Dodgers' offense limited in opener
LA starter Lowe struggles in four innings of work
MILWAUKEE -- For the first time in franchise history, the Dodgers opened the season in Wisconsin on Monday and played like strangers in a strange land.
They did nothing particularly well in a 7-1 loss to the Brewers, who rode a complete game from starter Ben Sheets that losing pitcher Derek Lowe -- who threw the only Dodgers complete game last year -- said was, "one you want to forget about in an hour."
It took Sheets barely two hours to mesmerize the Dodgers' short-handed offense. He allowed only two hits, one of them a second-inning home run by Jeff Kent.
Kent hit only 14 of those in an injury-plagued 2006, so the fact that he hit one in his first at-bat of 2007 didn't go unnoticed by manager Grady Little.
"It's a really good sign," said Little. "He's been swinging the bat throughout Spring Training. It's all about being healthy. Everybody knows his history, and how he can hit when he's healthy."
Speaking of health, Rafael Furcal is disabled with a sprained ankle and nobody knows for how long, but he's the leadoff hitter and he makes this offense go. Without him it went nowhere.
Juan Pierre led off in his place on top and went 0-for-4. Russell Martin moved up from sixth in the order to second and went 0-for-4. Wilson Betemit and Andre Ethier moved up a spot each and went 0-for-5 combined. Ramon Martinez played shortstop and went 0-for-2. That's quite a domino effect.
Sheets needed only 104 pitches and mowed down 22 straight at one point, so it would have taken a masterpiece by Lowe just to keep up, and on this day he wasn't up to it, charged with six earned runs in four innings.
Lowe wasn't really complaining about being squeezed on close pitches, only noting that the Brewers knew when to swing and when to take, enough so that Lowe had five walks in four innings and not enough ground balls for a sinkerball pitcher.
"If you're in command, calls go your way," said Lowe. "When you make 80 pitches in four innings, it's hard to ask a guy to give you every call."
When the Brewers were swinging, they put the ball in play. That gave Lowe's outfielders (Luis Gonzalez, Pierre and Ethier) a workout, and none of them looked like a Gold Glover. Two lost sight of fly balls, one threw to the wrong base and all three fell down.
"That's not the way I need to pitch to have success," said Lowe, who was roughed up for seven earned runs in five innings by the Braves on Opening Day last year.
He used up a whopping 84 pitches and was scored upon in each inning, keeping damage to a minimum until the fourth, when left fielder Gonzalez lost a ball off the bat of Geoff Jenkins and ran a Z pattern in pursuit, only for it to drop on the warning track for a two-run double.
Between the sunlight peering through the glass panels above the top deck and the crisscrossing metal support beams of the roof panels at Miller Park, tracking a fly ball for an unfamiliar outfielder can be an adventure.
"A lot of outfielders have trouble here in day games, there's a history of that," said Gonzalez. "It's no secret to the players that come in here,"
That's probably why the Brewers held a full workout in Miller Park on Sunday afternoon, just to acclimate after a winter away from their own home park. The Dodgers, however, chose to fly Sunday -- instead of immediately after Saturday night's game with the Angels -- and held no workout.
In addition to Gonzalez's mishap, right fielder Ethier broke the wrong way and had to make a leaping, reaching catch on another ball. All three outfielders lost their footing on separate plays, but Pierre said this outfield grass is always slippery.
"It was a bad investment of a ballpark," said Kent. "It's not any different than Day One. It's just a tough place to play."
For the most part, though, the Dodgers offered more praise of Sheets than excuses. Former teammate Brady Clark, acquired from Milwaukee last week, had the other Dodgers hit, a ninth-inning double.
"He was ready, as strong as I've ever seen him," Kent said of Sheets. "He's a gamer, I've always admired that. He set the tempo for his team, and they got him runs early and that was it. Sheets would have been tough anywhere."
The Dodgers, who have lost their last four openers, received effective relief pitching, with long reliever Mark Hendrickson allowing a solo homer by Bill Hall in three innings and Rudy Seanez throwing a scoreless eighth.
"If that guy [Hendrickson] does his job, it'll help us win a lot of games," said Little. "It's very big to get a pitcher to give you quality innings there. It might not seem to benefit you that day, but it's a benefit the rest of the week."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.