Quick take: Dodgers can survive pitching crunch

April, 23, 2013
4/23/13
8:09
PM PT

Clayton Kershaw is the kind of pitcher who can soothe a lot of stressed-out baseball fans and team executives.

You know what else can calm down a group of people whose heads are spinning over the sudden churning up of the Los Angeles Dodgers' pitching depth? Scoring some runs.

[+] EnlargeMark Ellis
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesMark Ellis, right, receives congratulations from teammates after his three-run homer in the seventh inning Tuesday.
Mark Ellis, also known as the guy people forget when they are listing Dodgers hitters who aren't struggling, powered the Dodgers to a 7-2 win over the New York Mets at Citi Field with a pair of home runs Tuesday.

That little dose of good news did a bit to settle the stomachs of those worried over the day's earlier news about Chad Billingsley being scheduled to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery.

Kershaw had shaky command, the Mets had patient at-bats and drove him out of the game after just five innings and 111 pitches. Kershaw did what he often does in such situations: he slogged along enough for his team to have a shot.

As good as Kershaw is, he's not an island unto himself. The Dodgers, as usual, are built around pitching and defense, but the breakdown in their pitching depth has been less troubling than three weeks of anemic offense. For $230 million, you ought to be able to buy a little more than the 29th-highest scoring team in baseball.

"We can't just rely on Kersh when he's out there,” Ellis said in a postgame TV interview on KCAL. "Sometimes, when he's out there I think we think he's going to be so good that we relax a little bit. We need to go out and score runs no matter who's pitching for us."

So, assuming that Tuesday was an indication the Dodgers won't stay in their slumps forever -- and don't make any judgments off Wednesday, when they face phenom Matt Harvey -- this pitching situation isn't really all that worrisome. It seems as if it is because of the condensed timing of the injuries, but it's really not.

Zack Greinke went down with a fluke injury, Chris Capuano went down with a fairly routine injury and Billingsley went down with an entirely predictable injury (it was his third DL stint for the same thing). Nobody, at the time, could have faulted the Dodgers for trading Aaron Harang when he had nowhere to pitch and the Dodgers were running out of room to stash him.

So, now they have Kershaw, Josh Beckett, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Ted Lilly. The fifth spot, until Capuano's back in another 10 days or so, will go to a youngster -- maybe Steven Fife, maybe minor leaguer Matt Magill, whose start Monday was truncated by the Dodgers' front office.

After Capuano returns, they'll have five legit starting pitchers with major league track records. When Greinke comes back -- say, around June 1 -- they'll be in better shape, depthwise, than maybe any other team in baseball.

There is also the distinct possibility that top pitching prospect Zach Lee will join the Dodgers before long. He's 2-0 with a 1.16 ERA in four starts at Double-A Chattanooga and it wouldn't be shocking to see the Dodgers leapfrog him over Triple-A.

Thus, while it is troubling at first blush, it's far from reason to mope.

"Nobody wants to hear our complaints," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told reporters in New York. "A lot of teams would like to have five accomplished major league starters."

There is, of course, this troubling thought: What if this injury train doesn't stop at three? At that point, you have to start to wonder about the Dodgers' baseball karma. There's no planning for -- or purchasing -- good luck.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Clayton Kershaw
WINS ERA SO IP
21 1.77 239 198
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .296
HRA. Gonzalez 27
RBIA. Gonzalez 116
RY. Puig 92
OPSY. Puig .863
ERAC. Kershaw 1.77
SOC. Kershaw 239