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HELENE ELLIOTT

It should be getting easier for Dodgers, but it isn't

June 09, 2008|HELENE ELLIOTT

The talk turned to potential versus performance, to knowing when players labeled young by the calendar or by inexperience are held to the same standard as their elders.

"They're just about there," Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti said of the team's core of youngsters.

"They're getting to the point where with their experience you should start to see more than less, not less than more."

Taking that a step further, the Dodgers should be winning more than less, and they're not.

Their 3-1 loss to the Cubs on Sunday left them with a split of their four-game series and without a handle on where they're headed.

They thought they could build on winning the two middle games but were clueless at the plate in being held to four hits Sunday by Cubs starter Jason Marquis, who began the game with a 5.02 earned-run average, and reliever Carlos Marmol, who yielded the Dodgers' only extra-base hit -- an eighth-inning double by Juan Pierre.

"Our young players are no different than anybody else's," Colletti said. "They all have to get to the point where they can focus in and take it pitch by pitch by pitch. We need to do that. And that's going to take time.

"It doesn't crawl at the pace of the San Andreas fault, but it's somewhat like that. If you look at it every day, you're going to say, where's the progress?"

Meanwhile, Brad Penny -- a 16-game winner last season -- went a seventh straight game without a win, giving up three runs and six hits over six innings.

"When you look at the staff," Colletti said, "it's the one mystery to the staff."

The Dodgers don't need mystery, they need progress, and they're not getting it. This is a sub-.500 team that can't use inexperience and the absence of the injured Rafael Furcal as a crutch anymore.

"There's a difference between preparing to play and preparing to win," Colletti said. "As soon as we can transition into preparing to win, that's when you get better."

Now would be a good time to do that.

They've been getting strong performances from their starting pitchers the last few weeks but their offense remains erratic. Colletti and Manager Joe Torre, speaking separately but sounding alike, said too many at-bats aren't being used wisely. They're right.

Getting good pitching and insufficient hitting "has been pretty much our calling card," Torre said.

He added the Dodgers are "certainly better offensively than we've been showing," but we'll have to take his word for that now.

"I think we need to make sure we have the patience to take an at-bat one at a time," he said. "I think frustration sets in, not that that's an excuse. It can't be. We have to go out and play the game and give ourselves a chance to be successful."

The affliction isn't exclusive to the young. "I think it's overall now. We're getting frustrated. We're not having as quality at-bat as we're capable, young or old or whatever," Torre said.

Individually and collectively, they seem to be looking for something to happen. If they don't make it happen, another year will go by with hopes falling and ticket prices rising.

"We're waiting for us to become consistent at what we do and it's not just rallying for five runs late in the game. It's how you play the entire game," Colletti said.

"It's tough to measure against a guy like [Carlos] Zambrano, who's one of the best in the game. But you look back, take the at-bats early in [Saturday's] game, they weren't good at-bats. You say, is there a thought process? And that's got to get better.

"It's part of the process of having young players, especially as many as we do. It's incumbent upon myself, it's incumbent upon Joe, it's incumbent upon the coaching staff to continue to implore them to be as good as they can be and to take every at-bat seriously."

Some players have leaped past the young/old divide. Russell Martin quickly lost the "kid" tag, not that he had it long. Chad Billingsley is developing nicely.

The only divide left is between unproductive and even less productive. After 63 games, no excuses apply anymore. Those who don't learn and improve will be gone -- and if they don't move forward, Colletti could be gone too.

Asked whether his frustration over the long development process would make him more -- or less -- inclined to trade a youngster, he paused.

"I think it's early yet to say that, but it's something that I'm not against doing," he said. "If we get to the point where we can definitively improve ourselves, we'll do it. If it means a young player or two young players, it'll happen. At the same time I can't be rushing to judgment on them or using frustration as my guide, because you can easily get frustrated by watching."

Andre Ethier, hitless in three at-bats Sunday, said the team is "figuring things out here. . . . Things like this will make this team better. Facing the adversity we're facing right now, we have a better chance of being a better team at the end of the season."

He expected today's bus ride to San Diego would be tough. In that respect, it would be like the Dodgers' season -- long, tedious and headed somewhere they don't particularly want to go.

--

Helene Elliott can be reached at helene.elliott@latimes.com.

To read previous columns by Elliott, go to latimes.com/elliott.

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