Schmidt (1-4, 6.31 ERA) did not say his shoulder is still injured, but he's pitching like it. The former power ace of the Giants, his fastball touched a high of 88 mph only a few times and hovered around the mid-80s. More telling, however, is that he's pretty much abandoned his slider and curveball, which makes him a two-pitch pitcher -- fastball and changeup -- neither of which has been consistently effective.
Schmidt's season has been this: three disappointing starts, followed by a seven-week hiatus to calm shoulder bursitis and strengthen the joint, followed by three recent starts.
In those recent starts, he pitched six scoreless innings against the Padres and the Dodgers were encouraged. In the second, he was roughed up by Toronto and the Dodgers were discouraged. Now this, 4 2/3 innings, charged with three runs, four walks (two intentional), two wild pitches and a hit batter (Vladimir Guerrero) that started the decisive rally with two outs.
Schmidt then allowed a sharp single to Gary Matthews Jr., walked Casey Kotchman and hung a changeup that Reggie Willits floated into right field for two runs. After 78 pitches, Little had seen enough and the hook was quick. He brought in Rudy Seanez, who allowed an RBI single to Howie Kendrick, and nobody scored after that.
"I didn't really care for the way the inning was going and didn't want it to become a blowout," Little said, explaining why he lifted Schmidt with only two runs in.
Schmidt didn't complain, saying he hadn't pitched well enough to earn the right to argue with his manager. And nobody can argue with that.
"He's pitching with what he has, but he's not Jason Schmidt right now," said pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. "Today he had better arm speed, but there's still times the ball's not coming out, whether it's the bursitis in that area that's not allowing his arm to function the way it should."
That, of course, is the suspicion, that something inside Schmidt's shoulder is so wrong that seven weeks off couldn't fix it. The obvious implication, then, is surgery, but nobody's saying that yet. Schmidt has been disabled with shoulder problems five times in his career and had surgery in 2000.
Prior to this start, Schmidt cut back on long toss during the week and shortened his bullpen session in hopes of keeping his arm fresh. When analyzing Schmidt's comments about the state of his shoulder, it must be remembered that he denied having any discomfort earlier in the year until trainer Stan Conte grilled him.
"Something is still not right," Schmidt said. "I just don't feel like myself. It's not coming out as smoothly as I'd like. Whatever it is, I don't know yet. It could be mechanical, it could be anything. [I'm] not going to open a can of worms with this thing. It is what it's been since the beginning of the year. I feel fine out there, that's the crazy thing about it. It's not an issue of that [discomfort] right now. I was a little more free and easy today, but the command was lacking."
So much was expected from Schmidt when the Dodgers gave him a $47 million free agent contract. Of course, the only thing Schmidt could have done to assure he won Saturday's game was hit a grand slam. An offense that scratched out two runs in a Friday night win over Ervin Santana came up empty against Jered Weaver and the Angels bullpen.
Offensively, the Dodgers demonstrated to new hitting coach Bill Mueller why they needed a new hitting coach. They loaded the bases in the second inning without scoring, had runners in scoring position in the fourth and fifth innings without scoring, then had only one infield single over the final four innings.
The offense had only five hits, stranded nine runners and went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. He spent the postgame working in the batting cage with slumping veterans Nomar Garciaparra and Jeff Kent, who did not start Saturday.
"This will take time," Mueller said. "Players develop bad habits over a period of time and it takes time to correct. You'd love for it to happen in one at-bat -- I know I did -- but it rarely does."
Mueller doesn't talk in terms of team approach, instead saying he will focus individually.
"It's just a matter of solving each situation with each individual and getting everybody on the right page and raise their confidence," he said. "These guys are good hitters, but hitting is physical and mental and we have to try to improve both areas."