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Dodgers' lead masking significant weak spot

Bullpen stung by D-backs' 4-run 8th inning as win streak stalls
@kengurnick
June 25, 2019

PHOENIX -- With a 12-game division lead in late June, management is not nearly as worked up over the Dodgers’ bullpen as the fans. But Monday night’s 8-5 loss to the D-backs, which snapped a six-game win streak, again exposed the Dodgers’ high-priority need come the July 31 Trade Deadline.

PHOENIX -- With a 12-game division lead in late June, management is not nearly as worked up over the Dodgers’ bullpen as the fans.

But Monday night’s 8-5 loss to the D-backs, which snapped a six-game win streak, again exposed the Dodgers’ high-priority need come the July 31 Trade Deadline.

Box score

With Pedro Baez unavailable after pitching Saturday and Sunday, Dylan Floro got the ball in the eighth inning of a tied game and was charged with four runs, as the bullpen suffered its 15th loss. Floro has allowed 13 runs in his last 13 outings.

“I do think it gives you an opportunity to see what you have ... to see how they respond, and as the season moves on you really know what you have in deciding what we need to do, if anything,” said manager Dave Roberts.

“It’s unfortunate that when someone has a bad night, it reflects on the whole bullpen. Right now, where we’re at, these are the guys we’re going to continue to run with, until there’s a change.”

It should be noted that with the luxury of a huge lead in the National League West, the Dodgers are playing a long game while experimenting in the here and now, and it’s not just by moving Joc Pederson to first base. While Roberts stresses that “every game is important,” he also insists that he “won’t put anyone in harm’s way” to win a game.

Because they are in a stretch of 18 consecutive games without a day off, the Dodgers have inserted a sixth starter to rest the other five, which would stress any bullpen, even if the club hadn’t also lost starter Rich Hill. Last Wednesday (when Hill pitched one inning and was injured) and Thursday, relievers pitched 17 of 18 innings.

Three of those innings came in a spot start by Julio Urias, whose unique and very limited role of long reliever in winnable games makes him available less frequently than a normal reliever, further strapping the bullpen. Urias was held back over the weekend because he’s likely to be needed either Tuesday or Wednesday, when the Dodgers expect relatively short starts from Ross Stripling and Tony Gonsolin.

Because of his upcoming start, Stripling also was off limits on Saturday (when six relievers were used) and Sunday, when Baez and Kenley Jansen pitched. So in a winnable game on Monday, they followed a ragged Clayton Kershaw with Yimi Garcia, Floro and JT Chargois, in the type of game where Baez and possibly Jansen would have been more likely choices.

Then there is the Joe Kelly situation, and while Kelly has shown recent improvement, Roberts has not relied on the right-hander in leverage situations the way the club anticipated when signing him for $25 million.

All of the factors conspired to put the microscope on Monday’s meltdown, instead of the anticipated starting-pitching matchup of former Cy Young winners and teammates Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, which turned sour early and resulted in a pair of no-decisions.

The Dodgers scored three runs off Greinke in the top of the first that included RBI doubles from Bellinger and Chris Taylor. Arizona tied it off Kershaw in the bottom of the inning on a three-run homer by Christian Walker, who has three homers in four career hits against Kershaw.

“Just a bad game,” said Kershaw. “They scored three runs for me and I gave it back."

Greinke (9-3) broke the 3-3 tie with his third homer of the year in the second inning. On the mound, he contained the Dodgers and really stepped it up in the sixth inning, when a Bellinger single and a throwing error by first baseman Walker put runners on first and second with no outs. But Greinke struck out Taylor, Enrique Hernandez and pinch-hitter Matt Beaty to protect the slim lead.

Kershaw was charged with four runs on seven hits in six innings, two homers and struck out a season-low two. It snapped a string of seven consecutive quality starts. Greinke faced one batter in the seventh inning and was charged with four runs on seven hits with six strikeouts.

After Kyle Garlick, pinch-hitting for Kershaw, singled softly into right field, Andrew Chafin struck out Joc Pederson but Alex Verdugo singled. Yoshihisa Hirano wild pitched the runners to second and third. After Justin Turner popped out, Bellinger was intentionally walked to load the bases. Hirano walked Max Muncy to tie the game, then caught Taylor looking on a 3-2 pitch to strand the bases loaded.

This was only the second Kershaw-Greinke matchup, Kershaw winning the first one, 7-1, April 14, 2017.

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