Dodgers continue to miss opportunities and lose to Giants, 9-6

Denard Span, Austin Barnes

Giants outfielder Denard Span beats the throw to Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes to score on a two-run double from Joe Panik during an April 10 game at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

(Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)

Inside the visiting manager’s office at AT&T Park, on the final day of his first week as manager of the Dodgers, Dave Roberts allowed himself a moment to ponder the opportunities his team missed across four days and nights here.

“We could have won four games,” he said.

He hesitated for a second, not nearly long enough to encapsulate all of the weekend’s tumult. The Dodgers blew a four-run lead to the San Francisco Giants on Thursday. They wasted a no-hit debut from Ross Stripling on Friday. After a reprieve Saturday, the group coughed up a five-run, first-inning lead in a 9-6 loss, and Roberts sat inside a cramped space surrounded by reporters, trying to explain why.

“But that’s why you’ve got to play ‘em,” he said. “That’s why you’ve got to play ‘em. But we’re going to be just fine.”

The weekend will not decide the team’s fate. The Dodgers (4-3) returned to Los Angeles still in possession of a winning record. The team hosts Arizona at Dodger Stadium for Tuesday’s home opener. The Giants will visit later in the week, a well-timed rematch for a Dodgers club hoping to correct the flaws exposed this weekend.

The Giants hit three home runs and scored six runs in four innings against Scott Kazmir. The barrage offset an opening ambush of San Francisco starter Johnny Cueto. With the score tied, the bullpen imploded once more.

The culprit this time was left-hander J.P. Howell, who gave up a go-ahead, two-run double to Joe Panik in the sixth inning. Howell entered the fray with the score tied and a Giant at second base. Roberts tasked Howell with handling two left-handed hitters. Howell could not finish off Denard Span, who fouled off three two-strike pitches before tapping an infield single. Then Panik hit an 85-mph fastball over Joc Pederson’s head in center field.

“They out-grinded me, I guess I could say,” Howell said. “They were tougher than me. It’s a tough situation to start the season.”

Each defeat stemmed from a bullpen malfunction. Yimi Garcia could not put out a fire started by Alex Wood on Thursday. Chris Hatcher spoiled Ross Stripling’s no-hit debut Friday.

Howell faced six batters in the series. All had hits. All scored.

“I have no excuse for anything,” Howell said. “I’m just getting beat.”

Dodgers hitters did their part, jumping on Cueto in the first inning. He hit Chase Utley with the second pitch of the game. Corey Seager followed with a single. Justin Turner dumped a hit into right field and Utley raced home. Turner was picked off first base, but the call was reversed via replay.

Adrian Gonzalez drove in Seager with a sacrifice fly. Trayce Thompson hit a single down the first base line for two runs. Austin Barnes laid down a bunt to bring home Pederson from third base. Cueto failed to cover first base in time to catch Barnes.

“We had him on the ropes,” Roberts said. “You do expect to win games when you score five in the first.”

The final tally was five runs after 10 batters. It seemed reasonable to expect Kazmir to hold the line. He had pitched six scoreless innings against the San Diego Padres in his Dodgers debut. But the Giants are not the Padres, a reality the Dodgers witnessed multiple times this weekend.

San Francisco trimmed the deficit before the first inning even ended. Buster Posey had a two-out hit. Hunter Pence walked. Singles by Brandon Belt and Matt Duffy netted two runs. The hit would only become more painful.

The lead disappeared in the third inning. Kazmir threw Posey a changeup with little movement. The ball landed in the left-field seats. After a single by Pence, Kazmir left a cutter over the middle of the plate against Belt. His two-run drive cleared the fence in center field.

“He just made a couple mistakes with his cutter, out and over the plate,” Roberts said. “They were elevated, and didn’t have that late life, or late movement.”

Utley sparked a run in the fourth. He hit a double off the wall in right field. Seager had a single for his second hit of the game and his first run batted in.

Kazmir could not maintain the advantage for even one at-bat in the bottom of the inning. Angel Pagan hit a belt-high cutter for a home run.

“The cutter, just didn’t have the feel for it today,” Kazmir said. “There were a lot of pitches that were right down the middle, no spin. And they hit them well.”

Pagan fueled the winning rally in the sixth inning. Louis Coleman worked around two walks in the fifth, and Roberts sent him back to start the next inning. Howell was warming up, ready to face Span and Panik. Pagan increased the pressure with a leadoff double.

Into the game came Howell. The outcome swung soon after. Roberts emphasized calm as he surveyed the damage.

“I think the ‘pen’s going to be fine,” Roberts said. “We can’t always be hitting on all cylinders.”