The key moment of Friday night's 3-1 Dodgers loss to the Houston Astros came in the bottom of the eighth inning, when the Dodgers were threatening against the Houston bullpen after being unable to solve the Lucas Harrell puzzle all evening.
The Dodgers had the bases loaded with one out, down two runs, and the Astros brought in southpaw Fernando Abad to pitch with James Loney due up. Loney, hitting just .175/.214/.225 (7-for-40) against lefties this year and .213/.254/.300 in 369 plate appearances against lefties over the last three seasons, was pulled for a pinch hitter.
Outside of right-handed hitting Matt Treanor, who as the backup catcher is rarely used as a pinch hitter, manager Don Mattingly had a trio of right-handed choices on his bench: Scott Van Slyke, he of the pinch-hit three-run home run on Sunday; Jerry Sands he of the pinch-hit double during the five-run rally Tuesday in Arizona; or Ivan De Jesus, he of the pinch-hit sacrifice fly Tuesday as well as the game-winning two-run double.
Mattingly went with De Jesus, the one of the three with the least power, though a home run wasn't what Mattingly was looking for in that spot.
"Out of all the guys we had there, [De Jesus] is the best hitter of all of them. But obviously Scotty can be a little dangerous," Mattingly said after the game. "I needed more of a hit there, and not necessarily to pop the ball, though that would be nice. Ivan's been swinging the bat pretty good and I felt like he was our best option, and it didn't work out."
De Jesus struck out, and A.J. Ellis flew out to end the rally, the Dodgers fell. But as that was really the Dodgers' best scoring threat of the night, the larger problem was not being able to do anything off Harrell, who induced 16 groundouts on the night.
"He pounded the strike zone, he got ahead in the count. He attacked us all night long," Mattingly said of Harrell. "He did a good job."
Harrell was supported by an Astros offense that had five extra-base hits off Clayton Kershaw, who took his second loss of the season.
"I didn't have as great of command as I would have liked," Kershaw said. "Overall I thought I pitched okay, with just a couple mistakes here and there. In a game like that, it will cost you."
Mattingly agreed, adding, "He didn't seem as sharp as usual, but typical Clayton he just kept battling and fighting and kept us in the game."
The Astros scored an unearned run in the first helped by a throwing error from Elian Herrera, then added two more on a home run by J.D. Martinez in the third inning. It was an at-bat Kershaw regretted.
"Martinez hit a good pitch actually. I shouldn't have been behind in the count obviously," Kershaw said. "I probably threw one too many of the same pitches and he did a good job with it, and it cost us the game. My job is to put up zeroes every inning."
The Dodgers look to snap their fifth two-game losing streak of the season on Saturday night, at "Bark in the Park Night" at Dodger Stadium. Chad Billingsley takes the hill for the Dodgers, facing Bud Norris for Houston.