LOS ANGELES -- Paul Maholm is an 11-year veteran making a sizable salary and a pitcher the Los Angeles Dodgers figure to rely on for spot starts and left-handed relief all season. He's not the first guy you would nominate to leave dangling in the wind when the other team is hitting him with the ease approximating batting practice, punishing his ERA with nearly every swing.
So, why was Maholm still on the mound in the fourth inning of Wednesday night's 13-3 loss to the Miami Marlins after he had given up his second home run, his third walk and his 10th hit before he had gotten his 10th out?
Why was he allowed to pitch to not one, not two, not three, not four, not five batters, but six during an inning -- and an outing -- in which things were snowballing out of control? Was Dodgers manager Don Mattingly leaving him out there to take a beating?
"He wanted to be able to go back out there," Mattingly said. "He wanted to finish that inning and go back out again. I think that's one of the things about a veteran guy, he understands. I don't want to do that to him, but he understands if he can go another inning, it saves a guy in your bullpen."
Wednesday's was the Dodgers' 16th game in 15 days, so Mattingly didn't feel he had the luxury of sparing Maholm's feelings or his ERA, which ballooned from 4.71 to 5.40 and would have taken a harder beating had Dee Gordon's error not made five of the 10 runs he gave up unearned. Maholm corroborated Mattingly's story, saying the manager asked him about going as deep as he could without much to work with.
"He came in and checked on me and made sure I understood," Maholm said. "I said, 'No, I want to save the bullpen.' I felt I was still able to make pitches and I was trying my best to battle and get as deep in the game as I can and, hopefully, take care of the guys in the bullpen."
This is one of those issues that can create tension between a manager and a pitcher, so it was encouraging that Maholm and Mattingly agreed. Maholm took most of the blame for Wednesday's lopsided loss, though he also admitted frustration with umpire Scott Barry's strike zone and seemed a little miffed at the Dodgers' positioning before Ed Lucas sneaked a single into left field past Justin Turner in that bat-around fourth inning.
"I don't know exactly what defense we were playing down six runs, but to me, I thought that was going to be a routine double play and obviously it wasn't," Maholm said. "It just kind of snowballed from there. If you're not a strikeout guy and you're trying to go for contact, things can snowball. It was on me. I had walks, I gave up a couple of home runs. No matter if we had made those plays, it's probably a tough game."
Maholm has had mostly competitive starts this season for the Dodgers and when Hyun-Jin Ryu returns, probably next week, he figures to go back to the bullpen anyway. Every team has lopsided losses, usually a handful a year.
If anything, Wednesday was a reminder of how badly the Dodgers need Thursday's day off, their first since April 28. As it was, the Dodgers needed to use five relievers and catcher Drew Butera just to get through nine innings.
Combined with Monday's off day, there may come a day pretty soon when Mattingly doesn't have to make such tough decisions about leaving in a struggling starter. Then again, if things go as the Dodgers have mapped out, he won't have to.