Billingsley fans 13, but Broxton, 'pen stumble
Struggling reliever yields one of two D-backs homers in eighth
PHOENIX -- Something's wrong with Jonathan Broxton. That the Dodgers know for sure.
Is it physical? Mental? Both? Neither?
"I'm fine," Broxton said when asked about his health after he blew Sunday's game with one pitch. Chris Young's two-run homer off the deposed closer turned a well-deserved Chad Billingsley victory into a 5-4 Dodgers loss to the last-place D-backs that would have been shocking if it hadn't been a replay of many of Broxton's recent outings.
Broxton wasn't alone in Arizona's four-run eighth inning comeback, as George Sherrill also allowed a two-run homer, his by former Dodger Tony Abreu. With the loss, the Dodgers cannot finish the season with a winning record. If they win their remaining games they will be 81-81.
Manager Joe Torre pushed a button or two too many in that eighth inning. Rod Barajas's two-run homer in the top of the eighth -- his fifth in 22 games as a Dodger -- provided a 4-1 lead. Ronald Belisario got pinch-hitter Augie Ojeda leading off, then Torre brought on Sherrill, who walked the left-handed Stephen Drew before serving up Abreu's homer and a single to Kelly Johnson.
"We had a plan, but none of it worked," said Torre.
Then came Broxton, who has had a meteoric flameout from All-Star closer in July to the most perplexing Dodgers puzzle since Andruw Jones.
Broxton had a 0.83 ERA until a 48-pitch, four-run disaster against the Yankees on June 27. Shortly thereafter, Broxton converted three consecutive saves, but after getting a hard-fought save in the All-Star Game, he came out of the break a shell of his former self.
His ERA has soared to 3.92 and he's blown five save opportunities in the second half while converting only three. He's 5-6 with 22 saves and seven blown saves on the season. A year ago, he had a 2.61 ERA and converted 36 of 42 saves. Last year he struck out 114 and allowed 44 hits in 76 innings. This year he's struck out 73 while allowing 62 hits in 62 innings.
He signed a two-year contract after last season that pays him $4 million this year and jumps to $7 million next year.
Barajas, claimed last month, is making a strong run at a free-agent contract with the Dodgers, especially with catcher Russell Martin's uncertain health.
But Barajas was a member of the Mets when they played the Dodgers in July, immediately after Broxton allowed five runs in 1 2/3 innings. He claims the New York scouting reports hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary in the Dodgers closer, who lost the job to Hong-Chih Kuo last month.
"Relievers go into slumps, [Mariano] Rivera struggled," said Barajas. "Closing is the same as any pitcher. I don't remember anything in particular from that series."
What made Broxton special as a closer was his velocity, which frequently topped 100 mph last year but almost never comes close anymore. The home run he allowed Sunday was clocked at 94 mph.
Last year, Broxton missed the All-Star Game with a toe nerve injury, but has said that hasn't bothered him all season. He regularly gets his right ankle taped, but he did that last year. He said his elbow and shoulder feel fine, but some in the organization believe his mechanics have changed this year, fueling speculation that he's compensating for an ailment, despite his insistence that he's "fine."
"He doesn't complain about anything," said general manager Ned Colletti.
Can the Dodgers trust that Broxton will rebound next year? Torre believes Broxton has lost his confidence and is guiding the ball but that his problems are correctable.
"I certainly think he has the insides to do it," Torre said when asked if Broxton can be the closer next year. "This year he's been frustrated. I can't tell you what's in his mind. Donnie [Mattingly] and I talk about it. I know [Donnie] feels strongly that Broxton will go to Spring Training with that role in mind."
Mattingly, who replaces Torre as manager next year, didn't sound quite so convincing.
"We're talking about it, yeah," Mattingly said. "It's been a tough year. I'm not really concerned about it. It's a tough year for the club and for different guys. Look at the whole body of work, wait and see and go from there."
Meanwhile, the bullpen implosion cost Billingsley, who tied a career high with 13 strikeouts in seven innings, allowing one run on four hits. It would have snapped a three-game losing streak and been only his third win since July 27.
"He had a nasty cutter," Arizona interim manager Kirk Gibson said.
Also wasted in the loss was a run-saving play in the seventh inning after Miguel Montero's second triple of the game. With one out, Cole Gillespie sent a sharp one-hopper that shortstop Rafael Furcal gloved moving toward second base, spun 360 degrees and threw to the plate, where Barajas took the throw and blocked the plate while tagging out Montero.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.