The pitch that doomed the Dodgers on Tuesday evening was a four-seam fastball, the sport’s most generic offering, emanating from the hand of San Diego Padres left-handed rookie Eric Lauer.
The pitch hovered between 93 and 95 mph in a 4-1 Dodgers defeat, and Lauer threw it 65 times. It left an impression on Cody Bellinger, who used an expletive while describing the fastball as a “weird heater.”
“You see it,” Bellinger said. “And then you’re swinging at it. And then it’s behind you.”
Bellinger spoke for the rest of the offense after a quiet evening at the plate as Lauer (5-5) disarmed them for the second time this season. Lauer finished one out shy of a shutout, keeping the Dodgers quiet until Max Muncy hit a solo home run with two outs in the ninth, his 21st homer. The blemish could not cancel out the mess created by Rich Hill in the fifth inning, when he served up two home runs of his own, a three-run homer by catcher Austin Hedges and a solo shot from outfielder Wil Myers.
Lauer drained any drama from the game. He collected eight strikeouts. A night after scoring eight runs, the Dodgers (49-42) managed only four hits. They took one at-bat with runners in scoring position.
Hill gave up four runs in the fifth, which expedited the Dodgers toward a loss in their briefest game of the season: 2 hours, 18 minutes. Hill (2-4) struck out seven and expressed content with the effectiveness of his arsenal. He cursed the two mistakes that sunk his team.
“I’m tired of losing,” Hill said. “I hate losing. When you have good stuff and things just don’t go your way, that’s the game. But it just sucks to lose, and it’s something that really eats at me.”
Hill’s fastball touched 93 mph inside the placid confines of Petco Park, but as he piled up outs, his teammates stumbled trying to solve Lauer.
The Dodgers had faced Lauer on May 6 in Monterrey, Mexico, near the end of a hellish 10-day trip. Lauer shut out the Dodgers for six innings. In his next 11 starts, he pitched to a 4.58 ERA and allowed opposing hitters to post an .899 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in those games.
Yet the Dodgers managed only one hit through four innings. Muncy walked in the second and then got picked off first. Justin Turner walked in the fourth. He was stranded when Muncy struck out on a 3-2 fastball at the waist and Matt Kemp whiffed on an elevated, 95-mph fastball, his second of four strikeouts on the night.
“Today there was a lot of empty swings in the strike zone,” manager Dave Roberts said. “And there was some hard contact that didn’t have anything to show for it.”
Anemic at the plate, the players could still help Hill in the field. Turner knocked down a hard grounder off the bat of Hunter Renfroe for the first out in the bottom of the fourth. On the next pitch, first baseman Eric Hosmer hammered an 89-mph fastball to center field. Bellinger situated himself at the wall and jumped to snag the ball before it landed beyond the fence.
Hill raised his arms in triumph as Bellinger descended with the ball. The play was thrilling, but it was also a harbinger of trouble for Hill. He lost his grip on the game in the fifth.
The sequence started with a walk to Jose Pirela, a player with little power and a .312 on-base percentage before Tuesday. Freddy Galvis singled, and there were two runners aboard for Hedges.
Hill went ahead in the count with a pair of strikes. Hedges fouled off a fastball. Hill missed outside with a curveball. With a 1-2 count, Hill put a 91-mph fastball over the heart of the plate. Hedges hit the ball over the left-field fence to end the scoreless deadlock.
Three batters later, Hill failed to command another fastball. This one bisected the plate for Myers, who launched a solo shot to expand his team’s lead to four.
“Just two pitches that they hit out,” Hill said. “Complete frustration on my part right now.”
In the seventh, the Dodgers got a runner past first for the first time. Muncy hit a one-out single. Bellinger chopped a grounder through the vacated left side of the infield for a two-out double. Muncy barely beat the tag into third base, but the call was upheld after a replay review.
To the plate came Logan Forsythe, the least-productive hitter on the roster. Forsythe has already lost his role as the primary second baseman. Muncy starts against right-handed pitchers. But with a left-hander like Lauer on the mound, Forsythe was in the lineup. He appeared to hit a double in the fifth inning, but the umpires ruled the pitch hopped foul near the third base bag.
He could not even make contact in his next at-bat.
Forsythe is not an aggressive hitter, and Lauer capitalized with a pair of well-placed pitches to start the encounter. He snapped a curveball across the plate for strike one. He spotted a 93-mph fastball on the outside corner for strike two. Forsythe waved at a 94-mph fastball for strike three to leave the runners aboard.