LOS ANGELES -- In the Dodgers' version of whack-a-mole, they solved the Chad Billingsley dilemma with a surprising debut start from Stephen Fife on Tuesday night, only for a bullpen crisis to pop up again as the tailspin continued.
Ronald Belisario and Kenley Jansen couldn't protect a one-run lead in the eighth inning and the Dodgers fell to the Phillies, 3-2, their fourth straight loss and 19th in the last 25 games.
"We're just losing close games," manager Don Mattingly said after a second consecutive loss by the same score. "These are the all the same games we were winning early in the year."
The Dodgers spent most of the first three months with the best record in baseball. Over the last month, they have about the worst record in baseball.
"We kind of overachieved to a point," Mattingly said. "But I'm not going to panic all of a sudden and change things around. We'll make improvements and keep going."
Reliever Javy Guerra is expected back from bereavement leave in time for Wednesday's early game, and the bullpen needs him. Belisario and Jansen, a nearly untouchable pair leading up to the All-Star Game, have gone south in unison after the bullpen had already lost Matt Guerrier, Blake Hawksworth and Todd Coffey to injury.
Belisario, rebounding from a year off and a positive cocaine test, was in line for Comeback Player of the Year consideration while allowing runs in only three of his first 25 appearances but has been scored upon in three of his last five outings, with a missed workout thrown in after the break.
Pitching with a one-run lead in the eighth inning, he suddenly lost it, walking Chase Utley on four pitches, then hitting Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz to load the bases. Belisario said he's not fatigued or sore.
"I don't know what happened after I got two outs," said Belisario, who got the loss. "I just try to throw strikes. It happens."
On came Jansen, who Friday night completed a nine-outing no-hitter, but Saturday night lost focus and allowed two runs to score without making a pitch.
He also has demonstrated erratic velocity drops, especially to the first batter he faces. This time the first batter was Hunter Pence, whose two-run single on a 2-1 pitch turned the game around.
"We got some breaks and we took advantage of it," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, whose club was 0-for-38 when trailing after seven innings until this win. "We haven't been doing that. Hunter got a big hit."
Jansen now has five blown saves and two in succession. Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said Jansen insists he's healthy and the focus is not on the velocity but mechanical inconsistencies that are responsible for it.
"I don't want to dwell on the velocity, I just want him mechanically to get into the strongest position to be more explosive," Honeycutt said. "I don't want to mess with him. He just had a no-hitter over those games. He's not totally out of whack."
"For us, it comes down to making a big pitch," Mattingly said. "Tonight we had none on, two out and we give up two runs. That didn't happen at all early in the year. The games are no different. We're just not getting the hit or the pitch or the out. But we're still not getting from the standpoint of putting up enough runs. You can say the bullpen didn't save the game, but saves can be a three-run lead. They can't all be one run."
All of this put a real damper on what should have been a celebratory coming-out party for Fife. Called up earlier in the day from Triple-A Albuquerque to start for the injured Billingsley, the 25-year-old allowed one run over six innings against two-time Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, who was returning after six weeks on the disabled list with a strained lat muscle and allowed two runs in five innings.
Fife, acquired last summer from Boston in the Trayvon Robinson deal, was supported by RBI singles from James Loney and Luis Cruz. Matt Kemp helped to keep it close by throwing runners out at home and third base.
Fife delivered as an advertised sinkerball thrower with 13 ground-ball outs, although he's expected to make only one start and return to Albuquerque.
"It's a dream come true to finally get a chance to pitch in the big leagues, and I had a lot of fun out there," said the Idaho native, whose early athletic goal was to be a quarterback. "I definitely had a rush of emotions stepping out there on the top step before the first inning. I got it over with. The first one is out of the way.
"It was pretty surreal today walking in and taking the elevator ride down. I got to come to the Rookie Program this winter and get a little bit of a taste of what it's like to hang out here, but to see these guys and watch them on TV in Albuquerque every night, it's definitely pretty cool and it was a warm welcome from all the guys."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.