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Dodgers clinch playoff spot with win over Padres

Dodgers' Gavin Lux, right, high-fives A.J. Pollock after Pollock hit a solo home run.
Dodgers’ Gavin Lux, right, high-fives A.J. Pollock after Pollock hit a solo home run in the first inning in San Diego.
(Derrick Tuskan / Associated Press)

The announcement Wednesday morning set off alarms: Brusdar Graterol, not Dustin May, would start for the Dodgers in the series finale against the San Diego Padres. May was scheduled to make his first appearance since taking a groundball off his left foot last week. It was a scare, but tests showed the foot wasn’t broken. He was supposedly ready to go.

And he was. The Dodgers just decided they were going to treat Wednesday like an experiment for October, not like the big game between clubs vying for a division title down the stretch with a chance to clinch a postseason berth that it should’ve been because Major League Baseball’s playoff format indirectly diminished the result’s importance.

Instead, the Dodgers had Graterol serve as an opener and used May later in the game. On the other side, the Padres unleashed a stream of pitchers to slow the highly anticipated matinee to a crawl.

Ultimately, the Dodgers won the battle of the bullpens 7-5 to win the series, increase their lead in the National League West to 3 1/2 games and secure a playoff berth for the eighth straight season. The magic number to clinch the NL West title is six with 10 games remaining.

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“I thought it was a good series to win,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I didn’t know that [we clinched], but that’s the first step.”

May threw 83 pitches in 5 1/3 innings, but he entered to start the third after Graterol and Adam Kolarek secured the first six outs. It was the longest relief appearance by a Dodger since Jose Lima logged 5 2/3 innings in 2004.

In his first big-league outing, Tony Gonsolin got through seven innings, allowing one run and four hits in the Dodgers’ 3-1 win over the Padres.

Once he took the mound, May cruised until the end of the outing. Jurickson Profar slugged a two-run home run with two outs in the seventh inning and Manny Machado launched a solo shot with one out in the eighth to chase him. May allowed three runs on three hits with six strikeouts and one walk. It was the first time May, who was notified he wasn’t starting Tuesday night, allowed more than two runs in 10 outings this season.

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“I thought it was pretty solid,” May said. “There were some miscues on my end that went the wrong way, but for the most part felt good.”

The 16-team postseason format MLB officially unveiled Wednesday effectively altered how rosters will look and teams will play in October. Without days off during the Division Series and the Championship Series, deep starting rotations will be more important than in recent postseasons after the wild-card round.

But teams could opt to aggressively use relievers in the wild-card round — a three-game series played at the higher-seeded team’s home ballpark — because at least two days off will follow before clubs enter a bubble for the five-game Division Series.

So, Wednesday became a trial run for the Dodgers (35-15) while the Padres (32-19) used nine pitchers over utilizing a starter to pitch multiple innings against a possible playoff opponent.

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“We have five starters that we like a lot,” Roberts said, “but there’s certain matchups that you can kind of benefit from.”

May is one of those five starters along with Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Tony Gonsolin, and Julio Urías. Roberts said Alex Wood, a starter to begin the season, won’t rejoin the rotation.

Buehler is on the injured list because of a blister problem, but recently threw a six-inning simulated game with the blister covered at the team’s alternate training site at USC. Roberts said the plan is for him to throw another simulated game before making a start at Dodger Stadium next week in preparation for the playoffs.

If healthy, Buehler would likely start Game 2 of the wild-card round. The Dodgers could then use the blueprint unveiled Wednesday for Game 3, if they play one.

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Graterol logged 1 1/3 innings before Adam Kolarek was summoned to finish the second inning. The goal was to optimize matchups. The duo allowed one run.

May was then inserted to cover the bulk of the game before Victor Gonzalez and Pedro Báez were summoned for the final 1 2/3 innings. The strategy worked Wednesday. Whether it works in October remains to be seen.

The commissioner’s office and players union reached agreement on a postseason bubble plan that includes Arlington, Texas, hosting the World Series.

FERGUSON FACING POSSIBLE SURGERY

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Roberts said an MRI exam Wednesday revealed “a pretty good tear” in Caleb Ferguson’s ulnar collateral ligament and he could miss the rest of the season.

Ferguson injured his left elbow on his third pitch of his relief appearance Tuesday and immediately exited. He was placed on the 10-day injured list before Wednesday’s game.

Ferguson, 24, underwent Tommy John surgery as a high school senior in 2014. Roberts said Ferguson will decide whether to opt for surgery or pitch through the injury.

The left-hander had been one of the Dodgers’ best relievers this season. He allowed runs in just four of his 21 appearances and posted 13 strikeouts per nine innings.

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PEDERSON AWAY FROM TEAM AGAIN

Joc Pederson was placed on the family medical emergency list minutes before the first pitch Wednesday. Utility man Zach McKinstry, who had already traveled to San Diego from Los Angeles, was recalled to take his place on the roster.

The move came five days after Pederson was activated from the paternity list. Players must spend at least three days on the family medical emergency list before returning. Roberts declined to share the reason for Pederson’s absence.

THREE TAKEAWAYS

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1. AJ Pollock opened the scoring in the second inning with his 100th career home run, a solo shot to center field off Padres starter Adrian Morejon, but exited the game in the sixth inning with hamstring tightness. Roberts said his status for Thursday’s game against the Colorado Rockies is unclear.

2. Mookie Betts became the first Dodger to steal three bases in a game since Trayce Thompson in 2016. The total, reached in the game’s first five innings, matched the right fielder’s career high.

3. Justin Turner went 0 for 3 with a walk before McKinstry pinch-hit for him with two outs in the ninth inning in his major league debut. Turner is expected to continue as the team’s designated hitter at least until Friday before playing third base.

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