Commentary

Broxton's position in question after loss

Joe Torre won't give his closer his regular vote of confidence after his fifth blown save

Updated: August 13, 2010, 1:31 AM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

PHILADELPHIA -- It wasn't the first question that was asked of Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre in the wake of his team's most devastating defeat of the season, a seven-run, eighth-inning lead having dissolved into a nasty, 10-9 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies before a sellout crowd of 44,819 on Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park, but Torre knew it was coming eventually, and he was ready with his non-answer.

Can he continue to stick with the increasingly shaky Jonathan Broxton as his closer at a time when there are now multiple alternatives in the bullpen?

[+] EnlargeJonathan Broxton
AP Photo/Matt SlocumTBD by Editorial

"Let's let the smoke clear from this before you get me to say something I can't take back," Torre said.

In other words, Torre hasn't decided yet. And we're talking about an issue here about which he has been steadfast in the 2½ seasons he has been at the helm of the Dodgers. Throughout Broxton's greatest triumphs and his most crushing failures, Torre has made it clear that the big kid from Georgia was, without question, his closer.

This time, Torre wasn't quite so steadfast. This time, Torre didn't make it quite so clear.

This time, Broxton had just come in to begin the ninth inning with a three-run lead, hit the first batter, walked the next two and eventually given up a walkoff, two-run double to Carlos Ruiz, all without recording so much as a single out.

To be fair, it wasn't all Broxton's fault. Ronald Belisario, in his second appearance since coming off the restricted list, where he cooled his jets for a month for reasons even Torre has been kept in the dark about, came in to start the eighth inning with a 9-2 lead and also failed to retire a batter, giving up four runs on four consecutive hits and mixing in a wild pitch and a balk. With the bases loaded and nobody out in the ninth, Broxton did get Ben Francisco to hit a ground ball, but it went right through the legs of third baseman Casey Blake.

To be fair, the one thing Broxton has never been is a maker of excuses.

"If I hadn't walked those guys, [Blake's error] wouldn't have mattered," he said. "That's my fault for walking them. Guys are going to play back on their heels when a pitcher isn't throwing strikes. All of that is my fault."

Fair or not, these are the cold, hard facts:

  • Since the All-Star Game, when he appeared to finally erase his reputation for imploding on the big stage by nailing down the National League's first win in 14 years, Broxton has blown three of his five save chances, squandering leads of four and three runs in two of them.

  • In eight second-half appearances overall, he has allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on nine hits over eight innings, with an eye-popping 11 walks and staggering 10.13 ERA.

  • For the season, Broxton has now blown five of his 26 save chances, a razor's edge shy of an unacceptable 20 percent.

    And this is the closer for a team that still fancies itself a playoff contender?

    There was a time, of course, when Torre's loyalty to Broxton stemmed from the fact there really wasn't anyone else, especially when former setup man George Sherrill got off to such a rough start to the season that he became, well, a former setup man.

    But now, that has changed.

    For one, there is Hong-Chih Kuo, the fireballing current setup man who also made the All-Star team and whom Torre apparently no longer has any qualms about using on consecutive days (he did it for just the second time this season), bringing in Kuo to face lefty-hitting Raul Ibanez with two on and two outs in the seventh inning. Kuo got Ibanez to fly out to left.

    For another, there is Octavio Dotel, a veteran whom the Dodgers acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates minutes before the trading deadline and who was closing for the Pirates at the time. He recorded 21 saves before the trade, but he also blew five others, meaning his percentage is identical to Broxton's.

    Neither of those alternatives is ideal, and there is no guarantee either of them would be any better than Broxton. Moreover, it might be too late for a change to even matter, given that the Dodgers' season already appears to be slipping away. But at a time when the fourth-place Dodgers (59-56) are still clinging to whatever sliver of hope they have of reaching the playoffs -- they now trail the division-leading San Diego Padres by nine games in the N.L. West and the wild card-leading San Francisco Giants by 6 1/2, with a bunch of teams in between -- logic would suggest that it might be time to at least try something different.

    If it doesn't work, well, what will they really have lost?

    For his part, Broxton denied the suggestion that this ballpark, where he famously blew a ninth-inning lead in Game 4 of last year's NL Championship Series, was still haunting him when he took the mound on Thursday. He denied, for the umpteenth time during this rough stretch he is going through, that there is anything physically wrong with him.

    And, of course, he denied that he is experiencing a crisis of confidence.

    "I'm fine," he said. "I'm just a little wild right now, but every pitcher goes through it. Hopefully, I can get it out of my system and be back to my normal self."

    Broxton can whistle past that graveyard all he wants to. But ultimately, it isn't his own confidence, or lack thereof, that will decide this issue. Torre is the one who will decide, perhaps as soon as Friday, whether his confidence in Broxton is sufficient to keep using him in the closer's role. And when Torre was given the chance to provide yet another vote of that confidence for Broxton after what might go down as the final nail in the Dodgers' season, the manager declined to offer one.

    Trends

    After being out of the lineup for two consecutive games, a decision Torre said was purely performance-based, slumping center fielder Matt Kemp was back in Thursday. The result is that he might not be slumping anymore.

    Kemp responded by going 3-for-5 with a two-run homer and a pair of two-run singles, giving him a season-high four RBIs. And there is a reason to believe that performance might be a sign of things to come.

    Following a previous benching by Torre on June 27-29 -- one that appeared to be disciplinary in nature following a reported confrontation with a member of the coaching staff during a game -- Kemp was forced back into the lineup when Manny Ramirez injured himself in the first inning on June 29 at San Francisco. Over his next seven games, Kemp went 11-for-31 (.355) with four home runs and nine RBIs.

    Quote of the Day

    "It was just a little chopper, hit right at me. I don't want to call it do-or-die, but it was an in-between chopper. If it doesn't come up, you kind of look like an idiot, and tonight, I looked like an idiot. I've got to make that play." -- Blake on his ninth-inning error on a hard-hit ground ball by Francisco that proved pivotal to the Phillies' four-run, ninth-inning rally. Blake also had made a beautiful, diving stop on a ground ball by Ruiz to minimize the damage of what still became a damaging, four-run eighth inning by the Phillies.

    Looking Ahead

    The Dodgers begin a four-game series against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (8-10, 3.65) will pitch Friday night's opener for the Dodgers. He has lost two of his three career starts against the Braves despite posting a 2.14 ERA and limiting Atlanta hitters to a .192 average. Braves right-hander Tim Hudson (13-5, 2.24) has won each of his past four starts, allowing a total of two runs over 28⅓ innings.

    Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

    Tony Jackson

    ESPNLosAngeles.com
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