As the Dodgers desperately seek a role for Orel Hershiser, a pitcher they viewed as heroic 12 years ago and as viable as recently as Monday morning, every-other-day starter no longer appears to be an option.
Hershiser, 41, pitched abysmally on a day's rest. He also pitched briefly.
The San Diego Padres scored eight runs in the second inning against Hershiser and defeated the Dodgers, 9-5, before 26,417 at Dodger Stadium.
Two days after he started and threw 26 pitches in a game at St. Louis that was delayed by rain, Hershiser was as wild as he was hittable. As a result, the Dodgers lost their fifth consecutive game, a season high, and are closer to the last-place Padres than the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks.
In an inning that stood with the worst in his 18-year career, Hershiser gave up six hits and two walks. He hit a batter, threw a wild pitch and had his ERA plump to 13.14. Bret Boone had two hits and five RBIs in the inning, on a two-run homer and a three-run double.
After an unremarkable first inning, Hershiser recorded two outs in the second--he struck out opposing pitcher Brian Meadows, and center fielder Todd Hollandsworth robbed Ed Sprague of a home run.
Little else went Hershiser's way.
When he threw the last of his 54 pitches--30 missed the strike zone--and as Manager Davey Johnson came to get him, Hershiser stood on the mound with his arms crossed, chatting calmly with catcher Todd Hundley.
By the time Johnson arrived, 11 batters into that second inning, Hershiser's lips were taut and white. He shook his head and put the ball in Johnson's hand. As he walked to the dugout, Hershiser appeared to carry every ounce of the eight-run inning on his shoulders.
Even the ardent boos turned sympathetically to cheers, half-hearted as they might have been. In the throes of Hershiser's struggles, the boos were loud and pointed.
His glove still affixed to his left hand, Hershiser plopped down on the dugout bench. Every man in the dugout rose up and gathered near Hershiser, and he received their touches, their words, with a shake of his head.
"I've had some sad days," Johnson said. "Today really tugged at your heart strings, to see Orel struggle like that. It's been hard on him, and it's been just as tough on me.
"It was not fun."
A composed Hershiser was discouraged by the outing, but not without perspective.
"Hopefully, there will be a next time and we'll go out there and try to make adjustments. We'll lay it on the line again.
"I need to get my act together."
The complications of an ineffective Hershiser run deep. There is little for the Dodgers to rely on in their minor leagues, and the club has yet to pay for its indiscretions of May 16 at Wrigley Field. Carlos Perez, Darren Dreifort, Chan Ho Park and Eric Gagne were suspended by league whip Frank Robinson, and the results of their appeals are not yet known.
Bottom line, the Dodgers are in no condition to jettison pitchers. Indeed, many in the organization believe Hershiser (1-5) requires more work, not less.
"I couldn't imagine myself playing at 41," Hundley said. "I give him all the credit in the world for being able to do this at his age."
He said he is convinced Hershiser is in a fixable slump, and not in something that threatens his career.
"The ball is moving everywhere," Hundley said. "It's just a matter of throwing strikes. I faced him last year--nasty."
Perez pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Hershiser, just as he did against St. Louis. He gave up two singles. In between, he retired eight consecutive batters.
The Dodgers, however, were unable to muster much of a comeback against Meadows (6-5), who won for the second time since May 14.
He gave up a leadoff home run in the first inning to Todd Hollandsworth, a sacrifice fly by Gary Sheffield in the fifth and Alex Cora's first big-league home run in the seventh.
The homer pulled the Dodgers to within 8-3, but that second inning had put the Padres out of reach.