LOS ANGELES -- The past few nights have brought something mostly unfamiliar to the Dodgers in 2022: pronounced starting pitching struggles.
After Tyler Anderson and Walker Buehler got knocked around in the first two games of L.A.’s series against the Phillies, Julio Urías posted career highs in runs allowed (eight, though only five earned) and home runs (four) in the Dodgers’ 8-3 loss at Dodger Stadium on Saturday, their fourth straight defeat overall.
“There’s a lot of talent that we have as far as on the pitching side,” said manager Dave Roberts. “I just think the last four games, I don’t think that we’ve executed like we’re capable of doing. You take a team like those guys over there, swinging hot bats, and you don’t make good pitches, they’re going to make you pay. And so I think that’s kind of all it is.”
While L.A. had a handful of subpar starts throughout the first month-plus of the season, it has not seen a stretch like this one, by any means. The Dodgers’ rotation entered the series with a combined 1.78 ERA, the best in the Majors by a fair amount (followed by the D-backs at 2.43). But in the first three games against Philadelphia, Anderson, Buehler and Urías combined to allow 17 earned runs in 17 innings, causing the rotation’s season ERA to balloon to 2.51. On all three nights, the Dodgers found themselves in the mostly foreign situation of trailing early, though they weren’t able to battle back on Saturday the way they had the previous two games.
For Urías, some of it was bad luck. He should have escaped the first inning unscathed, but a bad throw to first by third baseman Justin Turner opened the door for Jean Segura to hit a three-run home run. On top of that, Segura’s home run traveled 340 feet and only had an expected batting average of .080, according to Statcast.
Indeed, on a warm night in Los Angeles, the ball seemed to be carrying more than on many other occasions this season. And while Bryce Harper (8-for-12 in the series) and Kyle Schwarber’s homers off Urías were no-doubters that would’ve been gone on any day, Rhys Hoskins’ solo shot in the fourth had a xBA of .180, according to Statcast.
“I thought the breaking ball just didn’t have the finish that it typically does -- the Harper homer backed up a little bit, the Schwarber homer didn’t have that finish, and then there was a curveball, I think, down below that Segura hit that just kind of got out,” said Roberts. “But [Urías] competed, and it just wasn’t his best night, but for him to put up a couple zeros late was good.”
For as rough as Urías’ final line was, he did his team a favor by working deep, gutting his way through six innings on 75 pitches. That’s a big boost for the Dodgers, who needed six relievers on Saturday night, and as they head into Sunday’s finale with right-hander Michael Grove making his Major League debut.
“It was part of the plan going into the game, going and giving the team length,” Urías said through an interpreter. “It didn’t work out the way we wanted on the numbers side, but giving them six innings and making sure that I was able to get to that sixth inning was really important.”
In the middle of a stretch of 31 games in 30 days (and 14 games in 12 days) and missing both Clayton Kershaw and Andrew Heaney, L.A.’s starting pitching depth is seriously strained still fairly early on in the season.
They’ve already turned to Ryan Pepiot, the club’s No. 6 prospect per MLB Pipeline, who made his MLB debut with three scoreless innings against the Pirates on Wednesday and will likely start one of the games in Tuesday’s doubleheader against the D-backs. And it’s hard to know what to expect from Grove (the club’s No. 23 prospect), who has yet to pitch above the Double-A level, though Roberts said he’s stretched out to about 90 pitches and won’t be on a pitch count or innings limit.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a different experience for him, facing Major League hitters,” said Roberts. “So how efficient he can be, only time will tell.”