PITTSBURGH -- Josh Beckett was the brightest surprise of the first half for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but his story took an ominous turn when he started feeling hip pain in June and went into the All-Star break on the disabled list.
Tuesday, he returned and didn't look like the pitcher with the fourth-best ERA in the National League in a 12-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Combined with some miserable work from the bullpen, the Dodgers' needs entering the trade deadline appear clearer and clearer: add quality to the rotation and bullpen.
How it happened: Pittsburgh hit three home runs off Beckett (6-6), who seemed to shy away from his curveball-first approach after Neil Walker hit one out, and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly pulled him in the fourth inning after 69 pitches. The Dodgers fought back to tie it at 4-4, but the middle relief didn't hold firm. The Pirates scored four runs off Paul Maholm and Jamey Wright in the sixth inning.
In that inning, Wright hit Andrew McCutchen with a pitch and Pittsburgh apparently retaliated the following half-inning. Pirates reliever Justin Wilson was ejected by plate umpire Toby Basner for hitting Justin Turner with a pitch (on his second try). Adrian Gonzalez, who punished St. Louis pitcher Trevor Rosenthal for plunking Hanley Ramirez two days earlier, channeled his anger well again. He launched a two-run home run. That was the Dodgers' first home run since July 9.
The Dodgers continued to rally but came up short against Pittsburgh's bullpen.
Hits: The best thing to happen to the Dodgers over the past few days is the emergence of Gonzalez, who had been mired in a 2½-month-long slump. Starting with the hit off Rosenthal, Gonzalez is six for his past nine with two doubles, the home run and five RBIs. It has been his bat primarily that has allowed the Dodgers to apply steady offensive pressure here without Ramirez and Yasiel Puig, who are still nursing hand injuries from that St. Louis series.
Misses: When you have to go to your two long relievers, it rarely bodes well for your chances. Still, Maholm and especially Wright could have done a little more to keep the Dodgers in the game. They combined for 3⅔ innings and allowed seven runners to reach base and four of them to score. If the Dodgers are able to land a reliever before the trade deadline -- one of general manager Ned Colletti's targets -- these two could be pitching to see who gets to keep his roster spot. Chris Perez could be in danger, too. He walked four straight batters to force in a run in the eighth.
Stat of the game: The Dodgers didn't have to use lefty J.P. Howell and that's a good thing. Howell leads the team with 46 appearances and it's no wonder Mattingly goes to him a lot. Howell has made 11 straight scoreless appearances and his 1.30 ERA is ninth among NL relievers.