Jonathan Broxton blows another save
The Dodgers' on-again, off-again closer struggles once again late in the game
LOS ANGELES -- Jonathan Broxton was given a chance on Saturday night to remind everyone of what he used to be. Instead, all Broxton did was remind everyone of what he isn't anymore.
And why he apparently won't be that again anytime soon.
In an all-too-predictable ninth inning, the former Los Angeles Dodgers closer was brought in to reprise the role he lost three weeks ago. His charge was to protect not only a one-run lead over the San Francisco Giants, but also whatever faint flicker of hope the Dodgers still had of getting back into the hunt for a playoff spot.
Instead, Broxton fell behind in the count to each of the first three batters. The second of those, Cody Ross, reached on an infield single. The third, Juan Uribe, hit a two-run homer to center field, sticking the Dodgers with another in a long line of gut-wrenching defeats this season -- most of which have involved, in one way or another, Broxton -- this time 5-4 to the Giants before 48,220 at Dodger Stadium.
Broxton came on after Hong-Chih Kuo, the closest thing to a closer the Dodgers presently have, retired both of the batters he faced in the eighth to escape a jam and strand the tying run in scoring position. Kuo also had pitched a perfect ninth inning on Friday night, recording his eighth save in the process. Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who normally is loathe to use Kuo and his historically gimpy left arm on consecutive days, wasn't about to further tempt fate by bringing him back for another inning.
So instead, Torre tempted fate by bringing in Broxton.
"Kuo is our closer, but if the game dictates that we need him to pitch in the eighth inning, that is what we'll do," Torre said. "We're trying to win every game, and the eighth inning called for Kuo with [left-handed-hitting first baseman Aubrey] Huff coming up. Once we did that, it took him out of play for the ninth inning."
Broxton (5-5) might have taken himself out of play for the ninth inning for the forseeable future. When Torre announced the day after Broxton's four-run, ninth-inning implosion at Philadelphia on Aug. 12 that he would choose his closer on a case-by-case basis depending on the situation, he did allow for the possibility that there still would be days when Broxton best fit the role.
But after this latest blowup -- which might have been the final nail for the fourth-place Dodgers (69-67), leaving them eight games behind the division-leading San Diego Padres in the National League West and nine behind the Philadelphia Phillies for the wild card -- Torre hinted that Broxton and the ninth inning are just too combustible a mix right now.
"Let's put it this way, I would like to have an opportunity to stick him in a game when you can use him a little bit earlier," Torre said. "I felt like it was a no-brainer for me to stick him out there in that situation. Hopefully, we can get a chance to use him earlier in a game when he can start trying to get that feeling back."
Broxton's ERA for the second half now stands at 7.27.
"He is just going to have to work through this," Torre said. "His velocity was normal, but a lot of his counts were bad. He just isn't as confident as he needs to be."
Broxton denied that he was having a crisis of confidence, but he said it in a way that smacked of whistling past the graveyard.
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"[My confidence] is fine," he said. "I just made one mistake, and I paid for it."
The Dodgers paid for it, too. They have been paying dearly for Broxton's mistakes for quite a while now, and Torre didn't sound eager to pay for another one anytime soon.
Jay Gibbons, the veteran outfielder who hadn't played in the majors since 2007 before the Dodgers purchased his contract from Triple-A Albuquerque on Aug. 8, got a rare start and hit what looked like -- and should have been -- a clincher of a three-run homer off Matt Cain in the fourth inning, capping a four-run rally to give the Dodgers a 4-0 lead.
Gibbons is now hitting .345 with three homers and nine RBIs in 19 games for the Dodgers, this on the heels of a Pacific Coast League season in which he hit .347 with 28 doubles, 19 homers, 83 RBIs and a .375 on-base percentage. Although hindsight makes it easy to second-guess, it begs the question of why the Dodgers waited so long to bring him up, especially when his numbers are compared to those of Garret Anderson, the guy he replaced.
At any rate, Gibbons conceded he is looking at the rest of the season as a tryout of sorts for 2011, when he would love to begin the season with the Dodgers.
"I'm trying to finish strong here," Gibbons said. "When I do get in there, I'm trying to have good at-bats. I live here so obviously my choice would be to keep playing here."
Dodgers first baseman James Loney hit his 36th double of the season leading off the sixth inning, surpassing his previous career high of 35 set two years ago. But Loney made a costly baserunning gaffe on the play that might have cost the Dodgers a run. On a ball hit into the right-field corner, Loney tried for a triple, but after rounding second, he fell down, then tried to scramble back to the bag but was tagged out.
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Casey Blake followed with a sharp single through the left side that probably would have scored Loney, from either second or third.
Quote of the day
"If the team doesn't win very often." -- Torre, in response to being asked whether left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo could be a full-time closer despite his history of injuries and Torre's reluctance to use him on consecutive days.
Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (10-11, 3.39) will be making his first start since taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning on Monday night against the Philadelphia Phillies in his best start of the season. He will be facing the Giants for the first time this year. Giants left-hander Jonathan Sanchez (9-8, 3.54) is 0-5 in nine career starts against the Dodgers, with a 6.25 ERA.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.