ANAHEIM -- Joe Kelly had dreadful stretches last summer and still won the Fall Classic, so anything is possible.
But after his repeated “misfiring” Monday night in an eighth-inning meltdown that cost the Dodgers a 5-3 defeat to the Angels, the manager that brought Kelly into a tied game sounded mystified at how to straighten out the $25 million free-agent signing, and with him a bullpen that has suffered 13 of the club’s 22 losses.
That last stat is why the Dodgers are expected to be as active as usual hunting for relief help at the Trade Deadline.
“I felt confident Joe right there could execute pitches and it just didn’t work out,” said Dave Roberts. “We’re going to need him, it’s just that plain and simple. Mechanical, emotional, mental -- we’ve just got to tap into something and get him untracked.”
The inning included three walks (one intentional), two wild pitches and a pair of throwing errors, one charged to Kelly. Roberts didn’t reject the suggestion that the struggles leaving the reliever with a 1-3 record and 7.59 ERA have gotten in his head.
“You can see it,” Roberts said. “A guy that, in my opinion, has pretty good command, to have the misfires like that, that’s very uncharacteristic. You’re trying too hard, trying to be too perfect, overthrowing, whatever it is.”
The Dodgers have run through a string of veterans to join Pedro Baez and help be the bridge to closer Kenley Jansen. Except for Brandon Morrow in the second half of 2017, most have struggled in recent years.
Kelly wasn’t the only reliever on the hook. Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched six solid innings to be in position for his 10th victory, but Dylan Floro served up a tying two-run homer to Mike Trout in the bottom of the seventh inning on a 2-2 slider that might have fooled most hitters, but not Trout. Floro thought he struck out Trout two pitches earlier on a similar slider, but didn’t get the call.
“He went to the well one too many times with the slider,” said Roberts. “You get a great hitter and you repeat pitches and repeat location and don’t get it there, not a whole lot of good comes from it.”
Although the 3-0 lead created by second-inning doubles by Corey Seager, Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez had evaporated, the game was still winnable in the eighth. With Baez and Julio Urias never warming up and apparently unavailable after weekend usage in San Francisco, Roberts went with Kelly, who allowed two runs without a hit.
It went south immediately as pinch-hitter Shohei Ohtani walked on four pitches.
“We can’t come in and walk Ohtani on four pitches,” said Roberts. “Right there, a lot of misfires.”
Kelly got a called strike three past Kole Calhoun, who homered earlier for the only run off Ryu, but his errant pickoff attempt sent Ohtani to second base. Pinch-hitter Brian Goodwin was walked intentionally, then Kelly wild-pitched the runners to second and third. He walked Jonathan Lucroy unintentionally to load the bases for Wilfredo Tovar, who hit a chopper to Max Muncy, starting at third base so Justin Turner could be designated hitter.
Muncy’s throw on the run pulled catcher Russell Martin off the plate and plate umpire Phil Cuzzi ruled Ohtani safe, a call that stood after the Dodgers challenged. Kelly then wild-pitched home Goodwin.
“I think a little bit right there, it sped up,” said Roberts. “We’ve got to find a way to get him untracked.”
Kelly was coming off three consecutive scoreless innings over three outings with six strikeouts, but none of those games was close.
“Got myself in a little bit of a jam walking the first guy on four,” Kelly said. “Changeup was a little off. Yanked one for the wild pitch. Just got to execute, I guess. It’s not that far off. Probably looks worse than it really is. Kind of a weird inning. Obviously, the command wasn’t there. Guess it’s harder to take if you don’t give yourself a chance. Got to get that first-pitch strike. It can’t get any more bizarre. I guess average for right now.”