<
>

Slump easing, focus turns to pitching

6/25/2015
Play2:08
Turner on Dodgers' win

Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner discusses the Dodgers; 5-2 win over the Cubs.

CHICAGO -- After the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 5-2 Wednesday night at Wrigley Field for just their second win in the last six games, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and most of the team watched the final inning of the College World Series between Vanderbilt and Virginia.

Friedman’s primary rooting interest was for reasonable workloads for the three pitchers the Dodgers drafted who played on those teams: Walker Buehler, John Sborz and Philip Pfeifer. A Tulane grad, Friedman has no attachment to either school. Once it was over, he could focus his attention on trying to sign the young pitchers.

Assuming they get some or all of them in the fold, the Dodgers like to think they’ll have enviable pitching depth in a year or two. They don’t yet and Friedman reiterated before the game that adding starting pitchers remains a primary concern between now and July 31. After all, the Dodgers do have a $270 million payroll and nobody in uniform or working for the front office views this as a rebuilding effort.

The fans certainly don’t.

The Dodgers’ top major league special assignment scout, Galen Carr, reportedly watched Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels give up five runs on eight hits at Yankee Stadium Wednesday night. Earlier, Carr had made multiple trips to watch both Jordan Zimmermann of the Washington Nationals and Johnny Cueto of the Cincinnati Reds, ESPN.com has reported.

The Dodgers’ search is on and it’s getting more serious.

“Starting pitching depth is certainly front and center, as it was last offseason, as it will be next offseason,” Friedman said. “It’s something we’re always going to be mindful of, but two guys going down just increases that for us.”

Friedman lives in fear of another injury to the Dodgers’ starting rotation piled on top of the season-long loss of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy because right now the back end is barely holding on. Mike Bolsinger couldn’t make it out of the fifth inning Wednesday night or, to put it another way, the Dodgers didn’t trust him to get out of the fifth inning after he walked a batter with two outs. He had shown signs he was coming unhinged when three straight Cubs got hits against him leading off.

Going into Wednesday, opposing batters were hitting .318 against Bolsinger the third time through the order and his strikeout rate has dipped precipitously. It’s not unusual to see a spike in ineffectiveness at that point of the game, but it highlights the worry the Dodgers have about trusting both Bolsinger and Carlos Frias with 40 percent of their starts. Frias, who pitches Thursday afternoon opposite Cubs ace Jon Lester, has been wildly inconsistent. Bolsinger has a 5.06 ERA in his last five starts.

At the very least, Wednesday’s win allowed the Dodgers at least a temporary reprieve from talking about their hitting woes. Adrian Gonzalez broke the ice for an offense that had gone 10 innings without scoring the day before by scraping a solo home run over the left-field wall in the second inning and Justin Turner let everybody breathe easy at last with a three-run shot in the third.

Wednesday marked the fifth straight game Turner has started in which he has batted third in the Dodgers’ lineup. Considering where Turner was two springs ago -- fighting for a roster spot after the New York Mets stunned him by declining to offer him a contract -- that’s a pretty dizzying ascent.

Had you told Dodgers manager Don Mattingly that Turner would be his No. 3 hitter back in March, here’s what he would have thought:

“I’d have assumed we had a lot of injuries, honestly, because I don’t think you picture him with our club in the No. 3 hole,” Mattingly said. “Probably, out of spring training you see him coming off the bench like last year, getting a lot of at-bats but playing all over the place.”

With a healthy array of Dodgers position players, Turner has simply hit the best of all of them. Turner’s .967 OPS is the best on the team and his 2.9 WAR is second only to Joc Pederson though Turner has had 113 fewer plate appearances. Turner probably deserves a spot on the National League All-Star team though the fact he doesn’t have the qualifying at-bats and is labeled a utility guy likely will hurt him. Turner wouldn’t even be with the Dodgers had bench coach Tim Wallach not made a phone call to then-general manager Ned Colletti after running into Turner at a Cal State Fullerton alumni event.

Without Turner, where would the Dodgers be?

“Obviously, I don’t want to think about it,” Mattingly said.

Turner resisted the opportunity to throw it back in the faces of the Mets’ front office that cast him loose because it wanted to save $500,000 or so in arbitration, then leaked insinuations to ESPN.com’s Adam Rubin that it was Turner’s lack of hustle that soured them on him.

“I’ll tell you it was probably the worst offseason I’ve ever had, not knowing where or if I was going to be playing the next year,” Turner said. “That was hard, but I’m happy I landed here with the Dodgers. It’s nice being on a good team dedicated to winning from the top all the way to the bottom.”