The Los Angeles Dodgers lost a key part of their early-season success this past weekend in San Diego.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Ronald Belisario told manager Joe Torre on Tuesday that he experienced tightness while warming up during both games in San Diego over the weekend.
He also said that the soreness went away “once he ran out of the bullpen.”
Belisario left the team on Tuesday and returned to Los Angeles to have an MRI on his right elbow.
Doctors found no signs of structural damage, which is good news because Belisario underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the 2005 and 2006 seasons.
It appears to be just muscle soreness, but the team placed him on the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday afternoon, and he is set to rejoin the team in Milwaukee and be re-examined by the training staff.
"It's good news," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "Structurally, there's no problem. He has irritation in the elbow. The treatment now is no treatment. They'll keep him from doing anything for about a week and then re-evaluate."
Belisario leads the team with 43 appearances and was replaced by Cory Wade on the active roster.
The real problem could be that Belisario is on course for a career high in appearances and innings pitched.
While Wade looked OK in his appearance on Wednesday night against the Mets, I don’t think he can be a consistent answer while Belisario recovers.
Wade gave up a single to the first batter that plated a run but then was able to settle down and get out of the inning without any further damage.
The recalling of Wade actually came prematurely. He was sent down on June 26 and only appeared in two games for Triple-A Albuquerque, where he gave up two runs in just three innings over those two outings.
The callup was mainly because he was already on the 40-man roster, so it prevented further juggling of personnel.
Last week I wrote about the fact that Wade probably won’t return to his ’08 form, as he was overworked last season and can’t find the dominating stuff he once possessed.
I stand by this train of thought, and I think Los Angeles needs to find some help in the ‘pen whether Belisario returns to full health or not.
The Dodgers need a reliable left-handed reliever to turn to in the bullpen. Rookie Brent Leach has done an admirable job, going 2-0 with a 2.95 ERA. Leach is a situational lefty and so in his 31 appearances has just 18.1 innings pitched in ’09.
They ran into a problem last season when LHP Joe Beimel, who was assigned Leach’s role, forgot how to get left-handed batters out.
He held lefties to a .188 opponent batting average in ’07, but that shot up to .278 in ’08, clearly a number too high for someone specifically brought in to get lefties out.
The club then didn’t offer Beimel a new contract in the offseason because of his decreased production and lack of positive contributions.
Frighteningly enough, Beimel has expressed interest, albeit one-sided, in returning to Los Angeles.
"I wanted to go back," said Beimel to the LA Times before his game on Sunday with the Washington Nationals, "I love the organization," he said of the Dodgers. "...If I could, I'd go back."
The bottom line is that someone needs to be found that is capable of providing reliable innings. This will take the load off of Ramon Troncoso and Belisario.
It could also prevent situations like the one on Sunday, when Jonathan Broxton was called upon in a non-save situation and preceded to cough up three runs and allow the game to continue into extra innings.
The thing is, Broxton never should have been in that situation in the first place. Torre doesn’t have enough confidence in Guillermo Mota to go to him in that situation, and it forces Broxton into unnecessary outings.
Then there is Jeff Weaver, who has been the solution for either normal or extra-innings long relief. I am still hesitant to trust him down the stretch.
Ever since he notched a win in the clinching game of the World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in ’06, Weaver has had a flare for blowups.
Let us not forget that in ’07 he went 7-13 with a 6.20 ERA for the Seattle Mariners.
Although Jeff has been much better this time around with the Dodgers (he also pitched for them from ’04-’05, when he went 27-24 with a 4.11 ERA), I really don’t feel comfortable with him in the ‘pen.
So far this year he has posted a 5-2 record with a 3.32 ERA and is slated to make a spot start on Saturday in Milwaukee, which will take another arm out of relief.
It should also be noted that oft-injured Hong-Chih Kuo made an appearance in Albuquerque on Thursday night. He pitched one inning, threw 17 pitches, and allowed one run on one hit, also walking a batter.
"I call him the cockroach, because you can't kill him," said trainer Stan Conte.
Kuo, last year's Setup Man of the Year (as awarded by MLB.com), has undergone four surgeries on his throwing arm, two of which were Tommy John procedures.
Conte then commented about a timetable for Kuo’s return.
"They can ask me if he'll come back, I don't know. If he'll be able to pitch back-to-back, I don't know. If he can pitch every other day, I don't know. You talk to him and he always says he's OK. But you never really know."
It seems that Belisario is rumored to be out for around a month, according to MLB.com, and the Dodgers are exploring all options possibly to get some help in the ‘pen.
What does this mean?
It brings us to the $47 million elephant in the room: the possible return of Jason Schmidt from Triple-A Albuquerque.
Schmidt hasn't pitched in the Majors for two years, and in his first seven minor league games this season he was 3-1 with a 3.43 ERA.
Schmidt's latest appearance was on Tuesday night in Albuquerque. He went six innings and gave up four runs on seven hits.
It was the latest installment of disappointments since his departure from the big league club. His last outing previous to Tuesday on July 1, he also went six innings and allowed four runs on seven hits.
Schmidt has one start remaining on Sunday for his current rehab assignment, and then the Dodgers will have to take action on his status. He seems to be regressing in the past couple of outings, and Torre doesn’t sound excited about the chance to recall Schmidt.
"His velocity was OK," Torre said. "We'll take a look. He didn't go backward. We'll evaluate and see if it makes sense to continue or cut it off again."
I share Torre’s unenthusiastic reaction.
In Triple-A, right-handed hitters are batting .339 against him. Additionally, he is being knocked around with runners on base. When he is able fully wind up with no runners on, batters are hitting .254; with runners on, that number soars to .355.
Jason is just a shell of the man who was a three-time All-Star and finished second in the Cy Young voting in 2003.
Yes, he once started Game One of the World Series (’02). Yes, he once led the league in ERA (’03, 2.34). Yes, he once won 18 games (’04). Yes, he once struck out 16 Florida Marlins (Jun. 6, ’06).
But the organization can’t live in the past.
The last thing this young Dodgers team needs is a rundown, overpaid pitcher trying to work out his kinks in the middle of a pennant run. Schmidt is 36 years old and far past his prime.
Realistically, they can’t expect him to contribute quality appearances after such a long time off.
Schmidt has had two separate shoulder surgeries since he last appeared in a major league game, and despite some encouraging outings in the minor leagues, I don’t think the risk is worth the reward.
So where does the organization go from here?
Maybe the answer lies in James McDonald.
He has stepped up and delivered four consecutive scoreless outings. In eight appearances with the Dodgers since May 6, he is 1-0 with a 1.45 ERA. James has walked only three batters over that span.
The only two runs he has allowed since then were an infield single by Nick Johnson (May 7) and a solo home run to Josh Fields (Jun. 24).
Now, that must all be taken with a grain of salt. The average leverage for situations he has been in is just 0.85 (1.00 is average, which means his appearances have been 15 percent less pressured than an average outing).
However, I think McDonald has shown that he possibly could be the guy to make a difference during this chase for the pennant.
Or maybe it’s time to look outward and find a quality relief pitcher through a trade.
I’m not one to speculate on who might be available and who the Dodgers might be willing to part ways with because, quite frankly, I don’t have the behind-the-scenes connections to know the inner workings of the franchise.
All I can say is this: Please, Ned Colletti, don’t get any ideas about Jason Schmidt.
PJ Ross is a Featured Columnist for the Los Angeles Dodgers.