Ni­ca­sio can’t pro­tect Dodgers lead and Car­di­nals score three times in eighth in­ning.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Dy­lan Her­nan­dez

To pro­tect a one-run lead in the eighth in­ning Sun­day night, the Dodgers turned to … Juan Ni­ca­sio?

Ni­ca­sio was a start­ing pitcher for the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of his pre­vi­ous four sea­sons. He was ac­quired in the off-sea­son to be a long re­liever.

So it wasn’t en­tirely sur­pris­ing when the St. Louis Car­di­nals scored three runs in the in­ning to send the Dodgers to a 4-2 de­feat, their third loss in the four-game se­ries at Dodger Sta­dium. Why Ni­ca­sio? “He’s been throw­ing the ball best for us, re­ally, late in the game,” Manager Don Mat­tingly said.

In other words, Mat­tingly had no other op­tions. He was back to where he was last fall.

The much-ma­ligned bullpen of 2014 was made up of rec­og­niz­able names, in­clud­ing for­mer All-Stars Brian Wil­son, Chris Perez and Bran­don League.

Un­der the di­rec­tion of a new front of­fice, the Dodgers tried a new ap­proach in con­struct­ing their bullpen last off-sea­son. The strat­egy seemed to be work­ing early in the sea­son.

But Joel Per­alta landed on the dis­abled list in late April with a nerve-re­lated prob­lem. Right-han­der

Pe­dro Baez and left-han­der Paco Ro­driguez are now side­lined as well.

Pro­jected late-in­ning op­tion Chris Hatcher, who was ac­quired as part of the trade that sent Na­tional League bat­ting leader Dee Gor­don to the Miami Mar­lins, has a 6.88 earned-run av­er­age.

Rookie Yimi Garcia had a 0.63 ERA through May 10. He has an ERA of 9.00 in his last 12 games.

“We haven’t been, ob­vi­ously, as con­sis­tent as we were early, when ev­ery­one seemed to be get­ting their outs,” Mat­tingly said.

Find­ing the links be­tween the start­ing pitch­ers and closer Ken­ley Jansen has be­come a prob­lem.

“We have been search­ing for that,” Mat­tingly said.

Mat­tingly’s first move to the bullpen Sun­day came with two outs and a run­ner on first in the sev­enth in­ning, when he re­placed start­ing pitcher Zack Greinke with Adam Lib­er­a­tore. The rookie left-han­der struck out Kolten Wong to pre­serve the 2-1 lead.

But Lib­er­a­tore re­turned to the mound in the eighth in­ning and walked lead­off hit­ter Matt Car­pen­ter.

In came Ni­ca­sio, who promptly served up a rocket to Matt Hol­l­i­day that went down the right-field line. The ball rolled un­der the glove of Yasiel Puig, al­low­ing Wong to score and Hol­l­i­day to reach third base on what was ruled a triple.

Jhonny Per­alta fol­lowed with a sin­gle to left field that drove in pinch-run­ner Peter Bourjos and moved the Car­di­nals in front, 3-2. Two bat­ters later, Matt Reynolds dou­bled against Ni­ca­sio to knock in an in­sur­ance run.

In a pre­vi­ous era, Mat­tingly said, the Dodgers prob­a­bly would have had a dif­fer­ent plan.

“In the old days, you’re go­ing to go for a two-in­ning save there,” Mat­tingly said. “That’s not the way it is now.”

Mat­tingly didn’t sound as if he was in­clined to use Jansen in a high-lever­age, non­save sit­u­a­tion, like, say, the sit­u­a­tion the Dodgers en- coun­tered Sun­day.

“You’re go­ing to get the same sit­u­a­tion in the ninth if you use him in the eighth,” Mat­tingly said.

The Dodgers played the Car­di­nals seven times in the last 10 days. They lost five times.

“The past two weeks, we haven’t been play­ing our best base­ball, in my opin­ion,” Greinke said.

Over­all, the Dodgers have lost eight of their last 12 games.

“Just not ev­ery­thing is click­ing,” Greinke said. “It’s been OK, but I wouldn’t say any­thing’s stand­ing out pos­i­tive. Just a lot of OK.”

Their prob­lems ex­tend be­yond the bullpen. They also can’t score.

The Dodgers have scored two or fewer runs in 14 of their last 22 games.

Stephen Dunn Getty Images

JOC PED­ER­SON heads for the dugout af­ter be­ing called out on strikes in the sev­enth in­ning.

Mark J. Ter­rill As­so­ci­ated Press

AN­DRE ETHIER of the Dodgers is tagged out at home by St. Louis Car­di­nals catcher Tony Cruz while try­ing to score in the sixth in­ning.

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