LOS ANGELES--As the Los Angeles Dodgers began the second half of their season Friday, their bullpen remained an area of concern for General Manager Ned Colletti.
Speaking before a 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium, Colletti said that was the part of the team he most wanted to improve leading up to the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.
"I'd like to get our bullpen squared away, whether it's internally or externally," Colletti said. "It's a scenario we spent a lot of time on this past winter with the idea that it would be one of our key strengths. We think it needs to be better collectively."
Kenley Jansen is tied for second in the major leagues with 24 saves. Left-hander J.P. Howell leads the Dodgers with a 1.59 earned-run average.
But $10-million setup man Brian Wilson has been inconsistent, as have the team's two other former All-Star closers, Chris Perez and Brandon League.
The bullpen didn't factor into the loss Friday, as starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu departed from the game after seven innings with the Dodgers trailing, 3-1.
Colletti said he has already spoken to several potential trade partners.
"We've probably heard more teams and had more conversations earlier than ever," Colletti said. "There seems to be so much parity. There are a lot of teams in and around .500 that are still competing for the wild-card spots. Those teams that feel that they're not in that group are making it known what they're willing to do."
Colletti acknowledged teams have inquired about the Dodgers' outfielders, but declined to offer details.
Aside from the bullpen, Colletti sounded pleased with the state of his team. The Dodgers have won 10 of their last 14 games and trail the first-place San Francisco Giants by only two games.
Colletti was particularly upbeat about the improvement of the defense.
The Dodgers made 42 errors and allowed 32 unearned runs in their 50 games. They have made eight errors and allowed two unearned runs over their last 32 games.
"Sometimes defense is a range factor," Colletti said. "Sometimes it's a focus factor. I think the more we emphasized it, the better we got, the more it became a priority. It was something we spent more time on."
But Colletti said the team's earlier problems were the result of more than subpar defense.
"I think confidence plays a part, too," he said. "No matter who you are, there's a confidence level when you struggle. You try to do too much. When you start to do things better, you tend to play looser and you tend to be more productive."
Of the team's offense, Colletti said, "I still think there's more in there."
However, he pointed out that Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig are on pace to drive in close to 100 runs.
Ramirez didn't play for the fourth consecutive day because of irritation in his right shoulder, the latest of several ailments that have slowed the shortstop.
Asked if he was concerned Ramirez might not be the force he was last season, Colletti replied, "He's close to 100-RBI pace, even battling what he's been battling. The middle of our lineup has a lot of talent. Baseball is typically a game of average. If you're a .280 hitter and you're hitting .320, you might be hitting .280 by the time it's over. And if you're hitting .250, you might be hitting .280 when it's over."
Ramirez, a career .300 hitter, is batting .269.
Colletti also noted that the Dodgers aren't as dependent on Ramirez as they were last season, in part because of the emergence of Dee Gordon, the evolution of Yasiel Puig and the return of Matt Kemp.
Colletti complimented Kemp on his improved play, both at the plate and his new position in left field.
"He seems to be comfortable out there," Colletti said. "His game is coming back. You know, for two years, he'd been injured a lot. When you don't play for periods of time, it takes you a while to get it back. You can't just show up off the DL or show up in the spring after a surgery and not have an aftereffect. He's been a lot better. I think he's all right."
Entering Friday, Kemp was batting .343 with three home runs and 14 runs batted in over his last 20 games.
Cardinals 3, Dodgers 1
KEY MOMENT: Jhonny Peralta broke a 1-1 stalemate in the fifth inning, when he drove in two runs on a double to right-center field off Hyun-Jin Ryu. Center fielder Scott Van Slyke appeared to pull up while pursuing the ball when he saw right fielder Yasiel Puig coming his way.
AT THE PLATE: Dee Gordon had three hits and drove in the Dodgers' only run in the second inning, when he singled to right field. Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez lasted only 41/3 innings, but the Dodgers failed to score any runs against the visiting relievers.
ON THE MOUND: Ryu lost for only the second time in eight starts. He was charged with three runs and nine hits over seven innings. He served up a solo home run to Yadier Molina in the fourth inning.
(c)2014 Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services