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Dodgers get only a whiff of key game, losing 3-1 to Diamondbacks

Los Angeles Times sports writers Andy McCullough and Bill Shaikin discuss the Dodgers' bullpen woes and the month that willd decide their playoff fate.

Rich Hill booted an equipment trunk. Cody Bellinger chucked his bat in the dirt. Matt Kemp hung his head after grounding into a rally-killing double play. In a 3-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the physical manifestations of the Dodgers’ sense of urgency were obvious. Any actual results were not.

A five-game winning streak, the longest of this baffling and bothersome season — ended Thursday at the hands of the National League West’s current leaders. The Diamondbacks boosted their lead to two games by punishing Rich Hill for a mistake and by numbing the bats of their hosts.

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“We had some opportunities tonight,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Couldn’t cash in.”

Facing Arizona starter Robbie Ray and a bevy of relievers, the Dodgers struck out 15 times. They went hitless with runners in scoring position and stranded six runners. The crowd at Dodger Stadium jeered in the ninth when Chris Taylor struck out out for the fourth time.

The mercurial nature of this offense is far from a secret. The Dodgers (72-62) have spent all season fumbling through high-leverage situations. It is why they reside in third place with 28 games left. This weekend presented the Dodgers a chance to reclaim the top spot in their division. The first night of this four-game series resembled so many of their meetings from earlier in the season.

Arizona broke a scoreless deadlock in the fifth inning with a three-run homer from outfielder David Peralta off Hill. Hill’s night ended soon after. Through five innings, the blast by Peralta was his lone blemish. It still stung. He struck out seven but left with responsibility for a defeat riding on his shoulders.

“Having that loss loom over us moving forward — these games are huge right now,” Hill said. “Just being accountable for that pitch, and understanding that it cost us the game is tough.”

Manny Machado put the Dodgers on the board with a solo homer in the sixth inning. Two innings later, he stroked a one-out single down the third-base line. The hit placed runners at the corners for Kemp against Arizona reliever Yoshihisa Hirano.

Kemp had produced a pair of singles earlier in the evening, but on a 2-1 pitch he grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.

The two clubs had not seen each other since May. They played 12 times in the season’s first seven weeks. Arizona won eight of those games, capitalizing on the Dodgers’ sluggish start. The Diamondbacks used the cushion to vault into first place in the West and they have stayed there.

“That’s a good club over there, but we’re playing better,”Roberts said. “How we approach it, we’re going to approach it the same way we always have. They caught us at a bad time. And we’ve just got to play a clean baseball game.”

On the mound for Arizona on Thursday was Ray, a left-handed starter with a significant platoon split. Roberts hoped to seize on this by starting eight right-handed hitters in front of Hill. Ray thwarted a first-inning rally by fanning Kemp and Enrique Hernandez after Justin Turner and Machado walked with one out.

Hill struck out six batters through three innings. He allowed a single in each frame, but little further damage. Hill needed 56 pitches to record nine outs.

Kemp and Hernandez were more effective in their second trips to the plate. Both singled off Ray in the fourth. The Dodgers still exited the inning without any runs.

With one out, Taylor flailed at sliders for his 156th strikeout of the season. Yasiel Puig hit a soft grounder for the third out.

“We just couldn’t execute a couple times with runners in scoring position, get the big hit,” Machado said. “You have to give props to [Ray]. He threw the ball well. We just didn’t execute.”

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Arizona broke through in the fifth. Ray opened the inning with a single, and outfielder Steven Souza did the same. Hill induced a grounder from outfielder A.J. Pollock, but the Dodgers failed to turn two when Turner’s throw forced Brian Dozier to sprawl at second base. The missed double play proved crucial after Hill popped up Goldschmidt for a second out.

Facing Peralta for a third time, Hill dropped his arm slot for a first-pitch fastball. The pitch registered at 87 mph and flickered into the bottom of the strike zone. Peralta smashed it over Puig’s head and the right-field fence.

“I made a poor decision dropping down,” Hill said. “I should have stayed over the top.”

The outcome infuriated Hill. He spat and swore as he left the diamond. Inside the dugout he kicked a trunk and whacked his glove against the bench. Turner and Roberts offered quick words of encouragement, but Hill’s evening was done. Pedro Baez replaced him for the sixth inning.

Ray faced only two batters in the sixth. Machado was the second. He crushed a 1-2, 91-mph fastball for his fifth homer in the past eight days.

The solo shot spirited Ray from the mound. With his starter at 108 pitches, Arizona manager Torey Lovullo trusted his bullpen.

A bit of bad luck befell the Dodgers later in the inning. Arizona reliever Brad Ziegler gave up a single to Kemp. Called off the bench, Bellinger scorched an 85-mph sinker from Ziegler. The exit velocity on the liner was 104 mph — and the ball sizzled directly into the glove of Paul Goldschmidt. He stomped on first base to complete an inning-ending double play. Bellinger threw his bat in disgust.

“We liked the spot,” Roberts said. “He hit it hard. Unfortunately, it turned into a double play.”

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