Milton doesn’t fill hole for L.A.

Go ahead, please take the fifth. The Dodgers would love for someone, anyone, to step up and become a reliable fifth starter.

It has been the most glaring weakness for the team with the best record in baseball.

James McDonald opened the season at the back end of the rotation and lasted four wobbly starts before being demoted to the minor leagues. Jeff Weaver averaged only five innings over four starts.

Eric Milton? He was gone after five innings Saturday night at Dodger Stadium during the Dodgers’ 5-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners.


In his first start since missing three weeks because of a strained lower back, Milton gave up seven hits and four runs. His early departure forced the Dodgers to squeeze four more innings out of three relievers.

Milton has averaged less than five innings in five starts, burdening a bullpen that has done more than its share of pitching in to compensate for the fifth starters.

“It’s something that could be a concern, there’s no question about it,” Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said.

Milton (2-1) was in trouble from the second pitch, which Ichiro Suzuki ripped past first baseman James Loney for a double down the right-field line. He got out of that bind but couldn’t escape a second inning in which Franklin Gutierrez’s double gave the Mariners a 1-0 lead.


The Mariners increased their advantage an inning later when Russell Branyan hit a run-scoring triple and scored on Ken Griffey Jr.'s two-run homer over the right-field wall.

“I think I could have gone longer,” said Milton, who struck out seven and walked none. “I settled down. I had a 1-2-3 fourth and fifth. It’s just a matter of, in the National League, you have to get some runs.”

The Dodgers lucked their way into a run against Seattle ace Felix Hernandez (8-3) in the third. Rafael Furcal hit a two-out infield single and advanced to third on Orlando Hudson’s hit-and-run single past shortstop Ronny Cedeno, who would have been in position to field the ball had he not moved over to cover second base.

Then something truly unusual happened. Suzuki, the eight-time Gold Glove winner, fell to his knees in right field while charging in on Casey Blake’s sinking liner and the ball ricocheted off his body for an error that allowed Furcal to score.


Hernandez handcuffed the Dodgers from there, completing eight superb innings in which he gave up four hits and one run while striking out nine. Unlike many of the Dodgers’ starters, Hernandez has been a model of efficiency, averaging nearly eight innings over his last seven starts.

Milton, 33, limited to six games in 2007 and ’08 after elbow ligament replacement surgery, sounded pleased just to be able to pitch at all.

“I know it’s cliche, but I’m happy to be here,” he said. “There was a question whether I would ever throw a pitch again, much less a pitch in a major league game. But I made it back. I feel like I’m where I belong, where I want to be.”

Torre said the Dodgers probably would have to carry an extra pitcher at some point to offset the starters’ continued inability to pitch deep into games.


They could target another starter in a trade, but the solution probably won’t come from the Mariners. Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti said Saturday the team was not interested in Seattle left-hander Jarrod Washburn.

But there are plenty of other options that would constitute an improvement over what the Dodgers have received from their fifth starters. And the Dodgers probably would be happy to take any of them.