LOS ANGELES -- In the moments after Saturday's game, a 7-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs before 49,016 at Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre offered a tepid vote of confidence for John Ely, saying the rookie right-hander will begin the second half of the season at the back end of the team's starting rotation as previously planned. But it came with a qualifier.
"He is still scheduled," Torre said. "Again, we would like to try to help ourselves by the end of the month, by the trading deadline. But you know as well as I do that there is no guarantee that is going to happen."
There may be no guarantees for the Dodgers to add a proven starting pitcher, but there definitely are no guarantees for Ely, who failed to get through the third inning for the second consecutive start. For a rookie, even one who seemed to have cemented his spot in the rotation not so long ago, that is a dangerous path to go down, one that could lead right back to the minor leagues unless he can find a way to stop his slide quickly.
Unfortunately for Ely, he won't be able to stop it at all until at least July 19, which is the next time he is scheduled to pitch, against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium. In the meantime, he will get eight full days to rest his arm, clear his mind and try to figure out exactly what it was he was doing back in May, when his relentless attacking of the strike zone and precocious guile on the mound made him the feel-good story of the Dodgers' season.
In his past two starts, Ely has been torched for 12 runs (11 earned) on 14 hits over a total of five innings.
"I'm not getting the job done," he said. "But I know I can. I think everybody here knows I'm capable of doing the job and getting it done well. Right now, that isn't happening."
Ely's biggest advantage when he first came onto the scene, promoted from the minor leagues ahead of schedule in late April, might have been low expectations. When the Dodgers (48-39) acquired him from the Chicago White Sox last December, he wasn't added to the 40-man roster and really wasn't supposed to be here until later this year or possibly even next year, and no one dreamed he would not only arrive so quickly but that he would pitch so well when he did.
Conversely, Ely's biggest enemy now might be that by pitching so well so quickly and for so long, he gave rise to expectations, mostly his own.
"The thing I saw today was that he couldn't get them to swing at his changeup or throw it for strikes, and that is a big pitch for him because he certainly isn't overpowering," Torre said. "It's basically just command. Early on, when he was pitching well for us, it was almost like he had nothing to lose so he just let the ball go and it found its way. But then you have some success, and you try to rebound from mediocre starts.
"He is struggling right now."
Really, Ely's problems have built up gradually over the past month, even though that stretch included a couple of starts in which he was outstanding. Overall, though, beginning with a June 6 start against the Atlanta Braves, Ely is 1-5 with a 7.48 ERA over his past seven starts, and he has averaged 4.5 walks per nine innings over that span.
In seven previous starts, Ely averaged 1.6 walks per nine innings and once faced 89 consecutive batters without issuing a walk.
Ely (4-7) admitted after the game that he is becoming frustrated.
"I don't know how you don't get frustrated," he said. "But that's baseball. It's a frustrating game, but you have to be strong. You have to bounce back. If you can't, what does that say about your character?"
On an afternoon when outfielder Xavier Paul started and went 2 for 4, raising his average to .256, Garret Anderson came off the bench to pinch hit in the ninth and quickly struck out against Carlos Marmol, leaving Anderson and his .180 average to walk back to the dugout amid a smattering of boos.
The widely held assumption is that if Manny Ramirez comes off the disabled list as scheduled on Thursday in St. Louis, Paul will be sent back to Triple-A Albuquerque to make room. But with Anderson, a three-time All-Star who turned 38 a couple of weeks ago, looking more and more like he is nearing the end, it might make more sense to simply cut him loose and keep Paul around as a backup.
Actually, Anderson probably won't be sent packing that quickly. There is sentiment within the Dodgers' coaching staff for keeping him around, the rationale being that what Anderson brings in terms of positive clubhouse leadership far outweighs what he doesn't bring to the field. But on most nights, Anderson also is the Dodgers' only left-handed pinch hitter, and in what is shaping up as a tight and crowded race in the N.L. West, club officials might ultimately decide production in that role isn't something they can live without.
Jay Gibbons, another left-handed hitter and veteran major leaguer who doesn't have Anderson's pedigree but is five years younger, entered Saturday hitting .328 at Albuquerque, with 22 doubles, 13 homers, 62 RBI and a .353 on-base percentage. Even more impressive, especially given that Gibbons will be primarily used as a pinch hitter if he ever does replace Anderson on the Dodgers' roster, is that he had struck out just once every 10.4 at-bats.
Scene and heard
The Dodgers are keeping a baby boa constrictor -- which they have named Larry Boa and assigned No. .10 after third-base coach Larry Bowa and his jersey No. 10 -- in a small tank in a vacant locker in their clubhouse. The snake is tiny for now, barely wider than a pencil, and there is an instruction booklet for proper feeding left open in front of the tank, with certain passages highlighted. No word thus far on what the long-term plans are for the snake.
The Dodgers will close out the season's first half by sending right-hander Vicente Padilla (3-2, 4.72) to the mound for a nationally televised, twilight game at Dodger Stadium. He has been outstanding in four starts since returning from the disabled list, going 2-1 with a 3.12 ERA and allowing just 20 hits in 26 innings. The Cubs will counter with their ace, Carlos Silva (9-2, 2.96), who hasn't allowed more than three runs in a start since May 7 and has done so just twice all season.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.