LOS ANGELES -- After two steps forward in New York and San Diego last week, the Pirates took a big step back over the past three days at Dodger Stadium.The Bucs arrived in Los Angeles coming off two straight series victories, but they were outplayed by the slugging, surging Dodgers.
LOS ANGELES -- After two steps forward in New York and San Diego last week, the Pirates took a big step back over the past three days at Dodger Stadium.
The Bucs arrived in Los Angeles coming off two straight series victories, but they were outplayed by the slugging, surging Dodgers. The Pirates were briefly on top in Wednesday's finale, their first lead of the series, but the Dodgers immediately erased their one-run deficit and held on for a 6-4 victory on Independence Day.
The Pirates are now a season-worst six games below .500 and 11 games behind the first-place Brewers in the National League Central standings. They are only 2 1/2 games ahead of the last-place Reds. They have lost 29 of their 43 games since May 18.
"We've just got to keep working. The game shows you where you need to improve," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It gives you immediate feedback. We got a lot of immediate feedback."
The Dodgers outscored the Pirates, 31-8, and out-hit the Bucs, 41-23. As they boarded their bus and left Dodger Stadium, it was worth wondering: Did the Pirates run into a good team playing exceptionally well, or is this just who they are right now?
"It's both," shortstop Jordy Mercer said. "I think we definitely could have played better, but we also ran into a really hot team, too."
Pittsburgh's rotation was bruised during this nine-game road trip, losing Chad Kuhl to a forearm strain and temporarily sidelining Joe Musgrove due to an infected right index finger. The Pirates' starters were then beaten by a patient, powerful Dodgers lineup.
Their three starters in this series -- Nick Kingham, Ivan Nova and Clay Holmes -- combined to allow 22 hits, eight walks and eight homers while working only 10 1/3 innings. Holmes stepped out of the bullpen on Wednesday to make his first Major League start and allowed four runs over 2 1/3 innings.
"There were some challenges there," Holmes said. "I had to make good pitches. They made me work."
The rookie right-hander touched 99 mph with his fastball and kept the Dodgers in the ballpark just one night after they slugged six homers, but they still got to Holmes with five hits and three walks while running up his pitch count.
"They have the ability to beat you with the long ball, but they can work counts and put some good at-bats up," Holmes said. "That's the challenge of some of the better lineups. You have to be ahead, and you have to be the aggressor. I fell behind in some counts and they were able to maybe not do the damage they wanted to, but they were still able to get the bat on the ball."
The Pirates did, at least, take a step forward offensively in the series finale. Starling Marte returned to the lineup and drove in a pair of runs with a two-run double off left-hander Rich Hill in the third inning.
Marte picked up his second hit before Gregory Polanco launched a two-run homer to right field off Edward Paredes in the eighth. But the Dodgers extinguished that rally by summoning closer Kenley Jansen, who recorded the final five outs to seal a 4-5 road trip for the Pirates.
"In the whole grand scheme of things, we haven't played very well and we're six games under .500 right now. Things could be a lot worse," Mercer said. "That's one of the bright spots that you can look at. ... We need to put four or five games in a row, and win four or five good games in a row, then see what happens after that."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Right-hander Tyler Glasnow has emerged as one of Pittsburgh's top relievers over the last two months, entering Wednesday with a 2.43 ERA over his previous 19 appearances. But he suffered from an increasingly rare lapse of command in the fifth inning.
Glasnow hit Justin Turner in the shoulder with a 99-mph fastball, walked the next two batters then surrendered a two-run single hit up the middle by Chris Taylor. The Pirates were looking for length from Glasnow, but he exited without recording an out.
"Just a little amped up. That's pretty much it," Glasnow said. "I felt good, just missing up in the zone a lot. … It's just one of those days, I guess."
Holmes was only the third Pittsburgh pitcher since 1913 to make his first Major League start on Independence Day. The others: Harry Fisher, who won in Cincinnati in 1952, and Bruce Kison, who received a no-decision at Wrigley Field in 1971.
According to STATS LLC, this was the first time the Dodgers totaled at least 30 runs and at least 20 extra-base hits in a three-game series since 1950, when the Brooklyn Dodgers scored 47 runs and had 22 extra-base hits against the Pirates.
HE SAID IT
"We have an opportunity, obviously. It's  games. But it's so hard to look ahead, it really is. We can't afford to. We have to take it one game at a time. We have to, because we have to play well on Friday, then we have to play well again on Saturday. Just take it one game at a time, then who knows."--Mercer, on the importance of the Pirates' upcoming homestand that will take them into the All-Star break
After an off-day on Thursday, right-hander Trevor Williams will start for the Pirates as they return to PNC Park on Friday to start a 10-day/11-game homestand against the Phillies, Nationals and Brewers. Philadelphia swept a four-game series against Pittsburgh in April. Right-hander Nick Pivetta will start for the Phillies. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.