“I understand people are going to boo if it doesn’t work out,” he said. “It doesn’t make the game any less painful.”
But there’s no escaping the fact the Dodgers can’t afford to lose these games, not to the team that leads the National League West. They had an opportunity to cut into their sizable deficit this week, but instead they fell 8½ games out of first place.
They wasted a gritty effort by starter Clayton Kershaw and another multi-hit game by rookie star Yasiel Puig, who had three and lifted his batting average to .500 (16 for 32). But in the hands of closer League, everything slipped away.
League blew his fourth save of the season by giving up four runs in the top of the ninth to Arizona. It was the Dodgers’ 13th blown save this season, tying the Chicago Cubs for the major-league lead, and gave the bullpen its 15th defeat, matching the Houston Astros’ total for the most in baseball.
Whether League remains the Dodgers’ closer is a question for another day.
But it appeared afterward that Mattingly is considering a move.
“It makes it tough to answer that question right now,” he said. “It’s something we have to look at.”
The Dodgers signed League to a three-year contract after he gave up just one earned run over 16 1/3 innings in the last month of the 2012 season. But he’s been inconsistent this year, despite 13 saves.
His ERA is 6.00, and he’s allowed 28 hits in 24 innings.
“The confidence is there,” League said. “I’m throwing every pitch with conviction, with every ounce of belief in my mind that it’s going to do what it’s supposed to do. But once I release the ball, I have no control over what it does. That’s the story of the year right there.”
There seems little question that Mattingly will have to consider handing the ninth inning to Kenley Jansen, who has two saves and a 2.53 ERA. He pitched a scoreless eighth to protect a 3-1 lead, but League couldn’t hold it.
Mattingly had said he prefers to put the opponent’s toughest batters in Jansen’s hands, whether it’s the eighth or the ninth. He let Jansen pitch to Willie Bloomquist, Paul Goldschmidt and Cody Ross in the eighth, pointing out that Goldschmidt was 3 for 3 with a home run off League and Ross was 2 for 2 with a home run.
“The guys Kenley got are the guys he gets better than Brandon,” Mattingly said.
But it backfired. And when Mattingly finally came out to pull League, the boos were loud and clear.
“That’s what happens,” Mattingly said. “If he gets his outs, they’re cheering for him. If he doesn’t get his outs, it’s a bad decision. That’s the way it is. I understand it. I’m trying to put people in the best position to get the job done. Brandon’s done the job in the past.”
The loss prevented Kershaw from picking up his first win since May 20, despite the fact he allowed one run over seven innings. Kershaw conceded he wasn’t at his best and that he didn’t have command of his fastball.
“It was a little bit of a battle,” he said. But it shouldn’t have been.
Now the Dodgers need to beat the Diamondbacks over the next two games or fall farther out of contention at a time they can least afford to lose ground.
“It’s not a good start,” Mattingly said. “It’s a two-game swing every time you get these guys in your face. These are ones that hurt.”