PITTSBURGH -- The Los Angeles Dodgers went shopping for bulk goods rather than name brands when they conducted their business before the trade deadline. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the quality of their returns has been negligible thus far. That might be putting it kindly.
They thought they had landed a strong No. 3 starter in Mat Latos, a reliable back-end guy in Alex Wood and two impact relievers in Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan. It cost them a bunch of cash, but they figured it could be a cost savings in the end if the prospects they retained prove to be major league players.
Nothing wrong with the rationale, particularly if your time horizon stretches beyond this October, but the pitchers the Dodgers got haven't exactly inspired early confidence. Latos has a 6.30 ERA in two starts, Wood, who lasted five innings in the Dodgers' 13-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday night, has a 5.59 ERA.
Avilan has been fine, but Johnson, whom the Dodgers hoped would be the bridge to closer Kenley Jansen, has been a bridge to nowhere. He took most of Sunday's abuse, giving up eight runs in the seventh inning as a good series turned into a laugher for the Pirates.
Johnson has been on a mound four times for the Dodgers. In his first two games, he gave up home runs. In the next one, he walked two batters and gave up two hits to let in a run.
But that was nothing compared to Sunday, when he couldn't get out of the seventh inning. By the time Joel Peralta relieved him -- he gave up a three-run home run to let in two inherited runners -- Johnson had hit a batter, walked a batter and allowed six hits. His ERA as a Dodger is 29.45.
Asked what experience he could call on to help him pull out of this slump, Johnson quickly said, "Last year."
"Honestly, the weirdest thing about it is tonight was probably one of the best nights I've felt in terms of my delivery," Johnson said.
Before the 2014 season, the Oakland A's -- hardly a spendthrift operation -- traded for Johnson with the Baltimore Orioles even though laying out $10 million for a closer isn't typically Billy Beane's idea of a good idea. On Aug. 1, they released Johnson, who had a 7.09 ERA at the time, and had to eat the remainder of his salary.
Apparently, Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi was a big believer in Johnson's recovery from that career low, because -- six months after leaving Beane's umbrella -- he traded for Johnson again. It's fair to say Johnson has not been a walking billboard for the efficacy of the Dodgers' new general manager. Not that Zaidi didn't have reason to believe in Johnson again. Many of his numbers -- including strikeout-to-walk ratio and fielding independent pitching (FIP) -- had returned to his 2012 form in Baltimore, where he saved 51 games.
Asked if Johnson was the same guy who put up those numbers in Atlanta, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said, "I think it is. Obviously, he was really good in Atlanta this year, which tells you you think he's going to be really good with you. I think we still believe that, we still have confidence in that."
At least for now, it seems likely Johnson will be shuffled into a lower-leverage role and, should the Dodgers have leads in the next few games, Pedro Baez or Juan Nicasio will be called on for the seventh and eighth innings. Of course, every time the Dodgers have thought they found the guy to get the ball to Jansen, the plan rarely lasted long. Two of those pitchers, Yimi Garcia and Chris Hatcher, are currently wearing Oklahoma City Dodgers uniforms. One of them, Peralta, looks like a guy whose career is winding down rapidly.
It would help if Dodgers starting pitchers could take the ball deeper. Clayton Kershaw had a bad outing by his standards Friday night, but in retrospect it was solid compared to what was to come the next two nights. Latos and Wood left 10 innings for Dodgers relievers to cover over two games. As a result, Mattingly had two relievers who were unavailable to pitch Sunday night and he had to leave Johnson out there to see take all that ERA abuse.
"I didn't really have any other choices at that point," Mattingly said.
Zaidi and the rest of the front office thought they were giving Mattingly more choices when they added four pitchers two weeks ago. So far, they just haven't been the right choices.