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DODGERS FACING THE FACTS HENDRICKSON GETS ROCKED IN DEFEAT WASH. 11, DODGERS 4.

Byline: TONY JACKSON

Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- There is a reason why big-league managers often put off decisions until the last possible millisecond.

There is a reason why big-league managers often answer reporters' questions vaguely and cryptically, especially when there is an opening at the back of the starting rotation and everyone wants to know days ahead of time who is going to fill it.

Games like Thursday night's, when the Dodgers got hammered in ways far worse than just their 11-4 loss to the Washington Nationals, are that reason.

Hours earlier, it had all seemed so clear. Even if Little wouldn't say it, Hong-Chih Kuo was coming to the majors to claim the vacant fifth spot and start Saturday night at Pittsburgh. Even if Little wouldn't say it, either Tony Abreu or Andy LaRoche was going back to the minors so the club could keep a 12-man pitching staff.

But by the time the Dodgers boarded their team bus and waved goodbye to stinky RFK Stadium forever, Little was glad he hadn't said it.

Because after two decades managing in the minors and majors, one thing Little had learned was to be prepared for anything, everything and, above all, the worst thing.

Like the fact it now appears the Dodgers will need another starter to fill another spot because Mark Hendrickson clearly isn't pitching well enough to stay there. Like the fact Yhency Brazoban, just a week into his return to the majors from Tommy John surgery, walked off the field in the fifth inning with pain in the back of his right shoulder.

"We will re-evaluate him (today) in Pittsburgh and see where we stand," Little said of Brazoban, who is scheduled for an MRI. "We hope it's not serious."

Like the fact Hendrickson's ineffectiveness and Brazoban's unavailability forced the Dodgers to use four additional relievers -- including Rudy Seanez just to get out of the eighth after Jonathan Broxton got blown up for four runs in two-thirds of an inning.

Like the fact the Dodgers (31-22), who lost for just the second time in their past eight games -- in front of 20,982 -- now find themselves in a crowded, three-way tie with Arizona and San Diego atop the National League West.

There was one thing Little finally did state definitively: Chad Billingsley, the only reliever other than closer Takashi Saito who didn't pitch in this fiasco, isn't going to be the team's fifth starter.

"His role in our bullpen is much more important now," Little said.

In his first three starts after taking over for the injured Jason Schmidt in the Dodgers' rotation, Hendrickson went 2-0 with a 1.08 ERA. In his five starts since then, he is 0-3 with a 7.18 ERA, including this latest wretched performance in which he gave up five runs on eight hits and failed to get out of the fifth inning.

Hendrickson blamed the disaster on bad mechanics and said he will work to correct them before his next scheduled start Tuesday night at San Diego. But the more immediate question is whether he will have a next scheduled start.

"We spend every day trying to figure out how to make this ballclub better," Little said. "If there is ever anything we can do to make it better, we'll do it."

Think that's vague and cryptic? Try this: "(Hendrickson) is one of our five starters right now," Little said.

If Hendrickson is headed back to the bullpen, then Little had better be prepared for a whole slew of new questions about another vacated starting spot.

Do the Dodgers bring up Kuo for Saturday, then activate Schmidt, who had a solid rehab start at Single-A Inland Empire on Wednesday but could use at least one more, for Tuesday?

Do they give D.J. Houlton, who is 5-2 with a 3.05 ERA at Triple-A Las Vegas, his first major-league shot since 2005?

Or do they gamble on Hendrickson one more time, knowing that it is a long shot at best?

tony.jackson@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3607

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The Dodgers' Russell Martin voices his complaints with umpire Jerry Crawford after he was called out on strikes Thursday.

Greg Fiume/Getty Images
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 1, 2007
Words:701
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