A season that has never really gotten on track in its first two-plus weeks for the Dodgers might have come completely off the track Thursday night. Yes, they lost again, this time 8-5 to the Cincinnati Reds before 13,261 at Great American Ball Park, but that wasn't the worst of it, apparently.
After pulling up lame on a sixth-inning single and immediately heading for the clubhouse, Manny Ramirez was diagnosed with a strained right calf, an apparently more severe version of the same injury that knocked him out of Friday night's game with San Francisco and prevented him from starting either of the next two games. It wasn't immediately clear how long he will be out this time, but manager Joe Torre told the reporters covering the game he wouldn't be surprised if Ramirez missed this weekend's three-game series at Washington, which begins Friday night.
Ramirez, by the way, is hitting .415, by far the best average on a club full of really good ones, and he also has four doubles, two homers, 12 RBIs and a .500 on-base percentage.
Offense is the one area of the game where the Dodgers haven't really struggled this season, and they can probably tread water for a few days even without Ramirez's sizzling bat. Then again, maybe they can't. In the two games he missed against the Giants, the Dodgers -- who entered play Thursday leading the major leagues in batting (.315), runs (93) and on-base percentage (.387) -- scored a total of two runs, both of which came on a pinch-hit home run by, you guessed it, Ramirez.
One contributing factor was that the Giants' starting pitchers in those games were Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito. But it still might be an indication the Dodgers' lineup, sprinkled though it may be with .300-plus hitters from top to bottom, simply isn't the same without Ramirez's presence in the middle.
If nothing else, the Dodgers figure to get an answer to that question fairly quickly. Against the Nats, they won't see a starting pitcher the caliber of either Lincecum or Zito.
Coincidentally, the Dodgers were playing Washington last year, in a two-game series at Dodger Stadium, when they learned they would be without Ramirez for 50 games. And although the Dodgers lost to the Nationals in the first of those 50 games, the fact they scored six runs in the first inning was a clear sign there was life after Ramirez, as was the fact the Dodgers went 29-21 in Ramirez's absence.
Of course, back then, the Dodgers weren't also dealing with mediocre starting pitching, an inconsistent bullpen or flat-out bad defense, all of which are seemingly daily concerns now.
Ramirez had better not be out for long.
The Dodgers figured the returns on Hong-Chih Kuo, who was activated from the disabled list before the game, and Ronald Belisario, who was activated from the restricted list before Wednesday's game, would solve a big part of their bullpen woes.
But in his first appearance of the season, Kuo recorded only one out -- against a guy trying to bunt his way on -- and gave up a single and a walk to the other two batters he faced. Belisario then relieved him and wound up allowing both of those inherited runners to score, as well as two of his own, turning what had been a 5-4 lead into an 8-5 deficit.
In fairness to Belisario, he had looked fantastic in tossing a perfect inning in his first game back Wednesday. But his failure to get the job done Thursday cost the Dodgers yet another chance to climb above .500 for the first time this season and stuck Kuo with the loss in his first game back.
By the numbers
11 -- hitting streak for Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, who is hitting .356 (16-for-45) during the streak. He entered play Thursday leading the majors with 20 RBIs and 19 runs scored and tied for the major league lead with seven home runs. Kemp is hitting .333 (21-for-63) overall and has a .398 on-base percentage.
Reliever Jeff Weaver was put on the 15-day disabled list because of a strain on the right side of his lower back, an injury he suffered after facing one batter in the eighth inning Wednesday night. That move cleared a roster spot for Kuo. ... Veteran right-hander Russ Ortiz, whom the Dodgers designated for assignment Sunday, cleared waivers and rejected an outright assignment to Triple-A, opting to become a free agent instead. His 12-year major league career, which included a six-year span in which he won 99 games for San Francisco and Atlanta, is likely over, but he is free to sign with any club that is interested in his services.
Knuckleballer Charlie Haeger, who was rocked for seven runs and walked five batters in three-plus inning against San Francisco on Saturday, will return to the mound in the opener of three-game series at Washington. He will be opposed by right-hander Luis Atilano, who will be making his major league debut. A former first-round sandwich pick (35th overall) by the Atlanta Braves out of Puerto Rico in 2003, Atilano was 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA in two starts at Triple-A Syracuse this season, giving up two runs and 10 hits with nine strikeouts.
Tony Jackson, who reported from Glendale, Ariz., covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.