04/02/2002 8:52 pm ET
Dodgers not concerned about Brown's debut
Deep bullpen looking more important
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- It looks like Omar Daal will be more important this year than the Dodgers had hoped, and you know that's not good.
That means not only is Kazuhisa Ishii's wildness a growing concern, but now they have to wonder about Kevin Brown. Ready or not, Brown was given the ball by manager Jim Tracy and looked like a 37-year-old pitcher making his first real start since elbow surgery.
He lasted four innings, was taken deep by Barry Bonds and David Bell and allowed a critical RBI single by winning pitcher Livan Hernandez. Brown was charged with seven earned runs on nine hits as the Giants posted a 9-2 Opening Day win on Tuesday to spoil the 40th anniversary celebration of Dodger Stadium.
This was one game in the standings, but the symbolism was greater. A big effort by Brown would have snuffed out those skeptical of his rush back to the mound. Now there are more questions than answers.
Afterward, everyone in uniform rallied around their ace, dismissing any possibility of physical problems, claiming the movement on his pitches was decent but the location wasn't, and writing off the messy debut to just a bad day at the office.
"My arm felt good. No excuses, I just had a bad day," said Brown. "I wish it was the only bad game I ever had. My job is to give my team a chance to win. I pretty much buried us."
"He had a bad outing today," said Tracy. "It had nothing to do with his elbow. He just didn't have his good stuff."
"I don't see this as any kind of call to doom," said pitching coach Jim Colborn. "He made too many sweet pitches over the middle of the plate. I think he has a ways to go. I think he'll continue to get better."
"He said he wishes he had some pain so he'd have an excuse," said catcher Paul Lo Duca. "I think the guy will be fine. It wouldn't surprise me if he comes out and throws a one-hitter next time. There's 161 games left, so be it. Who cares?"
When Spring Training ended, the Dodgers were determined to believe Brown was OK, even though his slider had not been sharp, his velocity was down a little and opposing batters were taking comfortably aggressive swings. None of that changed Tuesday.
Although he struck out five, Brown was erratic with his command, as he was much of the spring, as are most pitchers as they gradually return from a major arm injury. Consistency and command are the last things to return, if they return. Teammate Andy Ashby, duplicating Brown's attempt to return from flexor muscle surgery, can relate.
"Once your arm feels healthy, the biggest thing is trying to get your arm and mind to relearn how to put the ball where you want it," said Ashby, who makes his first start Friday. "That's what I was kind of scuffling with all spring. Everything you do is like starting over after the time off, getting your muscles to remember what it feels like to make the ball do what you want it to do. It doesn't come all at once."
Brown made 69 pitches and hit as high as 94 mph on the radar gun. He was consistently around 91 mph, a couple ticks off his healthy norm, and his early departure forced Tracy into the bullpen four times. Tracy said this spring he felt his bullpen depth could handle the extra innings caused by short starts like the one Brown made, and he will immediately learn if he's right.
The first call went to Daal, who demanded a trade last week when he was sent to the bullpen. The club ignored the demand because it considers him valuable insurance for situations just like this. Daal retired the first six batters he faced, but Bonds' 447-foot homer led to four of five hitters reaching base.
Making the best of a one-sided loss, Tracy used a two-on, one-out situation as a live test for closer-in-training Eric Gagne, who relieved Daal and retired both batters he faced.
The 3-4-5 of the Gary Sheffield-less Dodger order -- Paul Lo Duca, Shawn Green and Brian Jordan -- went 1-for-12.
But the new top of the batting order created both runs as designed. Debuting leadoff hitter Dave Roberts singled, doubled, stole a base and scored twice. Cesar Izturis bunted to set up both runs, one a sacrifice and the other going for a single. Unfortunately, neither can pitch.
As if Brown didn't provide enough to worry about, talk before the game centered on Ishii, whose control problems Sunday in Seattle renewed concerns. Tracy said Ishii was still scheduled to start Saturday against Colorado, but left some wiggle room when he said he "reserves the right to re-evaluate." Ishii spent a 30-minute bullpen session with Colborn, who said he liked what he saw with Ishii's consistency.
Tracy said he did not know whether Ishii's problems are more physical or mental, but general manager Dan Evans bristled at the suggestion Ishii could be experiencing a fit of wildness similar to St. Louis Cardinals left-hander Rick Ankiel.
"This isn't an Ankiel problem. I would not label this an Ankiel problem," said Evans. "I don't think it's a problem. We'll get him through it. He's a work in progress. We have a long commitment to him [four-year contract] and we are supportive of him. You can't overreact to one or two starts. We know he'll be OK."
Ken Gurnick covers the Dodgers for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.