Dodgers eager for big test, emotional reunions against Braves after sweeping Reds

Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler delivers against the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday.
Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler delivers against the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday. The Dodgers’ starting rotation excelled against the Reds.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Don’t call it a litmus test.

Ahead of his team’s highly anticipated series against the Atlanta Braves this week — one that will pit familiar playoff foes and former teammates against one another — Dodgers manager Dave Roberts tried to keep perspective on the significance of the early season matchup.

“When you face a really good ballclub in the Braves, it’s always people trying to say it’s a litmus test or barometer,” Roberts said. “But I think that it’s a good ballclub that we’re trying to win a series [against].

“It’s gonna be a fun series, and it’s a very good ballclub. They knocked us out of the postseason last year. But it’s a different year. So I would expect us to have the same focus as we do against the Reds as the Braves.”


Facing the Reds this past weekend, the Dodgers had few issues in earning a four-game sweep, sending them into the meeting with the Braves on a six-game winning streak.

Ahead of this week’s series, here are five takeaways on where the Dodgers stand.

Trevor Bauer might be out of sight, but he is not out of mind for the Dodgers as the pitcher looks into whether he can challenge his administrative leave.


Pitching not a problem

Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urías throws against the Reds on Saturday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The Dodgers’ biggest concern entering the season has turned into their biggest strength.

So far, the starting rotation has been very good for the Dodgers (7-2).

While they haven’t faced the most potent lineups, the team’s starters still rank in the top five in the majors in ERA (1.71), WHIP (1.02) and batting average against (.181). Only once has one of them given up more than two earned runs in an outing. And the back end of the group, which once seemed like a weak point, has been steady the first two times through.

“Across the board,” Roberts said, “[it’s been] a plus.”

Andrew Heaney provided the latest piece of encouragement Sunday, striking out 11 over six scoreless innings. After having a career-worst 5.83 ERA last season, he has started this year without giving up an earned run in 10 1/3 innings.

“This guy’s got a lot of upside and a lot of talent,” Roberts said. “With the pitching staff and with Andrew together, collectively it’s been fun to watch, really quickly.”


A seven-run outburst in the fourth inning coupled with a strong start by Andrew Heaney carried the Dodgers to a 9-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Full statistics from the first (almost) two times through the rotation:

Walker Buehler — 10 2/3 innings, four earned runs, nine strikeouts, five walks.

Tony Gonsolin (who has also effectively piggybacked with Tyler Anderson) — Seven innings, one earned run, five strikeouts, four walks.

Julio Urías — Seven innings, three earned runs, five strikeouts, three walks.


Heaney — 10 1/3 innings, 0 earned runs, 16 strikeouts, three walks.

Clayton Kershaw (in only one start) — Seven innings, 0 earned runs, 13 strikeouts, 0 walks.


Beneficial bullpens

Dodgers starting pitcher Andrew Heaney throws against the Reds on Sunday.
Dodgers starter Andrew Heaney pitches against the Reds on Sunday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Heaney’s success so far can be traced to a breakthrough bullpen session in Denver during the opening weekend. Up to that point, the left-hander had been struggling to find consistency this spring with a new slider he had been developing since signing with the Dodgers this winter.

But during his session at Coors Field, “the light went off,” Roberts said. “[He was] just feeling good with the throw and making it his own and understanding the shape of his breaking ball. That was kind of the marker.”


On Sunday, Heaney threw the slider almost half the time. It accounted for eight of his strikeouts and generated a whiff on 14 of 22 swings.

“I can keep guys off the heater with that and vice versa,” Heaney said. “I think the two play off each other really well.”

Another Dodgers pitcher who benefited this past weekend from a recent bullpen session: Urías, who bounced back from his rough season debut with five scoreless innings Saturday night thanks in large part to adjustments he made during his between-starts side session.

“Obviously, with the short spring and my last start, we felt that it was important for us to make some adjustments,” Urías said in Spanish. “We watched videos from last season, and with the bullpen that I threw during the week, I feel like it played a part with the successful outing today.”

Cincinnati Reds rookie Hunter Greene set a record with 39 fastballs hitting triple digits, but the Dodgers rallied for their fifth consecutive win.



Big innings, small hits

Max Muncy hits a two-run double against the Reds in the fourth inning Sunday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Justin Turner’s joke after Sunday’s game wasn’t that far from the truth.

“The big innings are great,” the third baseman said after another outburst from the Dodgers’ offense Sunday. “But I was joking around the other day. I was like, ‘We’re gonna have to figure out a way to score one in an inning too.’ ”

So far, the Dodgers haven’t needed to manufacture one run at a time. Instead, they’ve scored in bunches — and often without the help of the long ball.

The latest example was Sunday’s fourth inning, in which the Dodgers scored seven runs on six hits (three singles, three doubles) and two walks.

It was their fourth time scoring at least five runs in an inning this season — and only one of those explosions included a home run.


“We’re going to homer. That’s going to happen,” Roberts said. “But to be able to build an inning and pass the baton and draw seven walks like we did today is a sign of a good offense.”


Ready for reunions

Atlanta Braves closer Kenley Jansen delivers against the Reds on April 8.
(Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

By the end of Sunday afternoon, the Dodgers were already looking forward to a couple of upcoming reunions.

This week will be Freddie Freeman’s first time playing against the Braves since he left the organization and joined the Dodgers this spring. The last time he saw most of his now-former teammates in person was last fall, when the Braves won the World Series.

“I’m just looking forward to seeing all of the guys,” Freeman said. “We’re champions forever together, and that’s the best part about this.”

The Dodgers were looking forward to seeing former closer Kenley Jansen too in what will be the right-hander’s first trip as a visitor to Dodger Stadium after he signed with the Braves as a free agent this spring.


“He better get a very big standing ovation because he’s earned it and he deserves it,” Roberts said.

The only exception?

“If he gets a save,” Roberts added with a laugh, “definitely boo him.”

Former Negro Leagues star pitcher Chet Brewer mentored Black players from Los Angeles and helped them reach the majors, including Jackie Robinson.


Hot and cold lineup

Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts grounds into a double play against the Reds on Thursday.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

While the Dodgers’ offense has been good on the whole, leading the majors in scoring through the first couple of weeks at 5.67 runs per game, the lineup has featured some very hot hitters and others getting off to slower starts.


The team’s most consistent hitter has been Gavin Lux, who is leading the club with a 1.015 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and has reached base safely 15 times in 33 plate appearances.

Trea Turner also has been solid. He is batting .316 with a team-best seven RBIs. Sunday was his first game without a hit, ending a 27-game streak that stretched back to last season.

Chris Taylor, Freeman, Will Smith and Austin Barnes (in a smaller sample size) are all batting above .270 as well.

On the other end of the spectrum, Mookie Betts is struggling “finding the barrel,” according to Roberts, resulting in a .206 start to the season that has included two doubles, three RBIs and no home runs.

Max Muncy has a team-worst .167 batting average so far as he continues to try to overcome the mental hurdles still lingering from last season’s elbow injury.


“My elbow was in little pieces, so it’s not as much of a surprise to me,” Muncy said. “You just gotta keep moving forward and keep doing it day by day.”

Then there’s Cody Bellinger, who has had four games with two hits and five with none — including Sunday, when he struck out two times, leaving his early season batting average at .250.