SAN FRANCISCO -- One decision the Dodgers face for next year is whether to tender a contract to reliever Hong-Chih Kuo. And one decision Kuo faces for next year is if he wants one.
After suffering his first loss of the year Tuesday night -- 5-3 to the first-place Giants that dropped the Dodgers back into a tie with San Diego for last place -- Kuo couldn't even say he wanted to play next year.
"I just want to finish out this year," said the star-crossed left-hander, whose four elbow operations in previous seasons took a back seat this year to the anxiety disorder that put him on the disabled list and his career in jeopardy.
"We'll see about next year. Maybe I come back. I don't know. I'm not thinking about that yet. It's too early. I'm just trying to get better this year; that's all I can do. We'll see what happens."
And if Kuo wants to return, will the Dodgers tender him a contract, assuring him a significant raise through arbitration on his $2.725 million salary this year? Without knowing whether his elbow, or his psyche, will stand the stress?
An All-Star only a year ago, Kuo said his confidence wasn't shaken by the two-run double in the seventh inning that Brandon Belt sent just inside the left-field line. Belt, recalled earlier in the day, homered earlier in the game off rookie Dodgers starter Rubby De La Rosa.
"I tried to get a fastball away," said Kuo. "He got a hit. It happens."
Kuo inherited a tied game and it probably would have stayed that way if the Dodgers had properly executed a rare Kuo pickoff with runners on the corners and one out. Kuo, no master at holding runners, caught pinch-runner Emmanuel Burriss breaking for second. But with the go-ahead run on third, first baseman James Loney took a look to make sure Andres Torres wasn't trying to score before throwing too high to second base to get Burriss.
"That's an out we can get," said manager Don Mattingly. "It's not quite a catch-and-throw with a tie game, a runner at third, and James has got to peek. It's still a big out we don't get."
Kuo then struck out Nate Schierholtz for what would have been the third out, but instead was the second. Mattingly had Kuo walk Cody Ross intentionally to load the bases, but the left-handed Belt then doubled in the winning runs.
"I just wanted to go after the first thing he threw up there to me, and fortunately it was in a place where I could put some good wood on it and get it down the line," said Belt.
Mattingly said he wasn't worried that a tough loss might deliver Kuo a psychological setback.
"Not really. I thought he was good," said Mattingly. "The ball is coming out. He's getting there. Everything with Kuo is pretty encouraging. I think you see the confidence that's growing. We made him [intentionally] walk a couple of guys and that can be a little funky, but he made them hit the ball. He's still getting there."
The loss dropped the Dodgers a staggering 14 1/2 games behind the Giants with their fourth consecutive defeat. They've also lost six straight to the Giants for the first time since 1969. In the last 30 games, the Dodgers have gone 11-19 and lost eight games in the standings.
They got only five innings out of De La Rosa, charged with three runs but outlasted by Giants starter Madison Bumgarner, who went eight innings. The Dodgers got four of their five hits and all three runs in the third inning, two on a Rafael Furcal single that snapped his 0-for-19 drought.
"Rubby was OK," said Mattingly. "It's what we're going to see. He's going to have stuff, but the innings. It's part of him growing up. He hung in there but made a lot of pitches  for five innings. It's going to get better and better."
But the Dodgers made three big mistakes in the game -- the failed pickoff play, an errant pickoff attempt by De La Rosa that led to an unearned run and a baserunning mistake by Juan Rivera that cut short the three-run third inning.
After the three-run third inning, the Dodgers didn't get another baserunner until Matt Kemp's two-out single in the ninth off All-Star closer Brian Wilson. But Andre Ethier, who didn't start, flied out to left field to end the game for Wilson's 29th save.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.