SAN FRANCISCO -- It might have been the most honest answer Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has given all year.
After his team was held to two runs or fewer for the ninth time in the past 21 games and kept its losing record during the month of September intact with a 3-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants on Thursday night, Mattingly made it clear he is just as eager as everyone else to get the playoffs started.
"I'd like to see a lot of things. I'd like to see us score 10 runs a night, throw shutouts," Mattingly said. "To be honest with you, I don't think it's going to matter one bit. What's going to matter is the game next Thursday (when the playoffs start).
"We can sit here and cut it up all we want. We can talk about this or that or the other. But until Thursday, these questions aren't going to be answered. I'm going to be guessing with all my answers. I could tell you I want to see this or that and that would be the magic pattern that is going to take us over the hump. Honestly, that's all (expletive). It's going to be next Thursday--how we execute and how we play next Thursday."
Paco Rodriguez did not execute well against Angel Pagan in the eighth inning, leaving a cutter over the plate that Pagan hit off the top of the left-field wall and out for the tiebreaking home run.
Rodriguez came into the game having held left-handed hitters to a .125 average (12 for 96) with only two extra-base hits all year. But he was pitching for the first time in a week as Mattingly tried to throttle back on the rookie's workload. Rodriguez retired just one of three batters -- giving up a home run to the left-handed Pagan and a bloop double to Brandon Belt, another lefty.
"It's extremely frustrating, no question about it," Rodriguez said. "I've been out a week and come in and don't do my job. It was a bad pitch at the wrong time."
Not really. In keeping with his just-get-the-playoffs-started attitude, Mattingly said Rodriguez might as well make the mistake "now than a few days from now" and made it clear Rodriguez remains firmly planted in the Dodgers' playoff bullpen despite some poor outings in September.
"Paco's all right," he said. "He needed to get back out there. He hadn't been out there in awhile. We know Paco and what he can do."
Thursday's starter, Edinson Volquez, is a different matter.
One night after Ricky Nolasco had his third consecutive poor start, Volquez made his second consecutive solid start, holding the Giants to two runs in five innings.
Nolasco is not as vulnerable as his 12.75 ERA over his final three regular-season starts might imply. But Volquez has pitched well enough to present a viable option should the Dodgers need an additional starter in the postseason beyond the current four lined up -- Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Nolasco.
Over his final three starts, Volquez allowed seven runs (six earned) on 14 hits in 17 innings (3.18 ERA), though he did walk seven in his last two starts.
"Volkie has been improving," Mattingly said. "Since he came over, his outings have kind of steadily gotten better. This guy's got good stuff. To this point, he's done what we've asked him to do."
For his part, Volquez acknowledged that adjustments suggested by Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt have him throwing more strikes.
"That's big for me," he said. "When I was in San Diego, I was always behind in the count."
The question now is where -- if at all -- Volquez fits into the Dodgers' postseason plans. The most likely answer is a stretch in limbo, working out at the team's complex in Arizona in case a pitcher gets injured and Volquez is needed.
"I have no idea. I just do my job," said Volquez, released by the Padres in August and unsigned beyond this year. "Whatever they decide, I'll be really happy because I was at home and I got another opportunity to pitch in the big leagues -- especially now with a team that is going to the playoffs."
Thursday's loss all but eliminated the Dodgers' chances of getting home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They are three games behind the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves (tied for the best record in the National League at 94-65) and hold the tiebreaker advantage only against the Cardinals.
The Dodgers will head into the postseason next week knowing they have a pitcher in their bullpen who already has recorded the final out in a World Series.
But Brian Wilson won't be closing games for the Dodgers in October. That task will fall to Kenley Jansen, 25, who has never thrown a pitch in the pressurized atmosphere of playoff baseball and was still a minor league conversion project (going from catcher to pitcher) the last time the Dodgers made the playoffs in 2009.
"It's the same game. Nothing changes," Jansen said of the prospect of throwing the most important pitches in postseason games. "That's the attitude I carry. You can't do anything extra. You just have to do your job the same way you've been doing it all year."
Jansen has been doing it very well since taking over the closer role from Brandon League in mid-June. Yasiel Puig's arrival and Hanley Ramirez's return to health have been frequently cited as key factors in the Dodgers' midseason turnaround. But their rebirth also coincided with Jansen's elevation to the closer role.
He has converted 28 of 32 save opportunities with 109 strikeouts and just 48 hits allowed in 752/3 innings. His 0.85 WHIP is the lowest among NL relievers and his 6.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio is the fourth-best in the majors. Jansen has allowed just four hits with runners in scoring position all season.
"Who knows what's going to happen or how anyone is going to react?" Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of Jansen's relative inexperience as a closer -- and total lack of experience with playoff pressure. "I don't see why it's going to be any different. They don't seem to hit him now. I don't think they'll hit him then."
As for Wilson, he has quickly pitched his way into a prominent role as a setup man in front of Jansen, allowing just one run on eight hits and striking out 12 in 121/3 innings since joining the Dodgers in August. Wilson had four consecutive seasons with at least 36 saves (2008-11) as the Giants closer, including their 2010 World Series championship. But he said there has been no adjustment necessary in moving to the eighth inning.
"No -- I'm a relief pitcher. I need to be ready whenever the starter comes out," Wilson said. "I told Donnie when I signed I'm here to get outs. Thank you for giving me the opportunity."
Mattingly acknowledged before Thursday's game that Andre Ethier is "not likely" to play again before the postseason. "But that doesn't mean we're not moving forward," he said.
Ethier has not played since Sept. 13, except for one pinch-hit appearance Sunday in San Diego, because of an injured left ankle.
Ethier did take batting practice on the field with the team Thursday (he did not run) and Mattingly said there are preliminary plans to set up simulated games to keep Ethier sharp. But his inability to run the bases without pain remains the most important hurdle he has yet to clear.
"Five days ago, I was wearing a boot in Arizona," Ethier said Wednesday night. "Yesterday, I was shagging balls in the outfield. Who knows? Maybe I could wake up tomorrow and feel good enough to play."
Ethier was asked if he was concerned he might not be ready for the playoffs.
"I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about tomorrow," he said. "Does the postseason start tomorrow? No? All right then. We're just worrying about tomorrow."
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