In this era of instant communication, a time for direct messages and Slack channels and Whatsapp, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts still receives letters from fans. He riffles through the typed pages of criticism with amusement. The writers detail how he should be using his bullpen, diagnose how his hitters should conduct their at-bats and kvetch about his ever-shifting batting order.
“You’ve got to find humor in it,” Roberts said. “Because everyone has an opinion, and they’re not afraid to share it. And that’s awesome.”
It will take several days for the mail inspired by Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat to the San Francisco Giants to reach Dodger Stadium. But the evening checked all the boxes of fan ire. Lacking its two young sluggers, the lineup sputtered. The first reliever Roberts sent into the game wore the loss. And the Dodgers have now dropped four of six games on this trip, squandering the progress made by a five-game winning streak heading into this road swing.
It will be up to Clayton Kershaw on Wednesday to help the Dodgers avoid a sweep at the hands of the Giants, a middling club with deficiencies throughout its roster, a flawed group that has still beaten the Dodgers six times in nine tries in 2017.
On Monday, the Dodgers went silent against fading veteran Matt Cain. On Tuesday, they could not solve left-handed starter Ty Blach (1-2). Roberts turned to a slew of reserves. In the midst of a 17-day stretch without a day off, Roberts rested Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger. The bottom five hitters in the order went 0 for 18.
“I thought we had a good chance against Blach,” Roberts said. “We couldn’t put hits together.”
Bellinger came off the bench in the sixth, shortly after reliever Luis Avilan (0-1) positioned himself to wear the loss. Avilan entered the game with a 1.69 earned-run average and the trust of his manager. He exited after giving up two hits to the three batters he faced. Seager would enter the game in the eighth — and promptly hit into a double play.
Pitching for the first time since April 16, Rich Hill gave up one run in five innings. He struck out six. He did not appear affected by the blisters that sidelined him for much of the season, but Roberts elected to open up the bullpen after Hill had thrown 82 pitches.
Hill said he felt no issues with his finger during his outing. He had appeared in only two games this season.
Roberts described Hill as a “caged lion” heading into Tuesday. The start of the evening was far from ideal. On his fifth pitch of the game, Hill flung a curveball that broke atop the head of outfielder Denard Span. The pitch bounced off his helmet. Hill walked toward Span to apologize. Span stayed in the game.
Moments later, Hill hunched at the waist to receive a signal from Austin Barnes. Hill lurched upward, ever so slightly, before lowering his head. The movement activated second base umpire Marty Foster, who called a balk. Span went to second. Hill’s protest went nowhere.
Hill managed to extricate himself from trouble. Rookie Christian Arroyo stared at a fastball down the middle for strike three. Hill induced flyouts from first baseman Brandon Belt and catcher Buster Posey to end the inning.
The Dodgers whimpered through the first three innings at the plate, unable to record a hit against Blach. Justin Turner ended the hitless streak in the fourth. He stroked a single and advanced to third on a double by Enrique Hernandez.
The hits put runners at the corners with one out for Barnes. The threat would fizzle in exasperating fashion.
Blach jammed Barnes with a fastball. Barnes hit a grounder to the right side of the infield. Turner paused at third when Blach stabbed at the baseball. The hesitation proved costly. It afforded Arroyo enough time to cut Turner down at the plate. Yasiel Puig grounded out to strand two runners.
In the bottom of the fourth, Hill paid for a waist-high curveball. Belt lifted it toward the bricks in right-center field. A fan appeared to reach over the railing and touch the baseball, but the umpires did not overturn the ruling. It was a solo home run.
The Dodgers matched that in the sixth inning. Chris Taylor powered a 94-mph pitch over the center-field fence.
The tie did not last. Roberts sent Avilan to replace Hill. Avilan is the lone left-handed reliever in the bullpen, and his changeup allows him to disarm right-handed hitters.
But the left-handed hitters in San Francisco’s lineup vexed him. Belt led off with a single. He took second on a wild pitch that bounced through Barnes’ legs. After a groundout by Posey, shortstop Brandon Crawford lined a 94-mph fastball into right for an RBI single.
The offense offered no answer. It was a dispiriting loss. Roberts will likely receive letters about it.
“We all expected to score more coming into this series,” Roberts said.
“It’s tough to hit. I just can’t pinpoint why we can’t sustain that traction, that momentum.”