Torre has a message waiting

The door to the Dodgers' clubhouse was closed after Sunday's game. And this time it had nothing to do with Prince Fielder.

"It was my idea," Manager Joe Torre said.

After watching his team lose for the fourth time in five games to finish its first losing homestand of the season, Torre locked the door and had a talk with his players. And the message, he said, was a simple one.

"What I try to do is just talk about perspective," he said. "Sometimes you're involved in the competition and you sort of lose perspective of where you are. I just want to give them my perspective. We really haven't played well here for a period of time and we're still controlling our own destiny."

It would certainly be easy to lose that perspective judging from the way the Dodgers played Sunday in an 8-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves. They managed only five hits through eight innings, watched their bullpen implode for the third time in as many games and were held to fewer than three runs for the third time in five days.

But despite all that, the Dodgers still have the best record in the National League and a 5 1/2 -game lead in their division.

"There's not a World Series champion that didn't go through this at some point. The important thing is to remember it's not the end of the world," catcher Brad Ausmus said. "There's a reason we're in first place after four months. Because we're a good team.

"There's 15 other teams who want our record in the National League."

Even a glass that's half full is also half empty though. And from that perspective, the Dodgers have several things about which to be concerned.

Relievers Ramon Troncoso and Guillermo Mota, once reliable arms at the back of the bullpen, are now pitching batting practice. Troncoso faced five hitters Sunday and four scored. In his last six innings, he has given up nine runs and 15 hits.

Mota, who gave up a game-winning home run Saturday, gave up another run Sunday and has given up five runs and nine hits in his last six innings.

The offense, which has the best batting average in the National League, was held to one run through eight innings Sunday, was shut out for nine innings Saturday, scored twice through eight innings Thursday and got only a run in the series finale with Milwaukee the night before that.

And we haven't even talked about the starting rotation, which is hanging on by Chad Billingsley's balky hamstring. How do you turn all that around?

"Play better baseball," Russell Martin said. "Have better at-bats. Pitch better. Play better defense. The whole package."

That's a lengthy checklist. One that demands perspective.

"I would imagine people are pressing. And it allows them to exhale a little bit and kind of refocus," Ausmus said of the meeting. "There's no reason to panic. We certainly have time to right the ship."

And they'll try to do that starting tonight in San Francisco, where the Dodgers embark on a stretch that will see them play 22 of their next 32 games against teams in the West.

But they'll have another team meeting first, Torre promised.

"There are teams that would like to trade places with us," he said. "Right now we're not playing very well. There's no question about it. We just have to tough it out. That's all it amounts to.

"It's never fun to do this. [But] that's what makes the winning aspect of it really satisfying."



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