Commentary

Octavio Dotel's implosion costs Dodgers

Reliever struggles after tough call by ump and L.A. loses to Colorado 3-2 in 10

Updated: August 19, 2010, 9:28 AM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- In the grand scheme of a season in which the Los Angeles Dodgers already were careening toward the edge of a cliff, it didn't mean a whole lot. But in the decidedly smaller scheme of the Dodgers' latest low-scoring setback, this time 3-2 to the Colorado Rockies in 10 innings before 44,268 on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium, it appears to have loomed large, at least in the psyche of one of the key players involved.

With one out and nobody on base in the top of the 10th inning, veteran reliever Octavio Dotel, whom the Dodgers had acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates minutes before the trading deadline and who had given up a ninth-inning lead just two nights earlier, was ahead of Rockies third baseman Melvin Mora 1-and-2 and threw him a cut fastball.

Mora started to swing at it, then stopped. Whether he actually went around or not was a matter of opinion, but the only opinion that mattered was that of first-base umpire Laz Diaz, who upon appeal ruled no swing, evening the count at 2-2.

[+] EnlargeOctavio Dotel
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonOctavio Dotel was supposed to fill in for a struggling Jonathan Broxton, but Dotel has not been able to close effectively.

The Dodgers' bench erupted in protest, but it didn't matter much. All that mattered at that point was that Dotel went on to walk Mora, that he also walked Dexter Fowler with two outs, that he threw three wild pitches in the inning and that one of them lost the game for the fourth-place Dodgers (61-60), who slipped to new and what would appear to be hopeless depths: 12 games behind the division-leading San Diego Padres in the National League West and eight behind the Philadelphia Phillies for the wild card.

Dotel, who dutifully stood at his locker and answered questions after his second costly implosion in just more than 48 hours, tried not to use Diaz's call as an excuse. But he didn't exactly eliminate it as a factor, either.

"It's tough when those umpires make those calls, because I saw the replay, and [Mora] went," Dotel said. "I end up walking the guy, and that was how it started. That was the runner who scored. But after that, I was just trying to get the guys coming up. ... It was over. I couldn't keep that [call] in my mind. But it did affect me a little bit."

Dotel (2-3) has done a little of everything in his 12 major league seasons, from starting to pitching in the middle innings to setting up to closing, and he is 36 years old. It would be understandable if a rookie allowed himself to be rattled by Diaz's call. But a savvy veteran with his wide-ranging experience? Three wild pitches in an inning, which was one more than he had thrown in 44 2/3 previous innings this season?

"I think Dotel was just holding onto it and jerking the ball a little bit out of the zone," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said.

Perhaps holding onto the ball is what Dotel should have done. Of the three wild pitches, the second one, the one that allowed Mora to scamper home from third with the winning run, hit the dirt about five feet in front of the plate, and the third one sailed wide of catcher A.J. Ellis. And as Dotel was issuing an intentional walk to Jason Giambi, he was throwing the sort of rainbows that suggest a fear of throwing one of them away.

Dotel admitted the wild pitches were a result of faulty mechanics.

"Yeah, because in the end, I kind of picked it up with the last guy I faced," he said of Troy Tulowitzki, who grounded out. "I got back to just keeping my eye on the glove, and I came back. It was kind of late, but it's never too late."

Immediately after the game, Torre referred to Diaz's call without being asked.

"We got a bad call on the checked swing," he said. "That was tough."

However, when asked specifically if he thought Dotel had been rattled by the call, resulting in the three wild pitches, Torre wasn't ready to go there.

"I hope not," he said. "[After walking Mora], he turned right around to the shortstop and the second baseman to talk about who was covering. It didn't seem from where I was that that was the case. He has been around long enough for that not to be the case."

Key moment

With Reed Johnson on first base and Scott Podsednik at the plate against Rockies closer Huston Street in the bottom of the 10th, Podsednik hit a blooper toward straightaway center. With two outs, Johnson was breaking with the crack of the bat. Fowler, the Rockies' center fielder, came in hard and tried to make a diving catch, but the ball rolled out of his glove.

As Fowler then struggled to pick up the ball, Dodgers third-base coach Larry Bowa frantically and emphatically waved Johnson around third. But Fowler made a perfect throw to Tulowitzki, and the Rockies' rifle-armed shortstop then fired a bullet to catcher Miguel Olivo, who was waiting for Johnson when he got to the plate. Olivo applied the easy tag on the sliding Johnson, ending the game.

"They made two good plays," Bowa said. "If he makes it, it's a good play. If he doesn't, it's a bad play. I take the blame for it. I don't think you guys [the media] have talked to me [about getting a runner thrown out] in three years, so I must be doing all right."

Torre said Bowa's decision was the right one.

"That was the only play for us," Torre said. "They had to make perfect throws, especially the relay. When Bo sent Reed, that is exactly what I would have done. Unfortunately, they made a perfect throw to the plate."

Minor matter

Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez, who has been on the 15-day disabled list since July 20 because of a right-calf strain, began his rehabilitation assignment with high Single-A Inland Empire against Lake Elsinore.

Leading off as the designated hitter, Ramirez came to the plate three times, drawing a five-pitch walk, singling up the middle and striking out swinging. He slid into second on a force play after the walk and reported no problems in doing so. Ramirez is expected to play left field against Lake Elsinore on Thursday night.

Footnote

Immediately after the game, the Rockies released veteran outfielder Brad Hawpe, an All-Star as recently as last year and one of the club's biggest run producers over the past four seasons.

But Hawpe's numbers had fallen off dramatically this season -- after delivering a pinch-hit single in the seventh inning, he was batting .255 with seven homers and 37 RBIs -- and was no longer an everyday player, having lost the right-field job to Carlos Gonzalez so the Rockies could get both Gonzalez and Fowler into the regular lineup.

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said via text message after the game that he didn't think his club would have interest in signing Hawpe, who is now a free agent, but that it wasn't something team officials had discussed.

Looking ahead

Dodgers left-hander Ted Lilly (6-8, 3.44) has won all three of his starts for the Dodgers since being acquired from the Chicago Cubs on July 31, marking the first time he has won three consecutive starts since last September. Lilly hasn't won four consecutive starts since winning his final four starts of 2008 and his first two of 2009. Rockies left-hander Jorge De La Rosa (4-3, 4.99) is 0-5 in 11 career appearances, including seven starts, against the Dodgers. This will be his first appearance against them this season.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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