DENVER -- Last year it was Randy Wolf and this year it will be Ted Lilly. The Dodgers are faced with another offseason decision on what to do with a veteran free agent left-handed starting pitcher. Look at their career stats, and they are mirror images. Last year, the Dodgers passed when Wolf wanted a multiyear deal to stay, never offered salary arbitration, and he signed a three-year, $29.75 million contract with the Brewers. Milwaukee received a Wolf-type year: 13-11, 4.24 ERA, 201 2/3 innings. In addition to what Lilly does on the mound, the Dodgers need a veteran influence in a rotation headed by Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley. Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla also will be free agents after this season. Manager Joe Torre said he often finds Lilly and Kershaw talking ball in the dugout during games.
If Lilly didn't convince the Dodgers of his value with a five-game win streak after his acquisition from the Cubs at the Trade Deadline, maybe he did Monday night, preventing Ubaldo Jimenez from his 20th win and halting a personal four-game losing streak by allowing one run over eight innings as the Dodgers beat the Rockies, 3-1, with Hong-Chih Kuo notching his 11th save. Casey Blake had three of the Dodgers' six hits with two RBIs and A.J. Ellis singled in a ninth-inning insurance run as the Dodgers handed Jimenez his eighth loss. They've beaten him three times this year. "I'd like to see him get 20," said Blake, "but not against us." Lilly, who earns $13 million this year, is 9-12 overall, but he also has received the lowest run support in the league. A 3.71 ERA is a better indicator of what he's done. That includes a two-hit shutout against the Rockies on Aug. 19. It also includes his worst start with the Dodgers, allowing seven runs in four innings at Coors Field when his curveball wasn't working. Lately, the humidor at Coors Field that supposedly moderates the effect of high-altitude atmospheric conditions on baseballs has come under scrutiny, with the suggestion that someone is switching balls depending on which team is pitching. MLB is taking steps to assure that can't happen. "That's the way it should be," Lilly said of the new oversight. He said he's noticed that baseballs sometimes "feel bigger" as the game goes on in Denver. He's asked if he's ever suspected that the playing field isn't level, so to speak. "The suspicion has crossed my mind," he said. "I don't know how you would even, there's no way of knowing. I'd never make that accusation." Lilly said he didn't make any dramatic change with his breaking ball. "I just tried to be more aware of releasing it down in the zone, knowing there's a tendency for it to stay up," he said. "I don't think it was all that sharp. I got away with a few hangers." The lone run Lilly allowed was a homer to Carlos Gonzalez with one out in the fourth inning. To that point, Gonzalez was 4-for-5 with three homers off Lilly in his career, which is why the pitcher was pleased that Gonzalez was one of eight strikeout victims in the sixth inning after Dexter Fowler had singled. "I had so much trouble with Carlos Gonzalez that getting him out in a big situation was important," said Lilly. Blake gave the lefty two runs to work with in the first inning. Rafael Furcal blooped a single, Ryan Theriot walked, two outs later Matt Kemp walked and Blake smashed a one-hopper off the left foot of Jimenez, the ball ricocheting over shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and into center field as Furcal and Theriot scored. The Dodgers added an insurance run in the ninth when Blake doubled, was bunted to third by Trent Oeltjen and was singled home by Ellis. Jay Gibbons, who has worked himself into the Dodgers' starting outfield rotation, was unable to start because of a strained right calf muscle and was replaced by Oeltjen, who struck out three times before his sacrifice. Blake has endured long slumps this year and has heard suggestions that at 37 it might be time to transition into a part-time role. He said this has been the kind of season that would have driven him crazy in earlier years. "I feel like in the past, when my career was uncertain, I really would have brooded over it and it would have kept me up night upon night and really stressed me out," he said. "I feel like I handled it pretty well. I'm a streaky hitter and I've felt like I've hit the ball better than my average showed. "It makes you question a lot, whether you've still got it. I still feel like my swing is as good as it has been and I can still drive the ball and hit it out of the park." He said he still feels he can play every day, but will do whatever incoming manager Don Mattingly asks. "I'm here to help any way possible," he said. "If it's utility, platoon. I still feel I can have a great year. Until they notify me otherwise, [playing every day] is what I'll plan on doing."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.