Colletti: Pitching needs to improve
Ned Colletti didn't name any specific pitcher as he was calling out his team's staff on Wednesday for its failure to consistently throw strikes, but the Dodgers general manager didn't really have to. Anyone who had seen the club's first seven games this season knew who the culprits were, and besides, there were so many culprits that Colletti didn't really have time to name them all because manager Joe Torre was waiting to talk to him.
"Our pitching staff has been upside down with walks and falling behind hitters," Colletti said. "You can't continue to pitch behind in the count at this level and expect to get away with it. If you look at rallies late in games, almost always, at the beginning or in the middle of them, there is a walk. I'm not big on statistics, but if you look at 1-0 (counts) versus 0-1, I'm pretty sure you will see a dramatic difference in what hitters do. I'm hopeful that it's just the early part of the season putting us in that position. But it needs to get better, sooner rather than later.''
Some help could be on the way.
Lefty Hong-Chih Kuo will make a minor league rehabilitation start -- he'll pitch one inning -- for Single-A Inland Empire on Thursday against Modesto. If he has no ill effects from that by Friday, he'll make another one sometime over the weekend and possibly be ready for activation when the Dodgers begin a nine-game trip on Tuesday night at Cincinnati.
Ronald Belisario is getting close, too. Colletti went to the Dodgers' spring-training complex in Arizona while the team was in Florida last week so he could get a personal look at Belisario. Colletti said Belisario's arm strength is good but that his slider is still a little raw. That is perfectly normal for a pitcher in his third week of spring training, which Belisario is, in effect. But there also is a chance Belisario could be ready to go sometime during that upcoming trip.
The Dodgers entered play Wednesday night second in the majors, behind only Washington, in walks allowed. Clayton Kershaw had walked 11 in 10 innings by himself, including the first two batters in each of the final two innings he started in Tuesday's home opener. Later in that game, Ramon Ortiz came on to protect a seven-run lead in the seventh and issued a two-out walk that started a three-run Arizona rally.
And Russ Ortiz, who had been brought in to close out Friday night's game at Florida with a six-run lead, issued back-to-back, one-out walks. That meant Joe Torre had to bring in Jonathan Broxton to finish off the game, which in turn meant Broxton wasn't available on Saturday night, which in turn meant Torre had to use struggling set-up man George Sherrill in a save situation Saturday night, which in turn meant Saturday night's game got away.
Furthermore, largely because of their tendency to throw too many balls and hence too many pitches, Dodgers starting pitchers went as long as six innings just twice in the club's first seven games this season.
Colletti went on:
"You can pitch with average stuff, but if you throw strikes, you can win. You can pitch with above-average stuff, but if you don't throw strikes, you're going to struggle."
Although baseball is a results-oriented business, Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly said he isn't as concerned with results as he is about the process, and that if the process is carried out correctly, the results usually take care of themselves. Mattingly said that when asked about second baseman Blake DeWitt, who entered the day hitting a pedestrian .267 but with eight walks in 23 plate appearances contributing to a ridiculous .522 on-base percentage.
What most impresses Mattingly about DeWitt, of course, is the process.
"He has a good eye, and he sees the ball early," Mattingly said. "But I just look at at-bats and the quality of at-bats. The fact he is walking is really an indication that he is up there waiting for a good pitch to hit. I think he feels like he has fouled off some good pitches to hit, too, and that's something we're working on. But the thing we ask everybody to do is have quality at-bats, have an understanding of what a given pitcher can do and have a game plan. Blake, for a young player, even two years ago, had a good idea of what he was trying to do up there, and he has an understanding of the strike zone."
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com