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Ricky Nolasco's woes worry Dodgers

Right-hander struggles again, this time in a 6-4 loss to San Francisco, putting in doubt his spot in the postseason rotation.

September 25, 2013|By Dylan Hernandez

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SAN FRANCISCO — When the Dodgers won the National League West title last week, Hanley Ramirez and Ricky Nolasco shared a champagne-soaked embrace.

"Finally," Ramirez told Nolasco. "We're going to the playoffs."

Ramirez and Nolasco's previous seasons together all ended in disappointment. For six-plus years, they were teammates on the Marlins, who were crippled season after season by frugal owner Jeffrey Loria.

BOX SCORE: San Francisco 6, Dodgers 4

Ramirez earned his escape from baseball purgatory last year, when the Marlins dumped his salary on the Dodgers. Nolasco followed him in a similar move this year.

Ramirez will enter his first postseason as one of baseball's best hitters.

But Nolasco?

In his first two months with his hometown Dodgers, Nolasco was magic. Over his last three starts, he has been nothing short of awful.

Nolasco absorbed his most recent beating Wednesday night, when he gave up six runs and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings in a 6-4 defeat to the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. In his last start of the regular season, Nolasco served up a bases-clearing triple to Tony Abreu in the second inning, a two-run home run to Pablo Sandoval in the fourth and a run-scoring double to Abreu in the sixth.

Six days earlier, he gave up six runs and nine hits to the Arizona Diamondbacks. His start before that was his worst this season, as he gave up seven runs and seven hits in a season-low 11/3 innings against the Giants.

"The confidence is there," Nolasco said. "I just feel like I'm not catching a couple breaks here and there that could change the game. At times, I'm missing and at times I'm making good pitches and balls fall here and there that are big in the game."

Before the game Wednesday, Don Mattingly couldn't deny he was concerned about Nolasco's recent form. The manager tried to soften his words by saying he was worried about players other than Nolasco, too.

"Like everybody, you're always concerned," Mattingly said. "A guy goes 0 for 4 on his last day, you're thinking, 'Is he going to go in cold?' We're concerned about lots of different factors. You're almost like the worrying mom at this point. You're worried about everything."

Mattingly has declined to talk about the Dodgers' postseason plans, but it's becoming clear Hyun-Jin Ryu will be the No. 3 starter instead of Nolasco.

Nolasco's place in the rotation appears to be safe, as Mattingly said the Dodgers will carry four starting pitchers in the postseason.

But if the Dodgers are down two games to one after the first three games of the National League division series, what will Mattingly do? Start Nolasco or ace Clayton Kershaw on short rest?

Nolasco's recent form could also influence the Dodgers on whether to include a long reliever on the postseason roster.

That the Dodgers would be facing such dilemma would have been unthinkable even two weeks ago.

Nolasco, who grew up in Rialto, was 8-1 with a 2.07 earned-run average in his first 12 starts with the Dodgers. Ramirez noticed Nolasco was a different person than he was in Miami.

"I think that he's happy," Ramirez said. "You can see that he's always smiling."

In starts Aug. 23 and 28, he shut out the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs for eight innings.

Ramirez believed Nolasco benefited from the change in environment.

"You go to a winning team, I think that helps everything," Ramirez said. "It gives you a better attitude, gives you more energy when you come to the ballpark."

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Twitter: @dylanohernandez

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