With the game tied at one in the bottom of the ninth, Hong-Chih Kuo started the frame off by walking Prince Fielder on six pitches. Kuo didn’t look good doing it, and with righties Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt following, Don Mattingly strode to the mound and called to the bullpen for his righty, which was absolutely the correct move.
Unfortunately, coming in wasn’t Javy Guerra, who hadn’t pitched since Friday and has allowed just one earned run in the last two months. It was Mike MacDougal, who threw 2/3 of an inning last night and is, you know, Mike MacDougal. I’ve defended Mattingly a lot this season, but much of this loss lies on him, as he fell victim to the same mistake that managers have been making for decades, which is saving their closer for a lead in a tie game on the road.
Or as I put it on Twitter at the time,
Whenever you can bring Mike MacDougal in to a tied game with a man on in the bottom of the 9th, you have to do it.
Let’s be fair for a second, because Guerra is hardly a top-tier closer, and this isn’t as egregious as Clint Hurdle refusing to use Joel Hanrahan through 19 innings simply because he didn’t get the lead. But it’s still pretty bad. If you have a guy you’ve identified as “the closer”, and you use him to “save games”, well, sometimes there are other ways to save the game than to get the final outs with a lead. I’d think that making sure the home team doesn’t walk off with a win before you get a chance to hit again would count as saving the game, but there’s always the alternative of “letting one of your worst relievers lose the game while your better ones watch” is always an option too.
MacDougal immediately allowed a hard-hit single to McGehee, moving Fielder to second. Here’s the best part, though. The Brewers tried to help the Dodgers by giving them an out, as Betancourt attempted to sacrifice bunt. MacDougal refused the gift, walking him on four pitches. Now with the bases loaded, one of the few hitters in baseball more impotent than Betancourt came up, Mark Kotsay. One pitch later, Kotsay had lined the game-winning hit to center field, and the Brewers celebrated around Fielder at the plate. Few things in baseball are more reliable than Mike MacDougal blowing a game in the late innings, except perhaps the continued refusal of managers to deploy their bullpen assets at the right time. (Kuo came down with the loss, though, because this sport still keeps records the same way they did in 1891.)
Of course, this isn’t all on Mattingly and MacDougal, since the offense managed just one run on four singles against Milwaukee starter Yovani Gallardo and old friend Takashi Saito. That’s one run over the two games of this series, in case you haven’t been keeping track, and when that’s the kind of offense you’re putting up, it probably doesn’t matter if you’re throwing out Mike MacDougal or 1990-era Dennis Eckersley in the late innings.
All that being said, let’s not ignore the performance from Chad Billingsley, who got off to a rough start by allowing five baserunners in the first two innings (one, granted, on a Juan Rivera error), generally throwing a lot of pitches, and looking for all the world like he wouldn’t last beyond 3.2 innings. He then turned it around to retire nine in a row in the third, fourth, and fifth innings, ending up allowing just one run over seven innings. Coming off last week’s “99 pitches, no strikeouts, and unable to hold a 6-0 lead in 4.1 innings” disaster against the Phillies, being able to come back from an uneven start to keep the club in the game against a tough opponent was a pretty nice accomplishment.
On a side note, Trent Oeltjen pinch-hit for Billingsley in the top of the 8th, and not only did he draw a walk, he made me think, “hey! Trent Oeltjen is still on this team. Who knew?” Apparently, no one: Oeltjen hasn’t started since July 5, 35 Dodger games ago. Only twice in that time has he even managed to get in the field, and while I’m certainly not about to start any sort of “free Trent Oeltjen” campaign, you can imagine that a guy might get a little rusty sitting around like that.
So here’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a while: Christopher Jackson of the Albuquerque Baseball Examiner, who’s really becoming our go-to guy on the high minors, has a look at the Rule 5 eligible players the Dodgers will need to make decisions on this offseason. Most interesting there is the news that Tim Federowicz and Stephen Fife, both acquired in the Trayvon Robinson deal, will not need to be placed on the 40-man roster. That’s contrary to what we heard at the time, but since Jackson spoke with both DeJon Watson and MLB itself, I think we can trust his reporting.
According to Jackson, the Dodgers have eight players who will need to either be added to the 40-man roster or exposed to the draft:
Most of the notable Rule 5-eligibles are at Double-A Chattanooga. They include left-hander Michael Antonini, third baseman Pedro Baez, catcher Gorman “Griff” Erickson, infielder Elian Herrera, right-hander Will Savage, outfielder Alfredo Silverio, first baseman-outfielder Scott Van Slyke and catcher Matt Wallach.
Much can change between now and the December draft, though I think it’s safe to say that Erickson, Silverio, Van Slyke, and Wallach are likely to be added. Antonini, Herrera, and Savage are roster filler, and can we please finally turn Baez into a pitcher already? This is a topic we’ll delve into with more detail after the season ends, but there’s clearly no shortage of 40-man roster spots to add any youngsters they need: with Dee Gordon and Juan Uribe each on the DL, 11 of the 13 offensive players currently on the active roster are something less than locks to be on next year’s roster.