ATLANTA — With Hanley Ramirez and Mark Ellis expected to return from their injuries at some point, the Dodgers figure to hit better in coming months than they are now. The recent activation of Zack Greinke moved a depleted rotation closer to full strength.
But the problem that was exposed in an 8-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Friday night could be something that hinders them for the remainder of the season.
Their bullpen is a mess.
The magnitude of the issue was exposed in the opener of a three-game series at Turner Field, when Manager Don Mattingly was all but forced to leave in left-hander Paco Rodriguez to face National League home run leader Justin Upton with the game on the line.
BOX SCORE: Atlanta 8, Dodgers 5
Rodriguez served up a grand slam to the right-handed-hitting Upton in the sixth inning, turning a 4-2 lead into a 6-4 deficit.
"I had to pick my poison, really," Mattingly said.
His team's shaky defense created that dilemma.
With Hyun-Jin Ryu walking five batters and reaching the 100-pitch mark by the end of the fifth inning, Mattingly turned to Matt Guerrier to pitch the sixth.
Guerrier gave up a one-out bloop single to pinch-hitter Jordan Schafer that fell in shallow left-center among shortstop Dee Gordon, left fielder Carl Crawford and center fielder Matt Kemp.
"That ball's got to be caught, for me," Mattingly said.
The next batter, Andrelton Simmons, hit a line drive that struck third baseman Luis Cruz's glove and plopped to the ground for an infield single.
"Although it's a rocket, guys in the big leagues are making that play all day long," Mattingly said.
Mattingly called on Rodriguez to face left-handed-hitting Jason Heyward, who was activated from the disabled list before the game.
Rodriguez walked him.
"That's the worst thing I could have done," he said.
Up came Upton, who entered the game with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage against left-handed pitchers of 1.268. But Rodriguez's splits were fairly even; he'd held left-handed hitters to a .179 average, right-handers to .217.
And what were Mattingly's other options? His bullpen came in with a 4.34 earned-run average , fifth worst in the majors.
Kenley Jansen is Mattingly's preferred option in high-leverage situations, regardless of the inning. But even if he could've escaped this jam, the Dodgers still would have to hold off Atlanta for three more innings.
Brandon League is still the closer, but only because of Mattingly's refusal to restrict Jansen to the ninth inning. League's ERA is 5.87.
Ronald Belisario has been wildly inconsistent and Javy Guerra has a 7.71 ERA.
The only other available pitcher was J.P. Howell, who, like Rodriguez, is a lefty.
So, Mattingly stuck with Rodriguez, who served up Upton's league-leading 14th home run. The homer was the first ever given up by Rodriguez, who broke into the majors last season.
The Braves scored two more in the seventh inning with Belisario on the mound, this time courtesy of an error by Crawford, who missed a line drive hit directly at him by Simmons.
The Dodgers got a run back in the eighth when Scott Van Slyke hit his second home run of the game.
It was the first time Ryu didn't go at least six innings, and he said, "I feel bad for my teammates that I couldn't stay out there longer."