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Don Mattingly, the ace and the bullpen from hell

June 15, 2011 |  8:05 am

Mattingly_640 There’s a time to show faith in your players, and a time to touch base with reality. Don Mattingly showed way too much love for his miserable bullpen Tuesday night.

They are not very good to begin with, and then they just got beat up for four wild days in Colorado. Not that it’s all their fault. Of the seven arms in the bullpen, only two were supposed to be here -- and that’s counting Blake Hawksworth, who might not have made it if Ronald Belisario ever discovered north from south.

The Dodgers sport the worst bullpen (4.80 ERA) in the National League. It ranks 29th in the majors, ahead of only Minnesota, though they are closing fast.

Yet Tuesday night in a 1-1 game after seven innings, with the guy who is their one legitimate stud in the rotation -- Clayton Kershaw -- throwing smoothly and in command, Mattingly lifted him to start the eighth ... because the Reds pinch-hit Miguel Cairo to lead off the inning?

At that point, Kershaw had allowed four hits and two walks (one intentional). He had thrown a reasonable 104 pitches. It was still his game to win or lose. Anyway, you would think so.

Mattingly took one look at the right-handed hitting Cairo and called on the right-handed Hawksworth, and the left-handed Kershaw walked off the mound without having thrown a pitch in the eighth.

And the game quickly slipped away. Hawksworth, Scott Elbert and Mike MacDougal combined to give up runs in the eighth and ninth, and the Dodgers lost 3-2.

After Cairo, right-handed hitters Drew Stubbs and Brandon Phillips followed in the order. Then came left-handers Joe Votto and Jay Bruce.

"It was just the two righties up front, I wanted to [keep] Stubbs and Phillips off the bases," Mattingly said. "Not wanting to get to those lefties and him being at 115, 120 [pitches] at that point.

"You’re right, it’s one of those situations you look back and go, 'This is your guy.' But tonight was just one of those nights where I wanted to get those righties out."

By calling down to that marvelous bullpen. The one with three rookies in it. Two who were pitching at double A last month.

Kershaw, naturally, did not want to leave the game.

"I was always disappointed," he said. "I always want to keep throwing. I always want to pitch, Donny knows that. At the same time, I’m not going to question his judgment. He trusts the bullpen, just like I do."

I trust in his ability to recognize exactly what he has down in the bullpen right now. And that is reality.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Don Mattingly. Credit: Gary A. Vasquez / US Presswire