Commentary

Dodgers still have big-picture issues

Offense has been great, but starting pitching, the bullpen and defense are suspect

Updated: April 17, 2010, 10:20 PM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- The only even remotely positive thing for the Los Angeles Dodgers to take out of what happened Saturday was that by the end of the afternoon, manager Joe Torre's decision to rest four regulars following a night game Friday had been perfectly vindicated. The Dodgers weren't going to win this game no matter whose names Torre wrote on his lineup card.

So in the wake of a 9-0 thrashing at the hands of the San Francisco Giants in which they merely joined the long list of teams that can't hang with Tim Lincecum -- the two-time defending National League Cy Young Award winner hamstrung them on four hits over six shutout innings -- all that was left for the Dodgers to do was put it out of their minds and get right back to doing what they had been doing before they ran into Lincecum.

Tim Lincecum
AP Photo/Lori SheplerTim Lincecum was his dominant self, pitching six shutout innings, and even had success with his bat against the Dodgers on Saturday.

After all, even after being shut out for the first time this year, the Dodgers still are averaging more than six runs a game.

All Lincecum really did, other than running his record to 3-0, shaving his ERA to 0.90 and inflating his strikeout total to 24 in 20 innings, was expose a problem the Dodgers don't really have. They have plenty of offense under normal circumstances, and Lincecum hardly qualifies as a normal circumstance.

It is all those other issues the Dodgers do have that are starting to become a concern.

It all starts with pitching, and while the Dodgers rotation is still a collective 4-2 even after Charlie Haeger's implosion against the Giants, it has a cumulative ERA of 5.34 -- a figure that blew up more than half a run Saturday as Haeger was giving up five earned runs, and seven overall, in three-plus innings.

The bullpen might be getting better, with George Sherrill saying after the game he is getting closer to finding himself and with Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario set to rejoin the team in the next week or so. But it still has a 6.39 ERA, even after Carlos Monasterios, Ramon Ortiz, Russ Ortiz and Sherrill combined to give up two runs over the final six innings.

And then, there is the defense. Or, more specifically, the lack thereof.

Entering play Saturday, only one other N.L. club had committed more errors than the Dodgers' 10, and the Dodgers committed two more in a four-run third inning that basically put the game out of reach. One was a throwing error by catcher A.J. Ellis on a stolen-base attempt. The other was just a flat-out, no-excuses gaffe by Jamey Carroll, who was playing shortstop while Rafael Furcal rested.

In fairness to Carroll, it was his first game at shortstop since 2007.

"It's a concern," Torre said of the team's overall defense. "Even with the fact Jamey made that error, you can say he isn't a shortstop, but that didn't really have anything to do with that play. The ball was right there, and he can make that play. ... It bothers me, but I wouldn't call it a concern, because I know we are better than that. Right now, we just have to fight our way through it. We are going to have to make a lot more plays than we have made. When you look at our personnel, we know we can catch the ball."

There also was a play in the second inning in which Blake DeWitt's inexperience at second base burned him again. With runners on the corners and one out, Lincecum dropped what was supposed to be a sacrifice bunt to move the trail runner into scoring position. But DeWitt, apparently thinking Haeger would field the ball, gave up on it too early and went to cover first. The ball scooted past the mound before Haeger could get to it and then died in an area of the infield grass that had been left uncovered, leaving Lincecum with a hit that scored the Giants' first run.

Key moment

On a day when the mere presence of Lincecum left no margin for error, Haeger never found his knuckleball and was knocked around from the start. Torre finally came to get him after he issued his fifth walk after a leadoff double by Aubrey Huff in the fourth, a point when the Giants already led 5-0.

[+] EnlargeTravis Schlichting
AP Photo/Lori SheplerCharlie Haeger said there was nothing positive to take from his outing Saturday after struggled into the fourth inning.

"The whole outing was just awful," Haeger said. "It was just a pathetic performance, really, overall. I was fine in the bullpen, but I just fought it the whole time out there. I was trying to find my command. Five walks and a couple of hits, and you're going to get into trouble. It was one of those outings where there is nothing, really, that I can take from that. There are no positives from that outing."

Haeger's problem was an inability to throw his knuckleball for strikes, which meant he had to throw far more fastballs than he normally does. And Haeger doesn't have much of a fastball, which is a big reason why, when he wasn't walking hitters, he was giving up seven hits.

Torre pointed out that since Haeger's previous start Sunday at Florida, the right-hander had pitched one inning of relief Wednesday night against Arizona and was warming up to pitch the 10th against the Diamondbacks on Thursday before the Dodgers won that game in the bottom of the ninth.

"We asked him to do a lot this week," Torre said, "so I have to really give him a hall pass on this one."

Haeger wasn't looking for hall passes and said those two games had no effect. At any rate, he was left with a 7.20 ERA for the season.

Call of the day

The game had long since been decided by the top of the fifth, when the Giants had runners at first and second with none out and Edgar Renteria yanked a blooper down the left-field line that Garret Anderson dived for. Although Anderson didn't appear to have control of it, the ball didn't pop loose until his momentum had carried him well into foul territory.

Third base umpire Dan Iassogna initially appeared to signal "out," then abruptly changed and signaled "live ball." Lincecum, who was running off second, appeared confused and stood on third base for a split second before scrambling back to second because he thought Iassogna had indicated Anderson had made the catch. Anderson scrambled to his feet and threw to third, where Ronnie Belliard gathered in the ball while standing on the bag, then fired to DeWitt at second as Lincecum and Eugenio Velez, who had been running off first, arrived at about the same instant.

From there, confusion reigned for a couple of minutes while both managers came onto the field to talk to the umpires. Ultimately, Iassogna's ruling that Anderson hadn't caught the ball was upheld, meaning that Lincecum had been forced out at third when Anderson threw to Belliard. But second base umpire Mark Wegner ruled that DeWitt never touched the bag after taking the relay throw from Belliard, so Velez was safe at second.

Lost in the shuffle

Although both of his starts behind the plate this season have come with Haeger on the mound, and although Haeger's knuckleball has given him fits in both of those games, it wasn't a completely bad day for A.J. Ellis. For one, he tripled his career hits total from one to three by singling in the seventh and doubling in the ninth, his first extra-base hit in the majors. He also worked Lincecum for a walk in the fifth and has a .571 on-base percentage for the three games he has appeared in since being called up from Triple-A Albuquerque on April 10.

Minor matter

Highly touted Dodgers catching prospect Lucas May was promoted to Albuquerque from Double-A Chattanooga on Saturday despite the fact he was hitting just .167 (four for 24) with seven strikeouts for the Lookouts.

Dodgers assistant general manager De Jon Watson, who runs the player-development system, said the move was made because May was ready for Triple-A and that the only reason he began the season in Double-A for the third consecutive season was that Ellis, who for now is ahead of May in the pecking order, was the everyday catcher in Triple-A and May needed regular playing time.

Watson dismissed May's paltry early-season stats.

"I was out there [in Chattanooga] last week, so I saw some of those outs he hit into," Watson said. "A lot of those were hard-hit line drives that were caught. He is hitting the ball really hard, and that is what we look for."

May had a breakout season at Chattanooga last year, batting .306 with a .390 on-base percentage, and also hit .325 in the Arizona Fall League.

Quote of the day

"I'll take it, but it wasn't perfect. It was all right. I would give it about an 8 1/2, but it's still just a hair off. I definitely think it's just a matter of getting the muscle memory going and building some momentum." -- Dodgers setup man George Sherrill, who pitched a perfect ninth inning after struggling all spring and into the season to find his normal mechanics. Sherrill gave up six earned runs over 3 1/3 innings over his first five appearances before Saturday, and he still has a 12.46 ERA for the season.

Looking ahead

Two left-handers, one a former Cy Young Award winner and the other a potential future Cy Young recipient, square off in the rubber game of the three-game series. Veteran Barry Zito has given up only three runs and eight hits over 12 innings in his first two starts for the Giants this season, both of which he won. The Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw has been decidedly mediocre in his first two, mostly because of issues with his command and control. Although he is 1-0, has a 4.50 ERA and has walked 11 batters in 10 innings. The game also will conclude the Dodgers' first homestand of the season before they embark on a nine-game trip to Cincinnati, Washington and New York beginning Tuesday.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com