Dodgers’ successful trip ends with loss and concerns about pitching

Texas Rangers' players high-five after scoring.
Texas Rangers Ezequiel Duran and Brad Miller celebrate behind Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes after scoring during the third inning of the Dodgers’ 8-4 loss Sunday at Globe Life Field.
(Sam Hodde / Associated Press)

Step back for a wide-angle shot of the Dodgers’ second-half-opening trip to New York, Baltimore and Texas, and it’s hard to view it as anything but a success.

The Dodgers won six of nine games against the Mets, the American League East-leading Orioles and the AL West-leading Rangers, though the trip ended with a thud, Sunday’s 8-4 loss to the Rangers in Globe Life Field that began with Max Muncy’s first-inning grand slam and ended with eight zeros.

The offense produced 10 runs or more in three of the wins. Freddie Freeman went on a tear, batting .441 (15 for 34) with three homers, four doubles and nine RBIs on the trip, and Muncy, the all-or-nothing slugger who has 24 homers and 24 singles on the season, began to find a more relaxed approach and consistent stroke at the plate.


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The Dodgers played stout defense throughout, they ran the bases aggressively and smartly, and a bullpen that was one of the worst in baseball for the first two months of the season combined to give up just three earned runs and 17 hits in 33 ⅓ innings, striking out 27 and walking 12 for an 0.81 ERA in the nine games.

But zoom in for a closer look, especially at Sunday’s loss, and you can’t shield your eyes from the glaring weakness on a team with a 57-41 record and a four-game lead in the National League West: an injury-ravaged and inexperienced rotation.

Gifted with a four-run lead before taking the mound, Dodgers starter Emmet Sheehan gave it all back and more, the rookie right-hander yielding eight runs and eight hits in 3 ⅔ innings and walking five, all of whom scored, a shoddy outing that only accentuated the team’s need to acquire a starting pitcher before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

A pair of first-inning free passes and Jonah Heim’s two-run double to right-center field pulled the Rangers to within 4-2. Two more walks and RBI singles by Marcus Semien, Nathaniel Lowe and Josh Jung in the second inning pushed the Rangers ahead 5-4.

Singles by Ezequiel Duran and Brad Miller and Leody Taveras’ two-run double to right-center gave Texas a 7-4 lead in the third, and Heim’s two-out walk and Duran’s RBI double to left made it 8-4 in the fourth.

“You can’t defend a walk,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “To put up a big number in the first inning and to come back and walk the first couple of guys and put us in a tough spot … Emmet just wasn’t sharp today.”


A four-run, first-inning lead sends most veteran pitchers into relax-and-attack mode, but Sheehan is a 23-year-old who jumped from double-A to the big leagues in June and was making his sixth major league start.

Dodgers starting pitcher Emmet Sheehan leaves the mound.
Dodgers starting pitcher Emmet Sheehan walks off the mound during the fourth inning of the Dodgers’ 8-4 loss Sunday to the Rangers.
(Sam Hodde / Associated Press)

Roberts thought Sheehan, whose average fastball velocity of 94.6 mph on Sunday was down from his season average of 95.7 mph, was more tentative than tenacious.

“When I see 92 [mph] on the radar gun, that’s showing me he’s aiming the baseball, and not being free and easy and attacking, and you see a lot of non-competitive pitches,” Roberts said. “When you get predictable and you don’t have overpowering stuff, it’s hard to get through a major league lineup.

“Big-league hitters, they smell fear, they see blood, and when there’s a weakness, they’re gonna go after you. So there’s a little bit of that, you know, he’s a nice young ballplayer, but there has to be a different switch, a different alter ego, potentially, when you take the mound every fifth day.”

The pitcher who possesses that exact alter ego, three-time NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, remains in limbo, the veteran left-hander having not pitched since leaving a June 27 start at Colorado because of a “cranky” shoulder and not expected back until early August.


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The Dodgers insist that Kershaw, who is 10-4 with a 2.55 ERA in 16 starts, has not experienced a setback and remains “asymptomatic” while throwing aggressive bullpen sessions and playing catch. But Roberts said a two-inning simulated game that Kershaw was scheduled to throw on Monday has been “pushed back.”

Kershaw will throw a bullpen session and to hitters before a return, but “I just don’t know when that pen is going to happen,” Roberts said. “There’s no pain, no setback. It’s more how we time his return. I think it’s smart to not put a hard date on it. I don’t think that’s fair to Clayton or the training staff.”

Combine Kershaw’s injury with Dustin May’s season-ending elbow surgery, the uneven performances of veterans Julio Urías and Tony Gonsolin and the unpredictability of rookies Bobby Miller, Michael Grove and Sheehan, and it’s easy to see why the team is being aggressive in its attempts to acquire a veteran starter or two.

Sheehan has been rocked for 17 earned runs and 17 hits in 12 ⅓ innings of his last three starts, striking out 10 and walking 12, but Roberts said he will get another start.

“I’m sure he’s never been hit around like this, so it’s a reality check,” Roberts said of Sheehan. “I still believe the stuff plays when it’s thrown with conviction.”

Sunday’s series finale began much like Saturday’s 16-3 shellacking of the Rangers ended, as Mookie Betts opened the game with a double, Freeman singled, Chris Taylor walked and Muncy drove his fifth career grand slam into the right-field seats for a 4-0 lead.

But just when it seemed the Dodgers might produce another blowout, the Rangers tightened the spigot on an offense that produced 31 runs and 34 hits, including six homers and eight doubles, in the first 19 innings of the series.


Rangers left-hander Martín Pérez blanked the Dodgers on three hits with six strikeouts from the second through sixth innings, and relievers Brock Burke, Aroldis Chapman and Will Smith covered the final three innings.

The Dodgers played without hot-hitting J.D. Martinez, who was scratched because of left hamstring tightness before first pitch and is expected to miss Monday night’s game against Toronto. Roberts expects the slugger to return on Tuesday.

There wasn’t much to smile about Sunday, but Roberts perked up when asked if the loss put a damper on the trip.

“No, not at all!” Roberts said with a grin. “It was a great road trip.”