It might be D.J. Houlton, who ended a 1 1/2-year exile in Triple-A this week and immediately moved to the front of the line with three scoreless innings of relief on Tuesday. Houlton, a starter at Las Vegas, restored order after Wolf was charged with six runs and four walks. Even if Houlton starts on Sunday, somebody will need to replace Wolf on the roster and the ranks at Triple-A are thin. Double-A reliever Jonathan Meloan is one possibility.
From the original starting rotation, only Brad Penny and Derek Lowe will have made it through the first half unscathed. Jason Schmidt is gone for the year following shoulder surgery, Brett Tomko lost his starting job and is struggling as a reliever and now Wolf. Hong-Chih Kuo, who was injured in the spring, returned but was ineffective and has been demoted to Triple-A. Mark Hendrickson begins his second stint in the rotation on Wednesday night.
Fully recovered this year from 2005 Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, Wolf said the shoulder has bothered him for about a month, no surprise considering his 7.25 ERA since May 27. He said he's had occasional trouble loosening up and the discomfort kept him awake on Monday night, but he started on Tuesday night anyway, hoping it would loosen. After three innings in distress, trainer Stan Conte told Wolf he was done.
"It had more than a 50 percent impact tonight," Wolf said of the discomfort and the results. "It isn't great. I've never had discomfort in my shoulder before. It's not great."
Wolf said he's never had a prior shoulder problem and was confident the injury would be short-term. Although bursitis was the original diagnosis for his lockermate Schmidt, the belief around the clubhouse with Schmidt had been something more serious all along, which proved the case with last month's surgery.
By contrast to the sudden pitching crisis, the depth of position players in Los Angeles is impressive. Manager Grady Little could sit Nomar Garciaparra and in his place get a two-run homer and two-run double from Betemit against his former Atlanta teammates. Betemit had a two-run pinch-hit homer on May 6 against Kyle Davies to earn this start and justified it with a two-run homer off Davies in the second inning. He also had a two-run double in the third.
Little gave All-Star catcher Russell Martin all but the ninth inning off, and Mike Lieberthal stepped in with two hits, while James Loney drove in a run as the sub for Martin batting third.
Andre Ethier came off the bench to drive in a run batting for Wolf, and the younger outfielder replacing him in the lineup, Matt Kemp, drove in Jeff Kent with the game-winner, a two-out single in the seventh inning on a 3-2 Tyler Yates slider.
"Just trying to stay alive and got some good wood on it," said Kemp.
Kent set up the run with a double off the center-field fence, barely beating a perfect throw to second base by center fielder Andruw Jones.
Houlton and the bullpen followed Wolf with six scoreless innings of one-hit ball. Rudy Seanez raised his record to 5-1 with the win, Jonathan Broxton pitched the eighth and Takashi Saito got his 23rd save.
Houlton said nobody said anything to him about starting on Sunday, but for now he's glad to be a Major Leaguer again. He spent the entire 2005 season with the Dodgers as a Rule 5 Draft pick, but he was never called up last year, which he concedes was spent a little bit in sulk mode.
"It was frustrating, but I have to say it made me a better player and a better person," he said. "I didn't enjoy last year, and that was my fault. I had the wrong attitude. I went about things the negative way. I switched everything this year, and I'm happier, even when I was in Las Vegas."