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Can't Use Staff to Lean On

Dodgers: Much of recent slide can be blamed on starting pitchers Ashby, Daal and Perez, who have struggled since All-Star break.

July 20, 2002|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The struggling Dodger offense has deservedly received much of the blame for the club's latest slide with a National League playoff berth at stake.

The pitching staff has gotten off easier, though maybe it shouldn't.

Starters Andy Ashby, Omar Daal and Odalis Perez have not maintained the impressive form that helped make the Dodgers one of the major leagues' biggest first-half surprises, requiring Hideo Nomo and Kazuhisa Ishii to shoulder more responsibility.

Nomo experienced the pressure of playoff races in his first stint in Los Angeles and Ishii brought a big-game reputation from Japan, so the Dodgers have reason for optimism on that front.

Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort are making progress recovering from surgeries, encouraging some in the organization to believe they might be activated in August.

And Manager Jim Tracy, with the club having two more days off in July, can shuffle the rotation to give the most tired pitchers extra rest.

Ishii had another effective outing Friday night, giving up two runs in six innings, but he did not get the decision as the Dodgers struggled again, losing to the San Francisco Giants, 3-2, in 12 innings at Dodger Stadium.

"The pitching staff, collectively, has carried us all year, and that's something you have to keep in mind," catcher Paul Lo Duca said. "Ash and Odalis are just in little ruts right now, but they're healthy, and I think Omar will be fine too.

"It's just that now we're going the second time around the league, and it's about making adjustments. But you've also got to look at the fact that we're on the verge of getting Dreif and Brownie back soon, and that's going to be a key."

Of course, the Dodgers don't know what to expect from Dreifort, coming off reconstructive elbow surgery for the second time in six years, or Brown, sidelined most of the last two seasons because of injuries and rehabilitating from surgery for a herniated disk. General Manager Dan Evans is trying to add a power setup man to help closer Eric Gagne, baseball officials on other teams said, but the Dodgers are not expected to acquire another starter.

The Dodgers said the group has gotten them this far, and they're going to stick with what has worked for most of the season.

"Our pitching has been pretty good, and we're built on pitching, so we're not looking at this [nine]-game string and discounting what happened the previous 85 or 90 games. It's just not the way things work," Evans said. "This is exactly why we didn't build the club around offense, because offense is unpredictable and cyclical. Offense goes into slumps."

Apparently, pitchers do too.

The staff was riding high, going 54-34 with a 3.56 earned-run average before the All-Star break.

The group's ERA rose to 5.22 during the recent rough stretch, with the starters causing most of the problems at 6.04.

Ashby, Daal and Perez have been especially ineffective in July.

Ashby, who missed most of last season after having elbow surgery, is 0-2 with a 6.48 ERA in three starts. Perez is 1-2 with an 8.27 ERA, and Daal 1-2 with a 7.36 ERA.

The Dodgers are confident that Ashby, Daal and Perez, who has established a personal best with a team-high 139 1/3 innings, will catch their second wind.

"A lot of that is mental," said Dave Wallace, a team vice president and former pitching coach. "At some point, after you've been in the big leagues for a while, you have to [just deal with it].

"That's not to say if you have a chance you don't, where days off permit, maybe skip one of 'em, which we've done before. But you're getting to the tough time of year, and this is when you find out."

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