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Torre has seen this too many times

May 17, 2008|Helene Elliott

Joe Torre changed teams and changed coasts, but he's still bedeviled by the Angels.

Returning to Anaheim on Friday as the manager of the Dodgers, Torre experienced many of the same indignities the Angels inflicted on his Yankees teams during his tenure in New York.

From 1996 through 2007, the Angels were the only American League team to compile a winning record against Torre's Yankees, going 61-55 in the regular season and adding playoff wins in the 2002 and 2005 division series.

The Angels gave Torre more from the same small-ball menu Friday and capitalized on a bizarre throwing error by Dodgers backup catcher Gary Bennett for a 4-2 victory, leaving the Dodgers 1-9 against the Angels in Anaheim since 2005.

The Dodgers have committed 15 errors in those 10 games and have averaged only about two runs, so at least they were true to their Orange County form Friday.

They had won their previous eight games against left-handers, but Joe Saunders put an end to that.

"He looked like he was having an easy time doing what he was doing until the base hit and the home run," Torre said, referring to James Loney's single and Andre Ethier's two-run shot in the seventh.

"It just looked like he was putting the ball where he wanted to. We really didn't put any pressure on him."

In a strange game played on a warm night that felt more like July than May -- and in front of a sellout crowd of 44,047 whose loyalties seemed evenly divided -- the Angels scored with two out in the fourth when Bennett couldn't corral a swinging third strike to Erick Aybar and threw the ball well over the head of first baseman Loney and into right field.

Bennett, who also should have caught the second of two wild pitches charged to starter Hiroki Kuroda in the bottom of the seventh, was catching because Gold Glove catcher Russell Martin was playing third while Blake DeWitt worked out some muscle tightness in his back.

Martin is capable of playing third, but Torre is playing him there too often and his lack of experience is showing.

Martin's throw home on Vladimir Guerrero's fielder's choice grounder in the seventh wasn't great -- Martin wasn't set when he unleashed it -- but Bennett couldn't handle it and the run scored.

The only catcher who could have handled it was Martin, and being in two places at once is asking too much even of him.

It may be time to summon Andy LaRoche to play third and tell Martin to turn in his third baseman's glove for a while.

The Dodgers are more than a quarter of the way into this season and they're still scrambling for consistency.

The only consistency they're getting from cleanup hitter Jeff Kent and outfielder Andruw Jones is consistent outs.

Kent, hitless in four at-bats (two of them taking called third strikes), is two for 33 in his last 10 games. Jones, the designated hitter Friday, was hitless in four at-bats, dropping his batting average to .176.

If the Dodgers had hoped his home run Thursday at Milwaukee would trigger a rebirth, their illusions were shattered by his performance Friday, which included looking at a third strike with a runner in scoring position in the eighth inning.

He's 0 for his last 28 with runners in scoring position.

Ouch.

Asked before the game how long the Dodgers would keep Jones in the lineup, General Manager Ned Colletti offered that the man he signed to a two-year, $36-million free agent contract last winter despite a .222 batting average last season had been better "lately."

That better stretch didn't last long.

"Joe and I talk about everybody all the time and Joe's rested him from time to time, trying to clear his head," Colletti said. "The pressure that mounts, it's almost equal to the mechanical adjustments he needs to make.

"You're not going to be able to get back the first five weeks of the season, no matter what we try to do. Trying to make up for that just isn't going to happen. He's got to be fundamentally sounder at the plate, and relax and play."

Colletti's assessment of his team over the first quarter of the season centered on pitching, specifically the starters.

"I wish we were more consistent on the good side. I wish we had pitched better," he said.

"A lot of your bullpen's success really comes from the starters' success, giving you six, seven innings most nights, and if you have a good bullpen you have a chance to maintain it. If they start going five or 4 1/3 or 5 1/3 , you're going to run into some difficulty at some point of the year."

The Dodgers' loss Friday wasn't Kuroda's fault. He gave up seven hits and three earned runs over 6 1/3 innings, walking two and striking out five.

"I'm not going to lay it all at the pitching staff's feet," Colletti said. "But most teams that win a lot of games, it starts with pitching."

The evening ended with the Angels' customary "Big Bang Friday" pyrotechnics show lighting up the skies and the final minutes of the Lakers' elimination of the Utah Jazz on the video screen. But for the Dodgers, the ending was more like a whimper.

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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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