LA matches its best first half ever with 55th win

June 26th, 2019

PHOENIX -- The Dodgers marked the halfway point of the regular season Tuesday night with a 3-2 win over nemesis Robbie Ray and the D-backs, even though they got only three innings from their starting pitcher, committed a pair of errors and had rookies all over the place.

They have the best record in baseball at 55-26, matching the best start in Los Angeles history. This win went to the maligned bullpen, which stepped up with six scoreless innings in relief of Ross Stripling, who was making his first start since April 25 in place of the injured Rich Hill.

Joe Kelly pitched one inning, Julio Urias pitched three and Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen finished it up, with the closer notching his 23rd save. The bullpen has been the obvious weak link in an otherwise powerhouse performance, so the rebound from Monday night’s 8-5 meltdown was stark.

“Trust me, I’ve been hearing, people been criticizing, and to me that’s just motivation and all my guys feel the way I feel,” said Jansen. “When people say you don’t have it no more, that’s must motivation to get better.

"Listen, it's fair. When every part of the team is going great and one part is not clicking yet, it's fair to kind of criticize it. But I take it as a positive -- it's going to keep me pushing to get better."

The Dodgers' starting lineup had four rookies -- right fielder Alex Verdugo, catcher Will Smith, left fielder Kyle Garlick and first baseman Matt Beaty. And just for kicks, regular catcher Austin Barnes started at second base. For a night game against a lefty to be followed by a day game, it was manager Dave Roberts’ way during a grueling stretch of the schedule to give a breather to Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Joc Pederson and Russell Martin.

“Get a couple guys off their feet and rest their minds to reset those guys, which was good,” said Roberts. “However many rookies we ran out there tonight, we still had an expectation to win a baseball game. When you can go with that mindset, but give guys a day off to reset, says a lot about the guys in the room.”

The remaining veterans still did most of the offensive damage, as Enrique Hernandez led off the game with a homer off Ray and Justin Turner slugged only his second home run since May 11 in the sixth inning to tie the game, followed by back-to-back doubles from Verdugo and Chris Taylor for the lead.

“Doesn’t matter who’s out there,” said Turner. “We have a lot of good baseball players who play the game the right way. We have a very deep lineup, we’re tough to pitch to and our starters have been off the charts and the bullpen’s been throwing really good lately, we’re leading baseball in defensive runs saved. We’re checking off all the boxes, we’re not just showing up, everybody is working to get better and that’s the recipe for getting good results.”

Speaking of good results, Kelly has rebounded from a nightmare April. In his last 13 appearances, he’s allowed three earned runs in 13 innings, lowering his ERA from 10.12 to 6.15, with 19 strikeouts.

Urias (4-2) was credited with the victory. In his hybrid role of long reliever in winnable games, he hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last 15 innings. Baez struck out two in the eighth and has back-to-back multiple-strikeout appearances for the first time this year.

Jansen, on pace for a 46-save season (his personal best is 47) and another likely All-Star appearance, needed 27 pitches to lock down the ninth.

“Kenley, the ball out of hand was as good as I’ve seen in a while,” Roberts said of Jansen, whose velocity was up and movement was lively. “The command, the late life was as good as we’ve seen it in quite some time.”

Because of Rich Hill’s injury last week, and the plan to insert a sixth starter to rest the other five, the Dodgers essentially boxed themselves into back-to-back bullpen games in back-to-back weeks. They won the first three and will start Tony Gonsolin in his MLB debut on Wednesday in the fourth.

“Last night, one bad night from a guy in the ‘pen reflects on the whole ‘pen,” said Roberts. “Tonight, they did a nice job. Tomorrow, we’ve got Gonsolin starting and we’ve got a couple guys that might be down, but I think our ‘pen’s in great shape and they’re going to have to respond as well.”