Lance Cormier not properly equipped
Reliever, who hasn't gotten consistent work, gives up winning hit in ninth to Giants
LOS ANGELES -- That was Lance Cormier taking the walk of shame Wednesday night, getting a boo shower as he walked from the mound to the dugout after the top of the ninth inning.
That was Cormier who had just given up a three-run homer to Cody Ross, wasting a stirring comeback by the Los Angeles Dodgers and sticking them with an 8-5 loss to Ross' San Francisco Giants before 30,421 at Dodger Stadium.
That was Cormier standing at his locker, dutifully answering questions from the handful of reporters about how he let this game get away.
Still, there is a question here of fairness.
Even in an increasingly depleted bullpen, one that already has three key guys on the disabled list and a fourth who isn't available and might be headed there, Cormier hasn't been able to get work of late. The reason, at least the official one given by manager Don Mattingly, is that Cormier is the long guy, and there hasn't been much of a need for a long guy, at least not since he gave up a total of seven runs in back-to-back outings April 14-15.
Since then, Mattingly has taken a don't-call-us-we'll-call-you approach with Cormier, and those calls have gone out exactly four times -- April 22, nine days after that on May 1, nine days after that on May 10 and, finally, eight days after that on Wednesday.
It was perfectly understandable that Cormier was the guy Mattingly had out there in the top of the eighth, with the punchless Dodgers trailing by a seemingly insurmountable three runs, bringing him in to get the final out after Mike MacDougal couldn't get through his one inning. But was it so understandable that Cormier was the guy who went back out for the ninth after the Dodgers had scratched out three runs in their half of the eighth, the final one on a two-out RBI single by much-maligned first baseman James Loney against previously invincible Giants closer Brian Wilson?
"All that is, is an excuse," Cormier said. "I had gotten the last out with a ground ball the inning before that. The next inning, I got a couple more ground balls. But I hung a curveball [to Ross], and he did that with it. I want to be out there for sure, no matter what inning it is or what the score is. I'm out there battling."
As reporters crowded into his cramped office after the game, Mattingly was quizzed on two aspects of his choice to pitch the ninth inning.
First, there was the choice itself. The Dodgers basically were down to four available relievers, and Cormier was the last one. Vicente Padilla was down for the second night in a row because of tightness in his forearm, and there was no additional word after the game following Padilla's meeting with a doctor beforehand. Rookie Kenley Jansen had pitched in four of the previous five games on this homestand. And Matt Guerrier, who had pitched a perfect ninth for his first save of the season on Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Brewers, had pitched each of the previous two days.
No Dodgers reliever had worked on three consecutive days this season, but Guerrier -- who worked on three consecutive days three times last season with the Minnesota Twins and was among the American League's appearance leaders each of the last four years -- said after the game he was ready if needed.
"We didn't want to use him," Mattingly said. "But if we had gotten a lead [in the eighth], we would have tried it [in the ninth]."
Second, Mattingly was asked if Cormier might be better suited to such situations if he were used more often than, say, once every 10 days.
"We try to," Mattingly said. "But the games we have been playing, there just hasn't been that spot. We got him into that game in Pittsburgh [a 10-3 win on May 10], but we have been playing one-run games. At that point, his role hasn't really been called for. We would like to get him regular work, but the games determine how we use him and when we use him."
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Actually, ultimately, it is Mattingly, with input from pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, who determines how and when Cormier is used. This is just the spot they have pigeonholed him into for the moment, and yes, it is a consequence of how ineffective Cormier was early on after making the team as a non-roster invitee to spring training.
Still, Cormier, a veteran right-hander who now has a ghastly 10.03 ERA in eight appearances, was a key part of a rock-solid Tampa Bay Rays bullpen over the last two seasons. He also had pitched adequately in those few-and-far-between outings since those back-to-back blowups in mid-April. He is on the team, taking up a roster spot and $800,000 of the payroll, so maybe Mattingly ought to consider using him once in a while.
There was no shortage of reasons for second-guessing after this one, culminating in the fact it was Ross -- a guy the Dodgers dumped in 2006 because they didn't have room for him in an outfield of J.D. Drew in right, Kenny Lofton in center and a platoon of Ricky Ledee and Jose Cruz Jr. in left, a guy who was the Most Valuable Player of last year's National League Championship Series -- who delivered the big blow.
But even if he wasn't about to admit it, it was a tough spot for Cormier in which to be. And now, especially at a time when the bullpen is so short, it is within Mattingly's power to make sure the next time something like this comes up, Cormier is better equipped for it.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.