CINCINNATI — Disturbing as it must be, the resumption of Fernando Valenzuela's pitching slump Saturday night did not throw the Dodgers into a state of depression.
A half-inning after enduring Valenzuela's worst outing--four runs, coming on three home runs, in just two-thirds of an inning--in what has been his worst season, the Dodgers rebounded to take the lead with a five-run second inning. Aided by superb pitching from four relievers, they went on to secure a 6-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds before 35,470 fans at Riverfront Stadium.
So, by the end of an unconventional game, the first-place Dodgers had forged to a season-high 3 1/2 games ahead of the Houston Astros in the National League West, and all--or almost all--appeared right in their little world.
The Dodgers even received good news about second baseman Steve Sax, who fouled a ball off the outside of his left ankle and was taken to a local hospital for X-rays, which showed no broken bones.
Long reliever Brian Holton was given the win for having thrown one pitch in the first inning, and short reliever Jesse Orosco was credited with the save for throwing one pitch in the ninth.
In between, Tim Crews pitched four scoreless innings but was denied the win because Holton was still the pitcher of record when the Dodgers took the lead, and Alejandro Pena had thrown 3 scoreless innings but fell one out short of a save when Manager Tom Lasorda summoned Orosco.
However, eight innings of excellence from the bullpen does not diminish the severity of Valenzuela's pitching difficulties, which resurfaced after three previous solid starts.
For those who thought Valenzuela could not pitch any worse than his 5-run, 1-inning effort against New York on May 22 or his 4-run, 2-inning effort against the Reds on June 3, he barely had time to break a sweat in the 97-degree heat before he was yanked.
Barry Larkin, the first hitter Valenzuela faced, hit a 3-and-1 fastball into the second deck in left field for a 1-0 lead, increasing the swiftness of Lasorda's pacing in the dugout.
A walk and an out later, Eric Davis smashed a high screwball well over the 375-foot sign in left-center for his 12th home run to make it 3-0. Holton ran to the bullpen and commenced warming up.
After Nick Esasky grounded out, Paul O'Neill launched a shot down the right-field line that might have landed in the second deck had the ball not hit the foul pole. It was a home run, nonetheless, giving the Reds a 4-0 lead. That necessitated a visit to the mound by pitching coach Ron Perranoski, who opted to stay with Valenzuela.
Consecutive singles by Lloyd McClendon and Dave Concepcion finally brought about Valenzuela's removal after he had faced 8 batters, throwing 35 pitches.
Holton needed only one pitch to retire Red pitcher Jose Rijo for the third out. Then, showing a sense of symmetry, the Dodgers knocked out Rijo in the second inning to take a 5-4 lead. Mike Marshall's two-run single and RBI singles by Dave Anderson and pinch-hitter Danny Heep highlighted the Dodger assault.
"I'm not talking about Fernando," said Perranoski, chiding reporters before they asked him a question. "It was too positive a game for that."
Valenzuela, however, was willing to talk about what went wrong, though he really didn't provide much insight. He, too, seems baffled by his glaring inconsistency.
"They hit the ball pretty good, and I was behind the hitters all night," Valenzuela said. "I was behind the hitters and I had to come back and throw strikes. Like the one time (against Larkin), I was 3-and-1 and I try to throw strikes. And I don't want to walk the first hitter."
So, instead, he gives up a home run.
"What can I say, it's a bad day," Valenzuela said.
With every poor outing, the talk starts again about the state of Valenzuela's left shoulder and elbow. But, as always, Valenzuela pronouncd himself fit. He said he felt good in the bullpen beforehand and, because of the hot and humid weather, had no problem warming up.
"It's all right," Valenzuela said. "My arm feels fine. Like I said, the only problem is I'm staying behind the hitters, and that's the difference. But we won the game, and that's all that matters."
The Dodgers were easily able to ignore--or, at least, block out--thoughts of Valenzuela's dismal performance. It is not as if they expect him to be hit hard every outing, it's just that it's not surprising when it does happen.
"The only thing we were thinking was that at least it's happening early, so we have the whole game to come back," Marshall said. "We knew that if our relief pitching holds up and we score some runs, we can win the game."
The offense totaled 6 runs and 10 hits off 6 Red pitchers. Dodger relievers, meanwhile, were more effective.
Even Holton had to laugh about being awarded the win--on a rule-book technicality--after forcing Rijo to hit a nubber to catcher Mike Scioscia.
"It was a good pitch," Holton said, trying to keep a straight face. "A curveball."