At some point, desperation and creativity look the same. In the 10th inning on Thursday, Dodgers reliever Ross Stripling climbed the dugout steps and jogged to third base. The Dodgers had already used closer Kenley Jansen to preserve a tied score against the San Francisco Giants. Now they had run out of position players. Stripling was needed as a pinch-runner for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
"I'm probably a little faster than you think," Stripling said. "Out of 10, I'm like a 6.5."
Stripling played wide receiver at Carroll High in Southlake, Texas, but he did not need to utilize much speed on Thursday. He breezed home on a go-ahead single by outfielder Andrew Toles, who sparked a four-run rally in this 5-1 victory. The final score belied the agony of the afternoon, in which the Dodgers' offense lay dormant until the last inning.
After Toles' hit, Chase Utley scored from third base on a popup in foul territory. Justin Turner roped an RBI single. Chris Taylor capped the rally with a bases-loaded walk. The late deluge allowed the Dodgers (11-12) to split this four-game series at AT&T Park and salvage a 3-4 record on this trip.
Facing a feckless Giants lineup, the Dodgers' pitching was stout. A wayward pickoff attempt in the sixth inning spoiled an otherwise tidy 2017 debut for Julio Urias. He allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings, before his error helped San Francisco tie the score. Luis Avilan extricated the club out of an eighth-inning jam by inducing a double play against former National League MVP Buster Posey. Chris Hatcher closed out the 10th.
Until that last frame, the day felt torturous for Dodgers hitters. The lineup managed only one run on two hits against Giants starter Matt Moore. Moore entered the game with a 5.87 earned-run average. He also happens to pitch with his left hand. Corey Seager hit a home run in the first inning, so Urias took the mound with a lead.
The arrival of Urias bloated the team's rotation to six pitchers. After Alex Wood tossed six innings of one-hit baseball on Wednesday, manager Dave Roberts indicated Wood (1-0, 2.29 ERA) will start again next week. Wood could remain in the rotation after Rich Hill comes off the disabled list, with Hill nursing his blistered middle finger in the bullpen.
With Urias and Wood in the fold, pressure is building on Kenta Maeda, who starts Friday against Philadelphia. The team pondered skipping Maeda (1-2, 8.05 ERA) after he permitted four homers against Arizona over the weekend. Roberts did not announce that Maeda would be pitching for his spot Friday, but he allowed himself a smile when he heard the question.
"Kenta is here for the long haul," Roberts said, adding "This is a situation where I think Kenta is really focused. He wants to pitch well. We want him to pitch well. After [Friday], we will look at things, and see what's best for Kenta, what's best for all of us."
If Urias performs, he is not expected to leave the rotation. He displayed his ability once more on Thursday. He dissected the Giants during the first five innings, limiting his opponents to three singles and two walks. Urias kept the ball on the ground and avoided hard contact. His teammates turned a pair of double plays behind him.
The sixth inning was less smooth. Urias issued a one-out walk to outfielder Brandon Belt. Belt stole zero bases in 2016. He was not a threat to run. Urias still flashed his vaunted pickoff move, a legitimate weapon that backfired against Belt. Urias bounced a throw past first baseman Scott Van Slyke. As Van Slyke searched for the ball near the bullpen mounds along the right-field line, Belt raced to third base. "It was all my fault," Urias said.
Urias struck out shortstop Eduardo Nunez to approach an escape. The Dodgers elected to intentionally walk Posey. Roberts allowed Urias to face Christian Arroyo, a right-handed batter and the finest prospect on the Giants heading into 2017. Arroyo lined a curveball back up the middle. Urias stuck out his glove, but could not snatch the ball, a game-tying single.
The Giants flirted with capturing the lead in the eighth. Avilan was on the mound, after entering the game in the seventh. He gave up a leadoff single to outfielder Hunter Pence. Nunez bounced a one-out single off Turner's glove. With Posey at the plate, Roberts elected to stick with Avilan, a left-handed reliever. He trusted Avilan's changeup as a disarmer of right-handed hitters and his sinker as a weapon to generate groundballs.
Avilan understood the margin for error with Posey was thin. He did not want to fall behind in the count. His strategy was simple: Throw the ball down the middle of the plate, and let the natural movement of his fastball do the work.
"I wasn't trying to be so perfect," Avilan said. "I just grabbed my sinker and threw it. What it is, it is."
The approach worked. Posey rolled into a 6-4-3 double play. Jansen handled the ninth. After the breakthrough in the 10th, Hatcher picked up the last three outs.
The victory does not solve the Dodgers' issues. The lineup continues to snooze through long stretches of games. But the result on Thursday allowed the team to exit without feeling panic.
"We used a lot of players today, in a lot of different roles," Roberts said. "There's a lot of unselfish players in there. Today's a good day."