Bullpen issues arrive early

MIAMI -- There had been hints for days, even weeks, that the Dodgers had bullpen issues. One key guy didn't show up to spring training until it was almost over, another landed on the disabled list before the season even started and a third struggled all spring with his mechanics, although he seemed to finally right himself earlier this week.

That mechanically challenged pitcher, George Sherrill, blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning Saturday night and stuck the Dodgers with a 7-6 loss to the Florida Marlins before 25,308 at Sun Life Stadium. There were several reasons why, but the good news was that Sherrill said his mechanics weren't one of them.

For the record, those reasons included a breaking ball he couldn't throw for strikes, a plate umpire who appeared to be squeezing the strike zone and a throw to home plate by center fielder Matt Kemp just enough off its target to allow Chris Coghlan to slide home with the winning run on a sacrifice fly by Jorge Cantu.

But all that was mere detail. The real issue for the Dodgers is a bullpen that is shorthanded, overworked and, through five games this season, has a collective 5.29 ERA.

So what, you ask, is the problem?

Well, there is the absence of Ronald Belisario, who is on the restricted list because of his extreme tardiness and won't be activated for at least another 10 days or so. There is the absence of Hong-Chih Kuo, whose left elbow and career both seem to be hanging by the thinnest of connective tissue. He won't come off the DL for at least another week.

And then there was the unavailability for this game of closer Jonathan Broxton, something manager Joe Torre had told beat writers before the game but that radio broadcasters Rick Monday and Charley Steiner had never been made aware of, leaving them to wonder on the air during that ninth-inning implosion why Broxton was nowhere to be found.

Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt declared Broxton hands-off for the night because he had pitched in each of the previous two games. While that might seem overly protective, add in the fact Broxton had warmed up for the ninth inning Friday night when the Dodgers were nursing a 4-1 lead, sat back down after they scored three in the top of the ninth to push their lead to 7-1, then got back up, warmed up again and eventually came into the game to record the final two outs after Russ Ortiz couldn't finish off the game.

In part, then, it was the ripple effect of Ortiz's failure to carry out his assignment Friday that led to the Dodgers' ninth-inning woes Saturday -- although that could hardly be blamed for Sherrill's personal implosion because he hadn't pitched since Wednesday night at Pittsburgh, when he turned in a scoreless eighth inning and appeared finally to have found his long-lost mechanics.

The Dodgers will eventually get Belisario and Kuo back. Sherrill will eventually find himself. And presumably, Broxton will eventually be conditioned to the point he can be used up to three days in a row. But that was of little comfort to the Dodgers on Saturday night, when the Marlins were running around their field celebrating as if they had just won the World Series. For now, these are the rough seas the Dodgers must sail.

Lost in the shuffle

Left fielder Manny Ramirez's 2,500th career hit will look like a line drive in the box score, but it looked like something else entirely to those who saw it live.

With one out in the fifth inning, Ramirez topped a ball to the foul side of the third-base line, but after bouncing twice, it made an abrupt turn back toward the line and the fair territory that awaited on the other side.

Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson made a desperate swipe at it with his glove, knocking it several feet back to the foul side, but by the time he did so, the ball had touched the edge of the chalk, meaning that once Johnson touched it, it was officially a fair ball.

Ramirez easily beat it out to become the 91st player in major league history to reach the 2,500-hit plateau.


Right-hander Vicente Padilla struggled for the second time in two starts, although he at least started out well this time. After limiting the Marlins to a run and three hits through the first three innings, he gave up hits to three of the first four batters in the third, including a three-run homer to Gaby Sanchez. After giving up a pair of one-out hits in the fifth, Padilla was lifted, marking the third time in the Dodgers' first five games -- and the second time by Padilla -- that a starter failed to go five innings.

Key moment

Although Andre Ethier remains unavailable to start because of a left ankle injury, he was sent to pinch hit with runners on second and third, one out and the Dodgers trailing 4-3 in the eighth inning. After taking three balls from Marlins left-hander Dan Meyer, who was brought in specifically to face the left-handed-hitting Ethier, Ethier was given the green light on 3-and-0 and drove Meyer's next pitch up the middle for a two-run single, putting the Dodgers ahead 5-4. Ethier is now 12-for-41 (.293) for his career as a pinch hitter.

Quote of the day

Torre on the fact catcher Brad Ausmus played baseball's most demanding position for 16-plus seasons in the majors without spending one day on the disabled list until he was placed there Saturday because of a pinched nerve in his back: "It's remarkable, it really is. He took good care of himself, and that is the important thing. Unfortunately, sometimes when you do the job behind the plate, it catches up with you."

Looking ahead

Knuckleballer and fifth starter Charlie Haeger will become the last player on the Dodgers' opening day roster to appear in a game this season. He will be opposed by Florida's Anibal Sanchez, who also will be making his season debut. The forecast is for rain and thunderstorms, and this is the Dodgers' only scheduled trip to Florida this season.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.