Hendrickson lends serious help

Hendrickson lends serious help

DENVER -- When Jason Schmidt couldn't get outs this month, the problem turned out to be his shoulder. When Mark Hendrickson couldn't get outs last year, the problem was a little higher.

Hendrickson sought the counsel of sports psychologist Dr. Ken Ravizza and the turnaround that started last September continued Thursday when the 6-foot-10 left-hander stood in for the disabled Schmidt and stepped up, pitching 5 2/3 innings for the victory in an 8-1 Dodgers win over the Rockies.

Hendrickson has been working with Ravizza since he was demoted to the bullpen last September, having come up empty as a starter, the role for which the Dodgers obtained him from Tampa Bay last June 27 with Toby Hall for Dioner Navarro and Jae Seo. He has not been shy to credit Ravizza, although it's been Hendrickson who's been making the quality pitches.

"I attribute a lot to him," Hendrickson said of Ravizza, who teaches at Cal State Fullerton, "and I attribute a lot to myself. I want to be a better all-around player. He's just another coach. I have coaches on the field and off the field."

The assignment for Hendrickson Thursday was significant. The site, after all, was Coors Field, where Derek Lowe was chased Wednesday night after only 4 2/3 innings. Hendrickson was lifted after allowing Colorado's only run on his 75th pitch.

"I was pitching on fumes," said Hendrickson, who had made three long-relief appearances this year after losing the fifth-starter competition to Brett Tomko in Spring Training.

To that point, however, Hendrickson was duplicating what he had done in relative obscurity out of the bullpen since late last year. Since his demotion, including two scoreless postseason appearances, Hendrickson's ERA is 1.20.

And with this start in the Coors Field house of pitcher horrors, he pretty well debunked the theory that he's fine when the game's already decided, but not when it's on the line.

"He's figured out the way he has to pitch," said catcher Russell Martin. "He works the cutter inside and that sets up the changeup away. He looks more comfortable than he did last year. He trusts himself and he's executing his game plan. You can just tell by his composure out there."

It didn't hurt that the Dodgers staked him to a 5-0 lead after three innings, with Jeff Kent (three hits, two RBIs) and Luis Gonzalez scoring twice each. Hendrickson even contributed to a two-run second inning with an RBI ground out and the Rockies generously assisted by allowing a three-run third inning, two scoring on first baseman Jeff Baker's error.

But Hendrickson earned this one, allowing no Colorado runner past second base until the sixth inning when Willy Taveras bunted for a single, was wild-pitched to second and scored on Garrett Atkins' single back through the box, only the fifth hit Hendrickson allowed, all singles.

"That's the best I've seen the young man pitch," said Colorado manager Clint Hurdle.

Manager Grady Little then went to his deep bullpen, which held Colorado hitless the final 3 1/3 innings.

"He did exactly what we were looking for him to do," Little said of Hendrickson.

With a scheduled day off Monday, Hendrickson might not start again until April 28, assuming Schmidt is still disabled, because Little wants to keep his other four starters on a five-day rotation.

"He might pitch twice in relief before he starts again," said Little, and he meant it.

Hendrickson made 12 starts for the Dodgers in 2006, the last on Sept. 5. In those, he went 1-7 with a 5.07 ERA. He began working with Ravizza when he went into the bullpen, and had a 0.84 ERA in six relief appearances, allowing one earned run in 11 2/3 innings with 12 strikeouts and only six hits allowed. Then he threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings in the playoffs against the Mets.

Last year, Hendrickson said the pressure of replacing the injured Tomko in the starting rotation in a pennant race got to him.

"L.A. presents a lot more difficult things than Tampa Bay," he said then. "The expectation level is so high, the atmosphere so intense. You hear athletes say that 98 percent of this is from the neck up. I was at the point where I had to do things differently to get back on track to where I was in the early part of the year."

With the victory, the Dodgers ended the brief but grueling two-city, four-game trip 3-1. They are 7-3 on the road and 10-3 within the division.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.