Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Dodgers' offense raises concerns
By Tony Jackson ESPNLosAngeles.com
DENVER -- Jeff Pentland stood against a cinder-block wall in a long hallway leading to the visiting clubhouse at Coors Field on Tuesday night and delivered refreshingly candid answers about the Los Angeles Dodgers' offense, of which he is now fully in charge with Don Mattingly having moved up to the manager's office.
At a moment when he could have been forgiven for downplaying the fact the Dodgers had just been shut out for the second time in five games this season, this time 3-0 to the Colorado Rockies before 24,693 at Coors Field, the team's new primary hitting coach instead readily admitted to at least some level of concern.
"There is always concern about the offense," Pentland said. "We're always trying to make it better. As a hitting coach, you're always worried about your players. If they were all doing well at the same time, we would be scoring some runs."
The Dodgers did not have a hit after the fifth inning against the Rockies on Tuesday.
Things could be worse, of course. Those two shutouts are the Dodgers' only losses, and the team remains in second place in the National League West, tied with the Rockies and just half a game behind the San Diego Padres. And hey, it's not as if the Dodgers are being embarrassed by second-rate pitchers -- each of those shutouts included a stellar performance by a top-level opposing starter, first Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants blanking them for six innings Saturday and then Jhoulys Chacin going seven for the Rockies.
But then, there is the little matter of a .233 team batting average. And a .167 average with runners in scoring position. And a total of 13 runs through the first five games, an average of less than three per game. And the fact that in 40 offensive innings, the Dodgers have scored in only six of them.
Pentland takes all of that personally. But he doesn't take any of it as a reason to panic.
"We have a ways to go as an offensive ballclub," he said. "Everybody isn't exactly where they should be yet. It's a growing process, and we have to find our identity as a group offensively. Sometimes, that takes more time than it does in other years. I don't think we have come close to our peak.
"Certainly, I am not down on anybody. Guys' approaches have been really good. But it's disappointing to get shut out, of course, and I'm sure they feel the same way."
It was one thing to get shut out by Cain and a handful of relievers on a day when Ted Lilly wasn't very good and the Dodgers' bullpen fell apart. But this time, the Dodgers wasted a good-but-not-great performance by Clayton Kershaw (1-1), who gave up a couple of solo homers to a previously hitless Troy Tulowitzki and a sizzling Chris Iannetta and a two-out, RBI single to Jose Lopez in the sixth.
But the Dodgers managed only five hits against Chacin (1-0) -- not one after Jamey Carroll's leadoff single in the fifth. The final 12 Dodgers batters went down in order, with only two balls hit out of the infield, against Chacin and relievers Rafael Betancourt and Huston Street, who recorded an all-too-easy second save of the season.
In a ballpark where every fly ball carries promise, the Dodgers made 16 ground-ball outs, including four comebackers to the mound. And leadoff man Rafael Furcal grounded out to second in all four of his plate appearances.
Pentland, without using it as an excuse, pointed to the belief this lineup has yet to jell. On any given night, Mattingly turns in a card that has at least two names on it who weren't with the club last year, plus a third in catcher Rod Barajas who was here for only the final six weeks. Third baseman Casey Blake hasn't even played yet -- he is expected to be activated from the 15-day disabled list before Wednesday's game.
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"I think any time you have some new people involved in your lineup, you have to establish roles," Pentland said. "It's kind of like the big guys need the little guys and vice versa to get your offense clicking. I think there is still some newness to our lineup, and we're also missing some guys in there."
There are some individual signs of hope. Matt Kemp, despite going 0-for-4, is still hitting .312. Andre Ethier is hitting .353 and still enough of a threat that the Rockies intentionally walked him in a key situation in the third inning. And Carroll is hitting .308 -- not that it matters much at this point because Blake's return to the lineup probably means Carroll's return to the bench.
You may have heard this somewhere before, but it's a long season. The Dodgers aren't very deep into it yet. And other than the result, Pentland mostly likes what he is seeing.
"Our hitters did a good job tonight of staying with our reports," he said. "But Chacin was tough. We had him on the ropes early, and he got out of it."
With that, Pentland left the clubhouse and headed back to the team hotel for a good night's sleep. The Dodgers have a day game Wednesday, meaning that growing process he talked about would continue in just a few hours.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.