Webb's quest for 20 wins proves elusive

Webb's quest for 20 wins proves elusive

LOS ANGELES -- To illustrate what a bad day it was for Brandon Webb on Saturday at Dodger Stadium, when Bob Melvin went to get the right-hander with two outs in the sixth inning after walking in a run with the bases loaded, Webb dropped the ball before he could hand it to the D-backs manager.

It was Webb's third attempt at becoming the first National League pitcher since 2005 to notch 20 wins in a season, and for the third time, he dropped the ball. After the 7-2 loss, once again the seemingly phantom plateau will have to wait for his next start Friday night at Chase Field against the Reds.

"It was just inconsistency, I don't know what to tell you," said Webb, after the D-backs dropped behind the Dodgers into second place in the National League West by a half-game for the first time since April 5. "I felt real good. I threw four good innings. A lot of pitches there I was trying to be too fine. I tried to nibble and it didn't work. It's not me."

Walking a career-high six batters (one intentional), while allowing all seven runs on five hits -- including a three-run homer to Manny Ramirez -- Webb continued a prolonged slump that couldn't have come at a worse time for his struggling team.

In his past three starts, all losses, Webb has allowed 22 hits and 21 runs (19 earned) in 13 2/3 innings for a 12.57 ERA during that span. His once-gaudy 19-4 record and 2.74 ERA has slipped to 19-7 with a 3.41 ERA, perhaps damaging his chances to win a second NL Cy Young Award in the past three seasons.

Webb worked in and out of trouble during his stint and at times his body language portrayed the obvious frustration as he flapped his glove and walked with shoulders a tad slumped back to the top of the mound after tossing another pitch out of the strike zone. For a pitcher who relies on synchronicity, 45 of his 101 pitches were balls.

"He still got us where we needed to go for a while," Melvin said. "Then Manny hit the home run and he ran out of gas a little bit."

The nexus of the game was two at-bats against Ramirez with runners jammed on the bases: two outs and the bases loaded in third and two outs with runners on first and second in the fifth.

Both times, Webb pitched carefully to the left-handed Andre Ethier, hitting just in front of the right-handed Ramirez. Both times, Webb issued walks. Since Ethier came into the game a .500 hitter (9-for-18) with a homer and three RBIs against Webb, the 29-year-old right-hander actually said he was more comfortable pitching to Ramirez. The left fielder is hitting .403 with 11 homers and 34 RBIs overall since coming to the Dodgers in a trade with the Red Sox at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

"Yeah, you kind of have to pick your poison right there," Webb said.

The first time, it worked out as Webb struck out Ramirez on three pitches. The second time, it didn't. Ramirez hit the first offering -- a fastball high in the strike zone -- the other way into the right-field pavilion for the three-run homer that gave the Dodgers what turned out to be an insurmountable, 3-0, lead.

"I went 2-0 to Ethier the first time and I wasn't going to let him beat me, so I walked him kind of unintentional, intentionally, whatever," Webb said. "It worked out that time. Both of those guys [Ethier and Ramirez] are extremely hot right now. You just have to pick your spots and go after the guy you feel better against."

Webb's losses have come in clusters this season, but this is the first time he's lost three consecutive decisions. He lost back-to-back decisions on May 21 and 26 and June 17 and 22 to account for his other four losses. He also opened the season with nine wins in his first nine decisions and was on an eight-game winning streak -- in 11 decisions -- when he was stopped cold on Aug. 26 against the Padres at San Diego. The other two most recent losses have been to the Dodgers.

Webb has said the past few weeks that he's trying to have his arm come over the top with the rest of his body as he hurls the ball toward the plate. Because of the problem he hasn't been able to locate his classic sinker in the strike zone. As opposed to his previous two starts, Webb seemed to have mastered the problem at times on Saturday. But on too many other occasions, he obviously couldn't.

Catcher Chris Snyder was trying to keep Webb in tow during the outing but not with much success, really.

"I can't throw the ball for him," Snyder said. "I can't physically hold his arm up. All I can do is go out there and tell him what I'm seeing. It's up to him to be consistent."

Right now that's not happening and right now the top two D-backs pitchers -- Dan Haren and Webb -- are not producing. In their past four combined starts, all against the Dodgers and all losses, Arizona has been outscored, 28-5.

And largely because of it, the D-backs are now out of first place.

"Things are magnified right now because of all this," Webb said. "And the fact that me and Haren haven't thrown great the last few starts magnifies it even more. We'll keep going out there trying to do it. I've got four starts left, I think, and those will be the biggest ones I've had all year. I've just got to bear down."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.