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Maeda roughed up, Joc pulled as Dodgers falter

@kengurnick
July 31, 2019

DENVER -- All clubs would love to have the problems of a team with a 14-game lead, which doesn’t mean the Dodgers don’t have problems. Most were on display in Monday night’s 9-1 rout by the Rockies, from another short Kenta Maeda start to sloppy defense, a slumping offense and

DENVER -- All clubs would love to have the problems of a team with a 14-game lead, which doesn’t mean the Dodgers don’t have problems.

Most were on display in Monday night’s 9-1 rout by the Rockies, from another short Kenta Maeda start to sloppy defense, a slumping offense and erratic relief. The Dodgers are a mediocre 15-14 since June 23, unable to maintain the relentless precision of the first half with the luxury of a double-digit lead in the NL West.

Box score

And then there’s the Joc Pederson experiment at first base, which has never looked successful but became a real train wreck in this game. A frustrated Pederson -- who earlier drew one error and was eaten up by a ball that nearly became another -- ultimately got benched after not running out his eighth-inning RBI groundout.

Perhaps by Wednesday’s Trade Deadline, the dominoes will fall into place and Pederson can be put back into a position to succeed. But that position doesn’t seem to be first base.

He’s been charged with six errors there in 20 games, although the one he got for losing Justin Turner’s throw in the sun on Monday was hard to avoid at Coors Field, which is brutal for first basemen in the early innings. The same thing happened to Fred McGriff on an Adrian Beltre throw in 2003 and McGriff had 19 years of MLB experience at the position at the time.

But the frustration of repeated mistakes boiled over for Pederson, who grounded out sharply to first base to cash in Will Smith’s leadoff double in the eighth inning with the Dodgers trailing, 6-0. Pederson stopped one-third of the way to first base and tossed his bat aside. For the bottom of the eighth, Tyler White played first base.

“It is what it is,” said Pederson. “I think that it was unprofessional. I let the emotions get the best of me, and I need to be better than that. There’s no single thing [that led to the frustration], combination of things.”

Manager Dave Roberts called Pederson on it.

“Got to run the ball out,” said Roberts. “I think there’s a certain way to play the game. I didn’t see the effort there.”

Roberts didn’t cite effort regarding the starting pitching, offense or defense. He said Kenta Maeda pitched better than the linescore indicated, although Maeda was unforgiving for walking opposing pitcher Jon Gray when he was trying to sacrifice bunt, triggering a five-run fifth inning in which Maeda made 27 pitches and didn’t retire a batter.

Julio Urias gets a spot-start on Tuesday, but who’s to say he doesn’t move into the rotation? Or the Dodgers could shift their trade search for a reliever to a starter if they conclude Maeda is a better relief alternative to anything on the market. As a starter, even excluding his July 19 start cut short by rain, Maeda has pitched fewer than six innings in seven of his other eight starts, and his last win was May 31.

Roberts credited Gray for holding the Dodgers to three hits over eight innings, but the game total of four hits was their fewest in a game at Coors Field since 2012.

Roberts wasn’t as kind reviewing a defense that was a source of pride in the first half, but now is a source of opponents' runs. The Dodgers have committed 22 errors in their past 14 games, including second baseman Max Muncy booting a possible double-play ball that hit the mound and contributed to the fifth-inning avalanche.

“We pride ourselves on being sure-handed, and we’re just not making plays we’ve shown to make consistently,” said Roberts. “I don’t have an explanation for it.

“It needs to get better. I’m not concerned about it long term, but in the present it’s important. It causes pitchers to go shorter in games because the pitch count goes up. [It disrupts] the rhythm of the game. Hopefully it turns sooner than later.”

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.