Stretching the Field: Patience running thin with Dodgers

Don't blame the Los Angeles Dodgers for not trying.

They shelled out the cash, tinkered with the roster and entered the 2013 season with lofty expectations. Less than two months into the season, though, the high-priced club is searching for answers and, most importantly, wins.

How can a team with a payroll exceeding $200 million struggle to find a rhythm? It's quite the conundrum. Injuries have mounted, early MVP candidate Matt Kemp owns just one home run and manager Don Mattingly's job has come into question. What else is new in the City of Angels, right?

"I've seen L.A.," Mattingly told the L.A. Times. "They got rid of Mike Brown. It was his fault. Now it's (Mike) D'Antoni's fault. It's always the head guy's fault. I saw it in New York, too. They would fire the manager every year.

"I can't fall into the trap of worrying about that."

All Mattingly is worried about is the team. It's a team that has lost seven in a row -- all in May -- and is only 5-16 within the National League West. For a Dodgers ballclub expected to win the division for the first time since 2009, playing poorly within the division isn't an option.

The Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks aren't supposed to compete within the division, but guess who's sitting in the basement? That's right, those opulent Dodgers.

Mattingly knows he's doing the best he can do in getting the most out of his players and doesn't need "reassurance" that his job is safe. It's hard to believe someone known as "Donnie Baseball" and a New York Yankees icon is on the hot seat.

But Mattingly doesn't have to re-invent the wheel; he just has to get the wheels in motion.

"We've had group talks," Mattingly told the paper. "We've had 'part of the group' talks. We've had individual talks. We're searching for answers. We're trying to push buttons. We're really trying to find that answer."

Injuries are no excuse for the Dodgers and the latest to fall victim is slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Bothered by a neck injury, Gonzalez is day-to-day and leads the club with a .343 average and 23 RBI. He is one of the veterans who Mattingly expects the rest of the team to look up to. The same goes for Kemp and starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw. Kemp has only one home run on the season, one year after clubbing 23 and two years removed from a 39- homer campaign, but still has the support of his manager.

"It's like I tell my players: You've got to turn the page," Mattingly said. "When it's going bad, it's tough to turn the page. The negative wears you down and eats you up.

"I want them to be tough. If it wears you down, get up. Let's go."

Kemp is riding an eight-game hitting streak in which he's batting .324 with 11 hits, four RBI and three runs scored. Could this translate into a monster month? Kershaw, meanwhile, heads a rotation that is without three contributors in Zack Greinke (collarbone), Chad Billingsley (elbow) and Ted Lilly (abdomen). Greinke's injury could have been easily avoided had he not muttered something to an already-heated Carlos Quentin of the San Diego Padres. We all know what happened there.

Greinke, the high-priced right-hander who signed in the offseason, could return as soon as the end of next week. L.A.'s bullpen has been taxed and probably can't wait to get Greinke back.

"Obviously, we'd like to have back the players we have here," Dodgers president Stan Kasten said. "But that's certainly not an excuse. We should be doing better with the players that we have."

Kershaw hasn't been his dominant self since opening the season 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA. Since then, he is 1-2 with a modest 2.27 ERA in six starts with the Dodgers going 2-4 in that time. Remember Kershaw also is dealing with the loss of his father and that has been weighing on the lefty's mind.

The Dodgers should at least be pleased with outfielder Carl Crawford. He has shown his durability in 31 games and is hitting .301 with five homers and 22 runs scored. He had 23 runs in just 31 games all of last season with the Boston Red Sox. Crawford's RBI total of eight could be better.

Also, Korean rookie left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu has given the Dodgers two worthy starters and is even with Kershaw in wins with three (3-2).

"He does a great job channeling his focus on the mound," infielder Jerry Hairston said of Ryu. "He does his job and he's a pro. He's been doing it for a while. He's had really good success in Korea and he knows how to pitch."

For more disenchanting news. shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who recently returned from a stint on the disabled list because of a thumb injury, is back on the shelf with a balky left hamstring.

"You never know how long it will be," Mattingly said of Ramirez's stay on the disabled list. "You can't get to the game intensity of trying to explode when you need to. And he just got back and was swinging the bat and we're struggling to score runs. He's one of those guys we've been waiting for, looking forward to him back in the lineup. It's tough."

It's been tough for those involved with this organization and the road ahead is a murky one. It's early in the season and if the Dodgers are still wading at the bottom of the NL West come July, then changes have to be made. By that time, Mattingly could be another Los Angeles coaching casualty and the great Phil Jackson probably has no interest in dipping his toe into the hardball pool.