The path to victory looked clear for the Dodgers. Across the diamond stood the Colorado Rockies, their perennially underwhelming foes from the National League West, a team that carted baseball’s least-effective bullpen with it to Dodger Stadium. On a visit to Coors Field earlier this month, the Dodgers squashed the Rockies relievers in a sweep. Manager Dave Roberts hoped for a repeat.
“If we can get to those guys early in this series, then I think it will obviously bode well for us,” Roberts said Friday afternoon.
The Dodgers scored 33 runs during those three games in the thin mountain air. And they will need to score 32 over the next two days to match that production, after getting smothered by Rockies pitcher Tyler Anderson in a 3-1 defeat.
Anderson prevented the Dodgers from spending much time facing his team’s flammable bullpen. He logged eight scoreless innings and rendered his opponents helpless — they took zero at-bats with runners in scoring position, because they never advanced a runner to second base.
In his final inning, Anderson defused the Dodgers without much incident. He allowed Yasiel Puig to walk, the first Dodger to earn a free pass. Anderson countered with a cut fastball on the hands of Austin Barnes. His grounder led to a double play, allowing Anderson to face pinch-hitter Max Muncy with little pressure. Muncy flied out as Anderson trotted to his bench, his job done.
“He kept us off balance with off-speed, with the cutter, with the fastball away, the slider,” Roberts said.
The ninth went as expected. Justin Turner cracked a solo homer off Rockies closer Wade Davis. It was the team’s 54th homer this month, which set a franchise record. But Anderson had eased the burden on the bullpen. Davis got three outs without any more damage.
Unable to solve Anderson, the Dodgers wasted a sterling effort from Rich Hill. It was his best outing of the season, which has been marred by imprecise pitching and another lengthy sojourn on the disabled list with a blister.
“I was really pleased with the consistency of the flight of the ball,” Hill said. “The way the curveball came out of my hand, the consistency of that. Everything really came together tonight.”
On Friday he struck out a season-high 10 Rockies. He lasted 62/3 innings, his longest outing since Sept. 27, 2017. He kept Colorado silent, save for Pat Valaika’s solo home run in the fifth inning. In the eighth, reliever Scott Alexander served up a solo homer to Nolan Arenado. An inning later, Yimi Garcia did the same with Chris Iannetta.
Hill returned to the mound after an irritating outing last weekend in New York. He had surrendered four runs to the hapless Mets. The offense bailed him by bashing seven home runs, but the performance still rankled Hill. He dealt with repeated glitches in his delivery, which robbed his fastball of its location and defanged his curveball.
Hill appeared to repair those deficiencies Friday. He cruised through the first three innings, striking out three and permitting only two singles. When Anderson collected a one-out hit in the third inning, Hill responded in swift fashion. He got DJ LeMahieu to pound a curveball into the grass to start a 5-4-3 double play.
Last week at Citi Field, as his delivery quickened and his control loosened, Hill hit three batters. He committed a similar error in Friday’s fourth inning. As Charlie Blackmon squared up to bunt, Hill unleashed an 88-mph fastball that connected with Blackmon’s wrist and sent him spinning to the dirt.
Hill buckled down. He struck out Arenado with a curveball and induced a fielder’s choice from Trevor Story. After Ian Desmond chopped a single through the infield, Hill fanned Iannetta for his fifth strikeout of the evening.
“His fastball had good life tonight,” Barnes said.
The offense forced Hill to practice without a net. Anderson retired the first 11 Dodgers. Turner recorded his team’s first hit by depositing a two-out single into right field in the fourth inning. He did not advance to second base; Anderson got Cody Bellinger to hit an infield pop-up for the second time in two at-bats.
An unlikely foe punished Hill in the fifth. Valaika entered the game with a .120 average. He had not homered in the majors since September. He had produced only four extra-base hits in 38 games this season. His .173 slugging percentage ranked last among the 383 players with at least 80 plate appearances.
The statistics mattered not. Hill piped a 90-mph fastball down the middle. Valaika powered the baseball over the outstretched glove of Enrique Hernandez at the wall in center field for a 1-0 lead.
“Another good pitch, I thought,” Hill said. “But he put a good swing on it.”
Six pitches into the seventh, Hill flung a curve that snapped too far inside and hit Iannetta. The next two hitters made outs, and Hill appeared set for an escape. Anderson vexed him again by singling for the second time. The hit ended Hill’s evening. He watched from the bench as Alexander secured the third out.
Alexander returned for the eighth and Arenado clubbed Colorado’s second solo home run. A third followed in the ninth. The Dodgers could not answer until the Rockies bullpen intervened. By then, it was too late.