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Dodgers' early struggles continue as they fall 9-1 to Diamondbacks

The silence irritated Kenley Jansen. In the hours before thousands of spectators fill a baseball stadium, the ballpark can feel eerie or serene. It depends how your team is playing. On Saturday afternoon, as batting practice unfolded for a collection of Dodgers who had lost twice as many games as they'd won in 2018, Jansen hollered in the general vicinity of the folks running Dodger Stadium's speaker system.

"I promise we'll play better!" Jansen shouted. "I promise! We need some music! I promise we'll go 42-8 today!"

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His words would ring hollow, but Jansen could not know that yet, not before a 9-1 defeat to the Arizona Diamondbacks dropped the Dodgers to last place in the National League West. A minute later, as the opening bars of Carnage's "WDYW" clanged over the diamond, Jansen and Justin Turner pointed skyward, in search of more volume. The attendants obliged. At long last, the Dodgers had done something right this season.

Success at actual baseball has proved elusive, a reality clarified by Saturday's thrashing. The heights of 2017 — the blissful stretch of 43-7 baseball during the summer, the tenacity of their run to the World Series — feel like dispatches from eons ago. The name on the front of the jersey is the same, and almost all the names on the back are the same. The product is far different.

Anemic at the plate, imprecise on the mound and indifferent on the field, the Dodgers (4-9) have produced a trifecta of unsightly baseball this year. The calendar still features 24 more weeks of games, enough time for the team to rediscover the ballast that sustained them last season. Yet the calendar also serves as a taunt: Can you imagine watching five more months like this?

"It's definitely not panic, it's frustration," manager Dave Roberts said. "The way to sum it up is we've got to play better baseball. We've got to pitch better. We've got to hit better. And the defense has been spotty at times. To sum it up, we have to play better baseball."

In losing for the third game in a row, the Dodgers could not bother an opponent with a wounded pitching staff. Rich Hill could not pacify his guests. Hill gave up seven runs in five innings — and it would have been worse if Arizona not been docked a run for a bizarre gaffe on the bases. Trying to fit in, Wilmer Font surrendered a pair of home runs in the eighth and ninth inning.

At the plate, the Dodgers remain hapless. the offense mounted little challenge, even after Arizona starter Taijuan Walker left the game after two innings with tightness in his right forearm.

Arizona (11-3) has now defeated the Dodgers in 11 consecutive regular-season games, a statistic that does not account for the Dodgers' three-game sweep in the National League division series. It is the longest string of futility against one opponent in franchise history.

"You can definitely relate to the way they're playing right now," Hill said. "It's the way we were playing last year."

An answer to the 2018 team's woes appears unclear. The problems are widespread, a virus Clayton Kershaw cannot solve on his own when he starts the series finale against Arizona on Sunday. Alex Wood wobbled Wednesday, Kenta Maeda unraveled Friday and Hill imploded Saturday. The team's best hitter, Turner, has yet to take batting practice as he recovers from a fractured wrist. The best hitter in triple-A Oklahoma City, Andrew Toles, injured his hamstring Friday.

"It's early," Roberts said. "But whether it's early, it's in the middle, or it's late, you still want to play good baseball. And right now we're not doing that."

Another ailment Saturday added to the team's issues. Logan Forsythe exited the game after experiencing discomfort in his right shoulder and underwent an MRI. Forsythe has hit .174 this season, but with Turner on the shelf, he was also the team's most reliable defender at third base.

Arizona Diamondbacks' A.J. Pollock, right, scores after hitting a two-run home run as Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal, center, and home plate umpire Adrian Johnson stand at the plate during the fifth inning.
Arizona Diamondbacks' A.J. Pollock, right, scores after hitting a two-run home run as Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal, center, and home plate umpire Adrian Johnson stand at the plate during the fifth inning. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The Dodgers pulled ahead in the second inning on an RBI single by Joc Pederson. The lead did not survive the third inning. Hill had retired eight of the first nine batters he faced before issuing a two-out walk to outfielder David Peralta — "just a bad walk," Roberts said. Arizona shortstop Ketel Marte smoked a curveball into the right-center gap for an RBI double.

Up next, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt hammered a fastball for a two-run homer that curled around the left-field pole and landed in the second deck. "It felt like the ball came out good," Hill said. "But the results were terrible."

The two-out flurry infuriated Hill. He stomped off the mound and grabbed a bat. He smashed the lumber against the dugout seats and disappeared from sight. The outburst did not guarantee better pitching upon his return.

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In the fourth, Hill benefited from an obscure and unlikely ruling — the rare instance of a batter passing a teammate after hitting a home run. After a leadoff double by outfielder Chris Owings and a walk by catcher Alex Avila, Hill served up an 88.7-mph fastball for third baseman Deven Marrero, who blasted over the fence in left-center field.

It looked like a three-run homer. Except as the ball hung in the air, Avila waited past first, unable to read the trajectory. Marrero passed his teammate by accident. The Dodgers challenged the call. The umpires ruled out Marrero, who was was credited with a two-run single.

The Diamondbacks would not make that mistake again. Arizona outfielder A.J. Pollock demolished a 1-0 fastball in the fifth for a two-run shot. Faced with the deficit, the Dodgers offered little resistance. It has been that sort of season.

"It's April 14, and we play until November or September," first baseman Cody Bellinger said. "Obviously, it's not the start we want. But I don't think we're worried about it at all. We want to play better. But the record doesn't mean anything right now."

Twitter: @McCulloughTimes

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