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Clayton Kershaw's streak ends, bullpen issues don't as Dodgers fall to Pirates

Clayton Kershaw's streak ends, bullpen issues don't as Dodgers fall to Pirates
It just wasn't Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw's day against the Pirates. He talks with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and catcher Yasmani Grandal during a mound visit. (Jared Wickerham / Getty Images)

It took Clayton Kershaw one pitch to discover Friday wasn't going to be his night.

"I was just daring him to hit. And he did," Kershaw said of the first-pitch home run he gave up to Pittsburgh's Gregory Polanco.

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And just like that, Kershaw's 37-inning scoreless streak was gone. It would take another 10 innings and 3 1/2 hours for the Dodgers to lose the game to the Pirates, 5-4, on Pedro Alvarez's bases-loaded single through a five-man infield.

But if the way the game started, with a shaky Kershaw on the mound, was surprising, the way it ended, with a Dodgers reliever giving up a run, was predictable. Because although Kershaw went four starts without allowing a run, the bullpen has given up at least one in each of the last eight games.

J.P. Howell was the last man up Friday. In his four most recent outings, he has given up six hits and four runs while getting seven outs.

The loss went to Jim Johnson, who came over from Atlanta at the trade deadline to shore up the relief corps. With the Braves, Johnson made 17 consecutive scoreless appearances during one stretch and gave up just one run over 15 outings in another.

In three games with his new team, he's allowed four runs and five hits, including two home runs.

"I've had bad weeks before," he said. "It seems like just a couple of things going the other way."

That's the direction the Dodgers could soon be heading if they can't get their bullpen fixed. And that, Johnson warned, could take time.

"That happens just executing one pitch at a time," he said. "It's not trying to make up for a week in one outing."

The game started as a duel between the Pirates' Gerrit Cole, baseball's winningest pitcher, and Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young Award winner and last year's National League MVP. It was a matchup that drew a sellout crowd, a national TV audience and hype as thick as the humid Pittsburgh air.

Neither pitcher was sharp, though, and both were gone after six innings — Cole after matching a season high with three walks, and allowing three earned runs for the first time in more than a month.

Yet that was a quiet night compared Kershaw's. He hit a batter, threw a wild pitch and walked more men in the first four innings (two) than he had in his previous four starts combined.

He was also hit on the foot by a 96-mph fastball and took a hard comebacker off his ankle.

"It was a tough one. I struggled all the way through, pretty much," he said. "I didn't have good stuff. Both breaking balls weren't really working the way I wanted them to.

"It was just one of those nights."

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Kershaw left for pinch-hitter Carl Crawford in the seventh, trailing by a run, but Crawford quickly made up the deficit, reaching base on catcher's interference, stealing second, then coming around to score on Jimmy Rollins' third hit of the night.

That left the game in the slippery hands of the bullpen, which loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth before Luis Avilan, another recent acquisition, escaped by inducing three ground balls.

Johnson pitched a scoreless ninth but the Pirates loaded the bases, again with no outs, against him in the 10th. So Manager Don Mattingly went back to the bullpen for Howell, who gave up the winning hit on a two-strike pitch.

"The fractions of the inches that we deal with, it's a little bit of the ball bounces this way or the other," Johnson said. "It happens. You've just got to trust in what you do."

Where the bullpen's concerned, that's getting harder and harder for the Dodgers to do.

Up next

Right-hander Mat Latos (4-7, 4.29) makes his second start as a Dodger against Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano (7-6, 2.92) at 1 p.m. Saturday. TV: SportsNet LA, FS 1. Radio: 570, 1020.

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