Stephen Fife continues to struggle in Dodgers' loss to Diamondbacks

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers whiffed on their first chance to clinch the National League West on Wednesday night, thanks in large part to falling behind 4-0 early.

PHOENIX -- Stephen Fife was put on the spot Wednesday night with a chance to pitch the Dodgers into the postseason, but the right-hander couldn't get out of the third inning in the 9-3 loss to the Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

"I was having trouble with the change-up, and my fastball command was lacking. I threw, I don't know, 50/50 strikes with it, and that's generally my go-to, get my fastball down in the zone, force contact and get deep in the game," Fife said. "I had a lot of deep counts and a lack of command in general."

Fife faced 18 batters on Thursday night, and 11 of them reached base. He allowed six hits, three walks, hit two batters, and even threw two wild pitches. That he left trailing just 3-0 was amazing, though he did leave the bases loaded in the third and one more run came in after Fife was removed.

"The first inning after giving up the home run and had bases loaded, getting out of that I felt I was going in the right direction," Fife said. "The second inning was pretty solid, but in the third inning I just didn't execute the way I should have executed. That goes on nobody but my shoulders."

It has been a pattern of late for Fife, who since a temporary move to the bullpen in Triple-A Albuquerque in August has lost his command. In his last eight games — five in the minors, three in the majors — Fife has an 11.39 ERA with 22 walks, 11 strikeouts and 27 runs allowed in 21⅓ innings.

"It's on everybody's mind. Everybody in this clubhouse wants to clinch as soon as possible and move on with it." -Stephen Fife, on the Dodgers clinching the NL West

Fife is a creature of habit, one who likes to stick to his routine, but he doesn't blame the bullpen for his struggles. He said he has had trouble adjusting to having a healthy right shoulder after a pair of stints on the disabled list earlier in the year with shoulder bursitis.

"It's been not necessarily mechanical but my shoulder's felt good for the last eight weeks. I've been able to do more. It's kind of funny, protecting my shoulder earlier in the year led me to be in the zone all the time," Fife said. "It's more of a mental thing right now just trying to get past the fact that my shoulder did hurt and it doesn't hurt anymore, and just attacking the way I can.

"It should make everything better. I feel like I do more playing catch, I do more off the mound. I can put a greater effort in and it leads to what I think would be a better performance, but obviously it didn't go that way tonight."

Fife was given the start on Wednesday in place of Clayton Kershaw to stretch out the rotation in the midst of 17 straight days with a game, and to allow the Dodgers to lineup Kershaw and Zack Greinke to pitch the first two games of the National League Division Series.

Manager Don Mattingly said he had no regrets in starting Fife, but did say, "Obviously the one thing you look back is if Cap was healthy we wouldn't have to start Stephen."

Chris Capuano has been out since suffering a groin strain in a start on Sept. 6 in Cincinnati. Mattingly said Capuano received an injection of platelet-rich plasma this week and the plan was for him to throw a bullpen session at some point during the weekend in San Diego.

The Dodgers, with a magic number of two, should be able to clinch the division by then. Probably. Maybe.

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