Tim Belcher, last year the exclamation point to the Dodgers' pitching staff but more recently a question mark, quieted some doubts Monday night.
Before a Dodger Stadium crowd of 32,600, Belcher ended the Chicago Cubs' five-game winning streak with a 3-1 complete-game victory.
Relying on breaking balls, Belcher gave up only five singles in a tidy 2 hours 8 minutes--the Dodgers' fastest game of the season--and was only tested once, when the Cubs scored in the eighth.
It was Belcher's first complete game since May 1 and with any luck it could have been his first shutout since early April. One oddity of Belcher's 110-pitch performance was he had only one strikeout.
But the pitcher who battled for the National League strikeout lead and had eight shutouts a year ago was 1-4 in his last five starts, and was happy to improve to 6-6.
"My fastball is just not there yet. I'm working on my arm strength," Belcher said. "Location, location, location--that more than anything. I had good control, I stayed ahead of the hitters. I made good pitches to their good hitters."
The Dodgers took a 3-0 lead after three innings against Jeff Pico (4-1), but didn't make the most of their scoring opportunities.
Lenny Harris, Chris Gwynn and Kal Daniels led off the Dodger first inning with consecutive, hard-hit singles to score one run, and with one out Hubie Brooks singled to score another. But Rick Dempsey grounded into a double play to end the inning.
The third inning started similarly, Gwynn opening with another line-drive single and Eddie Murray hitting a one-out double to put runners on second and third. Brooks was walked intentionally to load the bases, and Dempsey followed with a broken-bat grounder to first baseman Mark Grace. Grace bobbled the ball and any chance for a double play, getting the out at first while Gwynn scored what turned out to be the Dodgers' last run.
"They were getting good hacks," Pico said. "I was trying to keep 3-0 from becoming 5-0. The way Belcher was throwing, three was enough for him."
Belcher, who has acknowledged having a tired arm lately, came into the game with a 4.28 earned-run average--the highest in the rotation. But he breezed through the early innings, facing the minimum through four and not giving up a hit until Luis Salazar singled with two out in the fifth.
"He's a real pitcher," Cub shortstop Shawon Dunston said. "I know they say he's not throwing hard, but it looked like 95 (m.p.h.) to me. We were sitting on the bench saying, 'Damn.' "
The Cubs mounted a minor threat in the seventh. With one out, Grace and Dawson reached on a walk and a single, moving into scoring position on a groundout to first. But Belcher got Salazar on a popup to end the inning.
Belcher survived a tougher test in the eighth. Dunston led off with a grounder that third baseman Lenny Harris, who made several excellent fielding plays, speared. But this time Harris pulled Murray off the bag with an off-balance throw and Dunston had an infield single. Girardi followed with a grounder that skipped past Harris.
Belcher walked Dwight Smith to load the bases. That brought up Ryne Sandberg, and resulted in a mound consultation with pitching coach Ron Perranoski. Sandberg ended the shutout with a sacrifice fly, but Belcher retired Grace to escape with minimal damage.
"For (Perranoski) to let me stay out there was really a confidence builder," Belcher said.
Said catcher Rick Dempsey of Belcher: "He was real sharp. He made a great pitch to Sandberg. Tonight was a good indicator we might have him back to his form of last year."
Belcher worked a perfect ninth.
"It looked to me like he got stronger as the game went on," Sandberg said.
As expected, the Dodgers activated left-handed reliever Ray Searage and optioned Jim Poole to double-A San Antonio. Another spot on the staff opened when reliever Don Aase was placed on the 21-day disabled list because of rotator cuff tendinitis. In his place, the Dodgers called up left-hander Terry Wells, who was acquired from Houston for Franklin Stubbs April 1. Wells, 26, was 7-3 at triple-A Albuquerque after a spotty six-year minor league career and is the latest contender for the fifth starting spot. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Wells will start tonight against the Cubs, pushing Fernando Valenzuela to Wednesday and Ramon Martinez to Thursday. That makes it unlikely Martinez will pitch again before the All-Star break, making him a candidate to pitch in Tuesday's All-Star game in Chicago.
Fred Claire, Dodger executive vice president, said of the rotation change: "It had absolutely nothing to do with the All-Star game. We wanted to get out of (the four-man rotation) as soon as possible. We were considering starting Tim Crews, but when Aase couldn't pitch (Sunday) we had to use Tim in that game. Wells has pitched well his last two starts."
Outfielder Kirk Gibson and catcher Mike Scioscia were out of Monday's lineup because of sore legs. Stan Javier was sidelined with a jammed left index finger.