LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers bullpen on the whole has been a net positive this season, but this week revealed the fickle nature of relief pitching. Sunday marked the third time in five games the Dodgers blew a lead in the eighth inning or later.
In Sunday's 4-2 loss to the Cardinals, the brunt of the St. Louis comeback stick fell on Juan Nicasio, who entered with a 1.48 ERA, a 2.09 FIP, and opposing batters hitting just .191/.280/.236 against him with just four extra-base hits.
"He's been throwing the ball the best for us late in the game. He's been that guy," manager Don Mattingly said. "Whatever you do there, whatever choice I make, if they don't get their outs it's going to be 'Why not the other guy?'"
On Sunday Nicasio allowed a triple, single and double to his four batters faced, and took the loss.
Adam Liberatore allowed the first run of the eighth inning, leaving after walking Matt Carpenter to lead off the inning. Liberatore, who also struck out Kolten Wong to end the seventh with the tying run on base in relief of Zack Greinke, entered with a 2.76 ERA, a 1.89 FIP, and opposing batters hitting .186/.286/.237 against him.
"It makes sense what they did. Liberatore has been amazing all year, especially against lefties," Greinke said. "The matchups made sense."
Liberatore has actually been more effective against right-handed batters, though lefties weren't doing anything against him, hitting .226/.273/.290 entering Sunday.
"There have been a number of things that have happened to us in different games, that hasn't been good for one guy or another. We haven't been as consistent as we were early," Mattingly said. "We're searching for someone to get that ball to Kenley [Jansen]."
With the heart of the Cardinals order — Matt Holliday, Jhonny Peralta and Jason Heyward — due up after Liberatore's leadoff walk, Mattingly could have went to Jansen, his closer, but not for a two-inning save.
"We've talked about it, but we've got a long season and he's really just getting started," Mattingly said. "You're going to be in the same situation in the ninth if you use him in the eighth."
In other words, while Jansen is clearly of paramount importance, the Dodgers will need their other relievers to pitch well, which for the most part they have done this season. Even if it doesn't seem like it at this moment.
The loss dropped the Dodgers to 2-5 against the Cardinals this season, which can't sit well after two consecutive postseason exits in St. Louis. Factor in the Dodgers' 2-7 record against their rival Giants, and we've got another dead horse to beat.
"Nothing happened in this series that changes my mind. If we can get ourselves in, if we play the Cardinals we'll be confident, "Mattingly said. "We want to beat everyone. We want to win enough games to get ourselves in."
The Dodgers are 10-15 since a 22-10 start, and they have lost eight of their last 12 games.
"In the past two weeks we haven't been playing our best baseball. I don't know how well [the Cardinals] were playing, but a lot of times that has a lot to do with how things take place," Greinke said. "Just not everything clicking. It's been okay, but I wouldn't say anything is standing out as positive."
The Dodgers won the season series in each of the last two years against St. Louis, only to fall to the Cardinals in the playoffs. Greinke shrugged off the Dodgers' 4-12 record against the Giants and Cardinals.
"I think we were 15-3 against the Giants last year* and they ended up winning the World Series," Greinke said. "But I don't think it makes a difference."
*Greinke exaggerated for effect; the Dodgers were 10-9 against the Giants in 2014, including 7-2 after the All-Star break. Also, the Giants in 2014 were 27-31 against teams .500 or better, and in the World Series beat a Royals team that was 44-45 against teams .500 or better.
- Scott Van Slyke, dealing with left mid-back inflammation, is expected to be ready for activation on June 15, the first day he is eligible to return to the team. He might not even need a minor league rehab assignment.
"I don't know if it will be necessary, seeing how short it's going to be," Mattingly said. "We haven't really talked about it."
- Brandon Beachy threw a bullpen session on Sunday, and is expected to throw live batting practice at some point this week. He is getting cloentser and closer to a minor league rehab assignment, which could possibly begin as early as next weekend. He last pitched in a game on Aug. 20, 2013.
- Pedro Baez, sidelined with a right pectoral strain, threw off a mound on Saturday, still progressing in his throwing program, with no timetable yet for his return.
"He's doing really well. He hasn't had any setbacks. It's just a matter of time before he gets where he's full bore. It's nothing more than just the time of him getting right," Mattingly said. "Everything's been positive with him."
- Paco Rodriguez after resting his strained left elbow for nearly a week played catch on Saturday, still in the early stages of a throwing program.
The Dodgers continue their homestand with the Diamondbacks coming to town for three games. Mike Bolsinger starts the series opener on Monday night, while old friend Rubby De La Rosa starts for Arizona.