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Early reviews: Dodgers' bullpen a major work in progress

LOS ANGELES -- What goes up must come down, but so far, gravity does not have much of a connection with the Los Angeles Dodgers' bullpen ERA.

Chris Hatcher likened the Dodgers’ issues after eight games to an amusement-park ride, and not in the good way. Louis Coleman called it a test of your short-term memory.

The start to Hatcher’s season has been particularly unsightly. If his 5.40 ERA fails to tell the tale, his issues in high-profile spots will.

Last Friday he had the rare honor of entering a game in a no-hitter. He gave up a two-run home run to the first batter he faced in the eighth inning and the San Francisco Giants rallied for an improbable victory.

On Tuesday, Hatcher took the loss in the home opener when the Arizona Diamondbacks went up for good in the eighth inning on a Paul Goldschmidt home run and eventually nailed down a 4-2 victory.

While Hatcher isn’t running from any blame, he isn’t quite sure how to fix his issues either -- not yet, anyway. A question was prefaced Tuesday with the concept that there is no shame in giving up a home run to an MVP candidate like Goldschmidt.

“No shame in it because you’re not throwing it,” Hatcher said.

He was not mocking the question, but rather acknowledging the disappointment of not winning a battle against a fellow major leaguer, home-run Adonis or not. As they say, acknowledgement is the first step.

“We have to pick it up as a collective group, and myself included in that,” Hatcher said. “The roller coaster’s got to stop and we have to start putting up zeroes.”

It seems as if Kenley Jansen can put up zeroes, but the relievers can’t quite get to the burly right-handed closer. It’s hard to pinpoint a Dodgers set-up man at this point, much less a seventh-inning man. The group entered Tuesday with a 5.79 ERA, 12th in the 15-team National League. By Tuesday evening their bullpen ERA ballooned to 6.65.

Coleman seemed to be a candidate for a higher-profile role, but even he gave up two Diamondbacks insurance runs in the ninth inning after getting out of a bases-loaded mess that he inherited in the eighth inning with a strikeout of Rickie Weeks Jr. He also gave up a run Sunday at San Francisco.

Coleman also refused to buy into excuses, like the fact that the bullpen’s woes are magnified because it is the start of the season, a time when negatives and positives tend to get overanalyzed.

“I don’t think so -- it’s part of the game,” he said. “You’re going to hit some bumps every now and then, so I don’t think it gets magnified early.”

There is acknowledgement all around that it needs to get better, but nobody wants the side effects that come with panic. Manager Dave Roberts knows no team is going to deconstruct an entire bullpen and put it back together again eight days into a season, so he is leading the patience theme.

It will take him much further in his clubhouse than scrambling the bullpen roles this early in the game.

“I’m definitely seeing things, but I definitely don’t want to be reactionary,” Roberts said.

It’s a fine line, just as it was with Hatcher in the eighth inning, when down in the count 3-0 to Goldschmidt. Hatcher was still trying to play it cautious, even if it meant putting the go-ahead runner on base with a walk. It didn’t work.

“I’m not challenging him right there,” Hatcher said. “I’m trying to go above the zone. I feel that’s my safe spot with him and I just left it belt high.”

The same issue happened two batters later, when Welington Castillo doubled.

“The ball’s not going where I want it and I have to figure out why,” Hatcher said. “I’m trying to go up on Castillo, I’m trying to go up on Goldschmidt and both of them [hit it]. I don’t know if it’s mechanical. Maybe my aim point is wrong. But we’ll figure it out.”

It appears he will continue to get chances to figure it out, and those chances will continue to come in the late innings.

“Right now you want to give these guys confidence and give them opportunities,” Roberts said. “I expect them to be in a lot of games late, and we’re going to need them. If we want to have a great season, a winning season, we’re going to need those guys in the pen. So, for me, it’s way too early for me to think about changing roles.”

But perhaps it is the time to go with the hot hand in the late innings and not permanently commit to a change in roles, right?

“It’s not right now,” Roberts said.

So it will continue to be a matter of the relay team figuring out how to get the baton to Jansen.

“Yeah, its baseball; it’s going to happen and it won’t be the last time it happens and it won’t be the next-to-last time it happens,” Coleman said when asked if the bullpen appreciates it that Roberts isn’t going to panic. “It’s going to happen. You just have to come back and play again.”

Until it gets figured out, there could be more boos, like the ones heaped on Hatcher from a packed house of 53,279.

“It happens,” he said. “I deserved it.”