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Lucchesi's strong start unravels quickly

Lefty cruises through five before loading the bases in the sixth
@AJCassavell
August 2, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- Dodger Stadium grew restless. Joey Lucchesi had pitched five excellent innings, keeping the potent L.A. offense at bay. The Padres, meanwhile, were making Clayton Kershaw work hard. With a one-run lead in the sixth, they put two men aboard and had a chance to break the game

LOS ANGELES -- Dodger Stadium grew restless. Joey Lucchesi had pitched five excellent innings, keeping the potent L.A. offense at bay. The Padres, meanwhile, were making Clayton Kershaw work hard. With a one-run lead in the sixth, they put two men aboard and had a chance to break the game open.

First, a critical decision loomed.

Lucchesi was due up with two outs. He was sitting on 81 pitches and had already traversed a tricky Dodgers lineup twice. Francisco Mejia was available to pinch-hit, and the bullpen was mostly rested after Wednesday’s off-day. Manager Andy Green decided to ride the hot hand.

The decision backfired and things unraveled quickly in the Padres’ 8-2 loss to the Dodgers on Thursday night. Lucchesi grounded out to end the top of the sixth, then loaded the bases with two-out walks to Cody Bellinger and Tyler White.

Box score

“We had the lead,” Green said. “[Lucchesi] had pitched well enough to earn the right to be in that game. … For us, it’s, ‘Go pitch through seven now, Joey. Nobody's holding you back.’”

With the bags full, Green summoned right-hander Trey Wingenter to face Will Smith. Wingenter’s 2-1 fastball caught too much plate, and Smith sent it soaring over the wall in straightaway center field. Dodger Stadium erupted.

“Get that out in the sixth, and it's a 2-1 ballgame,” Lucchesi said. “It didn't go our way. I've just got to be better.”

Green’s decision to call on Wingenter was a curious one. The hard-throwing righty was recalled from Triple-A El Paso before the game and was promptly thrust into the night’s highest-leverage situation -- with no margin for error.

“We trust him,” Green said. “We believe in him. We wanted him back in leverage-type situations for that purpose.”

With one swing, the Dodgers had a three-run lead, and they tacked on three more, putting the game out of reach. Afterward, with the Padres sitting eight games below .500 for the first time this season, the frustration was palpable.

“We had them beat all game,” said Hunter Renfroe, who homered off Kershaw in the second. “Then, just like in Dodger fashion, they get the big inning. Then all of a sudden, grand slam. I feel like it happens to us every time. Tip your hat off to them.”

Renfroe added: “We’re right there. We’ve just got to keep grinding and battling. Because the club we have here can win -- and I think will win.”

Statement homer

For the better part of a year, the Padres fielded calls on their two heavy-hitting corner outfielders. When they traded Franmil Reyes on Tuesday, they indirectly committed themselves to a future with Renfroe in the middle of their lineup.

So far, so good.

Renfroe crushed a Kershaw slider 405 feet down the left-field line, giving the Padres an early 1-0 lead. It left his bat at 112.5 mph -- the hardest anyone has hit a baseball against Kershaw this season. It was Renfroe’s 30th homer of the year, the first time a Padres outfielder has hit that mark since Greg Vaughn in 1998.

“Forty would be better,” Renfroe quipped.

He’s on pace for it.

Missed opportunities

The Padres’ offense battled Kershaw all night, working five walks and six hits against the veteran left-hander. For all their efforts, they only mustered two runs.

“We were making him throw a lot of pitches and we were bareling up a lot of baseballs,” Renfroe said. “We just really couldn't get that big inning.”

The San Diego offense went 1-for-11 with men in scoring position, leaving 11 runners on base. On top of that, Fernando Tatis Jr. twice ran into outs at third.

That said, the Padres’ effort against Kershaw was markedly different from his past starts against them. Their five walks were more than Kershaw had issued in his previous six starts against San Diego combined.

“Shoot, we had good at-bats all night long,” Green said. “It just came down to those opportunities. When we had the chance to maybe get a big hit, we didn’t come through.”

Too frequently, the Padres let Kershaw off the hook. In the sixth inning, the Dodgers made them pay for it.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.