Health has never been a strength for the 2016 Dodgers, not after spring training shredded the roster and forced 10 players on the disabled list on opening day. The group avoided catastrophe through the first six weeks of the season. The seventh week may not be so kind.
After the fifth inning of 7-6 loss to the Angels, Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez did not return to the diamond with the rest of his teammates. The diagnosis for his departure was lower back tightness. Two other Dodgers – Carl Crawford and Scott Van Slyke – were sidelined earlier this season with similar ailments.
"He just said his back stiffened up," Manager Dave Roberts said. "So after that, I just wanted to take it out of his hands and take him out of the game. So it's day to day."
Gonzalez did not relay the nature or severity of his condition. He left Dodger Stadium without speaking to reporters.
Losing Gonzalez added injury to the insult of a defeat to the Angels (17-21), who have now won four in a row, building off a sweep of the Seattle Mariners over the weekend. Matt Shoemaker logged five innings and allowed three runs, jumping a low bar for one of his better starts this season. Mike Trout drove in two runs in a four-run third inning against Kenta Maeda. Albert Pujols had three RBI, including two in a three-run seventh against Pedro Baez.
The brightest spot for the Dodgers was rookie outfielder Trayce Thompson. He bashed a pair of home runs to keep his team within striking distance.
The performance of Maeda was the other sour note -- save for the standard, unreliable performance from the offense -- for the Dodgers (20-19). Manager Dave Roberts removed Maeda for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the fourth. It was the shortest outing of his career. He gave up four runs on five hits and two walks. He threw 73 pitches. The entirety of the damage occurred within the third inning, but Maeda lacked the crispness of his encouraging April.
Maeda allowed one run in his first four outings. In his next three, he surrendered 10. Regression can be expected for any rookie, especially one transitioning from Nippon Professional Baseball. He also shied away from usage of his fastball, preferring to deceive batters with sliders and curveballs.
"It's hard to make a living as a starting pitcher working only off your slider," Roberts said.
Maeda demonstrated some trust of his fastball at the start on Monday. He fired at pair to Trout. Trout grounded out to complete a 1-2-3 inning. Maeda retired the three batters he faced in the second. His night would unravel soon after.
When the day began, the earned-run average of Shoemaker looked more like an albatross than a simple statistic. With a 9.12 ERA going into the game, Shoemaker rated as the worst pitcher in the American League who has thrown at least 20 innings this season. His performance earned him a demotion on the first day of May, but he returned to the majors after injuries sidelined Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney.
"Whoever has a voodoo curse on me, please reverse it now, thank you," Shoemaker wrote on Twitter after he gave up four runs in four innings on May 11.
Shoemaker could not blame black magic for what occurred in the second inning. The responsibility lay on his shoulders after he issued a two-out walks to Joc Pederson and Trayce Thompson. The duo combined to see 12 pitches along the way.
Pestered by patience, Shoemaker soon yielded to aggression. Carl Crawford punched the first pitch he saw, a 91-mph fastball, into left for an RBI single. Three pitches later, Maeda did the same with another fastball over the middle.
Shoemaker's teammates picked him up in the third. After a leadoff double by catcher Carlos Perez, shortstop Gregorio Petit cut the deficit in half with an RBI single. Yunel Escobar followed with a single, as Maeda's pace slowed to a crawl. When Kole Calhoun walked, the bases were loaded for Trout.
Maeda did not get a chance to throw Trout a fastball. He let a curveball flutter over the plate. Trout rolled a two-run single into left. Albert Pujols extended Maeda's misery by punching an RBI single into center.
"I do feel I need to use more of my fastball," Maeda said.
The Dodgers chipped away at the deficit in the fourth. Shoemaker hung a slider, and Thompson hit his fifth home run of the season. Roberts decided to pinch-hit for Maeda two batters later.
The Angels put the game away in the seventh. Working at a glacial pace, Pedro Baez allowed a single to Yunel Escobar and another to Kole Calhoun. Trout walked to load the bases. Pujols roped a two-run single. Johnny Giavotella capped the three-run frame with a sacrifice fly.
Thompson delivered his second scoring strike in the eighth. After a walk by Joc Pederson, Thompson crushed a changeup from Angels reliever Mike Morin.
"Trayce is doing a lot of good things," Roberts said. "He's definitely deserving of more playing time."