Dustin May’s name didn’t have to be announced. The Dodger Stadium crowd’s volume ascended the second the lanky pitcher’s red hair emerged from the bullpen in the seventh inning in Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Friday. May was summoned to face Washington Nationals veteran Howie Kendrick with two outs and two on for his first career playoff appearance.
The right-hander’s first pitch was a wicked 94-mph cutter for a called strike. Three pitches later, he induced a weak ground ball with a 95-mph fastball to maneuver from the jam. The moment prompted an excited reaction as the Dodgers remained within a run in their eventual 4-2 loss.
May took the mound for the eighth inning and gave up one run on two hits and a walk, but Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was pleased with the 21-year-old prospect’s 21-pitch performance.
“It was a big out,” Roberts said. “And I loved him in that part of the order. I thought he threw the baseball well.”
May’s emergence is a part of the Dodgers’ bullpen makeover. Of the eight relievers, only Kenley Jansen, Joe Kelly, and Pedro Baez had conventional roles the entire regular season. Ross Stripling bounced between the rotation and bullpen. So did Julio Urias, who wasn’t unleashed as a reliever until September. Adam Kolarek joined team in late July, Kenta Maeda was moved to the bullpen in September, and May began his transition in August.
The overhaul strengthened the corps. Through two games, the Dodgers’ bullpen has given up one run and five hits in six innings. Stripling and Jansen are the only relievers who weren’t used in Games 1 or 2.
Daniel Hudson’s game-ending strikeout of Corey Seager in Game 2 capped an eight-pitch battle in which the Nationals right-hander’s first seven pitches to the left-handed hitter were all fastballs between 96.2 mph and 97.3 mph on the outer half of the plate or outside.
Seager took the first pitch for a strike and fouled off the next three pitches. He took two balls and fouled off another pitch before Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki went to the mound with a 2-and-2 count on Seager.
“Zuk came out and asked if I wanted to stay with a changeup,” said Hudson, the former Dodgers reliever who was signed and cut by the Angels this spring. “I said, ‘No, I wanted to throw a slider off the plate.’ I don’t know if it was on the plate or not, I just threw it.”
The 88.2-mph breaking ball was not on the plate. It broke down and inside and under the hands of Seager, who swung and missed for strike three.
“I threw Corey seven heaters in a row — I just wanted to throw a little wrinkle at him, see if I could get a groundout or something,” Hudson said. “Luckily, he swung through it.”
Somewhat lost in an eventful and suspenseful ninth inning Friday night was a potentially game-saving play by Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon, whose defense is often overshadowed by his lethal bat.
With Justin Turner on second base, one out and Washington’s infield shifted toward the right side, Dodgers cleanup man Cody Bellinger swung at Hudson’s first pitch and sent a popup into shallow left field.
Knowing speedy shortstop Trea Turner was too close to second base and left fielder Juan Soto was too deep to catch the ball, Rendon sprinted about 80 feet into the outfield and made a lunging, over-the-shoulder, sliding, snow-cone catch for the second out.
An intentional walk to Max Muncy and a four-pitch walk to Will Smith loaded the bases before Hudson struck out Seager.
“Nobody talks about the ball that Rendon caught there at the end,” Washington manager Davey Martinez said. “That’s a tough play.”
Nationals center fielder Victor Robles left Friday night’s game in the eighth inning because of a hamstring injury he suffered on a sacrifice bunt that advanced runners to second and third. Pinch-hitter Asdrubal Cabrera followed with an RBI single to extend Washington‘s lead to 4-2. “We’re going to see how he feels,” Martinez said. “I think we’ll have to play it day-to-day.”