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Dodgers waste a sterling performance by Walker Buehler in 3-2 loss to Rockies

The circumstances of a baseball season wrench a bullpen into misalignment. Across 162 games, a team often competes with its relief corps at less than full strength. Pitchers get injured. They require days off. Freak injuries or things like the recurrence of Kenley Jansen’s heart condition can happen.

And yet, the circumstances of a baseball season do not force teams to do what the Dodgers did in the ninth inning Saturday night at Coors Field. Protecting a two-run lead and scrambling to match up against the Colorado Rockies lineup, manager Dave Roberts learned the perils of using a committee to close. His process backfired in a 3-2 defeat that cost his team a chance to claim first place in the National League West.

After left-handed reliever Scott Alexander gave up a one-out double, Roberts pulled him for right-handed pitcher J.T. Chargois, hoping Chargois could get the final two outs against two right-handed hitters. But when Chargois drilled pinch-hitter Nolan Arenado, left-handed hitter Ryan McMahon could bat with two outs and two runners aboard. McMahon crushed a walkoff three-run home run into the right-field seats.

“You don’t have that guy who is proven to get outs in the ninth inning,” Roberts said. “That’s where we’re at right now.”

Responsibility for the failure spanned from the front office to the field. The Dodgers did not address the holes in their bullpen at the trade deadline, preferring to eventually build a relief corps out of leftover starting pitchers, all of whom are still being used as starters. Roberts miscalculated the necessity of the platoon advantage compared with the unreliability of Chargois. He leaned on the prior history of Alexander, who had given up a home run to Arenado on June 29.

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Rather than let Alexander finish the game, Roberts said he opted to create “a great runaway” for Chargois, who was claimed off waivers in February, demoted to the minors in May and generally succeeds only against right-handed hitters. The path led to an unfair matchup against McMahon.

And yet Chargois, who entered the game allowing left-handed hitters a .982 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, is still capable of collecting outs. Instead he lacked command of his slider and missed the intended location on the 95-mph fastball crushed by McMahon.

“I left that pitch up,” Chargois (2-4) said. “And he hit it.”

The defeat wasted a sterling performance from Walker Buehler. Buehler provided stability, and his defense provided backup. Shaky early, Buehler struck out six, scattered four hits and survived three walks. Yasiel Puig hit the 100th home run of his career in an otherwise quiet night for the offense.

The Dodgers struck out 10 times against starter Kyle Freeland. Justin Turner bashed an RBI triple in the first inning and Puig went deep in the second. From there, the bats slumbered. The Dodgers advanced a runner to second base only once after the second inning.

Buehler was making his second start at Coors Field. His defense backed him up. Brian Dozier and Manny Machado turned a picturesque double play in the third and Puig cut down outfielder Gerardo Parra for another double play in the fourth.

Buehler narrowly avoided a disaster in the field in the sixth. It started with a grounder down the first base line from second baseman DJ LeMahieu. Max Muncy charged the baseball, which skipped off his glove into foul territory. Buehler had been trailing the play. When the ball squirted free, he accelerated toward the line.

The teammates were on an inadvertent collision course. Buehler realized it at the last moment. He slowed up, but still got leg-whipped by Muncy. The right knee of Muncy crashed into Buehler’s left calf. Buehler spun out and thudded into the grass.

“I was just happy that he went down too,” Buehler said. “If I had been the only one to go down, I would have been embarrassed.”

As Buehler pulled himself to his feet, Roberts and a member of the training staff came to check on him. Buehler stayed in the game. Two batters later, he induced a 5-4-3 double play to escape the inning. He returned for the seventh and finished his outing with a 98-mph fastball to fan catcher Chris Iannetta.

Dodgers starter Walker Buehler struck out six, scattered four hits and survived three walks in seven innings against Colorado.
(Joe Mahoney / Getty Images)

From there, Roberts played roulette with his relievers. Caleb Ferguson notched three outs in the eighth. Ferguson, a 22-year-old rookie, had collected five outs Thursday. Roberts indicated it was “predetermined” before the game that Ferguson could pitch only one inning.

Alexander was primed for the ninth. He closed Thursday, the first day without Jansen. As he dueled with shortstop Trevor Story, Arenado came off the bench and moved to the on-deck circle. Chargois started to warm up. Roberts was prepared for this scenario. He wanted Chargois to face Arenado.

His reasoning relied, in part, on an incredibly small sample size. Alexander has opposed Arenado four times. Arenado made an out three times. He homered on the fourth. Alexander relies on sinkers, but Roberts still fretted about Arenado hitting a home run.

“Neither guy has really closed,” Roberts said. “And I just felt that to put both those guys in the position to have success, that was the right decision.”

The rest unfolded like a nightmare. Alexander gave up a double to Story. Arenado came to the plate. Roberts replaced Alexander with Chargois. And Chargois wilted.

Chargois had held right-handed hitters to a .595 OPS. Arenado inflated that number. Chargois threw three sliders in the dirt and then hit Arenado with a fourth. “I really didn’t execute the slider,” Chargois said.

He had less luck with the fastball. After a groundout by first baseman Ian Desmond, Chargois was stuck facing McMahon. Here the inactivity at the deadline haunted once more: The only left-handed pitcher in the bullpen was Zac Rosscup — who had given up the game-deciding homer to McMahon the night before.

Chargois met the same fate as Rosscup. The stands at Coors Field teemed with excitement as McMahon rounded the bases. The Dodgers and their tinderbox bullpen slinked back to their clubhouse.

“It’s a tough one,” Roberts said. “All losses are tough. But when you’re an out away from going up 2-1 in the series, lose two games like we have, it’s a tough one.”

andy.mccullough@latimes.com

Twitter: @McCulloughTimes


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