Pitching issues are clear for Dodgers

PITTSBURGH -- Many of the Los Angeles Dodgers' top scouts and front-office types, including pro scouting director Rick Ragazzo, were in Pittsburgh the past two nights with the major league team watching the Dodgers from an upper-level suite. They had a bird's-eye view of what their next week figures to look like: traveling the country looking at pitchers.

It's not as if their mandate going into the July 31 trade deadline wasn't clear before Tuesday night. General manager Ned Colletti has stated he's looking for bullpen help and he has admitted lately he's concerned about issues at the back of the rotation as well.

It would be hard to argue with those two needs after Tuesday night's 12-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Trailing by one run in the eighth inning after a game effort from his offense, manager Don Mattingly allowed reliever Chris Perez to walk four straight batters to force in a run, because he's wary of running his only reliable eighth-inning pitcher, J.P. Howell, into the ground.

Howell leads Dodgers relievers with 46 appearances and Mattingly implied Howell would only be used in games the Dodgers lead.

"We've kind of had to make some decisions with that back end of our bullpen," Mattingly said. "We can't go to him every day."

In an ideal world or even a well-functioning one, you wouldn't have to. You would have more than one good option, an ace lefty like Howell and a reliable righty -- which is what Brian Wilson and Perez were supposed to be, by the way. Tuesday didn't expose the Dodgers' lack of bullpen depth, it exposed their lack of bullpen quality.

Experience isn't a problem. Jamey Wright has been pitching in the majors since 1996. He had a rough night Tuesday, letting Pittsburgh take command of the game on run-scoring hits by Gregory Polanco and Travis Snider. Perez, Wilson and Brandon League have all been closers, but Perez and Wilson have ERAs north of 5.00 and Mattingly seems unwilling to trust League, probably because of situations like Tuesday -- when he came in and allowed a couple of hits to make a bad situation a lost cause.

Oh, and by the way, Josh Beckett isn't convincing anyone that his troublesome left hip will hold up for the final 2½ months of the season. After coming off the disabled list, he couldn't get out of the fourth inning and gave up three home runs.

"It's not going to be an excuse going forward. I say I'm good to pitch, the trainers say I'm good to pitch, that's not going to be an excuse," Beckett said. And yet, a few answers later, he admitted, "I think right now, it's just day-to-day. We'll deal with it as we go."

Can the Dodgers bank on day-to-day as they enter a heated pennant race with the San Francisco Giants? Can they feel good about their chances, should they make the playoffs, if they have only three starters they trust?

Added to Dan Haren's struggles in the No. 5 spot, Beckett's uncertain health must be prompting the Dodgers to explore the trade market for a starting pitcher. If they're unwilling to move the prospects it would take to get David Price, maybe they could match up better to land Ian Kennedy, who has been pitching well -- he just held the Dodgers scoreless for eight innings 10 days ago. His team, the San Diego Padres, seem intent on shedding as much salary as they can as fast as they can. The latest to go is Chase Headley, for a modest return in prospects. Kennedy is making $6.1 million this year.

Speaking before the game, Mattingly said he would be content if Colletti made no moves before the deadline, but he also admitted part of that feeling stems from a need to show support for his current players.

"I don't think we're sitting here as a club saying, 'We need to make a move,'" Mattingly said. "They've already made a huge commitment to this club."

They may not need to make a move, but it's pretty clear they will. And, barring some late -- and heretofore unseen -- interest in one of their overpaid outfielders, it will be to get a little more pitching to put at Mattingly's disposal. It’s doubtful he'll complain when it happens.