With Kenley Jansen unavailable after pitching three days straight, Julio Urias served as the Dodgers’ closer in the ninth inning Monday night at Dodger Stadium.
The day before, Jansen had combusted in the ninth inning at San Diego, allowing a game-winning grand slam. Urias had no such trouble. He threw 14 pitches and retired the Atlanta Braves in order for a 5-3 win and his first career save.
“It was amazing…” center fielder Alex Verdugo said of Urias’ outing. “For him to step up, come up there and, you know, shut the door down for us, it was big.”
Walker Buehler pitched seven innings, his longest start this season, for the win, tying his season high of eight strikeouts while allowing five hits and three runs. The strong pitching boosted the Dodgers (23-14) in the opener of a nine-game homestand.
Urias made four starts in April as starters Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill recovered from injuries, then moved to the bullpen when they returned. Manager Dave Roberts chose Urias to close Monday based on how he matched up against the Braves and because he hadn’t pitched since Wednesday.
“I just liked him right there,” Roberts said. “I trust him in the big spot… I think that having Kenley down and have Julio there or Pedro Baez there, I think those are really good options.”
“That’s a very good lineup over there,” Roberts said. “There’s slugging, there’s on-base, they don’t punch. And Walker navigated very well with the start we needed.”
The Dodgers staked Buehler to an early lead. Cody Bellinger, back in the lineup after missing two games with a shoulder injury, reached on a bunt single in the first inning, then took second on an error and scored on a groundout by Corey Seager. The lead doubled in the second inning when Verdugo walked, took third on Austin Barnes’ single and scored on a passed ball.
The Dodgers added two more runs in the third inning, after Justin Turner doubled and walks from Seager and Max Muncy loaded the bases. Chris Taylor hit an RBI single and Verdugo contributed a sacrifice fly. By the end of the inning, Braves starter Kevin Gausman’s pitch count was at 60.
Gausman entered Monday’s contest better rested than Buehler. He was ejected in the second inning of his Friday start against Miami after throwing a fastball behind opposing pitcher Jose Urena’s legs. It prompted MLB to issue a five-game suspension and a fine, but Gausman appealed the suspension and pitched Monday.
His night was over by the fifth inning, however, as Taylor’s double to right scored Seager for a 5-0 lead.
Buehler entered Monday’s game with a 5.22 earned-run average, the highest of any Dodgers starter. Buehler had more than six strikeouts in just one start. By the end of the third inning, he had struck out seven.
Roberts was right, at first. Buehler gave up two hits in the first two innings but retired every batter over the next three. In the first two innings more than half of Buehler’s pitches were 96 mph or faster, as he struck out five.
But the Braves had not been shut out all season, and they wouldn’t start Monday night. With two outs in the top of the sixth, Freddie Freeman drilled Buehler’s 96.5-mph fastball 446 feet to center for a two-run home run, his seventh of the season.
It was Buehler’s first glaring mistake. He made a second in the seventh inning, when Nick Markakis hit a 395-foot home run to left. But he escaped his final inning giving up just one run. It was his first time all season throwing 100 pitches.
“With the way I’ve been going,” Buehler said, “this is obviously a step forward.”