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Dodgers need to make postseason pitch now

July 26, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

While the Phillies and Blue Jays continued to haggle over what it will take to pry right-hander Roy Halladay out of Toronto, Dodgers Manager Joe Torre made it clear Saturday he would feel more comfortable with another proven starter in his rotation.

He said it before the Dodgers edged the Florida Marlins, 4-3, on Casey Blake's looping, bases-loaded single to right-center in the bottom of the ninth, so his thoughts weren't skewed by knee-jerk emotion. His mind-set is clear: the Dodgers need a dominant starter -- if not now, then certainly in October.

Back east, the Blue Jays reportedly were holding out for pitchers Kyle Drabek and J.A. Happ and minor-league outfield prospect Dominic Brown. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Phillies had countered with an offer of pitcher Carlos Carrasco, infielder Jason Donald and other prospects.

If that doesn't get the deal done before Friday's non-waiver trade deadline the Phillies might then turn to Cleveland left-hander Cliff Lee.

Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti has said the Blue Jays have identified three players on the Dodgers' major-league roster that they'd take for Halladay, but Colletti hasn't exuded optimism that a deal will get done.

Which is a shame, because there are too many good elements to this team, too many good things happening, to allow it to fall short because of the lack of one strong starter.

Torre has seen enough over the decades to know that a pitching staff with a proven, fearsome ace who forces other teams to react and retrench is essential to postseason success.

The Dodgers don't have that pitcher.

Chad Billingsley needed seven tries to win his 10th game. Clearing that psychological hurdle might free his mind, but he must also prove he has put behind him his two atrocious performances in last year's National League Championship Series.

"Chad's going to be fine," Torre said.

Maybe so. And maybe Clayton Kershaw's development will continue at its impressive pace, but he made only two brief appearances against Philadelphia in last year's NLCS and it's too much to ask for him to be the ace.

Hiroki Kuroda pitched well Saturday, striking out nine and giving up two earned runs in six innings, but he has only one win in his last five starts. Randy Wolf has had tough luck with 12 no-decisions in 21 starts. He's a good, veteran presence but not the formidable, series-changing figure the Dodgers need.

"I would never say we don't need any help. I don't think that's reasonable to think," Torre said, "and we've been lucky with that fifth starter. We've got a good record with the fifth starter. It's been a number of people. But I think if you add a quality starter it's going to make you that much stronger.

"I don't want to sit here and say, 'Yeah, we're nine games in first place. We have all the answers and don't need anything,' because I know better. I know better."

The cliche that you can never have too much pitching has been firmly embedded in his brain since he was a rookie manager with the Mets and Rube Walker was his pitching coach.

"Pitching is the only way you can control the situation," Torre said.

And good pitching controls it best.

"It's all going to come down to pitching. That's what it's all about, whoever has the best pitching," Manny Ramirez said.

"Like last year we played great, but I think Philadelphia got great starters and that's why they won everything."

Billingsley and Kershaw have been brilliant at times. But neither can be considered the pitcher you'd like to build your playoff rotation around.

"Chad's experience last year in Game 2 of the championship series, it's something he had to taste all winter long. He didn't go hide from it," Torre said of Billingsley's dismissal after giving up eight runs (seven earned) in 2 1/3 innings.

"We talked about it this spring. I think he's grown from it, I don't think there's any question. . . . He's still young, still learning and still feeling the difference in going out there with a big heart and still learning something that hasn't been all that familiar to him."

If they can't get a quality starter, fortifying the bullpen might help.

"We've really worked the bullpen," Torre said, "especially with, by and large, a lot of inexperience we had our starters. Aside from Billingsley most of the year and Wolfie and recently with Kershaw, we really haven't been getting a lot of length."

After today's series finale the Dodgers will play four games at St. Louis and three at Atlanta, a journey that could be very long if they don't get some form of pitching help. "I think this is going to be a very tough road trip for us," Torre said.

"We're going to face some good pitching on this trip. To me, if we have hopes of going to the postseason, that's what we're going to have to deal with."

The trick is to get opponents to say the same about facing the Dodgers' pitching. In October.

--

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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