Depth issues keep sinking Dodgers

DENVER -- Carlos Frias pitched one of the worst games in the history of the worst place to pitch in the major leagues. Then, he had to answer questions about it, which he did, dutifully and with a smile on his face. And then, he had to squeeze into a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costume for the flight to Chicago because it was that time of year, the sometimes-ill-timed rookie hazing trip.

So, if he can handle all that with grace, what's to say he can't bounce back from Wednesday? Then again, will he get another chance?

The Los Angeles Dodgers made history in Wednesday's 16-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies, the worst kind. Frias, whose sinkers certainly weren't sinking, became the first pitcher in the modern era to give up 10 hits while getting fewer than three outs in a game. The Dodgers were down 8-0 in the first inning, it kept getting worse and Major League Baseball has yet to institute a mercy rule, so it just kept going.

"It was just a bad day," Frias said through an interpreter. "My confidence isn't rattled."

Afterward, manager Don Mattingly said the Dodgers are considering a "bullpen" game the next time injured starter Hyun-Jin Ryu's spot in the rotation comes up. They could do it Sunday in Chicago, start Paco Rodriguez or J.P. Howell, say, with all hands on deck, and pitch Dan Haren in Game 1 of their most pivotal series remaining, which starts Monday against the San Francisco Giants.

That plan sounds as if it's under serious consideration, but the void at the back of the rotation is looming as a considerable obstacle to winning the NL West. The Dodgers' lead over the second-place Giants is just two with 10 games left, three of which are against the Giants at Dodger Stadium.

For the first time since mid-May, the Dodgers just played a series in which none of their top three starting pitchers pitched. Things didn't go well. Dodgers relievers wound up pitching 17⅔ of the 27 innings over three long, draining days at mile-high elevation. They got blown out in back-to-back games by the Rockies, who can, on occasion, do that in this ballpark.

So, what could have been a relatively leisurely weekend in Chicago turns into a must-win series at Wrigley Field. The good news is Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are scheduled to pitch.

The bad news is there is a new reason to doubt the Dodgers' sturdiness over the coming, crucial weeks, including in the playoffs. Ryu, who just had a contrast MRI exam and cortisone injection for his ailing left shoulder, is questionable to pitch again this season, and Haren just commemorated his 34th birthday while the Dodgers were getting blown out Wednesday. Can the Dodgers get by with two brilliant pitchers and three days of question marks? Can they do it for the remaining 10 games? Can they do it deep into October?

Since Sept. 5, the Dodgers are 4-0 with Greinke and Kershaw pitching and 3-4 with anybody else on the mound.

So, the call seems like a fairly fraught one. Do the Dodgers risk gassing their bullpen this late in the season? Do they give Frias one more shot? Do they go with Kevin Correia, whose numbers have been even worse than Frias' overall?

As bad as things turned out Wednesday, Frias might actually be their best option. His stuff figures to react better at lower elevations and let's not forget that, in his previous start, he held the Washington Nationals scoreless on three hits over six innings.

"His next time out on the mound will be a little bit of a test for him," Mattingly said. "We'll see how he bounces back and how he goes about it. And I think it'll tell us a lot about him."

Coors Field has a way of corroding a young pitcher's confidence. In a way, Frias is lucky. If he sticks in the major leagues, he'll pitch here once or twice a season. Dodgers reliever Jamey Wright was drafted by the Rockies in the first round in 1993 and made his debut for them in 1996. He was a starting pitcher back then.

"I thought I was having a great year in 1998, and I look up and had a 5.60 ERA [actually 5.67]," Wright said.

Wednesday, though, was in a new category, even by Coors Field standards. It was the most runs a Rockies team had ever scored in the first inning. Slugger Justin Morneau had a fantastic performance that inning. He batted twice and drove in five runs, lining a three-run home run into the right-field stands and blooping a two-run single to center.

Frias' ERA went from 3.91 to 6.58.

"I caught him probably 15 times [at Triple-A] and, if he got beat, he usually went out there and pitched even better," Dodgers catcher Tim Federowicz said. "That's what I expect."

Who knows what to expect with any of the starting pitchers not named Kershaw and Greinke right now, and that is the crux of the Dodgers' biggest worry.