In theory, the bullpen of Dodgers manager Dave Roberts currently contains nine relievers. In practice, the unit is often limited by attrition. In a 7-4 loss to San Diego on Saturday, Roberts operated with only five relievers available. Three had pitched too much lately. A fourth, Ross Stripling, had been named an emergency starter for Sunday's series finale.
Stripling will replace Rich Hill, who has not pitched in three weeks because of complications with his left middle finger. The Dodgers determined the humidity at Monterrey Stadium would be problematic for Hill, who has a history of blisters. Hill disagreed with the decision and indicated he was "good to go."
"Nothing's wrong," Hill said. "There's nothing going on. They just decided to go with Strip."
Hill cracked a fingernail in his outing on April 14. An infection caused swelling and discomfort in his finger soon after. Hill played catch this weekend and reported no difficulties. He did not appear to be on the same page as his manager.
Roberts indicated Hill had not been able to spin many curveballs while nursing the finger injuries. Hill said this was not true.
"Right now," Roberts said, "we're just going to buy Rich some more time."
Hill said he did not need the time.
"I've been good to go," Hill said. "I was scheduled for tomorrow. But they made the decision to start Strip."
The disagreement added intrigue to a dispiriting evening for the Dodgers (15-18), who saw their three-game winning streak snapped. A night after achieving the first combined no-hitter in franchise history, the Dodgers pitching staff looked rickety once more. Kenta Maeda lasted only five innings, giving up three runs in the process. Josh Fields stumbled as the first man out of the bullpen to replace Maeda. In the eighth, the Padres charged Daniel Hudson for two more runs.
An offensive surge of three runs in the first three innings led by Matt Kemp was not enough. The Dodgers squeezed Padres starter Bryan Mitchell out of the game in the third. San Diego's bullpen limited the Dodgers to one additional run.
"The at-bats in the sixth, seventh and eighth started to go south," Roberts said. "Empty at-bats."
The prospect of back-to-back no-hitters vanished during the first at-bat with Maeda on the mound. Padres outfielder Travis Jankowski launched a leadoff triple. He advanced the final 90 feet when first baseman Eric Hosmer scorched a hanging curveball into the right-field bullpen for a two-run homer.
The rain returned in the top of the second. In the stands, spectators slipped inside yellow ponchos. The game continued with a delay, just in time for the Dodgers to come alive.
Kemp sparked the second-inning output. He crushed an elevated fastball from Mitchell. The ball landed on the berm beyond the center-field fence.
The second run was less conventional. Max Muncy took a two-out walk. Maeda ripped a single into right field. Muncy chugged from first to third. Chris Taylor stroked a single through the left side of the infield to tie the game.
Kemp helped the Dodgers take the lead in the third. Cody Bellinger set the table for Kemp. Bellinger walked and stole second base, his first stolen base of the season. Kemp brought Bellinger home with a single.
Maeda could not protect the lead in the fourth. He walked outfielder Franchy Cordero and gave up a single to outfielder Jose Pirela, with Cordero taking third. A tremendous sliding catch in foul territory by left fielder Alex Verdugo gave Maeda a second out. It also allowed Cordero to score on the sacrifice fly by shortstop Freddy Galvis.
"Overall, there were good parts and bad parts," Maeda said through his interpreter, Will Ireton. "But three runs earned, not good."
The Padres gave the run back in the sixth. After a double by Joc Pederson, Chase Utley and Muncy walked. The bases were loaded for Taylor as he faced reliever Kirby Yates. Yates threw inside. The baseball connected with both Taylor's hand and Taylor's bat. The umpire ruled it a hit by pitch, which granted the Dodgers the lead.
The advantage did not last. Fields frittered away the lead in expedient fashion. He issued a leadoff walk. Two batters later, he fell behind in the count. Lopez made him pay with a two-run shot. Fields has given up homers in three of his last four appearances.
"When you pitch off your fastball, and you're getting behind hitters, they can cheat on the fastball," Roberts said. "That's not good. And when you walk the leadoff hitter, that's not good, either."
In the eighth, Hudson looked off from the start. He gave up one run on a leadoff walk and two singles. A one-out single by second baseman Carlos Asuaje extended San Diego's lead.
Roberts stuck with Hudson because the team considered Yimi Garcia, Tony Cingrani and J.T. Chargois unavailable. Stripling will start Sunday. And Roberts wanted Pedro Baez able to provide multiple innings behind Stripling.
Roberts could not say when he expected Hill to pitch again. It could come next weekend against the Reds at Dodger Stadium. But Roberts stressed he had not looked that far ahead.
"Honestly, right now, we know that we have tomorrow and we have Monday and Tuesday," Roberts said. "And then we'll reassess from there."