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Dodgers 'pen falls on its sword in defeat

Relievers cough up go-ahead run in seventh and two insurance runs in the eighth inning of 6-3 loss to Marlins, throwing a spotlight an a troublesome area for the team.

July 25, 2009|KEVIN BAXTER

Fewer than seven shopping days remain until baseball's trade deadline. And if you're wondering what's on the Dodgers' wish list, Friday's 6-3 loss to the Florida Marlins provided a not-so-subtle hint.

Think pitching. Specifically in the bullpen, where a mostly young group of Dodgers relievers are beginning to show their age.

After getting another solid outing from emerging ace Clayton Kershaw, who gave up three or fewer runs for the 13th consecutive start, the Dodgers watched relievers James McDonald and Brent Leach cough up the go-ahead run, and the team's five-game win streak, in a span of five batters.

And an inning later Ramon Troncoso imploded, sabotaging any chance the Dodgers had of coming back.

By the time the dust had cleared the three relievers -- none of whom have pitched as much as a full season in the majors -- had retired five batters while giving up three runs, five hits, a walk and two hit batters.

"We can chalk it up to inexperience because this is something they are experiencing for the first time," Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said. "Certainly the ability of what we've done out of the bullpen has been great. But you get down to those August-September games, experience certainly helps you."

So while the Dodgers entered the weekend with a bullpen earned-run average of 3.19, the best in baseball, those arms haven't always provided relief. Especially lately.

Troncoso has more hits allowed than innings pitched in July. Leach has an 7.36 ERA in nine appearances this month, and McDonald has given up five runs in seven innings.

But then this was a night when a lot of Dodgers were returning to Earth, including Kershaw, who has been otherworldly of late.

"He looked like a completely different pitcher than he did in Florida," said Jeremy Hermida of the Marlins, who were no-hit for seven innings by Kershaw in May.

The 21-year-old left-hander, who had given up only one run this month and three in his last seven starts, matched that number in six innings Friday -- though his wildness and the Dodgers' defense contributed to that.

With the score tied, 1-1, in the sixth, Kershaw gave up a two-out ground single to Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson. Emilio Bonifacio followed with a bloop single that sent Johnson to third, and when Kershaw bounced a two-strike curveball to Wes Helms in front of the plate for a wild pitch, Johnson romped home.

Helms then hit the next pitch up the middle, where Orlando Hudson backhanded the ball to save a run -- before promptly giving the run right back by throwing wildly trying to catch Bonifacio off third.

Andre Ethier got the Dodgers even again, doubling in two runs in the bottom of the sixth. But the tie lasted little longer than it took to open the gates to the Dodgers bullpen.

After McDonald gave up a two-out single and a walk, Leach came on to face Hermida, who delivered a pinch-hit single to drive in the go-ahead run.

And that was good compared with Troncoso's performance in the eighth, when he gave up a pinch-hit home run and two singles and hit two batters, allowing Florida to put the game away.

Veteran Claudio Vargas, who got the final four outs, said Friday night was just a hiccup by a bullpen that has been brilliant for most of the season.

"They've been pitching the whole year, and good," Vargas said. "It's one day. If they continue to do bad, we've got to talk. But not yet. . . . I think we'll be OK."


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