Sunday, September 5, 2010
Jonathan Broxton's troubles continue
By Tony Jackson
LOS ANGELES -- In the wake of his latest ninth-inning implosion Saturday night, deposed Los Angeles Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton was called into a meeting with manager Joe Torre, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and bullpen coach Ken Howell on Sunday.
"Honey showed him some stuff on location, and they looked at that," Torre said. "I think he understands all that. But again, it's all about expecting good things to happen instead of hoping good things happen."
The fact the meeting was necessary was due to Broxton's colossal second-half struggles, which finally resulted three weeks ago in his losing the full-time closer's role. But in fact, those struggles actually began well before the All-Star break and well before Broxton recorded a save in the National League's first All-Star Game victory in 14 years on July 13.
Beginning on June 27, when he famously blew a four-run lead in the ninth inning against the New York Yankees, Broxton has posted a 7.71 ERA in 23 appearances, giving up 29 hits over 23 1/3 innings while walking 14 batters. He has blown five saves during that span -- including especially gutwrenching ones at San Francisco on June 30, at Philadelphia on Aug. 12 and against the Giants on Saturday night -- and that doesn't even count that game against the Yankees because Broxton entered that one with a four-run lead.
But Broxton's failures are only a small part of the horror story that has been the Dodgers' bullpen this season, the one facet of the team that seemed secure last winter while general manager Ned Colletti went in furious pursuit of a starting pitcher to bolster a thin rotation.
Dodgers relievers entered Sunday night's game with the Giants sporting a 4.20 ERA with 15 blown saves, mostly the result of a domino effect that began when Ronald Belisario showed up five weeks late to spring training and former setup man George Sherrill lost his mechanics in spring training and didn't really find them until more than halfway through the season.
"Going in, I thought we had another chance to have another good year with our bullpen," Colletti said. "[But] for most of the season, it has been less positively predictable than it was last year. Last year, it was one of our strengths, and that was when we were missing Hong-Chih Kuo for a decent part of the year."
This year, Kuo has been the one key guy the Dodgers could count on, which is why he is now their primary closer. And when you have so many restrictions as to when you can use your primary closer -- Torre doesn't like to use Kuo on consecutive days because of his history of arm problems -- you have a problem, especially when your alternate closers, Broxton and Octavio Dotel, have proved unreliable.
Dotel, by the way, has a 4.38 ERA in 14 appearances -- and 10 walks in 12 1/3 innings -- since the Dodgers acquired him from the Pittsburgh Pirates at the trading deadline. He also has a gutwrenching blown save on his record, Aug. 16 at Atlanta.
Torre said that on days when Kuo is unavailable, and Sunday was one of them, he could use rookie Kenley Jansen in the closer's role. Or perhaps even Sherrill, a veteran and former All-Star closer for the Baltimore Orioles who finally seems to have righted himself.
The Dodgers went to spring training with an All-Star closer in Broxton, a former All-Star closer as their setup man in Sherrill, the dominating Kuo as their seventh-inning guy and Belisario and Ramon Troncoso, both of whom had outstanding seasons last year, as their primary middle-relief specialists.
But Belisario has now had two extended absences after he spent the first month of the season on the restricted list because of his late arrival in spring training and another month on the restricted list this summer for reasons that have never been made public. Troncoso has pitched so badly that he has spent much of the season at Triple-A Albuquerque, where he also struggled.
But you could argue that the first domino to fall was Sherrill's early-season issues -- opposing batters hit .337 off him before the All-Star break.
"That left a hole in an area that was important for us," Torre said. "We never used to concern ourselves with left or right with him. He was just going to be our setup guy and sometimes closer. But it took him a while to get on track. Right now, his numbers are more consistent and he is doing well, even though we still usually pick left-handed guys for him to pitch to. But that made us scurry a little bit to figure out what to do with him."
Shortstop Rafael Furcal and left fielder Scott Podsednik were out of the lineup Sunday night, Furcal simply because he had played four consecutive days (including his minor league rehabilitation assignment) and Torre wants to give him regular rest because of his recent back injury, and Podsednik, who is a left-handed hitter, because lefty Jonathan Sanchez was starting for the Giants.
Podsednik is hitting .226 against lefties vs. .287 against righties. Furcal, a switch hitter, is hitting .332 left-handed but .261 right-handed.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.