Torre rides hot hand as Dodgers face NLCS elimination
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- There isn't much the Dodgers feel good about after the past two games of the NL Championship Series, but they like the matchup of the next one.
The Dodgers will send their hottest starter, Vicente Padilla, to the mound against Cole Hamels.
Padilla allowed only a solo home run to Ryan Howard in 7 1/3 innings while dueling Pedro Martinez in Game 2, which the Dodgers went on to win after Padilla left the game. That outing followed Padilla's seven scoreless innings in the Game 3 clincher of the NL Division Series in St. Louis.
Loves to face: Pedro Feliz, 2-for-12, 3 SO
Hates to face: Raul Ibanez, 9-for-31, 2 HR
Loves to face: Andre Ethier, 4-for-19, 5 SO Hates to face: Manny Ramirez, 6-for-16, 2 HR
Why he'll win: Pitching lights out in playoffs
Why he'll win: Career 3.43 ERA at Citizens Bank Park lowest of any pitcher (100 IP min.)
Pitcher beware: Rude reception likely in Philly
Pitcher beware: Allowed four runs in 5.1 IP in Game 1
Bottom line: Dodgers' best pitcher right now
Bottom line: Usually pitches well at home and against L.A.
"I feel very honored to have this opportunity to pitch an important game," said Padilla, a model citizen since being signed in August after being released by Texas amid accusations of being a disruptive teammate. "I'm just so happy the Dodgers chose me and I just hope to pitch a great game and win."
Manager Joe Torre, a gambler who knows how to play the hot hand, moved Padilla past 21-year-old Game 1 starter Clayton Kershaw for this game even before he knew it could be an elimination game. The veteran Padilla, unbeaten as a member of the Dodgers, has shown the composure to handle pressure and a hostile crowd.
"I think it's just the way he's pitched lately, his experience," said Torre. "Because of experience, because of how he pitched in St. Louis, because of how he pitched against this ballclub earlier. And he's on full rest, so we're not taking anything away from him. That was my thinking there."
Meanwhile, the Dodgers aren't cowering at the thought of facing Hamels. Although he beat them twice in last year's NLCS, he appeared quite vulnerable in Game 1, allowing the Dodgers four runs on eight hits in 5 1/3 innings.
"I can't sit here and tell you we're in a perfect situation, but we really haven't done a whole lot the easy way all year," said Torre, who held a team meeting before Tuesday's workout. "We don't have to do anything more than we have the whole year. That's what I continue to remind them."
With Randy Wolf pitching well on Monday night, the Dodgers rotation now shapes up with Padilla going in Game 5, and if necessary, Kershaw in Game 6 and Randy Wolf in Game 7.
Of course, with staving off elimination the immediate task, anybody could show up in the bullpen on Wednesday night.
"All hands on deck," said Torre.
Torre on Monday said Hiroki Kuroda insists there was nothing physically wrong to explain his disappointingly brief effort, which came after a three-week layoff because of a herniated disk in his neck.
"He was fine," said Torre. "Absolutely no physical problem. Just one of those things that happens. It was a little unusual, his bullpen before the game was really good, but he was nothing close to the same guy in the game."
Torre said he would have no hesitation of starting Kuroda again, but also hinted that Chad Billingsley could re-emerge in the rotation as well.
"We don't know what we're doing the rest of the series starting or the bullpen," said Torre. "[Kuroda] certainly is a candidate for either, whatever we decide to do."
Apparently, so too is Billingsley, who was bumped from the rotation by Kuroda's return. Billingsley allowed two runs in 3 1/3 innings of relief in Game 3.
"I thought he threw the ball good," Torre said of Billingsley, who was named to pitch an unnecessary Game 4 of the Division Series that the Dodgers swept in three games. "He got good hitters out making good pitches. We're in a situation in the postseason where everybody is available. He certainly is in the mix, no question."
After four games, the Dodgers team ERA is 6.49.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.