08/09/09 8:34 PM ET
Dodgers unable to bust out vs. Braves
LA held to sac fly vs. Vazquez; ninth-inning rally not enough
By David Ely / MLB.com
But since then, the hitting has been seldom. And when it's come, it's come in sporadic bunches.
The trend continued Sunday at Dodger Stadium, as the Dodgers scored just one run in the first eight innings and lost their third consecutive game to the Braves, 8-2.
The loss ended a seven-game homestand in which the Dodgers went a pedestrian 2-5.
It also prompted a team meeting behind the closed doors of the Dodgers' clubhouse. It was Los Angeles' second team meeting in four days; the club also met before Thursday's win over the Braves.
"What I try to do is talk about perspective," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "Sometimes you're involved in the competition, and you sort of lose perspective of where you are because you're so much buried in it."
Perspective for Torre is the fact that the Dodgers still hold a 5 1/2-game lead over the Giants in the National League West despite their recent struggles. The Dodgers begin a three-game series in San Francisco on Monday.
"There are teams that would like to trade places with us," Torre said. "Every team every year goes through bad times. Right now, we're not playing very well, there's no question about it. We just have to tough it out."
One factor that could help the Dodgers is that they won't have to play the Braves again this season.
After Kenshin Kawakami spent the better part of Saturday's game silencing the Dodgers, right-hander Javier Vazquez did his best to imitate his teammate's shutout performance.
Vazquez struck out the side in the first inning and was only really tested once in his eight frames.
"Their starters pitched tremendously this series, and they just kept the ball off our barrels and they played good defense," Russell Martin said.
The Dodgers' main scoring opportunity came when Andre Ethier led off the fourth inning with a single and then reached third base when Manny Ramirez slapped a double to right field.
With runners on second and third and no outs, this was L.A.'s best chance to put some pressure on Vazquez.
The next batter, Casey Blake, drove Ethier in and sent Ramirez to third with a sacrifice fly, but that was all the Dodgers would get in the inning.
Ramirez attempted to score on a popout to left field by Matt Kemp, but Atlanta shortstop Yunel Escobar's perfect throw to catcher Brian McCann easily beat Ramirez to the plate for the inning's final out.
"You can call it a rut; we're not playing our best baseball," Martin said.
While the bullpen couldn't keep it close during a five-run Atlanta ninth that limited hope of a comeback, lefty Eric Stults was solid in his first Major League start since May 30.
Stults, who arrived in Los Angeles from Triple-A Albuquerque on Sunday morning, lasted five innings and gave up three runs on five hits. Not a bad outing from a pitcher who threw three innings in the Minors on Thursday night.
"I thought Stultsie, for the S.O.S. we sent out to get him here, I thought he held us in," Torre said. "Considering he pitched the other day, I thought he did OK."
But the three runs he allowed were enough to doom the Dodgers.
Matt Diaz's solo home run in the second gave the Braves a 1-0 lead, and Atlanta went on to score one run in both the third and fourth innings off Stults.
Stults (4-3) didn't blame his travel-laden morning for some of his troubles on the mound.
"I don't feel like that it affected me at all today," he said. "I felt good and I was able to do my regular routine, as far as before the game. It just came down to execution and pitches there in a couple of innings."
Torre said the he wasn't sure what was in store in the near future for Stults or the rest of the Dodgers' pitching staff. A lot of it rides on whether or not Chad Billingsley's strained left hamstring will heal in time to allow him to pitch on Wednesday.
Torre said that he'll have a good idea about Billingsley's availability on Monday.
David Ely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.