Blanton continues Dodgers 'pen's struggles

Right-hander allows game-winning three-run homer in the eighth

May 7th, 2016

TORONTO -- The lack of a bridge to get from solid starting pitching to exceptional closer Kenley Jansen torpedoed the Dodgers in a 5-2 Interleague loss to the Blue Jays Friday night.

Joe Blanton, the only major addition to last year's returning relievers and signed primarily for long relief, allowed a three-run homer to Kevin Pillar to break a 2-2 tie in the eighth inning. The Dodgers have now lost eight of their last 10 games.

Blanton had earned the right to pitch the eighth, manager Dave Roberts said, because of the one-pitch pop out induced from Josh Donaldson to quash a bases-loaded mess inherited from Adam Liberatore in the seventh.

In the eighth, though, Blanton allowed a one-out double to Edwin Encarnacion. Roberts had the right-hander intentionally walk the left-handed hitting Justin Smoak to pitch to the right-handed Pillar with former Dodgers catcher Russell Martin on deck. Pillar is hitting .373 since April 17.

"I loved the matchup," Roberts said. "With the base open, late in the game, you don't want to let the lefty beat you. He had him, 1-2, threw a fastball down and in, and Pillar put a good swing on it."

Down the drain went six effective innings from starter Kenta Maeda, who was taken deep himself for a two-run shot on a 3-2 hanging slider by Jose Bautista in the sixth inning. That was one of only two hits allowed by Maeda, who walked four after walking only six in his previous five starts. He might have allowed twice as many runs if not bailed out by defensive gems from Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig.

The Dodgers are a game under .500 again, and of their 15 losses, six have been suffered by the bullpen. The Dodgers also have lost six of the 16 quality starts from their rotation, some of them the result of too little offense, like Friday night, when the only Dodgers runs were produced in the seventh on doubles by Joc Pederson and Carl Crawford and a single by Chase Utley.

Roberts solidly endorsed the relievers he has, even though he's had to take the eighth inning away from struggling set-up man Chris Hatcher and turn to Blanton and Pedro Baez, who was ineffective Wednesday night against the Rays.

"He's been throwing, arguably, the best of our guys in the 'pen," Roberts said of Blanton. "After the first month, you let things play themselves out. It's a performance-based game and I think Joe's earned the right to pitch late in the game. Outside of Kenley, there's really no set roles. I like certain matchups. I want to keep putting them out there. Yeah, I trust them."

Blanton, a reformed starter who went to the bullpen last summer to keep his career alive, thought the pitch to Pillar deserved a better fate.

"I had a matchup I kind of wanted, I haven't looked at replay, but I thought it was good enough," Blanton said. "To my eye in real time, it's hats-off a little bit. I tried to come in and he hit it. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you get beat and say hats-off. It may not been exactly where wanted it, but that doesn't mean it was a bad pitch."