SAN DIEGO -- The first question to Don Mattingly wasn't really part of the interview, just a common courtesy before getting down to business. But his answer summed up perfectly what it has felt like to be the hitting coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers the past few days, and especially Wednesday night, when their recent run of offensive ineptitude finally caught up with them and cost them an important ballgame.
"I've had better nights, that's for sure," Mattingly said in response to a simple, "How ya doin'?" and he wasn't kidding.
The Dodgers had just suffered a 6-1 defeat at the hands of the division-leading San Diego Padres before 40,188 at Petco Park, a loss that pushed them six games behind the Padres and 3˝ behind second-place San Francisco in the National League West. But with more than two months of baseball left, that wasn't what Mattingly found so alarming.
Statistically, the Padres have the best pitching staff in the majors. But that hardly excused the fact that after Jamey Carroll delivered a run-scoring single off Padres starter Clayton Richard with two outs in the top of the third, the Dodgers wouldn't have another baserunner for the rest of the evening, the final 19 batters going down without much of a fight.
Nine of those 19 batters were strikeout victims.
But far more disturbing than this one game is that the Dodgers (54-47) haven't scored much lately. In their past seven games, the Dodgers have scored more than two runs one time, when they scored three Saturday against the New York Mets, and it took them 13 innings to do that.
Since the All-Star break, they have scored as many as five runs in a game only once in 13 games. And in nine of those games, they scored two, one or none.
"We obviously have to get better," Mattingly said.
So, how do they do that?
"To me, the only way is to keep working and keep fighting," he said. "I look at this the same way you would look at an individual slump. When a team isn't swinging the bats well, each guy has to get back to the basics of making sure he has good at-bats and doesn't try to do too much."
Even with the loss, the Dodgers have won five of their past seven, due mostly to superb starting pitching -- four of those five wins were shutouts. But this time, they got superb starting pitching for only five innings. In the sixth, Hiroki Kuroda (8-9) finally cracked under the pressure of having to be perfect, the Padres scored three runs and the game at that point was effectively over.
Even in those narrow wins, Mattingly has seen things that have disturbed him.
"Last night, we had three at-bats in a row where we got into 3-2 counts and swung at ball four," he said. "To me, that says each guy is trying to be the guy who gets us out of it. If you're not getting a pitch to hit, you can't force it."
And just as a slumping hitter has to put each failed at-bat behind him and move on, a slumping team has to put each game to bed and be ready the following day.
"What I tell them is that you can't let the last 10 at-bats affect the next 50," Mattingly said.
The other point Mattingly has been trying to get across, one of several he made Tuesday evening during the regular team meeting that takes place before the first game of every series, is that a hitter can't worry about what is out of his control.
"Wanting to get a hit isn't a good way to go to the plate," Mattingly said. "It should be, 'I want to hit this ball hard. I want to square it up.' And if you do that and it doesn't happen to be a hit, you can't let that bother you."
Even at a time when Manny Ramirez is on the disabled list, leadoff man and offensive catalyst Rafael Furcal is mired in a 1-for-19 slide, newly acquired outfielder Scott Podsednik and his .352 on-base percentage haven't arrived yet from Kansas City and might not arrive in time for Thursday's mid-afternoon start, the Dodgers are capable of consistent run production. They have proved that at times, even if it's hard to remember because it seems so long ago.
"When we have been good, it's when we have ganged up on people," Mattingly said. "We're not the kind of club that is going to hit two or three homers and crush the ball. We just have to have each individual going to the plate and fighting, saying 'This guy isn't going to get me out today, and even if he does, he isn't going to stop me from hitting a ball hard.'"
Dodgers manager Joe Torre seemed to indicate the club will go back to a more conventional 12-man pitching staff -- the team has been carrying 13 for the past week -- when a roster spot has to be cleared Thursday for Podsednik, who was acquired from the Kansas City Royals for minor league catcher Lucas May and minor league pitcher Elisaul Pimentel.
"I think there is a chance we will do that," Torre said.
Meanwhile, Torre said Podsednik probably will play every day in left field until Ramirez returns from the disabled list, something that isn't expected to happen for at least another two to three weeks. Torre said he wasn't sure where Podsednik would fit into the batting order, but he did say that because of Podsednik's speed and ability to get on base, slotting him second after Furcal would make sense.
Evidence continues to mount that colossally struggling Dodgers reliever George Sherrill has finally gotten himself straightened out. The left-hander and former All-Star closer has retired the past six batters he has faced over his past three appearances.
Sherrill relieved Kuroda in the seventh inning with a man on first, no outs and the Dodgers trailing by a run, and although the Padres would score twice more in that inning, it wasn't Sherrill's fault. He got a gift out when Everth Cabrera sacrificed, then got Tony Gwynn to pop up to Furcal in shallow center.
Sherrill then was lifted so right-hander Jeff Weaver could pitch to right-handed-hitting Jerry Hairston. Weaver promptly gave up run-scoring hits to Hairston and Chris Denorfia, the only two batters he faced.
Sherrill's ERA, by the way, is a ghastly 6.94. But given the season he has had, you have to start somewhere, and it would appear that he has begun to do that.
By the numbers
30 -- consecutive scoreless innings for the Dodgers pitching staff, a streak that ended when Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez hit a bloop single that fell just in front of a hard-charging Matt Kemp in center field, driving in Gwynn from second base in the bottom of the sixth inning. The Dodgers, who hadn't given up a run since the Mets scored two in the sixth inning of Saturday's 13-inning marathon, fell one inning short of their longest shutout streak of the season, which ran from May 31-June 2.
Dodgers right-hander Vicente Padilla (4-3, 3.41) has given up one earned run in 21 innings over his past three starts. Opposing right-hander Mat Latos (11-4, 2.48) has won his past three starts, has six wins and a no-decision in his past seven and hasn't lost since June 4.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.