Kuo's Difficulties Hurt Ailing Bullpen

Don Mattingly's first ejection as Dodgers manager, and the ejection of Juan Uribe, proved to be the turning point in Monday's game. That will get a lot of attention, but the continued struggles of Hong-Chih Kuo are now the latest chapter in the Dodgers' ongoing bullpen difficulties.

Chad Billingsley allowed one run through seven innings at Pittsburgh. The problem was, the Dodgers' anemic offense had also only scored one run. Billingsley started the eighth with the dreaded leadoff walk, and then Neil Walker doubled to give the Pirates a 2-1 lead.

That promoted the Dodgers to call on Kuo, who compiled the lowest ERA in franchise history last year while allowing just six hits against lefties all year, none before the All-Star break. Kuo spoiled the Dodgers to the point that it's just expected he won't allow any runs.

Instead, Kuo surrendered back-to-back RBI doubles and the Pirates had plenty of cushion en route to a 4-1 win. Kuo was on the disabled list earlier this season with a sore back that might have been a convenient excuse for a minor case of the yips.

Kuo is back now, but whether he's completely healthy is a mystery. After all, he has undergone four elbow surgeries. He's lobbied successfully to have the restraints taken off, and he's now allowed to pitch on consecutive days. Kuo's outing Monday was his third in fourth days, although none was a very long outing (21 combined pitches).

In his previous two outings, Kuo had looked better. In Monday's game, his velocity was slightly down, averaging 92-93 mph. A year ago, he averaged 94.3, according to FanGraphs, and often hit 95-96. Kuo isn't using his slider very often this year, and when he does, it's rarely a strike.

Kuo threw eight pitches Monday. Five were balls, and two of the three strikes were hit for doubles. Overall, he's walked six in 4 2/3 innings, given up five hits (three to lefties), and seven earned runs, giving him an 11.57 ERA.

Jonathan Broxton is on the disabled list, and the Dodgers are now using six weeks instead of one month as the timetable for his return. When Broxton lost the closer job last year, Kuo went from the eighth to the ninth inning and was sensational.

Now, it's Vicente Padilla in the ninth, free agent signee Matt Guerrier in the eighth, Kenley Jansen in the seventh, and Kuo as a situational lefty.

There's problems all over the place for the Los Angeles offense, and the bullpen has plenty of question marks.

Kuo was thought to be one of the answers. Since he's not, that makes his struggles all the more problematic.

NOTES, QUOTES
--RF Andre Ethier's hitting streak ended at 30 games Saturday, but his streak of reaching base was extended to 33 games Monday with a first-inning single. Ethier's left elbow is clearly still hurting him. He was noticeably grimacing and changed the angle on his throws in the eighth inning Monday.

--1B James Loney's streak of games without an extra-base hit is up to 30 games. Loney doubled on Opening Day and homered on April 6, and he has 25 singles since then. Loney does have a six-game hitting streak, but all 14 hits in that time are singles.

--LHP Ted Lilly's streak of five straight starts with at least one stolen base against him was snapped last Wednesday. Opposing players have a league-leading nine steals against Lilly, who starts Tuesday against a Pirates team that ranks seventh in the league with 24 steals.

--SS Rafael Furcal's eagerness to start a rehab assignment was a little premature. He still feels discomfort in his broken left thumb when swinging from the right side, so he won't get into any minor leagues games until Thursday or Friday. Manager Don Mattingly said he won't have Furcal only bat left-handed. He needs him to be able to swing from both sides without pain.

--RHP Chad Billingsley singled twice and laid down a sacrifice bunt in his three plate appearances. The Pirates scored a run off Billingsley in the third inning, then two in the eighth. Billingsley took the loss, falling to 2-2 on the year.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2

-- Flyballs by Dodgers hitters that turned into double plays Monday. Pirates CF Andrew McCutchen made a long running catch in the third inning, then doubled Aaron Miles off first base. Pittsburgh LF Jose Tabata made a sliding catch in the eighth and doubled Matt Kemp off first base because Kemp thought it was a trap. So did hitter Juan Uribe and manager Don Mattingly, who were both ejected arguing the call. Replays seemed to show it was indeed a trap.

QUOTE TO NOTE:

"Ever since he got hit, he hasn't been as good on that hand. He's just struggled. He looks sound mechanically. I don't worry about him. I really think he's going to hit. Sometimes a change of scenery in a new series can change what's going on." -- Manager Don Mattingly, before Monday's game, on 3B Juan Uribe and his 0-for-14 slump since getting hit in the hand. Uribe singled home a run in the first inning and walked in the sixth.

*M*A*S*H* 4077 MEDICAL WATCH

--RHP Jonathan Broxton (bone bruise on right elbow) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 4. He is expected to be out until mid-June.

--OF Marcus Thames (strained right quad) went on the 15-day disabled list May 3.

--3B Casey Blake (staph infection in left elbow) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 25. He's expected to be out until June.

--SS Rafael Furcal (broken left thumb) went on the 15-day disabled list April 12. He took batting practice on May 7 and was expected to start a minor league rehab assignment the second week of May.

--C Hector Gimenez (sore right knee) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 9. He had arthroscopic surgery April 26, and he is expected to be out until at least mid-May.

LA Dodgers Insider Top Stories