Penny strong, but Dodgers fall in finale
Team hits the road after dropping fourth straight game
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers have tried different lineups and different rotations and still the tailspin continues.
Now it's time to try the ribs.
It worked last year when they flew to Cincinnati for the first trip in August, having slipped five games back. Manager Grady Little convened and Brad Penny hosted a travel day team dinner at the Montgomery Inn rib emporium. The Dodgers reeled off 17 wins in 18 games and pulled back into the race.
They are headed back to Cincinnati on Monday and are in desperate need of something similarly absurd, after Sunday's 3-0 loss to first-place Arizona dropped the Dodgers a season-high four games back.
It was the second shutout during a three-game D-backs sweep, the Dodgers' fourth consecutive loss and 12th in 16 games. They ended the homestand 1-5, having led a total of four innings all week. They've lost their past five series.
"I feel, with that game, we bottomed out," said Little. "To me, we hit rock bottom. No matter where we go and play, there's nowhere to go but up."
Penny started and allowed three runs over seven innings, but that just meant a quality loss. After losing only one game over the first four months, he's lost his past two starts and he was lucky he didn't break his right index finger when he curled it around the bat trying to bunt off Brandon Webb and took a direct hit. Penny shook it off, lined a single on the next pitch and tossed another two hitless innings.
The lower abdominal strain that plagues him wasn't as benign. It doesn't hinder his pitching, but it slowed him enough in the second inning, when he needed to cover first base. He mishandled James Loney throw allowed Mark Reynolds to reach base and was followed by Justin Upton's two-run double. Reynolds said he was aware of Penny's injury and turned on the jets smelling a base hit.
Even if Penny had pitched a shutout, it wouldn't have meant a victory, as the offense continues to slip in and out of a slumber. Webb, last year's Cy Young winner, scattered seven hits and needed only 102 pitches for the complete game. He's allowed the Dodgers one run in 23 innings this year.
"Obviously, this is the time we have to pick it up a notch," said Russell Martin, who had two hits despite being hobbled by a sprained ankle. "We have to figure out ways to win. We have to start playing good baseball, if we want to stay in the race."
The losses had already started before second baseman Jeff Kent injured a hamstring, but his departure has only made things worse offensively. Little said he expected Kent back for the next game, but he also said that last week.
When it was over, the hometown crowd booed as if Barry Bonds were back in town.
"We're going through a funk," said Penny. "When we have runners in scoring position, we're not getting the hit. But there are 51 games left. It'll come down to the end of September."
Penny and most of his current Dodgers teammates have last year's turnaround as a frame of reference. But they don't have the deadline acquisition of Greg Maddux as a boost for a rotation that has one win each from Jason Schmidt and Hong-Chih this year, no wins from Randy Wolf since June 28, no wins from Derek Lowe since June 22 and one win from Brett Tomko since May 9.
Although the offense remained cold, fireworks nearly went off in the top of the fourth inning, when the Diamondbacks extended their lead to 3-0. With two out and runners on the corners, Penny thought he had Webb struck out on an 0-2 pitch, but when plate umpire Gary Cederstrom called it a ball, Penny raised his arms in frustration with the call.
Cederstrom had ignored a few mild complaints from Penny in the first inning, but nearly blew a fuse this time, marching all the way to the mound to scold Penny, while catcher Martin and Little hustled to intervene and successfully prevented Penny's ejection. If umpires were ejected for charging mounds like hitters are, Cederstrom would have had to eject himself.
"He overreacted," said Penny. "He said it was that far outside, but he was maybe exaggerating. He wasn't in a good mood back there. I wasn't arguing, just asking, where was it?"
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.