MIAMI -- Spring Training is over, but the Dodgers' bullpen problems aren't. Unable to use Jonathan Broxton for a third consecutive game and missing Ronald Belisario and Hong-Chih Kuo, the Dodgers couldn't protect a two-run lead in the ninth inning and suffered their second walk-off loss of the week, 7-6 to the Marlins on Saturday. George Sherrill blew the save, suffered the loss and watched his ERA hit 22.50 in relief of Ramon Troncoso. Troncoso pitched a perfect eighth inning but allowed a leadoff single in the ninth to Gaby Sanchez.
After manager Joe Torre signaled for Sherrill, he hit pinch-hitter Wes Helms on the foot with a 2-2 slider, walked Chris Coghlan, who was trying to bunt, served up a booming two-run pinch-double off the center-field fence to Ronny Paulino, intentionally walked Hanley Ramirez and allowed the game-winning sacrifice fly by Jorge Cantu to center field as Matt Kemp's throw home drifting too far toward first base for Russell Martin to make a play. "The throw was off a bit," said Kemp. "It was do or die. We came up short today." Torre said he hasn't given up on Sherrill. "He's our guy," said Torre. "You get to that part of the game, Troncoso is basically a one-inning guy. Sherrill's been a closer. His experience was closing when he was at Baltimore. Because someone had a bad spring, I just can't ignore his history. I'll continue to send him out there. That's what his job is." Torre remembers how good Sherrill was after his acquisition last summer, nearly unscored upon, but he had a reversal of form in the postseason, and his problems continued through a horrible Spring Training. He showed signs of improvement on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, with two strikeouts in a scoreless inning, but had a relapse in the ninth on Saturday night. And it was a tough loss to take, as the Dodgers had apparently overcome another short start by Vicente Padilla, battled back with a two-run pinch-single from the injured Andre Ethier in the eighth inning on a 3-0 pitch from left-hander Dan Meyer and had Kemp add an insurance run with a towering home run leading off the ninth inning. They also received clutch relief from Jeff Weaver (who bailed out Padilla) and Ramon Ortiz (two perfect innings, three strikeouts). "But that's the way they draw it up," said Torre. "You need 27 outs, and we couldn't get them." Torre said he and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt decided before the game that they wouldn't go three games in a row with Broxton, who made 14 pitches to secure Friday night's win after pitching an inning on Thursday in Pittsburgh. His appearance on Friday night was necessitated when Russ Ortiz was unable to close things out with a 7-1 lead. "Brox warmed up a couple times last night," said Torre. "He probably wanted to go, but Honey and I made up our minds not to use him. It's how many times he warms up and sits down and gets up again. That's why we didn't want to go there." Sherrill took his share of the blame, but also suggested that home-plate umpire Jerry Layne's strike zone didn't help. "The breaking ball just found [Helms'] foot," said Sherrill. "The bunt, I thought he went on ball two. What are you going to do? Ball three was a strike. It just made everything different, and I lost him." Sherrill has been pouring over game video, isolating mechanical flaws with his unconventional stance on the mound and testing it with pregame flat-ground throwing while trying to save enough for the games. It's become quite a high-wire act. "It's still a work in progress," he said. So, it seems, is Padilla. For the second time, he lasted only 4 1/3 innings. He served up Sanchez's homer, avoided the loss because of Ethier's clutch hit and avoided the spotlight that fell instead on Sherrill. The Opening Day starter's ERA is now 11.42. He also missed a squeeze sign that helped take the Dodgers out of a second-inning rally. "He had good stuff at times, but he made some bad pitches," Torre said. "The home run came back over the plate." It also came shortly after a strange delay when the padding on the right-field foul pole dislodged. Padilla windmilled his arm to stay loose during an eight-minute delay for repairs, throwing only a few warmups. Play resumed with a single by former Dodgers outfielder Cody Ross, then a three-run homer by Sanchez.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.