Four games in, pitching already tested

SAN DIEGO -- Imagine how good this team would be if it ever stayed intact.

For now, that's a sight seen only in glimpses, enticing as they are frustrating. The Los Angeles Dodgers nearly ran themselves aground with injuries last June and then, as their health improved, rallied furiously into the playoffs. Now, a mere four games into the season, they're already being tested.

A year ago, it was mostly hitters clogging up the disabled list, a murderer's row of hamstring, shoulder and ankle maladies. Now, it's pitchers going down, not so much in bulk as in quality. In a span of hours Tuesday, the Dodgers announced they would be without the best pitcher on the planet for a month or more and one of the most accomplished relievers in the game for at least 15 days.

Clayton Kershaw will be allowed to play only light catch for the next two to three weeks, and Brian Wilson has nerve irritation in the right elbow that has been surgically repaired twice. Not exactly an ideal way to go sailing into the wide-open blue of a new season.

"Either one of those guys missing an extended period of time makes it tougher for us," Zack Greinke said. "I mean, our team's good enough to handle it, but those are guys we enjoy having on our team and we want to be a part of it."

At times, the Dodgers' winter seemed an exercise in gluttony. Now, it looks like good, common-sense shopping.

They signed Paul Maholm, a former 13-game winner, to a guaranteed contract even though they already had five starting pitchers, all being paid lavishly. Guess what? He'll probably start a game this weekend.

They gave reliever Chris Perez $2.3 million even though he'd been non-tendered by the Cleveland Indians and the Dodgers already had a closer and two former closers on their staff. Guess what? He's now a key cog, the primary right-handed setup man.

The Dodgers, of course, will miss Kershaw more than they miss Wilson. Kershaw is the best pitcher in the game, at least if you trust such esoteric measures such as ERA, and he pitches three times as many innings in a typical season as Wilson does. But the synergy Wilson had with Kenley Jansen late last season was an underrated part of the Dodgers' turnaround. The stability the team lacked early in the year, because leads turned into losses, those two fixed.

"Our bullpen is still deep," Jensen argued shortly after loading the bases and then blowing away Chris Denorfia and Nick Hundley to make the Dodgers feel a little less skittish with Tuesday's 3-2 win at Petco Park.

That's true. The Dodgers will probably have Jose Dominguez and his 100 mph fastball back on their roster as soon as Wednesday. Chris Withrow, Perez and Paco Rodriguez can probably nail down enough eighth innings to get through this stretch without Wilson.

Their rotation is deep, too. These days, it even stretches to Triple-A Albuquerque, where one of their top prospect, Zach Lee, will start the season.

So, depth isn't an issue. What is an issue is why they always feel the need to test it.