Penny struggles; Dodgers' skid at four

Penny struggles; Dodgers' skid at four

NEW YORK -- The good news for the Dodgers is that Clayton Kershaw starts on Friday night.

It's already come to that. In only his second Major League start, the 20-year-old needs to be a stopper after Opening Day starter Brad Penny was hammered by the Mets again, an 8-4 loss on Thursday night that ruined Joe Torre's otherwise pleasant return to New York.

There's nothing pleasant, however, about what's happening to Torre's team. The Dodgers have lost four straight and six of seven, and for the first time in a month, have a losing record on the year. But even with that, they are still in second place.

"We're fortunate where we sit, considering how many games we've lost," said Torre.

Penny has been losing with regularity, and Torre must be wondering whatever happened to the two-time All-Star, who went 16-4 last year. He's now 5-6 with an ERA (5.66) approaching double last year's 3.03.

He made it through only four innings, needing 91 pitches, but students of past performances wouldn't be surprised. All the obstacles were perfectly aligned for him: pitching in Shea Stadium, against the Mets, against David Wright.

As a result, Penny is now 5-13 lifetime against the Mets and 1-10 lifetime at Shea. Wright's two homers raised his career average against Penny to .579 (with four home runs and 19 RBIs in 19 at-bats).

Penny is winless since May 2, which includes the 10-run debacle against the Mets on May 7. During the stretch he is 0-4 with a 9.43 ERA.

"We need Brad to pitch better than that," Torre said bluntly. "We haven't scored runs [three in the previous three games], and they jump up six-nothing. That's a tall mountain for us to climb."

If Penny or Torre owned a racehorse that suddenly went off form, the immediate suspicion would be something physical. Penny, who conceded that he had shoulder stiffness two weeks ago, said that's not the case.

"I'm feeling good now," Penny said. "It's something everybody goes through. It's a matter of time, and I'll turn it around. I'll work harder between starts."

Torre said that Penny's 93-mph fastballs and biting breaking balls convince him that it's nothing physical, but he's not sure what it is.

"I don't have an answer," he said. "I didn't see him last year. I really can't say. Obviously, the results were really good last year. Physically, I don't think it's anything, or he couldn't throw the ball as well as he has."

Penny wouldn't buy into historical trends as an explanation for allowing six runs in four innings, all of them in two-out rallies.

"It's not the place. I didn't execute pitches," he said. "I'm not putting innings away."

Wright's first home run followed a walk, but the second was preceded by some fluky and sloppy defense. The fourth inning appeared to be over when opposing pitcher Claudio Vargas grounded out, but plate umpire Bill Welke called catcher's interference on Russell Martin and Vargas was awarded first base.

"Even with catcher's interference, I've got to get out of it," said Penny. "No excuse. It's part of the game. I've got to be able to get the next guy."

After a Jose Reyes single, Luis Castillo doubled in a run, and left fielder Juan Pierre's throw came in to third base trying for the speedy Reyes, but the infield defense was lined up for a throw to the plate to get the plodding Vargas.

Blake DeWitt was late getting to third, and Penny was backing up the plate. By the time the ball was retrieved, Reyes had scored and Castillo was on third, soon to be driven in by Wright's second homer.

The Dodgers -- who canceled batting practice because of their late arrival from Chicago early Thursday morning -- mounted a comeback. Jeff Kent, swinging as though he hadn't just missed two games with a bad back, homered. One walk later, so did DeWitt, the three runs matching the total output in the Chicago series.

James Loney's RBI single in the top of the sixth made it a two-run game, but the Mets scored two more off the Dodgers bullpen in the seventh.

"I thought we had a little fight in us tonight," said Torre. "Now we've got Kent [who also had a sharp single and walk] back. He's not 100 percent."

At one point in the seventh inning, Torre went to the mound to remove former Yankees reliever Scott Proctor. As Torre returned to the dugout, he was mildly surprised to receive a standing ovation by a segment of the crowd.

"It made me feel good, considering the game," he said. "It was nice because of the fact it started here [managing the Mets]. It doesn't seem that long ago, but it was."

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