'Pen quite different without Wade, Ohman
Relievers haven't had desired outcomes early on this year
LOS ANGELES -- The Friday night demotion of reliever Cory Wade to Triple-A Albuquerque is the latest indication of how rapidly the Dodgers bullpen has changed.
Hong-Chih Kuo -- who shared the eighth inning with Wade last year after Jonathan Broxton inherited the closer job from the injury Takashi Saito -- has been disabled since April 30.
Kuo was sore all Spring Training, which triggered the Dodgers into a panic signing of free agent Will Ohman. He was rushed onto the roster with one week of Spring Training and has been disabled since May 28, first with a sore shoulder, now with elbow tendinitis that could sideline him for months.
Wade -- sent down to make room for Saturday night starter Eric Milton -- was last year's unsung workhorse. He didn't even make the club out of Spring Training, but was promoted from Double-A Jacksonville in late April. Including his Minor League time, Wade threw 87 innings in 62 appearances with one stint on the DL with a tired shoulder. He was second among rookie relievers with a 2.27 ERA.
But he wasn't the same this year. He was sore during Spring Training, spent 18 days on the DL this April with more shoulder problems and his ERA more than doubled (to 5.88) while allowing seven runs in his past 7 1/3 innings.
"He was a guy we trusted in the eighth inning last year and he earned it. He was throwing strikes and had great command," said manager Joe Torre. "We didn't see the same thing [this season]. He needs to use both sides of the plate. He was disappointed, but I didn't see any shock there."
Wade did not speak with reporters Friday night, but after allowing a pair of home runs in Chicago on Wednesday night, he said he was healthy.
Bullpen coach Ken Howell has a theory on the difference between Wade from last year to this year.
"The biggest thing I've seen is that Cory established the inside of the plate last year and this year he's stayed on the outer third and teams just sit on it," Howell said. "We talked recently and I told him he has to get back to challenging hitters inside."
Howell rejected the suggestion that whatever velocity Wade lost from his shoulder problems shook his confidence in throwing inside.
"I think it's because he had so much success with that [outside] part of the plate, he just started to rely on it too much," said Howell. "Maybe he just felt if he was going to make a mistake, he'd rather it was with his strength. He has to get back to re-establishing inside so hitters are not able to dive over the plate."
Meanwhile, Ohman is discouraged. He said he's never walked off a mound in pain until he did it this week while warming up for a rehab appearance at Triple-A Albuquerque. Now he's shut down for at least several weeks, which will require up to a month of essentially a Spring Training that he never had before he's game ready.
"It's just disappointing," he said. "I've thrown 12 innings. That's not representative of my career."
Although Ohman missed the entire 2002 season with Tommy John elbow reconstruction, he's been a workhorse over the previous four seasons, averaging 71.5 appearances, which is why the Dodgers signed him for $1.35 million plus a 2010 option.
"It was really painful and the first thought is, is it another Tommy John?" he said. "But when they looked at the MRI, the ligament is as sound as could be asked for. That was a major relief. But the nature of this injury is that I have to sit around."
Meanwhile, Jason Schmidt had his best outing as a member of the Dodgers, getting into the eighth inning with 105 pitches in a rehab start for Albuquerque.
"This certainly was impressive," said Torre. "It's got to be taken serious."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.