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Bellinger hits No. 42 as LA preps for postseason

@kengurnick
August 18, 2019

ATLANTA -- Lab experiments can be a mess when they blow up. Dustin May’s relief debut on Sunday was suboptimal, but the Dodgers will continue with their pitching experiments, anyway. May served up a Rafael Ortega grand slam in his first inning out of the bullpen that resulted in a

ATLANTA -- Lab experiments can be a mess when they blow up. Dustin May’s relief debut on Sunday was suboptimal, but the Dodgers will continue with their pitching experiments, anyway.

May served up a Rafael Ortega grand slam in his first inning out of the bullpen that resulted in a 5-3 Dodgers defeat on Sunday at SunTrust Park and series loss to the Braves. It could be a postseason preview, but it could also be a preview of the Dodgers’ postseason pitching staff.

Box score

“Those guys came in to win a series and they played well,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, whose club lost its first series in nearly a month. “That was fun. But as far as a barometer, I don’t think it was. We lost a series to a good ballclub.”

Tony Gonsolin started and allowed one run in four innings, May tried his 21-year-old right hand at relief and Kenley Jansen pitched the eighth inning in a game the Dodgers trailed.

“This is something we didn’t expect would be seamless,” Roberts said of the May experiment. “Give him an opportunity to learn, to get his feet wet. Maybe he was trying a little too hard, when you’re trying to overthrow the breaking ball and the arm doesn’t catch up. Or you overthrow the two-seamer and it just doesn’t get there. But this is a learning process. My faith, my confidence in Dustin hasn’t wavered. Dustin is going to be absolutely better than fine.”

When you are the runaway division leader, you have the luxury of turning trial balloons into actual trials without worrying too much about it, and the Dodgers are not backing down.

“Credit to our guys, we put ourselves in this situation and ultimately you’re focusing now a little bit -- not trying to get too far ahead -- but on how you want to win 11 games in October. Dustin hasn’t pitched out of the bullpen except for Spring Training. To run the play out, to check the box, it’s a good thing. He feels bad, but we didn’t lose it because of Dustin. We’ll get him back in the ‘pen and he’ll continue to grow.”

May, however, didn’t sound like he felt it was a good thing. As Roberts noted, the Dodgers lost and May felt bad.

“I would attribute it to lack of command,” said May. “A little amped up, a little excited. Still got to go out and execute and [I] really didn’t execute any pitch. I just got to get in my head to get the guy in front of me.”

Asked to protect a two-run lead after Cody Bellinger’s first-inning three-run blast for No. 42 on the season, May loaded the bases with one out in the sixth inning on a walk to Brian McCann, a single by Matt Joyce and a curveball that hit Adeiny Hechavarria.

“Spun out of my hand,” said May. “Poorly executed. A lot of them were today.”

Ortega blasted a 1-2 fastball for his second career home run and first since 2016, when he was an Angel.

“I just left a heater up,” said May.

May came into the game 1-1 with a 2.65 ERA in three starts, having allowed one homer in 17 innings. Now he’s 1-2 with a 4.26 ERA and a blown save. When the Dodgers used Gonsolin in relief, he converted a four-inning save at Coors Field. But when they asked Walker Buehler to attempt the same transition in a similar tryout for a postseason role two years ago, Buehler struggled to a 7.71 ERA and was left off the postseason staff.

Unable to land a premier late-inning reliever at the Trade Deadline, the Dodgers went with Plan B: giving the kids a chance. May said he needs to make the adjustment.

“I have to stick with the same routine until I find something that works better,” he said. “I’m going to try and draw [from others], but mainly it’s got to be feel for me.”

Gonsolin, who will get at least another start, wasn’t as sharp as his previous outings, allowing five hits over four innings.

“[May’s] command today wasn’t what it was like before,” said Roberts. “I guess you can bucket him and Tony together as far as toughness and makeup. Both will be fine.”

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