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HELENE ELLIOTT

Dodgers lack punch from one-two pitchers

May 19, 2008|Helene Elliott

Derek Lowe raked his fingers through his hair and stared at the floor, his disappointment evident in the deep slump of his shoulders.

The Dodgers right-hander had stepped up to pitch against the Angels on three days' rest Sunday, giving Brad Penny time to work through some shoulder stiffness, but Lowe got little reward for his efforts.

"Sometimes you've just got to take one for the . . . team and go out there," Lowe said after the Angels pulled away in the middle innings for a 10-2 romp at Angel Stadium.

"Who else was going to pitch? Our guy's going to pitch tomorrow. We had a bullpen game [Saturday]. You're not going to go out there and pitch nine relievers and screw up the whole series.

"So I volunteered to go out there. I'm happy I did it. You play the game to play, not to sit and watch. And obviously it didn't work out too well."

No, it didn't, but it wasn't entirely his fault.

Sometimes a victim of shaky defense behind him and sometimes victimized by pitches that just missed -- notably the 0-and-2 sinker to Mike Napoli that became a three-run home run in the second inning -- Lowe was pummeled for 10 hits and seven earned runs in five innings.

That increased his earned-run average to 5.34. Over his last five starts his ERA is 8.54, on 25 earned runs and 37 hits over 26 1/3 innings. He's winless in his last five starts and in eight of 10 this season.

The numbers for Penny, scheduled to start against the Reds tonight at Dodger Stadium, aren't much better. His ERA is 5.09, but in his last four starts it's 8.34, with 21 earned runs and 26 hits in 22 2/3 innings.

Penny was 16-4 with a 3.03 ERA last season, and Lowe was 12-14 with a 3.88 ERA. They figured to be the cornerstones of Dodgers Manager Joe Torre's pitching staff, and there's some wicked irony in play here.

Pitching for the Marlins in 2003, Penny won his two World Series starts to help beat the Torre-managed Yankees. Lowe, with the Red Sox in 2004, won the clincher of the American League division series over another Yankees team managed by Torre.

Now that they're pitching for Torre instead of against him, they can't win.

"I think everyone's frustrated with the way things are going," Lowe said. "We just have to keep on going and get through this."

Catcher Russell Martin said Lowe had good movement and sink on his fastball and a good changeup, and was throwing his curveball for strikes Sunday. Martin gallantly took the blame for the home run pitch to Napoli, which followed a botched fielder's choice grounder and gave the Angels a 4-0 lead.

"More often than not, if he has the same stuff throughout the year like he had today, he's going to get a lot more wins," Martin said. "It was just a tough day today. A tough day at the office."

There have been too many like it lately for the Dodgers, who dropped 5 1/2 games behind the division-leading Diamondbacks.

"We just need to play better," Torre said. "We need to keep from asking our pitchers to get extra outs.

"It's something we've got to fix. We've got to do a better job. We're capable. We just need to be better at it."

And soon.

The Dodgers starters' ERA is 4.81, 13th in the National League, and the starters have thrown the fewest innings in the NL. They're also tied with Pittsburgh for the fewest quality starts.

It's almost to the point where Penny, Lowe, ace-by-default Chad Billingsley and everyone else will feel they must strike out every batter rather than risk a misplay by an out-of-position infielder or a poor throw by backup catcher Gary Bennett.

First baseman James Loney was charged with throwing errors Saturday and Sunday. Bennett, who committed a throwing error Friday that allowed a run to score, couldn't throw Gary Matthews Jr. out at first Sunday after an eighth-inning wild pitch.

"We haven't been able to kind of stop the bleeding," pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said.

What they're bleeding isn't Dodgers blue.

It's runs. Too many of them in games started by Penny and Lowe.

"These guys are veteran guys. They know how to execute the game plan that they're trying to accomplish and the pitches that they've got to throw in certain situations," Honeycutt said. "Making the right pitch at the right time and stopping innings when they get going -- that's really been the difference so far.

"I expect them to turn it around, but right now they're struggling to stop those innings."

Someone has to.

The other starters have acquitted themselves well. Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda have pitched well and if the Dodgers' biggest problem turns out to be how to fill the fifth spot -- which they seem inclined to do by committee -- they're in good shape.

But they're not, and they won't be until Penny and Lowe can rise above what's happening around them.

--

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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