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Maeda's stellar outing preserves 'pen for G4

Righty delivers scoreless relief after Darvish's early exit
MLB.com @castrovince

HOUSTON -- Dave Roberts' first call to the bullpen came early. Frankly, it could have come even earlier. But in any event, it's a call that is going to have an impact on the Dodgers beyond the 5-3 loss in Game 3 of the World Series.

To say Yu Darvish didn't have it Friday night at Minute Maid Park is an understatement. His slider was flat, his command absent, his stuff fooling nobody. He was chased after just 1 2/3 innings, and that put Roberts in a real bind with another two games looming before a potential off-day.

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HOUSTON -- Dave Roberts' first call to the bullpen came early. Frankly, it could have come even earlier. But in any event, it's a call that is going to have an impact on the Dodgers beyond the 5-3 loss in Game 3 of the World Series.

To say Yu Darvish didn't have it Friday night at Minute Maid Park is an understatement. His slider was flat, his command absent, his stuff fooling nobody. He was chased after just 1 2/3 innings, and that put Roberts in a real bind with another two games looming before a potential off-day.

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"When your starter goes five outs," said Roberts, "you've got to find a way to cover some innings."

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To his credit, Roberts managed this game in a way that never conceded defeat. And his bullpen rewarded that confidence, even if his offense ultimately did not. The real key was Kenta Maeda, who, for the second time in as many games (albeit with an off day in-between), gave the Dodgers some necessary length. In Game 2, Roberts -- controversially, some would say -- went to Maeda when he yanked Rich Hill after just four innings. This time around, there was no doubt or denying that Darvish was done. The Astros barraged him with barreled balls. In the course of allowing four runs on six hits with a walk and zero strikeouts, he was torched for six batted balls with an exit velocity of 100 mph, per Statcast™, and he induced just a single swing and miss.

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So Maeda, whose starter's endurance and effectiveness against right-handed hitting makes him a good match against Houston's lineup, stepped in with two on and two out in the second and got Carlos Correa to fly out to end the four-run inning. He went on to pitch a scoreless third and fourth and get the first out of the fifth, by which point the Dodgers had made it a 4-1 game.

The 'pen would perform pretty well from there. Left-hander Tony Watson did get touched in the fifth, when he allowed consecutive singles to Josh Reddick and Evan Gattis, the latter of which allowed Reddick to come home with an insurance run when Watson made an errant throw to first. But Brandon Morrow, Tony Cingrani and Ross Stripling kept the Astros at bay in the sixth through the eighth.

"I thought that the way [Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr.] was throwing, I thought we had a chance to get to him," Roberts said. "Even in that third inning, we stressed him. Got bases loaded and nobody out. There's a point you've got to figure out to try to stay in the game as long as you can without conceding. And I thought that until the ninth, we were in the baseball game."

Alas, the Dodgers' ineffectiveness at the plate made it all for naught. Now the Dodgers enter Game 4 with Maeda -- their "break glass in case of emergency" arm -- unavailable. It's also worth noting that to use Morrow, their sterling setup man, would require putting him to work for the fourth time in five days -- something Morrow, a converted starter, hasn't done at all in his first full season as a reliever.

In other words, the Astros didn't just win Game 3 by knocking Darvish out early; they also bought themselves an advantage, of a sort, that could linger into Games 4 and, possibly 5, depending on how many innings the Dodgers can get out of starter Alex Wood. The Dodgers have already had to get 15 1/3 innings out of their relievers in the first three games.

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"The quicker you can get into a bullpen, the more looks you get at a guy, the more comfortable guys are," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "It's not always easier; it doesn't guarantee success the next time. Whether it's fatigue, whether it's pitch recognition, whether it's just being more familiar with their bullpen, that's helpful now. They're a pretty good bullpen, so be careful what you wish for. … But I think our players have responded to the competition and put up some good at-bats at key times. But it doesn't make Game 4 any easier against their bullpen. It's still an elite bullpen."

It's an elite bullpen that has already been utilized more than expected. Yes, the Dodgers have gotten by in this postseason -- and this year at large -- with some quick hooks of their starters. But the 'pen has already covered 54.8 percent of the innings pitched by L.A. in this Series.

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Wood has only pitched 4 2/3 innings (Game 4 of the National League Championship Series vs. the Cubs) since Sept. 26. So he's certainly rested. But if or when the Dodgers do turn to their 'pen in Game 4, Roberts is expecting everybody other than Maeda to be available.

"They'll be fine," he said.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Yu Darvish, Kenta Maeda