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Loss reveals Dodgers' big issue: Rotation, rotation, rotation

MILWAUKEE 6, DODGERS 3

Jeff Weaver struggles in place of injured fifth starter Eric Milton, who could be out for season. Team's post-break rotation plans are in flux, and in-house options appear limited.

July 12, 2009|DYLAN HERNANDEZ

MILWAUKEE — On the tentative schedule laying out the Dodgers' rotation after the All-Star break, Randy Wolf is penciled in for the first game and Chad Billingsley the second.

For the fifth game, there isn't a name but a number: 5.

"It certainly is an issue at this point in time," Manager Joe Torre said.

Why that is was evident Saturday night, when Jeff Weaver lasted only 3 1/3 innings in a 6-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park that cut the Dodgers' lead over San Francisco in the NL West to six games.

Weaver ventured out of the bullpen on this evening to take the place of fifth starter Eric Milton, who could be headed for season-ending surgery to repair a herniated disk.

The Dodgers fell behind immediately, as Craig Counsell tripled to right in the first inning. He scored when Ryan Braun hit a grounder to short, where Rafael Furcal fielded it and threw home, the ball arriving well ahead of Counsell -- only for it to go through the legs of catcher Russell Martin. Braun, who reached second on the error charged to Furcal, was driven in on a single by Prince Fielder to increase the Dodgers' deficit to 2-0.

The margin doubled in the fourth, which Frank Catalanotto led off with a home run to right.

Weaver threw 74 pitches and was charged with four runs (two earned) and six hits. A bullpen overburdened by the inability of the starters to pitch deep into games -- staff ace Billingsley has pitched seven or more innings in only three of his last eight starts and Wolf in none of his last eight -- was burdened even more.

A two-run home run by Furcal and a solo shot by Andre Ethier in the fifth closed the gap to 4-3, but the Dodgers didn't get any closer than that.

The subject of what the Dodgers might do to replace Milton on a permanent basis dominated the postgame conversations.

Milton was already on the disabled list with what some suspected might be a phantom injury designed to create a roster spot when he went out for a run in the outfield at Citi Field in New York on Thursday and came down with a real back problem. He underwent an MRI exam the next day, which revealed the herniated disk.

The 33-year-old left-hander, who missed the previous two seasons recovering from an elbow operation, is to be examined in Los Angeles on Monday. Whether Dr. Robert Watkins recommends rest or surgery, Milton isn't expected back any time soon.

Asked about possibly acquiring a starter by the non-waiver trade deadline July 31, General Manager Ned Colletti said, "You can't force it a priority." He added that his main goal was to land a late-inning reliever.

Because so many teams are still playoff contenders -- only 4 1/2 games separate first place from fifth in the NL Central -- Colletti said it's hard to determine which teams will be buying and which will be selling.

The Dodgers are looking at top-of-the-line starters such as Roy Halladay of Toronto and Cliff Lee of Cleveland, but trading for either of them will be costly.

Among the Dodgers' in-house options:

* Weaver, who is probably headed back to being a long reliever, as Torre has repeatedly called him a calming influence of a young bullpen.

* Rookie James McDonald, who won the job in spring training, only to post an 8.48 earned-run average in four April starts.

* Jason Schmidt, who hasn't pitched in the majors in more than two years. Schmidt's immediate future could be determined by how he pitches today in a rehabilitation start for triple-A Albuquerque.

* Eric Stults, who has spent the last three-plus years shuttling back and forth between triple A and the majors. Pitching for Albuquerque on Saturday, he gave up two runs and five hits in six innings at Memphis.

"We have candidates and opportunities," Colletti said.

--

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

--

DODGERS TODAY

AT MILWAUKEE

When: 11 a.m. PDT.

Where: Miller Park.

On the air: TV: Channel 9; Radio: 790, 930.

Pitchers: Clayton Kershaw vs. Yovani Gallardo.

Update: Kershaw has settled down in recent weeks; the 21-year-old left-hander is 3-0 with a 0.61 earned-run average over his last five starts, all Dodgers victories. Kershaw ranks third in the majors with a .204 opponents' batting average and fifth in the National League with 9.13 strikeouts per nine innings. He was outstanding in his last start, tossing six scoreless innings Tuesday in an 8-0 win over the Mets. Gallardo was hit hard the same night, giving up four runs, six hits and five walks in five innings against St. Louis. He has never faced the Dodgers.

-- Dylan Hernandez

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