 790, 930.

Update: Kuroda will take the mound for the Dodgers as they attempt to win a playoff series for the first time in 20 years. Kuroda withstood arm fatigue down the stretch in the regular season to go 4-2 with a 2.57 earned-run average in his 11 starts in August and September. He has reason to be confident going into the game tonight -- the last time he faced the Cubs at Dodger Stadium, on June 6, he became the first Dodger to pitch a shutout in three years, throwing a four-hitter in a 3-0 victory. Harden, acquired from Oakland in July, had identical 5-1 records in the AL and NL. He held NL opponents to an .087 batting average. Harden was 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in his last four starts of the regular season but averaged only 5 1/2 innings in those games. He had control problems in that stretch, walking 16 batters in 22 innings.

-- Dylan Hernandez

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World