Maholm leaves gaping hole in Dodgers rotation

Colletti needs to find fresh arms to maintain playoff hopes

Maholm leaves gaping hole in Dodgers rotation

One day after the Los Angeles Dodgers didn't acquire anyone at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, they suffered a crushing blow to their pitching staff. Paul Maholm, pitching brilliantly in the seventh inning, tore his right ACL while covering first base. Although the Dodgers haven't said much about the injury, except that he will need surgery, undoubtedly, Maholm will miss the remainder of the season.

The Dodgers needed Maholm to continue pitching well and be more competitive in the National League West. Starting pitchers Dan Haren and Josh Beckett have been struggling. Having experience as a starter, Maholm was the most logical replacement for either Haren or Beckett.

In February, when general manager Ned Colletti signed Maholm, there wasn't much excitement surrounding the signing. After all, the Dodgers already had five quality starters, and they didn't need another journeyman starter who probably would relieve mostly unless a regular starter was injured.

Throughout Spring Training, Maholm had a sore elbow that didn't keep him from pitching but limited his effectiveness. The abbreviated Spring Training didn't allow him to have enough time to build up sufficient arm strength before the season began. Many thought the Dodgers should have put Maholm on the disabled list, but they didn't. Putting him in the bullpen should have given Maholm enough time to build up arm strength and allow the Dodgers to use him occasionally in relief.

The best plans of mice and men seldom have worked out in baseball, and the best plans of the Dodgers didn't work out either. Clayton Kershaw, while pitching in Australia, injured his back, causing him to go on the disabled list for the first time in his career, and a couple weeks later Hyun-Jin Ryu went on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. Beckett hadn't yet returned from the disabled list. The injuries forced Maholm to join the starting rotation.

Despite generally subpar results, Maholm improved with every outing.

When the injured starters returned, manager Don Mattingly put Maholm in the bullpen. He used Maholm when the starter couldn't go long or in a blowout. Maholm responded to the new role well. Just before the All-Star break, Maholm started for the injured Beckett against the San Diego Padres and pitched magnificently. Having him in the bullpen gave the Dodgers two quality left-handed relievers, which is crucial for a team with playoff hopes.

Since the middle of May, Haren hasn't performed well. He already has allowed 22 home runs. During his outings, he seems incapable of keeping the Dodgers in the game or going many innings. It's obvious that the Dodgers need to replace him in the starting rotation, but with whom?

Now the Dodgers can't use Maholm as a replacement starter. Through the waiver system, the San Francisco Giants can block any trade that the Dodgers attempt to make, though it rarely happens. However, the Giants also need pitching after losing Matt Cain for the remainder of the season with bone chips in his elbow.

During Colletti's nine-year tenure as the Dodgers' general manager, he has demonstrated a reluctance to promote a Minor Leaguer during the season, especially when the Dodgers are involved in the division race. But, this year he won't have much choice, except to promote a starting pitcher from within the organization. The Dodgers probably can't go to the playoffs unless they replace Haren. No team can lose a game and exhaust its bullpen every fifth day, and it shouldn't be risking the health of a pitcher because the team doesn't have a replacement. Oh yes, it would be different if the Dodgers had only 14 or fewer games remaining in the season, but they have more than 50 games to go.

The Dodgers have at least two options to promote from Triple-A to replace Haren. While in Minnesota in late April, Red Patterson filled in for a starter during a doubleheader and performed surprisingly well. Since 2010, people who follow the Dodgers have wanted to see Zach Lee pitching in Los Angeles. This is a good time to let the 2010 first-round Draft pick make his Major League debut. The Dodgers always can recall Stephen Fife who has started several games for the team over the past two years.

The injury to Maholm, seemingly a minor pitcher, may have a huge impact on the race in the NL West unless Colletti does something to improve the Dodgers pitching staff.

Sarah D. Morris can be reached at sarahmorris27@gmail.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.