Dodgers drop it in extras, lose closer

Dodgers drop it in extras, lose closer

LOS ANGELES -- The one constant of this Dodgers season is injuries and they couldn't get to the All-Star break without suffering another, as closer Takashi Saito left Saturday night's 5-3 loss to the Marlins with stiffness on the inside of his right elbow.

After striking out two batters in the ninth inning, Saito threw four pitches to Wes Helms. After the second and fourth pitches, both fastballs, he shook his arm and looked into the Dodgers dugout. He left the game with a 2-2 count on Helms, saying he experienced tightness that increased with each pitch.

"It wasn't a stinging pain, but a strong tightness that got worse and worse. It was a good idea to quit," Saito said, adding that the discomfort was different than what led to 1997 surgery for bone chips in the same elbow while he pitched in Japan. He said he felt fine warming up in the bullpen and during the strikeouts of Cody Ross and John Baker before facing Helms.

Saito won't have an MRI until Monday, according to manager Joe Torre, so uncertainty will linger.

"Hopefully," said Torre, "the news will be good. Hopefully, the fact that he let us know right away headed off any kind of damage."

But at age 38, Saito is likely to be the 15th Dodger placed on the disabled list this season. The severity of the injury could trigger any number of dominoes to fall, including the accelerated return of 20-year-old rookie Clayton Kershaw.

Saito pitched two innings Thursday night for only the second time this year, after pitching one inning Wednesday night, but did not pitch Friday night.

But it wasn't Saito's injury in particular, or pitching in general, that was to blame for this 11-inning loss to Florida. Despite home runs by Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, the Dodgers offense went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight, even with a revamped batting order that had Nomar Garciaparra leading off for the first time in six years and Kemp dropped to seventh in the order.

"It's something that wears on you," said Torre, whose club lost an extra-inning game at home for the second time in three days. "The longer you go without winning games like this, the tougher it becomes. Each at-bat seems to take on an enormous amount of tension. We're not putting ourselves in a good situation. We can write the lineup, but they have to perform."

The loss was the third straight for the Dodgers, who slipped two games behind Arizona. The worst inning for the offense was the first, triggered by Garciaparra's infield single. They loaded the bases with no outs, but scored only one run on a Jeff Kent ground out. Nonetheless, Kent is one of many Dodgers who could use the break, as he's been battling a stiff back that's likely the reason for one home run in the last five weeks.

But you don't need to be 40 to be slumping. Blake DeWitt, the 22-year-old rookie, hasn't homered since May 29 and, after driving in 29 runs in April and May, has five RBIs in May and June.

Then there's Andruw Jones. In a disaster of a first Dodgers season that has made him the target of ferocious jeering from fans, he reached a new low with five strikeouts, tying a franchise record held by Bill Russell and Darryl Strawberry.

Jones volunteered to return early from surgery because of the injury to Juan Pierre, and while his innate defensive skills are a comfort to pitchers, he looks pretty much the same offensively as he did before the surgery, and that wasn't pretty. Jones is 5-for-29 (.172) since returning last weekend with two RBIs and no extra-base hits.

"It's disappointing," Torre said of the offense. "Our pitchers are doing a real good job, but we've leaving them no breathing room. Hiroki Kuroda pitched well enough to win. We need to do a lot better than we've been doing."

Kuroda was coming off a one-hit masterpiece, so the bar was set pretty high. He was critical of his breaking ball and for spotting the Marlins a first-inning run, then allowing a homer to Jorge Cantu in the sixth inning and a third run in the seventh after a leadoff double by former Dodger Cody Ross.

Joe Beimel relieved Kuroda and finished off the seventh inning. Jonathan Broxton, who will inherit Saito's closer role, pitched a perfect ninth. Brian Falkenborg took over for Saito and got Helms with one pitch, but rookie Ramon Troncoso took the loss, allowing a pair of runs in his second inning of work on doubles by Josh Willingham and Dan Uggla and a sacrifice fly by Ross.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.