He sounded annoyed Thursday. A day later, hours before a 6-2 loss to Cincinnati, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts sounded only tired. He understood his words counted for only so much.
He sat inside the dugout at Dodger Stadium as his underachieving team scattered across the diamond to take batting practice Friday afternoon. A hint of exhaustion crept into his voice as he outlined, yet again, his discontent with the 2018 Dodgers.
“I know we’re better than the way we’ve played,” Roberts said. “Certain expectations, we want to realize them. Right now, we’re not. But today’s a new day. We’re playing against the Cincinnati Reds, and we’ve got to find a way to win a game.”
There was a hint of desperation in his remarks. Cincinnati fields one of baseball’s worst teams. No National League team has won fewer games than the Reds. Yet these Dodgers appear hell-bent on correcting that during this four-game series at Dodger Stadium. Across the first 18 innings of this weekend, it is hard to tell which team is tanking.
On Friday night, little went well for the Dodgers (16-22). Kenta Maeda (2-3, 4.75 ERA) surrendered five runs and could not complete five innings. The lineup resuscitated the career of former phenom Matt Harvey during four scoreless innings. The offense consisted of an RBI double by Max Muncy in the fifth and a solo shot by Muncy in the seventh.
After remarking Thursday that the major leagues were not a “try” league, Roberts reverted to platitudes Friday.
“They’re trying hard,” Roberts said. “It’s just not happening.”
One of the few offerings of entertainment for the crowd occurred after the sixth inning, when Matt Kemp snapped a bat over his knee and earned an ejection. Kemp was unhappy with a called third strike from umpire Alan Porter. Kemp had a case, although the call did not appear egregious. As he walked from the batter’s box, Kemp flipped his bat high in the air. He caught the lumber and smashed it over his knee near the Dodgers dugout.
As Roberts executed a double-switch, removing Kemp from the field, Porter ejected Kemp from the game. Kemp harangued Porter for a few moments as Roberts and bench coach Bob Geren interceded. There was little reason to worry. Rare are the moments this season when Dodgers hitters cannot be held back.
Before the Mets cut him loose, Harvey was one of the least-effective starting pitchers in baseball. Heading into Friday, 143 starters had thrown at least 20 innings in 2018. Harvey ranked 128th with a 6.00 earned-run average. He was even less effective in the bullpen, which prompted the Mets to deal him to Cincinnati.
On Friday, Harvey took the mound with a lead. The Reds taxed Maeda for a run in the top of the first. Maeda gave up a leadoff double to outfielder Jesse Winker and an RBI single to first baseman Joey Votto. It took 34 pitches for Maeda to collect three outs.
“I felt like they fouled off pitches, and I couldn’t finish them off,” Maeda said through his interpreter.
The Dodgers were less effective against Harvey. They could not capitalize on a second-inning gaffe by former Dodger Scott Schebler. The right fielder lost in the lights a rain-making fly hit by Cody Bellinger. Two weeks after being benched for not hustling, Bellinger jetted to third on the gifted, one-out hit.
Bellinger advanced no farther. Harvey cranked his fastball up to 96 mph as he faced Chris Taylor. Harvey spun a 2-2 slider that nipped the outer edge of Porter’s strike zone. Taylor took the pitch and was rung up for his league-leading 21st strikeout looking. Muncy lined out to end the threat.
Maeda permitted a single to third baseman Eugenio Suarez and another single to catcher Tucker Barnhart for another Cincinnati run. Maeda gave up seven hits in the first three innings.
Meanwhile, across four innings, Harvey faced one over the minimum — and that was only because of Bellinger’s accidental triple. He was not particularly overpowering. He struck out only two. But he threw some strikes, and in the Dodgers, he found a lineup incapable of taking advantage.
For Maeda, there was one last indignity awaiting in the fifth. Votto took a leadoff walk. Maeda fell behind in the count to Gennett. He missed low with a cutter and high with a fastball. Needing to throw a strike, Maeda put a 2-0 slider down the middle. Gennett hammered the pitch beyond the right-field fence. Maeda leaned back in agony as the baseball disappeared.
Harvey departed for the fifth, sidelined by the restrictions of his pitch count, not the ferocity of his opponents. The Dodgers managed to stage a rally against Jackson Stephens, a rookie reliever with a 5.14 career ERA. Taylor tripled. Muncy doubled him home. There was reason for hope.
It did not last long. Stephens offered Yasiel Puig a steady stream of fastballs. Puig chased three of them on his hands before popping up for the inning’s second out. Called off the bench, Austin Barnes stared at three pitches, all of them strikes, to end the threat with a whimper.
“The worm’s got to turn at some point,” Roberts said. “I believe it will. Sooner would certainly be better.”
Follow Andy McCullough on Twitter @McCulloughTimes