N.L. Power Shifts From Dodgers To Phillies After Pedro Martinez's Strong Start

Bleacher ReportSenior Analyst IAugust 14, 2009

Pedro Martinez made his much anticipated return to the majors on Wednesday night with the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

Martinez had not pitched in a Major League game since last September with the New York Mets, but showed that he certainly has something left in the tank. He went five innings and gave up three runs on seven hits, striking out five and walking only one.

The promising appearance as a Philly suddenly gives the defending champions an imposing front line of starting pitching with Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, J.A. Happ, and a back-end of the rotation anchored by Martinez.

In the past week, the Los Angeles Dodgers have seen a quick decline in the health of Chad Billingsley, leading to a missed start and adding problems to a starting rotation that has been swimming in controversy since Spring Training.

As a Dodgers fan, last night’s outing has me thinking that General Manager Ned Colletti came up short by not pursuing Pedro more seriously earlier in the season.

Back in March, there were already rumors that the Dodgers were considering Pedro. Colletti addressed the issue with the Los Angeles Times.

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"He's someone we're curious about,'' Colletti told the Los Angeles Times.

Curiosity would be as far as the relationship progressed, as Martinez signed with the Phillies in late July.

I would have hoped that since Pedro has been a Dodger in the past, being traded away 16 years ago, and looks to be in great physical shape at age 37, Colletti would have taken the chance on him rather than Jason Schmidt.

Following his outing against the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday, Pedro stated that he is in better shape than when he was with the Mets in ’06 and is fully healed from nagging hamstring and shoulder injuries.

Manager Joe Torre had also observed Pedro in the World Baseball Classic and made commentary on the topic.

"With his history, and I've had firsthand experience facing him so many times, he's a tough competitor," Torre said. "He was the best in this game at one time. Just from what little I've seen of him, he may not have the velocity he once had, but he certainly has the know-how and the ability to keep the hitter off-balance."

Interestingly enough, Pedro’s velocity was not an issue in his return to the Big Show, and the performance Martinez dished out on Wednesday may have driven a stake through the hearts of Dodger fans everywhere.

Pedro cruised to a victory just hours after the Boys in Blue dropped a series finale to the San Francisco Giants behind the arms of the entire bullpen due to Billingsley’s injury.

Martinez, a three-time Cy Young winner and eight-time All-Star, does certain things that would have been invaluable not only to the young Dodgers staff, but for contributions on the field.

How Pedro Takes Command of an At-Bat

There was a great exchange between the future Hall of Famer and catcher Carlos Ruiz on Wednesday that demonstrated why Pedro still has the ability to baffle hitters and keep them off balance.

In the bottom of the first with Derrek Lee on second base, Jake Fox came to the plate.

The rookie Fox worked an eight-pitch at-bat against the veteran Martinez, but the way Pedro communicated and worked with Ruiz during the at-bat was intriguing.

I’ll pick up the at-bat with the count 1-2 (Fox has already fouled off a changeup that was left over the plate and swung through a hard slider down and away).

Pedro fired another slider down and away, at the request of Ruiz, and Fox fouled it off. The next pitch was a fastball at the letters and in on the hands of Fox, which was foul-tipped.

They went back to the slider down and away to get Fox to chase, but he didn’t bite on the breaking ball in the dirt.

Before the next offering, Pedro shook off Ruiz and slowed his pace on the hill.

You could see his brain imagining his entire onslaught of pitches and the effect they would have on Fox at the dish.

They agreed on changeup, which Fox fouled into the ground.

Going through the signs again for a long time, Ruiz had to take time and go to the mound to talk things over with Pedro.

They arrived on a hard fastball on the outside corner, and Martinez placed a perfect 92-mph dart on the black of the plate. Fox was rung up, and Pedro moved past the great Bob Gibson (3,117) in career strikeouts.

The surgeon-like approach he took to the at-bat with Fox in an excellent example of why Pedro has done so much winning and so little losing in his career. He would have been an unbelievable influence on Billingsley and also 21-year old Clayton Kershaw as they both develop into future aces.

Pedro Uses Off-Speed to Setup the Heater

The reason Pedro can maintain a high-level of contribution is because his bread-and-butter is the movement on his pitches, not the power. If you’ve ever seen the way he can bend the tips of his fingers on his throwing hand, you can understand how the guy makes a two-seam fastball look like a breaking ball.

Pedro got the Cubs to swing at 42 percent of his off-speed pitches; the major league average is 31 percent (courtesy of ESPN.com).

But hitters don’t let that wicked changeup or slider fool them.

Pedro displayed a fastball that touched 93 mph on Wednesday. One would only assume that with the rest he accumulated since the World Baseball Classic, he would begin to maintain a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s over the remainder of the season to compliment a vicious off speed arsenal.

The Dodgers Could Use Some Help These Days

Billingsley missed Wednesday’s start with a strain to his left hamstring. He threw a bullpen session of 32 pitches on Monday, but was unable to continue after pain emerged in the left leg.

"It felt like it was stretching," Billingsley said. "The last few throws, I felt like a grab in there."

The most concerning aspect of the injury to Chad is that in his previous start, he had to come out because of a cramp in his right hamstring. It’s entirely possible that his right hamstring was still weakened, and his over-compensation on the left leg caused the twinge of the muscle.

The injury caused Los Angeles to use the “pitcher-by-committee” method on Wednesday, which required Jeff Weaver to toe the rubber for the start, and then turn the ball over to the waiting bullpen.

Fortunately, Randy Wolf did his job the night before and worked eight innings to keep the bullpen fresh, and they allowed only two runs in six innings before the Juan Uribe walk-off home run.

Eric Stults filled the fifth spot in the rotation on Sunday, but due to his spot being skipped with a day off on Thursday, was sent back down to triple-A Albuquerque.

And of course, the Dodgers recently lost Jason Schmidt to the disabled list once again…

The Absurdity of the Jason Schmidt Experiment

I was against the idea of allowing him to return in the first place and I hate to be right about it, but he just didn’t have enough in his arm to get out major league hitters on a consistent basis.

We all had to suffer through watching Jason Schmidt throw batting practice to teams for his short return to the club as the 36-year-old went 2-2 with a 5.60 ERA. He also paid no attention to base runners (six stolen bases/zero caught stealing), and walked 12 while striking out only eight.

The first four batters he faced on July 20 against the Cincinnati Reds can best sum up Schmidt’s return to the majors.

Willy Taveras tripled off the wall in left, Jerry Hairston doubled off the wall in left, Joey Votta lined a shot so hard off the wall in right he could only leg out a single, and then Brandon Phillips flew a ball to the warning track in right center (a play on which he doubled because Andre Ethier lost the ball in the sun).

Every one of those balls was scorched; mainly, because he was throwing 81-85 mph fastballs with little to no movement. In his four outings, opposing batters swung and missed only 20 times out of 185 strikes thrown.

The team should have cut ties with him when his rehab stint was over and never subjected the rotation to his demoralizing presence on the mound.

Now, the Dodgers are forced to find a second-rate fill-in for the rest of the season.

The L.A. Times has reported that the Dodgers are considering bringing on either John Smoltz or Vicente Padilla to fill the void in the fifth starter role.

Smoltz was recently released from the Boston Red Sox after being tattered by the New York Yankees last Thursday. Although his velocity was decent, flirting with a lower-90s fastball throughout his return, he never really showed the confidence or command of his pitches to dictate a game.

Smoltz went 2-5 in eight games with an astronomical 8.32 ERA.

As for Padilla, he has been an absolute terror in the clubhouse for the Texas Rangers, causing them to cut him recently even though he has an 8-6 record with a 4.92 ERA in 18 games this season.

He was missing or late for team meetings on a consistent basis, but Torre doesn’t seem to think that would be an issue if he became a Dodger.

"When you have a solid group of people, stuff like that doesn't bother me," Torre said.

Did I mention Padilla also contracted swine flu earlier in the season? Talk about a clubhouse menace.

Instead of taking the long shot chance on Schmidt, and now being forced to test the waivers market, the organization needed to turn to Pedro before the Phillies inked him to a deal; none of these rotation problems would exist and the defending champs would have one less bullet in their chamber.

Yet here we sit in mid-August, and the Phillies have added Lee and Martinez to strengthen their staff, with the Dodgers sitting on their hands.

While Philadelphia has found answers, Los Angeles has accumulated more questions, and with the surging and much improved St. Louis Cardinals in the mix, it has unfortunately dictated a power shift in the National League.

PJ Ross is a Featured Columnist for the Los Angeles Dodgers

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