Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton pitches the final inning of opening day… (Christina House / For The…)
Four games into the new season, Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton has three saves — more than he had last year until May 9.
But Broxton has already served up two home runs, loud and unsettling reminders of how he went from closing in the All-Star game last year to losing his job at the end of games. His earned-run average sits at 6.00 as the Dodgers head into a two-game series against the Colorado Rockies beginning Tuesday in Denver.
"We're not worried about him," center fielder Matt Kemp said.
Part of that is because the home runs given up by Broxton had no effect on the outcomes of the games. When he was taken deep by Pat Burrell on opening day and Aaron Rowand on Sunday, the Dodgers had multiple-run leads over the San Francisco Giants. In both instances, the bases were empty.
Broxton shrugged when asked about the home run to Rowand, pointing out that he had a three-run lead.
"You've got to go after him and try to get quick outs," he said. "I was trying to do it as quick as possible. Especially when you have a three-run lead, you don't want to be out there messing around."
Manager Don Mattingly also said he was unconcerned about the long balls, and went so far as to say he liked the way Broxton was thinking on the pitch to Rowand.
"If he throws his good slider there, if he gets it where he wants, he gets him right there," Mattingly said. "He just didn't get it where he wanted. That's all right."
Only once in his three appearances against the Giants did Broxton enter the game with a one-run lead. That save, on Friday, was his cleanest. He retired all three batters he faced and threw only nine pitches.
According to mlb.com's pitch-by-pitch log, Broxton touched 96 mph Sunday — far slower than the 102 mph he clocked two years ago. Broxton has averaged 1.3 strikeouts per innings in his career but has struck out only one of the 12 batters he has faced this year. He also hasn't walked a batter.
Broxton never cracked the triple-digit barrier last year and still managed to convert 18 consecutive save opportunities and make his second All-Star team.
In the dugout and on the field, Andre Ethier said he can already sense that this Dodgers team is different from last year's.
Of the Dodgers' taking three of four games from the Giants in their season-opening series, Ethier said, "There wasn't sitting around and hoping and wishing things would go well. We had that intensity, that vibe, that feeling."
Ethier said he's experienced that feeling before.
"I'm not saying it's the same as in '08 and '09 yet, but no matter what the score, no matter what the situation is, we're wanting to win the game," he said.
Those were the last two years the Dodgers reached the postseason.
In each of his four years in the major leagues, Hiroki Kuroda has won his first start of the season.
Kuroda earned the latest of those victories by holding the Giants to three runs and six hits over seven innings Sunday.
"I'm pretty strong on my first start," said Kuroda, who was the longtime opening-day starter for the Hiroshima Carp in Japan.
Kuroda said he took comfort in that history.
"I tried to put that in my head since I didn't pitch well in the exhibition season," said Kuroda, who posted a 5.88 earned-run average in spring training.
He acknowledged that he was nervous heading into the game.
"Because I didn't pitch well in the exhibition season and had to wait until the fourth game to pitch, I had a lot of time to think and became stressed," he said. "I was relieved to be able to come out like this and win."