- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- It is only due to circumstance that Carlos Monasterios is pitching in the major leagues this season, and that he was starting for the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night, in a game the Dodgers probably had to win in order to keep their fading playoff hopes alive.
So when Monasterios failed to go more than two-plus innings and wound up on the hook for the Dodgers' 8-4 loss to the Phillies before 45,164 at Dodger Stadium, it was hard to heap too much blame on the inexperienced right-hander.
"It's not fair," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "He is just a kid, and we asked him to pitch a game against this ballclub. He struggled in the second, and he got into trouble again in the third, so I just didn't want him to go any longer."
In a perfect world, Monasterios wouldn't have gone this long. In a perfect world, he wouldn't have spent the entire season, save a two-week stint on the disabled list, pitching in the major leagues and trying to get major league hitters out.
Not that he hasn't done a good job of it, mind you. Pitching out of the bullpen, where Torre could pick and choose the situations and where Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt originally had hoped he could stay all year, Monasterios has posted a 2.32 ERA in 17 appearances this season. But when forced into a starting role, as he was for the third time since Vicente Padilla went onto the disabled list a couple of weeks ago, Monasterios has mostly looked like exactly what he is -- a Rule 5 pick who is in the majors only because he has to be -- going 2-5 with a 5.13 ERA.
Funny thing about Rule 5 picks. You have to really, really want them in order to take them, and the Dodgers (68-65) really, really wanted Monasterios when they took him last December from the New York Mets, who agreed to take him from the Phillies with their higher pick and immediately trade him to the Dodgers for cash.
The Dodgers believed at the time that Monasterios, who had never pitched above Double-A and had two career appearances above Class A, had a brilliant future, and they still believe that now. That is why they have lived with the restriction that goes with having a Rule 5 pick on your roster, that he can't be sent to the minors without passing him through waivers and then offering him back to the organization he used to belong to, and the Dodgers figured if they did that, they wouldn't hold onto him for long.
So Monasterios hung around and got more experience at age 24 than he otherwise would have.
"I have learned a lot," he said, with Kenji Nimura translating. "First of all, I have learned that you can't make any mistake pitches at this level."
Like the one he made in the second inning to Phillies backup catcher Brian Schneider, who launched it into the right-field pavilion for a three-run homer that erased a 1-0 Dodgers lead, put the Phillies on top to stay and eventually pushed the Dodgers 5½ games back in the National League wild-card standings.
The fourth-place Dodgers remained nine games behind the division-leading San Diego Padres in the NL West.
But the question for Monasterios (3-5) is, was it the right kind of experience?
"He needs regular work," Torre said. "That is what we're looking at, and next year, we'll have the ability to do that with him."
In other words, Monasterios, whom the Dodgers project as a key starting pitcher for them somewhere down the road, probably will be in the minors at the beginning of 2011, when the Rule 5 rules no longer will apply. That way, he can pitch every fifth day, build up his pitch count and develop into a bona fide, major league pitcher without the day-to-day pressures of actually doing it in the major leagues.
"He just needs to refine himself and probably add another pitch," Torre said.
Monasterios' rookie season has given him plenty of moments on which to build -- most notably a game in Washington way back on April 24, when he came on with one out in the bottom of the 11th inning, pitched 2 2/3 shutout innings while staring down the pressure of a game that potentially could have been lost on any pitch that he threw and came away with a win.
Even some of his starts have been memorable, like the five shutout innings (two hits) he threw at the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 2 and the five shutout innings (six hits) he threw at the New York Mets on July 24, two games the Dodgers went on to win in extra innings.
But this recent rotation stint has been mostly forgettable for Monasterios, who failed to reach five innings in any of the three starts and came away with two losses and a no-decision. Barring another injury to another starter, Monasterios won't start again. Padilla is tentatively slated to return from the disabled list and start Monday night at San Diego, relegating Monasterios to the bullpen once more.
Come next spring, Monasterios probably will be relegated to Triple-A Albuquerque. But no matter what happens when he gets there, they can never take his 2010 away from him.
"His curveball has improved, and he is throwing his slider more," Honeycutt said. "When we first got him, he was pretty much fastball-changeup. He has gained some experience pitching at this level, and I think he has made some improvements to his delivery. But again, with a lack of high-level experience, sometimes, I think a young pitcher, when things start rolling, it's like 'How do I stop it?' That is the kind of thing most guys have to experience to get through it and get better at it."
For his part, Monasterios believes he has proved he belongs here.
"Of course," he said. "Why not?"
But that doesn't mean he won't have to prove it all over again in 2011. And this time, he probably will have to do that proving somewhere else.
With the Dodgers having battled from five runs down to close to within two, lefty reliever George Sherrill came on to pitch the seventh inning and promptly delivered a textbook lesson in the concept of "walks will haunt you." With one out, Sherrill issued consecutive walks to Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth. After the runners moved up on a grounder to the right side by Raul Ibanez, Sherrill intentionally walked Shane Victorino and took a seat.
Dodgers first baseman James Loney hit his first home run in more than a month, his ninth overall, a two-run shot in the sixth inning that knocked Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick (9-7) out of the game. The shot pulled the Dodgers to within 6-4 after they had trailed 6-1 in the third inning, although that deficit would quickly go back to four runs in the seventh.
For Loney personally, it was a positive moment in what has otherwise been a miserable second half in which he has batted .202 with two homers and 13 RBIs. The drop off has been dramatic after Loney hit .309 with 25 doubles, six homers and 63 RBIs from Opening Day through the All-Star break.
Oddly enough, it was Loney's first two-run homer of the season. Of his previous eight, five were solo shots and three were three-run blasts. He hadn't homered at all since July 29, when he hit a solo shot in the second inning off Mat Latos of the San Diego Padres.
Veteran infielder Juan Castro, whom the Dodgers designated for assignment on Aug. 21 to clear a roster spot when Manny Ramirez came off the disabled list and who already has cleared waivers, is expected to return to the team on Wednesday, when rosters can be expanded for the first time for September. The Dodgers have one open spot on their 40-man roster, so they can easily purchase Castro's contract from Triple-A Albuquerque without a corresponding move.
Castro had accepted an assignment to Albuquerque after he cleared waivers, but he hadn't yet reported to the Isotopes.
The Dodgers hadn't necessarily planned on adding Castro, but a slight knee injury to second baseman Ryan Theriot is expected to sideline him for at least one more game. Theriot was hurt when Werth slid in hard (but cleanly) on an eighth-inning pivot play Monday night, knocking Theriot off his feet. Theriot was examined on Tuesday by Dodgers team physician Neal ElAttrache, and the injury wasn't deemed serious.
The Dodgers are off on Thursday, so Theriot will get three consecutive games to rest his knee in hopes he will be ready to return to the lineup for Friday night's series opener against the San Francisco Giants.
Castro might be the Dodgers' only addition on Wednesday. The Pacific Coast League's regular season ends on Monday, and with Albuquerque fighting for a playoff spot, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti hinted that the club might not make many call-ups right away.
By the Numbers
11 -- game hitting streak for Theriot that became a casualty of his injury. Because he couldn't start, and because the Dodgers already were short on their bench with a 13-man pitching staff, Theriot was needed to pinch hit when the pitcher's spot came up in a key situation in the bottom of the sixth inning. With a man on second, two outs and the Dodgers trailing 6-4, Theriot flied to right, ending the inning and his hitting streak.
Quote of the Day
"I would rather go to Triple-A and face better pitching. The travel doesn't even bother me. If I couldn't travel, I couldn't play baseball. You ever know a baseball player who only played home games?" -- Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal, on why he prefers to do his minor league rehabilitation assignment at Albuquerque, which is at home against Iowa, instead of advanced Class A Inland Empire, which is based a few miles away in San Bernardino. As it turned out, he would have had to travel to play for the 66ers anyway, as they are playing at San Jose this week.
Furcal, who has been on the 15-day disabled list since Aug. 11 with a lower-back strain, will play for the Isotopes on Wednesday and Thursday. He tentatively is scheduled to return to the Dodgers' lineup on Friday night against the Giants.
Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw (11-8, 3.01 ERA) has never beaten the Phillies in five career starts against them, but was in position to do so after pitching 6 2/3 solid innings on Aug. 12 at Citizens Bank Park before the Dodgers' bullpen suffered an epic, eight-run meltdown in the final two innings. Phillies right-hander Roy Oswalt (9-13, 3.12), one of a handful of pitchers the Dodgers tried to acquire in the weeks leading up to the July 31 trading deadline, threw seven shutout innings against the Dodgers on Aug. 11, limiting them to five hits. Although Oswalt is 7-3 against the Dodgers in his career, all three of those losses have come at Dodger Stadium.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com