08/01/09 12:24 AM ET
Schmidt, Ethier lift Dodgers past Braves
Righty goes six solid innings; outfielder collects four RBIs
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
No, not three years ago. He did this Friday night. As a member of the Dodgers.
And he had the same reaction you did.
"It's very surprising," said Schmidt, given quite likely one final start to show if he could still pitch, and he did just that in the Dodgers' 5-0 win over the Braves.
Andre Ethier homered and drove in four runs. Reliever George Sherrill made his Dodgers debut a memorable one, inheriting a two-on, no-out mess in the seventh inning and striking out the side.
But the night belonged to Schmidt. Returning to the city of his original team and coming off a three-inning start that put his career on the line, he allowed only Chipper Jones' sinking line-drive single in the third inning. He walked five (one intentionally) and struck out three, including the final two batters he faced.
This from a 36-year-old pitcher admittedly at a crossroads in his career after missing two years with shoulder problems.
"This could have been my last start," he said. "Where I came in, where I go out. It was debatable whether I would make this start. They weren't sure if they wanted me to, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to, for different reasons. It ended up a lot better than I expected."
Schmidt got some help from the Braves, who impatiently prompted a pair of six-pitch innings. He escaped a fit of wildness with two walks in the first inning, one of three jams from which he escaped.
"It's very surprising, and I know that doesn't sound good," he said. "After going through everything -- the rehabs and being in Arizona -- I was at a crossroads in Arizona, thinking I'd go on the DL and permanently shut it down. I wasn't happy, then they called and say they may need me to pitch Monday. You've got to be kidding me? It's surprising."
Manager Joe Torre conceded that Schmidt couldn't afford another outing like the one he had last Sunday, when he followed a scoreless first inning by allowing five runs in the next two.
"It would have been tough to send him out there again, not that he didn't understand," said Torre, who decided only Wednesday that Schmidt would make this start, mainly because no other logical candidate was available once trade talks for a starter came up empty. "I'm so happy for him."
Torre said Schmidt will get another start in five days.
Schmidt said he didn't have particularly good command and he wasn't proud of the nine fly-ball outs to the outfield.
"That's dangerous," he said.
But he's accepted that he's not the power pitcher of his prime and he now must pitch backwards from everything he's known, backing off and throwing "85 percent" instead of trying to blow two-strike fastballs past fastball hitters. His breaking ball was effective and the changeup improved from a tweaking of his delivery during a Tuesday bullpen session. And his fastball picked up a couple miles an hour to reach 89 in his final inning.
He even accepted coming out of a one-hit shutout without protest, despite making "only" 87 pitches.
"Normally I'd fight tooth and nail to stay in, but they don't know what you are," he said. "My instinct is to be the guy to close it out. That's not who I am anymore."
A former teammate would attest to that.
"His fastball was minus about seven or eight mph," said Jones, Schmidt's Atlanta teammate in 1995-96. "This is the first time I've ever faced him that he's never thrown me a changeup. There's just not that much difference between his changeup and his fastball right now. But his curveball is much improved.
"We hit a ton of balls hard. We hit a ton of balls into the outfield that Matt Kemp ran down. When you combine all that with the fact that we're missing a third of our starting lineup against righties, it has all the makings of a night that you're going to struggle offensively."
Schmidt said Ethier's three-run homer in the fifth inning off Tommy Hanson, Ethier's career-high 21st, made pitching the fifth and sixth innings less stressful.
Ethier was moved up in the order to second by Torre, who was hoping he would see better pitches hitting ahead of Manny Ramirez.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.