Zach Lee is the last of the Dodgers' bonus babies, a $5-million reminder of an era when a team could lavish however many millions it wished upon a draft choice. He was the Dodgers' minor league pitcher of the year last season, and they nearly traded him for Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick. Lee arrived at spring training as the most advanced of all the Dodgers' starting pitching prospects.
The Dodgers have used eight starting pitchers this season, including unheralded minor leaguers Red Patterson and Stephen Fife. They have not seriously considered Lee, despite all the accolades, because Lee simply has not pitched well this season.
The Dodgers desperately could use him now, if he were performing more effectively. Maybe they can use him anyway.
With injuries and ineffectiveness exhausting the pitching depth at the major league level, General Manager Ned Colletti plans to watch the Dodgers' triple-A Albuquerque affiliate in person next week.
The Dodgers announced Saturday swingman Paul Maholm would miss the rest of the season after tearing a knee ligament in Friday's game. Maholm was the backup plan for Dan Haren, who has failed to complete six innings in his last five starts, and Josh Beckett, who is trying to pitch through a hip injury.
On Saturday, before the Dodgers defeated the Chicago Cubs, 5-2, in 12 innings on Hanley Ramirez's homer, Colletti said the injury to Maholm had not really changed his strategy for August.
The Dodgers needed pitching before Maholm got hurt, so they already had interest in waiver claims and in evaluating their minor league pitchers.
"We're still in the same boat," Colletti said. "We're still trying to make sure we have enough pitching."
Maholm might not have performed with excellence — he had a 4.84 earned-run average, including a 6.14 ERA since the All-Star break — but he ate up innings, as a fill-in for the injured Clayton Kershaw in April and as the Dodgers' only true long reliever.
"Losing Paul is huge," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "He's a valuable swingman who can do so many different things. It's a huge void we have to fill."
Maholm's injury deprived the Dodgers of the most logical replacement for Haren, in the event of a change in the starting rotation. Manager Don Mattingly said he plans to give Haren another start Wednesday against the Angels. Haren has a 6.52 ERA in his last 11 starts, including a 10.03 ERA in his last five.
"I don't feel like we're a whole lot different than any other team out there, when you get to your fourth and fifth guys," Mattingly said. "I'll take my chances with Danny at this point."
Mattingly said Haren puts forth his best effort every time out and is willing to "take a bullet for the team" and eat up innings even when he is not at his best, to help preserve the pitching staff.
"Is that still good enough at this point?" Mattingly said. "Right now, he's starting."
With the need for depth at the back end of the rotation and in long relief, the Dodgers are expected to evaluate Lee, fellow Albuquerque right-handers Patterson and Carlos Frias, and double-A Chattanooga left-hander Chris Reed.
Lee went 10-10 with a 3.22 ERA at Chattanooga last season, with 35 walks and 131 strikeouts in 143 innings. He is 6-10 with a 5.22 ERA at Albuquerque this season, with 44 walks and 77 strikeouts in 119 innings.
While the Dodgers do not get overly worried about a pitcher giving up home runs in Albuquerque, they do fret about pitchers that struggle to throw strikes, there or anywhere. Lee has a 7.00 ERA in his last seven starts, with 19 walks in 36 innings.
"He is 22 years old in the Pacific Coast League," Colletti said. "That's a pretty good step. We knew this year would be a challenge for him, but we wanted to move him up. He has the competitiveness and personality [to handle it]. We thought there might be a bump in the road here and there."