Sarah's Take: Pin Dodgers' problems on 'pen, D

Sarah's Take: Pin Dodgers' problems on 'pen, D

The Los Angeles Dodgers had a tough week, despite winning four out of seven games and the organization's 10,000th game. Relief problems continue to plague the team, causing heartbreaking losses. On Friday, putting Hyun-Jin Ryu (shoulder inflammation) on the 15-day disabled list didn't help the pitching situation.

On Sunday, trying to prevent the winning run from scoring while playing the Miami Marlins, Yasiel Puig attempted to make a spectacular catch and crashed into a well-padded fence. He shook himself up, but the preliminary reports indicate Puig narrowly missed suffering serious injuries. With their current pitching problems, the Dodgers can ill afford to have Puig miss significant time.

The Dodgers haven't had their projected starting rotation together so far this season. Unlike many teams, they haven't had a serious injury to a pitcher. Since Opening Day in Australia, they haven't had the services of Clayton Kershaw, but Kershaw is scheduled to return on Tuesday. This should help.

Since the Dodgers' bullpen is overworked, it's easy to blame the starting rotation for not pitching enough innings. But this hasn't been the case. Dodgers starters have pitched the eighth-most innings in the National League. Of course, the Dodgers would love to have a few complete games, but nowadays a complete game is a rarity, especially in April.

Yes, the bullpen is weary. It has pitched the second most in baseball, and no 'pen can be successful at that rate.

The Dodgers' bullpen has brought a lot of the trouble on itself. Most of the relievers have blown leads that have caused many extra-inning games. When a reliever can't do his assignment, another reliever must come in to retire the side. Manager Don Mattingly usually has to use at least three or more relievers a game, and sometimes he has been known to use six to pitch the last three innings. This is how a bullpen can get exhausted by May.

Even before Spring Training began, most people thought one of the strengths for the Dodgers would be their bullpen. What happened?

With the abbreviated spring, the relievers didn't get enough work to build up arm strength and refine their control. It seems when a reliever comes into a game, he walks at least one batter. This isn't good. At least, Mattingly doesn't usually bring a reliever in the middle of an inning, unless he doesn't have a choice. Better control is a must if the Dodgers' bullpen is to become effective.

Brandon League, Chris Withrow and new acquisition Chris Perez, despite blowing a save on Saturday, have been the most reliable relievers for the Dodgers. League had a rough beginning to the season, which many fans magnified since he struggled with mechanics last year, but in his last seven outings, he hasn't allowed a run. Unless either Kenley Jansen or Brian Wilson improves quickly, Matttingly needs to consider giving League a more important role in the 'pen.

Since the Dodgers promoted Withrow last June, he has been a valuable contributor. He has a blazing fastball that tantalizes the opposition to hit weakly to a fielder. Sometimes Withrow has problems with wildness, but he has demonstrated an ability to strike out elite hitters in the game.

Perez was a free-agent closer from the Cleveland Indians who accepted a lesser role with the Dodgers to have a chance to contend. Before Saturday's hiccup, Perez had done everything that the Dodgers had asked of him. He should have another opportunity to close.

While the bullpen toils, the Dodgers have the worst defense in the Major Leagues. Every error or misplayed ball makes the pitcher work harder. With pitch counts prominent, no pitcher can afford to waste a pitch on a fielding miscue. Unless the Dodgers' defense drastically improves, the team will be sitting home in October.

For the entire season, Dee Gordon has given the team a wonderful, traditional leadoff hitter, and Saturday, he had five hits for the first time in his career. Juan Uribe has continued where he left off the previous season. Adrian Gonzalez has the second most homers in the league. The maturing Puig continues to be a difficult out. But the Dodgers need the rest of the outfielders and Hanley Ramirez to begin contributing to the offense.

Placing Ryu on the DL is a blow to the Dodgers, but if their bullpen and defense quickly improve, they'll survive it. If not, the Dodgers' giant payroll will be a disappointment.

Sarah D. Morris can be reached at This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.