The fog of 2017 extended into the first two games of the 2018 season.
That was how it felt to Dodgers utility man Enrique Hernandez. It wasn’t like last year never ended. It was like this season had yet to begin.
“I don’t know if it’s because the last time we were here, we were playing in the World Series,” Hernandez mused after a 5-0 victory over San Francisco on Saturday. “But it feels really weird. It doesn’t feel like it’s the regular season yet. I guess going 0-2 the first two games without scoring any runs, it’s a wake-up call.”
Conscious at the plate for the first time this season, the Dodgers notched their first victory and avoided the pitfalls of the previous two days.
To wit: They actually scored a run.
Led by Chris Taylor and Hernandez, the Dodgers made the most of their four hits. Taylor scored twice. Hernandez doubled in his first at-bat and drove in a run in his second.
A two-run error by Giants outfielder Gregor Blanco widened the gap.
On the mound, the pitching staff continued to dominate the Giants. Kenta Maeda spun five scoreless innings. He struck out 10. He showed signs of discomfort with his back in his final inning, but downplayed them after the game.
“We talked to him after the game, and he said he was fine,” manager Dave Roberts said.
The Dodgers would prefer to avoid further calamity after an eventual opening weekend.
The first two days of the season were pitiable. The pitchers allowed only two runs, a pair of solo homers by Giants second baseman Joe Panik. The team still lost twice.
The offense failed to produce an extra-base hit, let alone a run. The team managed a measly single on Friday.
As the offense sputtered, closer Kenley Jansen smoldered. He yielded the second homer to Panik, which made the difference on Friday. The velocity of his cut fastball averaged 89 mph during his appearance, below the 93.3 mph he averaged in 2017. Jansen downplayed the dip by insisting “Who cares?” in response to questions.
“I know he was frustrated,” Roberts said before the game.
“No one cares more than Kenley. He and I, we’re synced up. Obviously it hurts the guy, the player. He was the guy, two days after the World Series, who was running the stairs [at Dodger Stadium]. No one cares more than Kenley.”
In order for Jansen to save a guy, he required a lead to protect. In order to protect a lead, the Dodgers needed to score.
After 18 innings of offensive blight, that task felt taller than usual.
The thaw ended in Saturday’s first inning against Giants starter Derek Holland. A leadoff walk by Taylor opened the door for Hernandez, who walloped an 0-2 sinker off the right-field wall. Taylor held at third. He did not remain there for long.
Taylor and Hernandez teamed for a third run in third inning. Taylor sprayed a two-seam fastball from Holland into right field. Charging toward the ball was outfielder Andrew McCutchen. He dove. The ball beat him to the ground and hopped past him. Taylor raced to third for a triple and scored on Hernandez’s sacrifice fly.
The Giants handed their hosts a gift in the fourth. Holland walked two batters in the inning, but induced a harmless fly ball from Kyle Farmer with two outs. Blanco ran from center field to snag it. He came close to bumping into McCutchen. As they crossed paths, Blanco dropped the ball. Both runs scored.
Maeda continued the trend started by Clayton Kershaw and Alex Wood. He stifled the Giants. Kershaw grinded through six innings. Wood allowed one hit in eight frames. Maeda added a different wrinkle, with nine strikeouts in his first four innings.
“His stuff is like a Wiffle ball, it moves all over the place,” third baseman Kyle Farmer said. “His stuff was on tonight. It looked great. He was able to keep the hitters off balance.”
At the plate, Maeda made the last out of the fourth. He grounded out to second base. Maeda winced as he ran down the line.
In the fifth, Maeda looked uncomfortable during his warmups. He thumped his fist against his back. He rotated his torso to loosen up. During the inning, he waved off a visit from Roberts.
Maeda finished his outing by striking out McCutchen with a slider. He had thrown 90 pitches, and the Dodgers would push him no further.
Maeda suggested his only issue was the weather. He said he felt “totally fine.”
“It was a little cold tonight,” Maeda said through his interpreter, Will Ireton.
The bullpen handled the final 12 outs. Roberts elected to use Scott Alexander for the ninth, rather than Jansen. Jansen wanted to pitch. Roberts opted not to overreact. A victory will only help more.
“Now we can breathe, and the fans can stop panicking,” Hernandez said. “Now we go.”