Clayton Kershaw gets little support
Dodgers' makeshift lineup struggles as team's ace can't do enough to beat Marlins
MIAMI -- The statement was rather ambivalent, clearly not meant in a critical way because Don Mattingly, a players' manager to the core, is never critical of his players publicly. If anything, it was meant as a compliment. But in summing up the performance of staff ace Clayton Kershaw after his Los Angeles Dodgers' latest defeat, this time 4-2 to the Florida Marlins before 12,150 on Tuesday night at Sun Life Stadium, Mattingly also summed up, perhaps inadvertently, what it is like to be a starting pitcher for the Dodgers these days.
"I think, sometimes, Clayton thinks he has to throw zeroes up all night," Mattingly said.
Kershaw wasn't very sharp, especially in a sixth inning he wouldn't make it through. He gave up six hits over 5 1/3 innings, the final one a bases-loaded single by slugger Mike Stanton that drove in two runs, breaking a 2-2 tie and giving the Marlins all the runs they would need. Kershaw also walked two of the final three batters he faced, which was enough to bring Mattingly out with the hook.
Still, there was no denying the overwhelming feeling as Kershaw walked dejectedly off the field: the Dodgers were done for the evening. Not only did they have no chance of overcoming a sudden two-run deficit, they weren't likely to even mount much of a challenge.
First baseman James Loney would eventually lead off the ninth inning with a bloop single to right-center off Marlins closer Leo Nunez, capping a 4-for-4 performance that could signify Loney finally is about to break out of the funk he seemingly has been in since last year's All-Star break. But he would be the Dodgers' only baserunner over those final three innings.
There is no denying the Dodgers' offense has been vastly improved of late, the team averaging 3.3 runs through its first 16 games this season and 4.9 over its past 10. But at a time when shortstop Rafael Furcal is on the 15-day disabled list because of a broken thumb, second baseman Juan Uribe has been out for at least the past four games and isn't expected back Wednesday because of an upper left thigh injury, and third baseman Casey Blake has been out for two games and also isn't expected back Wednesday because of several ailments, this is a makeshift lineup with an ability to completely stall out against the right pitching staff.
The Marlins, who began the day with the third-best record in the National League and a better one than anybody in the American League, had the right pitching staff.
"That is what I always try to do," Kershaw said in response to Mattingly's comment. "That is my mentality. I don't think it's a detriment. That is what I'm supposed to do."
In theory, yes. But in the three games Kershaw (2-3) has lost this season, the Dodgers have scored a total of four runs. And really, given the lineup they threw out there against the Marlins' Chris Volstad and three relievers, it isn't hard to understand why.
Loney's four hits got his average up over .200 (.204) for the first time since he went 1-for-4 on Opening Day. Andre Ethier's first-inning RBI double ran his hitting streak to 23 games, the longest in the history of baseball in April. Jerry Sands hit his fifth double in nine games as a big leaguer.
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Beyond that, though, the Dodgers didn't get a lot of production from a lineup that has Aaron Miles (.263 on-base percentage) in the leadoff spot and overmatched rookie Ivan DeJesus Jr. (.150 average, nine strikeouts in 21 plate appearances) batting ahead of the pitcher.
"I feel like we're going to score some runs," Mattingly said. "But really, looking at the way it is right now, basically, we have three guys who started off as utility guys playing on our infield. When you're sitting there with Fookie and Casey and Juan out of the lineup, we have to try to scratch and get our runs here and there. They were able to shut Matt [Kemp] down. There is no way [Kemp and Ethier] are going to keep up the pace they have going. So we have to hit around them.
"We have to find a way until, hopefully, we get back to full strength."
The Dodgers (12-13), who fell into third place in the National League West and five games behind the division-leading Colorado Rockies, are treading water right now. And on an evening when Kershaw was far from perfect, that effectively left them without much of a chance.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.