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Dodgers’ opening series vs. Giants was a letdown. Now comes the hard part: travel

Giants baserunner Darin Ruf steals second in front of Dodgers second baseman Kiké Hernández.
San Francisco’s Darin Ruf steals second in front of the Dodgers’ Kiké Hernández during the seventh inning of the Dodgers’ 3-1 loss Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers spent the last three-plus weeks adjusting to the oddities Major League Baseball deemed necessary to stage a season during a pandemic from the comfort of their home. They held workouts, played scrimmages, hosted exhibitions, and, finally, completed a four-game series against the San Francisco Giants to begin the regular season while adhering to rigorous protocols at an empty Dodger Stadium.

The opening series was a letdown. The Dodgers lost Sunday’s finale 3-1 to split the set against a club projected to finish last in the National League West despite outscoring the Giants 22-10.

Julio Urías, stifled by a high pitch count early, gave up a run on five hits over five innings in his season debut. He issued three walks and posted three strikeouts. A baserunner reached base every inning. He threw 78 pitches. The left-hander exited with the score tied before the Giants jumped ahead in the sixth inning against Brusdar Graterol and Adam Kolarek. The Giants added another run in the seventh on Donovan Solano’s two-out RBI single off Pedro Báez.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, accumulated seven hits against seven pitchers. They left 10 runners on base, ballooning their total for the series to 42.

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They produced their only run in the third. Mookie Betts delivered a one-out single, swiped second for his first steal as a Dodger, and dashed home on Cody Bellinger’s single to right.

The Dodgers fall 5-4 to the Giants, committing too many mistakes after picking up comfortable victories in the first two games of the season.

The Dodgers had their best shot to rally in the eighth inning, but Kiké Hernández grounded out to leave the bases loaded against right-handed submariner Tyler Rogers. After the game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he didn’t consider pinch-hitting for Hernández with Joc Pederson, a left-handed hitter, available on the bench because Hernández recorded a two-run single off Rogers on Thursday and Rogers’ splits are historically neutral.

“You just got to give credit to those guys,” Roberts said. “They matched up really well. You’re seeing a different [pitcher] every at-bat.”

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Finishing the series without a major coronavirus-related snag was itself an accomplishment. Now comes the Dodgers’ final major unknown challenge of the COVID-19 era: traveling.

While the other active professional leagues are operating inside hubs to avoid the risk traveling presents, MLB is plowing forward with a 60-game season in 26 regions to reach the postseason pot of television gold.

Dodgers starter Julio Urías delivers during the first inning.
Dodgers starter Julio Urías delivers during the first inning of Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers are scheduled to fly to Houston, a recent virus hotspot, on Monday for the start of a nine-game trip with games Tuesday and Wednesday against the Astros. It’ll be the clubs’ first meetings since the Astros’ cheating scandal tarnished their 2017 championship season. Fans will be absent, but the emotions should be charged after the clubs lobbed attacks back and forth through the media during spring training.

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But those games will be secondary to avoiding the virus and an outbreak that could cost the Dodgers far more than two games. That will be the Dodgers’ top priority as they leave Los Angeles as a group for the first time a day after the cracks in the 2020 season widened some more.

The Miami Marlins planned on leaving Philadelphia on Sunday, but the flight home was delayed to Monday after four players, including Sunday’s scheduled starter José Ureña, tested positive for the coronavirus. Multiple players were being left behind. The outbreak could not only decimate the Marlins’ roster but also threaten the entire league’s season.

“It’s just kind of scary,” Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw said last week of traveling. “You think about like, ‘Man, if I go somewhere and get it and give it to my teammates and our season is ruined because of something stupid I did...’ That’s a bad feeling. So, you don’t want to be that guy.”

The Dodgers will head to LAX in four buses from Dodger Stadium on Monday. They will sit in a “snake” formation to maximize distance between people. The flight takes off at around noon. In the air, they’ll face more strict protocols imposed by MLB’s operations manual.

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Masks are required for the flight’s duration. Passengers in window seats must board first and leave last. Middle seats will be kept vacant. Everyone must open the air vents above their seats and clean the armrests and headrests with disinfectant wipes they receive upon boarding. People in the same row cannot eat or drink at the same time. They are required to shut the airplane toilet before flushing and recommended to not use the restroom right after someone else.

Dodgers relief pitcher Adam Kolarek delivers during the sixth inning.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner can't haul in a liner hit by Giants first baseman Darin Ruf.
Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner can’t haul in a liner hit by Giants first baseman Darin Ruf for a run-scoring single during the third inning.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers will leave with a three-man taxi squad on top of their 30-man active roster to serve as a buffer in case of an outbreak. Roberts said the three players will be utility man Zach McKinstry, a reliever, and a catcher — Rocky Gale or prospect Keibert Ruiz.

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Once in Houston, individuals are responsible for policing themselves away from the stadium. Dodgers players have said they discussed how to behave but haven’t implemented formal rules. The gist: Don’t act a fool.

“Have common sense,” Hernández said. “Know what’s at stake and know what could be at stake if you do something stupid.”

Catcher Will Smith said Sunday he expects most guys will stay in their rooms playing video games. They’ll avoid restaurants and order food. Their time will almost be entirely spent between the stadium and the hotel. Roberts said he hadn’t addressed the team about being safe but had conversations with “certain” players.

“We have talked about the fact that you got to win on the field, but also winning off the field is going be important too for each team,” Roberts said.

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“Staying safe and trying to win the battle of attrition in ’20 is going to be beneficial as well.”

On the field, his club is a disappointing 2-2. The Dodgers failed to take care of business against an inferior opponent in a truncated season with little room for error. The next test will be more daunting. And it has nothing to do with baseball.

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen delivers a pitch during the ninth inning.
Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen delivers a pitch during the ninth inning during Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Three observations from the Dodgers’ 3-1 loss to the Giants

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1. Pollock is back: AJ Pollock rejoined the Dodgers after going home to Arizona to be with his family. Pollock and his wife, Katie, took home their daughter, Maddi, for the first time 128 days after Maddi was born prematurely in March. Pollock went one for four with a double Sunday night.

2. Kershaw throws: Clayton Kershaw (back stiffness) will travel with the team to Houston after throwing 15 pitches off a mound Sunday. The left-hander is set for another bullpen session Tuesday. He’s on track to come off the injured list next weekend.

3. Jansen’s debut: Reliever Kenley Jansen made his season debut with a clean, 10-pitch ninth inning Sunday night.


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