Sometime in the coming days, the Dodgers could welcome another player they consider fundamental to their future. Gavin Lux, at 21 years old, has been perhaps the best hitter in the minor leagues, at any level, across baseball this season. He solidified himself as a can’t-miss prospect and prompted the Dodgers to consider making him one of their September call-ups. The middle infielder could be a major leaguer by the middle of this week.
But while Lux could help the Dodgers reach their goal of winning the World Series, they would not rely on him. He would be a low-risk, high-reward supplement. The onus would remain on others to fuel the October charge. Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen, of course, are two of them.
On Saturday, in their final game before rosters expand, the two pitchers, mainstays in the Dodgers’ success this decade, stumbled as the Dodgers fell 6-5 for their third loss in three days to the Arizona Diamondbacks and sixth defeat in nine games overall. The dip has allowed the Atlanta Braves to pull within 4½ games for home-field advantage in the National League.
Pitching in front of a pro-Dodgers announced crowd of 50,180 — a record for 22-year-old Chase Field — Kershaw had his worst start of the season. The left-hander gave up five runs and five hits, including two home runs, across five innings, snapping his streak of 23 consecutive starts of at least six innings to begin the season. It was the most runs he has surrendered in a regular-season game since last September. He’s given up eight home runs in his last three starts.
“I felt pretty good today actually,” Kershaw said. “I just left a few pitches middle again and gave up some homers.”
In the eighth inning, with the Dodgers trailing 5-4, Jansen hung a slider to Eduardo Escobar, the first batter he faced. Escobar hammered it for his third home run of the series. Jansen said it was a terrible pitch. It prolonged a disconcerting stretch for the once invulnerable reliever, who has logged three clean outings and a 4.50 earned-run average over his last 20 appearances. Jansen called it is the most frustrating time of his career.
“Just dealing with so much crap,” Jansen said. “Just can’t get a break. Maybe this will just make me a stronger man and a stronger pitcher. And once I get through it, I’ll be fine.”
Things were going the Dodgers’ way until Kershaw encountered turbulence in the fourth inning. It started with him issuing a leadoff walk to Nick Ahmed. Two batters later, Christian Walker continued his inexplicable destruction of Kershaw with a two-run home run to center field. It was Walker’s fourth career home run off Kershaw in 10 plate appearances, matching Adam Dunn for the most homers Kershaw has allowed to a batter in his career. Wilmer Flores made it back-to-back blasts to tie the score 3-3. It was the 23rd home run Kershaw allowed this season, tying his career high set in 2017.
The fifth inning began with another leadoff walk, this one to Carson Kelly. Tim Locastro, a former Dodger who has pestered his former club this series, singled before Ahmed smacked a two-run double with two strikes down the left-field line to give Arizona a 5-4 lead. Kershaw struck out the next two batters to end his night after 92 pitches.
“They hit mistakes and they did a good job of it,” Kershaw said. “So just don’t make mistakes.”
Robbie Ray countered Kershaw. It was not a promising matchup for the Dodgers; Ray entered the game with a 2.97 ERA in 19 career starts against Los Angeles. But the Dodgers, without Cody Bellinger or the injured Max Muncy in the lineup, chased the left-hander after scoring four runs in five innings. Justin Turner and Will Smith each clubbed solo home runs. Jedd Gyorko smacked an RBI double, and Enrique Hernandez produced the fourth run with a sacrifice fly.
But the Dodgers were silenced over the next three innings, failing to put a runner on base against three Diamondbacks relievers. The bats woke up again in the ninth against Archie Bradley. Chris Taylor lined a first-pitch single to lead off the inning. Bellinger, pinch-hitting, smashed Bradley’s second pitch into the right-field corner for a double. Joc Pederson walked to load the bases for Matt Beaty.
After a mound visit, Beaty cracked a hard-hit groundball to first baseman Walker. Walker made a diving stop and initiated a 3-6-1 double play as Taylor scored to pull the Dodgers within one. With Bellinger at third base, pinch-hitter Russell Martin grounded out to end the game and spark an elated Bradley.
Lux could find himself in such spots in September. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said the club is “really contemplating” the possibility of having Lux play for them this season.
The promotion would conclude Lux’s rapid ascendance from 2016 first-round pick to essentially untouchable in trade talks this summer. Entering Saturday, he was hitting .390 with 13 homers and a 1.201 OPS in 48 games with triple-A Oklahoma City. The affiliate’s season ends Monday without a playoff berth.
“There’s really not a whole lot of downside,” Roberts said.
But, Roberts repeated, a final decision hasn’t been made. Lux isn’t essential to the Dodgers’ success. If he was, his status wouldn’t be unclear. The same cannot be said for Kershaw and Jansen.
Roberts said outfielder Alex Verdugo is scheduled to go on a rehab assignment with rookie-level Ogden on Sunday. Verdugo is expected to spend the week with the minor league affiliate before being reinstated from the injured list next weekend in Los Angeles. … The Dodgers plan on reinstating right-handers Ross Stripling and Dylan Floro and first basema David Freese from the injured list Sunday. Stripling, on the injured list since July 25, with a neck injury will start on the mound. He is expected to log two or three innings. Dustin May, the team’s top pitching prospect, is slated to make his second career relief appearance.