Howie Kendrick's walk-off hit lifts Dodgers after David Huff struggles

Howie Kendrick's walk-off hit lifts Dodgers after David Huff struggles
Howie Kendrick is mobbed by his teammates after delivering a walk-off victory for the Dodgers with a two-run single in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Dodgers beat the Mariners, 6-5. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

David Huff is a genuinely nice guy who grew up in Huntington Beach and played ball at UCLA. On Tuesday, for the first time, he took the mound for the hometown Dodgers.

He had not started a major league game in almost two years. And, as two of the first four batters hit home runs — the ugly start to a dramatic 6-5 victory over the Seattle Mariners — the baseball world was left to wonder how a team paying its players approximately one gazillion dollars this year had to start Huff in the second week of the season.

The Dodgers overcame his start by scoring twice in the ninth inning, with Howie Kendrick delivering a walk-off single to drive home the tying and winning runs.

The answer to why Huff started was a combination of injury, circumstance and obscure baseball rules. But the moral of the story, and the response to all those snickers from around the country: Even a team with a world-record $270-million payroll has its limits.


Sometimes the Dodgers apply the limits, no matter how amusing that thought might be to fans of the other major league teams. But sometimes players apply the limits too.

On Tuesday, Huff filled the role of the Dodgers' No. 6 starter, that is, a substitute for an injured or ineffective pitcher. The Dodgers can throw all the Guggenheim cash they want at a potential No. 6 pitcher, but any pitcher worth all that much cash would have no interest in being an understudy, Dodgers General Manager Farhan Zaidi said.

"You can't have a sixth starter making eight figures," Zaidi said. "Those guys won't sign with you if you don't have a rotation spot essentially guaranteed for them.

"It's up to the organization to develop its own depth. That's what we're doing."

In spring training, when the Dodgers learned that Hyun-Jin Ryu had a sore shoulder and would have to start the season on the disabled list, they ranked Joe Wieland, Mike Bolsinger, Carlos Frias and Zach Lee ahead of Huff on the depth chart. That put Huff at No.10, and that was before the Dodgers signed veteran Scott Baker to complete the triple-A rotation.

The Dodgers could have kept Wieland, Bolsinger, Frias or Lee as a long reliever to start the season, but they optioned them to triple A, forcing them to stay there at least 10 days before a recall. Instead, the Dodgers gave their last opening-day roster spot to utility infielder Darwin Barney, who got four at-bats in seven games.

So Huff got the start Tuesday, giving up four runs in four innings, including consecutive home runs to Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz in the first inning.

Ryu is not expected to return before late May. The Dodgers next need a fifth starter April 25, and by then the Dodgers can consider all the triple-A arms they were restricted from using Tuesday.

They also could consider Baker, who has a 1.80 earned-run average in two triple-A starts. "Next time we need a fifth starter, we'll have a few options," Zaidi said.

The Dodgers hit two home runs Tuesday, one apiece by outfielder Andre Ethier and infielder Alex Guerrero, backups whose contracts are worth a combined $113 million.

Those are the kinds of numbers that make the Dodgers a natural target around the league, but Zaidi said he was not sure that was true and would not care if it were.

"The expectations that really matter to me are the expectations of our fan base," he said. "With what they have grown accustomed to, their expectations are high. Those are the expectations we're concerned with. We want to meet or even exceed those expectations."

Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin