LOS ANGELES – Perhaps the last pitcher the Dodgers needed to face in this middle of the slump they're in was someone who throws a knuckleball. Predictably, they had their hands full with R.A. Dickey.
Dodgers managed only three hits against the New York Mets' right-hander through eight innings in a 9-0 loss on Friday night. One of them was by losing pitcher Aaron Harang, a two-out single in the third that fell between left fielder Kirk Niewenhuis and center fielder Andres Torres after some miscommunication. Los Angeles didn't get another hit until the seventh.
"It's never a good time, really to face him. But we're obviously not the only club he's given trouble to," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "If you're in the East and you see him three or four times, you can come up with a better game plan. It's tough to just look at tape and say, how are we gonna attack this guy?"
The injury-depleted Dodgers, missing Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Mark Ellis, were shut out for the fifth time in 11 games — including all three at San Francisco — and have produced only two runs in their last 48 innings. They are in a 1-10 tailspin that has seen them go from five games ahead in the NL West to a game behind surging San Francisco. Los Angeles led by 7½ games on May 27.
"We've got to try to keep some perspective about where we're at, what we're going through," Mattingly said. "I've been on clubs where you'll go through rocky times in a year. There's a lighthouse out there, and no matter how the water is, you've got to keep steering."
That message has reverberated throughout the clubhouse.
"At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter who's out there. We've got to score runs. We've got to find a way to do it," said Tony Gwynn Jr., who doubled against Dickey in the eighth and was stranded at third base. "As bad as it seems right now, it could be worse. It's like Donnie said the other day: 'You're never as good as you think you are when you're going good, and you're never as bad as you think you are when you're going bad.' It's a long season, so you can't get too high or too low."
Aaron Harang (5-5) gave up five runs and seven hits in 5 2-3 innings. Three of the hits were by Ruben Tejada, who was plunked by the right-hander's 116th and final pitch. Tejada also had an RBI single to cap a four-run seventh against rookie Shawn Tolleson.
Dickey retaliated by hitting Dee Gordon on the rear end with two outs in the sixth, eliciting a warning from plate umpire Todd Tichenor to Dickey and both dugouts. Gordon, who is generously listed at 160 pounds in the Dodgers media guide, was the fourth batter Dickey has hit this season.
Dickey (12-1), who had consecutive one-hitters against Tampa Bay and Baltimore during interleague play, returned to form five days after giving up five runs in six innings against the Yankees and became the majors' first 12-game winner. He struck out 10 and walked one while establishing a career high for wins.
"He was throwing it harder than I'm used to seeing him throw it," Gwynn said. "He threw a lot of strikes with it. And when it's in the zone and the ball's moving like that, it's tough to make contact. It cuts, sinks, it does something different every time he throws it."
Dickey offered a much more colorful description of his primary weapon.
"The metaphor I would give is that if a traditional knuckleball is a butterfly, mine is more like a butterfly on steroids," he said. "It's more like a mosquito or a hummingbird than a butterfly, because of the velocity. It comes in and breaks late at the plate. It darts more and it's in and out of the strike zone. Phil Niekro once told me I had an 'angry' knuckleball."
In the second season of a two-year, $7.8 million contract, Dickey is the first starting pitcher in Mets history to begin a season 12-1 and the first to post at least 12 victories before the All-Star break since Bobby Jones in 1997. The franchise record for wins before the break is held by Tom Seaver, who was 14-5 in 1969 and 1970 going into the midsummer classic.
NOTES: The Dodgers have one home run in their last 15 games. Dickey has allowed only two homers in 82 2-3 innings over his last 10 starts, after giving up at least one in each of his first five outings and seven in 30 1-3 innings. ... Dickey has won 10 straight decisions in 13 starts with a 1.51 ERA since April 18. He finished June 5-0 with a 0.93 ERA. ... Dickey threw no more than 17 pitches in any inning and finished with 116. Harang needed 24 pitches to get out of his bases-loaded jam in the first. ... Johan Santana, who starts for the Mets Saturday night against Nathan Eovaldi, has held the Dodgers to just two runs over 27 2-2 innings in his four starts against them and has won all of them.