Jonathan Broxton may lose closer role

LOS ANGELES -- It might have been the end of an era up at Chavez Ravine on Tuesday night, and this time, it had nothing to do with Frank McCourt.

One night after giving some indication that he might have finally found himself, Jonathan Broxton indicated something else entirely different after he was brought on to pitch the ninth inning of what was quickly transformed from a tense, tie game into a 4-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs before 38,017 at Dodger Stadium.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly might have indicated something, as well, when he came out to get Broxton following back-to-back, one-out walks in that fateful ninth inning -- the second of which saw him throwing pitches that were nowhere near the strike zone -- sarcastic cheers serenading Mattingly all the way to the mound and Broxton all the way to the dugout.

The rest, of course, was just a formality. With Blake Hawksworth on the mound, both of the players Broxton had walked came around to score on a two-out double by Geovany Soto, breaking a 1-1 tie that had existed since Chad Billingsley gave up a monstrous home run to the .164-hitting Carlos Pena in the seventh. For good measure, Hawksworth gave up a run of his own on a pinch-hit single by Blake DeWitt, a guy the Dodgers gave up on last summer and traded to the Cubs for Ted Lilly.

Another day, another defeat for a team whose season still can't seem to get off the ground. But this one had deeper implications, because it is clear there is something not quite right with Broxton. The first order of business now is for the Dodgers to determine whether that something is something physical.

"We have to determine if John is healthy or not," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "That is first and foremost in my mind."

Broxton told reporters that he was fine, and both Mattingly and Honeycutt say that is what he continues to tell them, as well.

"When a guy tells you things are fine, you believe that," Mattingly said. "But just the inconsistency with his velocity is something that kind of concerns us where we don't know if we're getting the whole story. We have to keep trying to figure this thing out, why one day it's good and one day it's not coming out the same way."

The primary question now is where the Dodgers (15-16) -- who fell back into a second-place tie with the San Francisco Giants in the National League West, four games behind the Colorado Rockies -- get the answer to that question if they aren't getting it straight from Broxton. Honeycutt hinted that the medical staff could take a look at him. If there is something wrong, it could be that Broxton isn't being entirely forthcoming, or it could be that it's something Broxton isn't really even aware of.

"I wish I could answer that question," Honeycutt said. "I can only go by what he is telling me right now."

The secondary question, in the event that it's determined there is nothing wrong with Broxton, is where the Dodgers go from here in terms of the back end of their bullpen. Asked the same question after the game that he already has been asked far too many times in a season that is only 31 games old -- that of whether Broxton (1-2) is still his closer -- Mattingly offered only the most tepid of endorsements.

"As of right now he is," Mattingly said. "But the inconsistency is kind of puzzling."

At a time when Broxton seems to have about as much public support in his role as the Dodgers closer as McCourt has as the team's owner, that still leaves the issue of who will take over if Broxton is removed or disabled. In a bullpen that now has an overall ERA of 5.53, there isn't exactly a long list of candidates.

Hong-Chih Kuo has been just as shaky since coming off the disabled list as he was before going on it, Vicente Padilla is still being eased back from the DL, Matt Guerrier has been good but has never been a closer and ditto Hawksworth. Mike MacDougal has been a closer, an All-Star closer at that, and has a 0.96 ERA, so he might be the most viable option. But the most likely scenario would seem to be that Mattingly will be forced to go with a closer-by-committee approach, something he already has said he has a distaste for.

This much, however, seems clear: It is about as likely that Broxton will be called upon the next time the Dodgers have a ninth-inning lead as it is that McCourt will still be running the Dodgers a year from now -- which is to say, not very likely at all.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.