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Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Dodgers can't seem to push right buttons

By Mark Saxon

LOS ANGELES -- There might be a magic wand out there that somebody in the Los Angeles Dodgers' braintrust can wave to make this dreary season change course, but if there is, it has stayed well hidden.

Sure, there are a few intriguing names in the minor leagues. Perhaps, say, a Yasiel Puig or a Joc Pederson, a Zach Lee or a Scott Van Slyke. But either the timing isn't quite right or the major-league track record leaves you questioning the impact of such a move.

During the offseason, Brandon League proclaimed the Dodgers the team to beat in the West. It seems like a silly proclamation now after L.A. suffered its sixth straight loss and is in last place.
No big-name players are about to get healthy. Zack Greinke is making great progress, but he's still a minimum of two weeks away. Hanley Ramirez won't be back for at least a month.

Teams rarely make impact trades this early, so you can probably forget about that. Manager Don Mattingly has shuffled the pieces in his lineup enough already, moving the furniture as if he were displaying it for an estate sale.

So, now it's really about 25 guys who have long been lauded for their ability to play baseball showing they can win together. The Dodgers haven't exactly been hopeless -- little signs crop up here and there through the ash -- but for a team with a record payroll and superstar swagger, opening with a record of 13-19 is a bit embarrassing, wouldn't you say?

Maybe the players need to forget about all their past accolades and concentrate on making a clutch pitch or having a tough at-bat, the types of things they did when they were hungry, fighting to gain a toehold in the major leagues, well before they made their first million.

Mattingly talked to his guys again after the game and said the theme was about "buckling up" their big-boy pants.

"We can throw all kinds of things off the wall," Mattingly said. "We can try to bring the right people in and get the best pieces you possibly can here and try to put a package together that works. But at the end of the day, once we've cleared all that smoke and all those mirrors are out of the way, we've got to play better."

Mattingly admitted after Tuesday's 5-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks that he finds it a bit disconcerting that his team already has stumbled into two six-game losing streaks just 32 games into the season. Good teams typically find a way to staunch long skids and then fatten up on the bad teams to steamroll into October. The Dodgers haven't shown they can do either yet.

Remember Brandon League's comment from last October that the Dodgers were now the "team to beat"? Looks a little silly now that they're 5-15 against the rest of the NL West, doesn't it?

And it's really not just about injuries. Sure, they've had far more than any team should have to have dealt with by early May, but aside from the loss of Greinke and Ramirez, none of them has felt like a major body blow, more like glancing jabs.

Guys might have to start getting their uniforms a little dirtier, produce some swings that aren't as pretty. There have been veiled hints in recent comments that toughness -- or a lack thereof -- has been an issue so far for this team. There have been a lot of perfectly blunt assessments that a lack of execution is the issue.

"It really comes down to making pitches when we need to make pitches and getting timely hits," pitcher Josh Beckett said. "You look at any season for a team that went on to win the World Series, I feel like they do a better job of that than any other team."

It's a pitch-by-pitch thing, one at-bat after another, and right now it's all they have to lean on.