The Dodgers have followed a successful recipe with near uniformity in recent weeks: Pounce on the opponent early, ride a quality outing from a starter and grant the bullpen room for error while playing crisp defense. The formula produced 15 victories in 20 games heading into their encounter with the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday afternoon.
But there was no early lead, or any lead, in a 4-0 loss Saturday. The Dodgers fell behind in the second inning, watched the gap quadruple after an error in the third and couldn’t generate any offense against the last-place Reds as their winning streak ended at four games.
“You got to wash this one off,” manager Dave Roberts said.
Walker Buehler, a Reds fan growing up an hour south in Lexington, Ky., was merciless in his first career inning at Great American Ball Park with a few dozen family members and fans in the stands. He struck out the side with 16 pitches. His fastball touched 99 mph. He appeared poised to duplicate the preceding scoreless performances from Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill.
Turbulence, however, ensued. Jesse Winker opened the second inning with a home run, sending a 98-mph fastball up in the zone over the center-field fence with two strikes. It was the first run a Dodgers pitcher had given up since the fourth inning Tuesday, a 24-inning span, and the first time the Dodgers trailed since the third inning that night.
“I take my chances with that pitch with anybody,” Buehler said. “It was the top of the zone and kind of my strength.”
The deficit increased in the third inning. After Buehler (4-1) surrendered two singles to begin the frame, he induced a potential double-play grounder to shortstop Corey Seager. But Seager had his throw to second baseman Chris Taylor, who was out of his usual position in an infield shift against the left-handed-hitting Joey Votto, sail into right field. The error allowed a run to score. Two more Reds crossed the plate on the first of Yasiel Puig’s two hits — a two-out flare off the end of the bat on a 3-and-2 fastball that landed a few feet in front of center fielder Alex Verdugo. Verdugo chose to play the ball on a bounce to attempt to throw out the trailing runner at home instead of a risky dive to end the inning.
“Big swing, but end of the bat,” Verdugo said. “And I felt like I had the right read, right bounce.”
Cody Bellinger led the Dodgers charge against right-hander Tyler Mahle (1-5), reaching base three times — twice on singles and once on a walk — to extend his on-base streak to 38 consecutive starts to begin the season. The performance raised his batting average .409 and on-base-plus-slugging percentage to 1.273.
But the Dodgers stranded at least one runner in each of the first five innings, and stranded two in each the second and third innings. Mahle didn’t retire the side in order until the sixth inning and yet emerged unscathed. He effectively worked the edges of the zone, preying on the Dodgers’ aggressiveness, and exited after giving up four singles, two walks and hitting a batter over six innings.
“We just didn't get a whole lot of good swings off on him,” said Roberts, whose club was held without an extra-base hit for the third time this season.
Buehler recovered from the prolonged, 24-pitch third inning to hold Cincinnati scoreless over his final three innings. He gave up seven hits, struck seven batters and didn’t walk anyone in six innings. One of the four runs was earned. It was Buehler’s third straight start with three earned runs or fewer over at least six innings.
“I felt good,” Buehler said. “Obviously, that one inning got away from me. I didn't walk anybody and was able to attack the zone and punch some guys out. Obviously, not thrilled with the result, but I felt OK with my night.”