Dodgers come up short in duel
Schmidt tosses six shutout innings in return from DL
SAN DIEGO -- The Dodgers on Tuesday night dropped a ballgame and two places in the standings and came away sounding like the night's big winners.
With closer Takashi Saito nursing a hamstring, the short-handed bullpen lost to the Padres on a run in the bottom of the eighth inning, 1-0. But the loss that slipped them into third place behind San Diego and Arizona was minimized by the welcome return to the starting rotation of Jason Schmidt, who allowed only one infield single over six scoreless innings in his first start after seven weeks on the disabled list with a sore shoulder.
"If there is such a thing as a moral victory, it's what happened tonight for the Los Angeles Dodgers," said manager Grady Little. "We'll reap the benefits of that all year long."
After only one Minor League rehabilitation start, Schmidt's shoulder was strong enough to hit 92 mph on the radar gun, five ticks faster than in any of his three April starts. He had four 1-2-3 innings, equaling his total for April. He walked three, although two of them seemed by design to Kevin Kouzmanoff, who homered off Schmidt in his most recent start.
The only hit was Geoff Blum's bouncer up the middle that second baseman Jeff Kent smothered, but before Kent could shovel to shortstop Rafael Furcal, the ball slipped out of his hand. Two batters later, Furcal stole a single up the middle from opposing pitcher Chris Young with a diving stop.
"Schmidt had good velocity on the fastball, good movement with his changeup, a bite to his slider, he worked both sides of the plate and got ahead in counts," said catcher Russell Martin. "Before, you could tell he was favoring his arm and he never looked comfortable, never looked loose. Today he had stuff to work with. Before, he would go out with an unloaded gun."
Schmidt spent the time on the sidelines strengthening his shoulder muscles and used this start to begin the process of showing what he can do, although he downplayed the performance the way he has downplayed his comeback.
"I didn't put any expectations on it. I tried to throw strikes, pitch a normal game," Schmidt said. "Luckily, it worked out rather well. I felt good and happy to be back at it."
Schmidt said he wasn't aware what his radar reading was and said he could have pitched longer, although Little said he would have removed Schmidt for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning even if the Dodgers had taken the lead. Schmidt made 86 pitches.
"I felt I was able to locate better and I felt free and easy," Schmidt said, comparing Tuesday to the way he pitched in April. "I didn't have to put as much arm effort into it. I hope this is a building block. It was easier to put the ball where I wanted to."
Schmidt's performance helped take some of the sting out of the actual game, which didn't go well for the Dodgers. Their offense was neutralized by Young, their best threat in the seventh inning turned into a base-running disaster and the absence of Saito led to the game-winning rally.
That came in the eighth inning, which is normally the territory of Jonathan Broxton, but he's been promoted to the ninth inning as Saito's replacement. The eighth inning apparently is Chad Billingsley's and Rudy Seanez pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning in this game, which was still scoreless, so Little tried to milk a second inning out of Seanez and pushed his luck too far.
Seanez struck out Hiram Bocachica to start the eighth, but hit pinch-hitter Russell Branyan on the toe with a 2-2 pitch. In the key to the inning, Branyan stole his first base of the season, setting the stage for Marcus Giles' game-winning single to center. Little said he doubted he would have sent Seanez out for the eighth inning if Saito was healthy.
"That's normally Broxton's inning, but we're in a little different situation now," Little said.
They nearly took the lead the previous inning after Martin's leadoff single. Having earlier stolen base No. 9, Martin the baserunner is accorded the attention rarely given a catcher. Before Andre Ethier flied out, Young made three pickoff attempts, two pitchouts and Martin broke for second twice.
During Tony Abreu's at-bat, Young attempted four pickoffs, one pitchout and Martin broke for second four times. The sprints had Martin winded by the time Abreu singled to right field, and when Martin tried to go first to third, his legs gave out from under him rounding second base, and he eventually was erased in a rundown.
"I was going hard and my legs were getting a little heavy," Martin said. "It was aggressive baseball and tough luck. One mistake and it was kind of unlucky and it might have cost us the ballgame. My feet just weren't going as fast as I wanted to, there's really no explanation. They saw me running to second base 18 times, so they threw over to keep me from getting a jump and that didn't help. After eight or nine bags, they pay more attention."
Pinch-hitter Wilson Betemit walked to bring up Juan Pierre, who bounced the first pitch to first base. The free-swinging Pierre went 0-for-4 on only seven pitches.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.