Saturday, July 31, 2010
Broxton's problems painfully persist
By Tony Jackson ESPNLosAngeles.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- For just a moment Saturday, on the heels of what surely had to go down as the Los Angeles Dodgers' most crushing defeat of the season thus far, manager Joe Torre dropped his usual, what-me-worry facade.
For just a moment, when someone suggested that the Dodgers' 2-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants before a sellout crowd of 42,882 at AT&T Park was a devastating blow, Torre acknowledged what was too obvious to deny.
"No question," he said. "All you're doing is digging yourself a deeper hole that you're going to have to come back out of ... if you expect to do anything. We're just making it tougher on ourselves."
Jonathan Broxton got the save for the NL in the All-Star Game, but even that was a shaky performance.
And closer Jonathan Broxton is making it tough on everybody.
The loss, the Dodgers' fourth in a row against the two teams they are chasing in the National League West standings, could be pinned again on an inability to generate any offense, produce any clutch hits or score any runs other than a solo home run by Casey Blake that looked for a time as if it might actually hold up.
But for Broxton, the Dodgers' All-Star closer whose sole job is to come in with a narrow lead in the late innings and protect it, a lack of run support hardly qualifies as a mitigating circumstance. And since the All-Star Game, in which Broxton got the save in the first NL victory in 14 years, Broxton's performance has hardly qualified as All-Star-like.
This time, he was brought in for a four-out save after Hong-Chih Kuo hit Buster Posey with a pitch with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the eighth. Broxton immediately fell behind Pat Burrell 3-and-0, came back with a couple of strikes, then served up a fat one that Burrell dropped into the front row beyond left field.
"I just fell behind," Broxton said. "There was no room for mistakes right there, and he just got me. ... You can't take a chance on walking anybody."
In his five second-half appearances, Broxton has recorded one save, blown two and given up six earned runs and six hits over five innings. He also has issued six walks while striking out only three batters, and opposing hitters have a combined on-base percentage of better than .500 against him.
To go further back: in 11 appearances beginning with Broxton's legendary meltdown against the New York Yankees on June 27, he has given up 12 earned runs and 15 hits over 10 2/3 innings. And that doesn't include the rather shaky, but ultimately successful, ninth inning he pitched in the All-Star Game.
And no one can quite figure out why.
"He is throwing good in the bullpen," said Torre, relaying what bullpen coach Ken Howell told him. "But coming into the game, it looked like he was, I don't know, like he was trying to throw strikes, and he obviously didn't have command. Everything is fine [physically] as far as we know."
The timing of Broxton's extended bout with inconsistency couldn't be worse, either for the team or for the pitcher himself. One of the two trade-deadline deals the Dodgers (54-50) made Saturday was to acquire Pittsburgh Pirates closer Octavio Dotel. While that trade means Dotel will have to accept a less-glamorous middle-relief role because Broxton (3-3) and Kuo, the eighth-inning setup man, seem so entrenched, it also should serve notice to Broxton that should this continue, he no longer is the team's only ninth-inning option.
The Dodgers scored zero, one or two runs for the fifth time in their past six games and the 11th time in 16 games since the All-Star break. They managed all of three hits against Giants starter Barry Zito, a control-plagued Denny Bautista and Guillermo Mota (1-3), who retired all five batters he faced -- striking out three of them -- in the eighth and ninth.
Torre, who is probably as sick of talking about the Dodgers' offensive problems as he is of watching them play out, was at a loss to explain.
"Sorry," he said. "I wish I had something for you."
By the numbers
21 2/3 -- consecutive scoreless innings for Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley, who made back-to-back starts with only three days in between for the first time in his career and showed no ill effects.
Billingsley gave up a leadoff double to Andres Torres in the first inning and then hit Freddy Sanchez. But after getting Aubrey Huff to ground into a double play, Billingsley pretty much cruised from there, giving up just one additional hit over what became 6 2/3 shutout innings in which he basically dominated the Giants.
Billingsley was lifted with Edgar Renteria on first -- he had reached on a throwing error by shortstop Rafael Furcal -- and two outs in the seventh inning after striking out Eli Whiteside. At the time, Nate Schierholtz was about to hit for Zito, and Billingsley had thrown 95 pitches. He was relieved by Kuo, who gave up a hit to Aaron Rowand -- who was sent to hit for Schierholtz -- before striking out Torres to end the threat.
"Schierholtz was coming up to bat, and I didn't want to come out," Billingsley said. "But Kuo has done an unbelievable job for us. It wasn't my call. But it was all right."
Quote of the day
"At some point, I think we have to have common sense here, instead of just the black and white of, 'Did he hit him or didn't he hit him?' Inside pitches have been part of baseball for as long as I have been living. You aren't necessarily doing it on purpose, especially to a power hitter like Posey, because you don't want him extending his arms. You certainly don't want to put him on base." -- Torre, referring to both benches being warned by plate umpire Rob Drake after Kuo hit Posey with a pitch with two outs in the eighth inning of a one-run game. Posey subsequently became the tying run when Burrell homered off Broxton.
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Torre responded to the warning by visiting first-base umpire and crew chief Joe West. Torre said West told him the umpires had been instructed by the league to warn both benches if batters were hit because there was a series of hit batters, warnings, ejections and suspensions following a game between the Dodgers and Giants at Dodger Stadium on July 20.
Billingsley had hit Sanchez in the first and Whiteside in the third without a warning being issued. No Dodgers batters were hit during the game.
Left-hander Clayton Kershaw (10-4, 2.96), who Saturday finished serving his five-game suspension for hitting Rowand in the aforementioned July 20 game, will start on six days' rest for the Dodgers. Giants right-hander Matt Cain (8-8, 3.14) is 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA in three second-half starts, holding opposing batters to a .149 average during that span, but he is 0-8 with a 4.32 ERA in his career against the Dodgers.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.