Allowing four total runs as a staff is hardly a sign for alarm, and if the Dodgers offense was able to build on their early 2-0 lead, or execute with the tying run in scoring position with nobody out in the eighth inning, this game might have had a different outcome.
The Dodgers knew they had a depleted bullpen on Monday, with Ross Stripling and Pedro Baez unavailable. Sergio Romo and Luis Avilan were available for a short stint to maybe get out of an inning, manager Dave Roberts said, but ideally neither would have been available either.
That left a bullpen of Grant Dayton, Chris Hatcher, and closer Kenley Jansen available for normal duty on Monday night.
But yet Brandon McCarthy was pulled after just five innings despite allowing only two runs while striking out eight. It matched McCarthy’s strikeout total from his first two starts combined.
“I was tired of getting ahead of guys and not being able to put them away, and allowing balls in play. That’s a recipe for disaster at some point,” McCarthy said. “It was nice to be able to shift gears and get strikeouts.”
“At 86 pitches, I felt he could give us one more inning,” Roberts said. “At the risk of thinking of the game, that he was going to give us one more inning max.”
Dayton relieved McCarthy in the sixth inning in a tie game, and Roberts said the plan was to use Hatcher for two or three innings, if needed. Hatcher ended up pitching 2⅔ innings and striking out five, but took the fall for his home run allowed to Jake Lamb, a fastball that snuck over the plate to open the eighth.
“Overall I feel pretty good,” Hatcher said. “It happens.”
The Dodgers bullpen has been excellent overall this season, with a 1.46 ERA including Monday, with 59 strikeouts and 12 walks. They are coming off a season that saw the bullpen excel despite heavy use, leading the majors in appearances (607) and innings (590⅔), setting franchise records in both.
The bullpen averaged 3.65 innings per game in 2016, and so far in 2017 they are pitching 3.52 innings per game.
That has essentially been with no clear roles outside of Jansen as closer.
“We just have to be ready to take the ball when they call your name,” Hatcher said. “You can kind of think along with them as to who’s going to get used, but as far as absolutely knowing [your role], it’s just one guy, and we all know who that is.”
Sometimes that leads to a pitcher needing to essentially pitch three innings to help preserve the rest of the bullpen. But perhaps some of that preservation could have come from letting McCarthy pitch another inning.
But on a team with Rich Hill on the disabled list, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-jin Ryu struggling out of the gate, and Brock Stewart and Scott Kazmir still sidelined, Roberts elected not to risk another inning of McCarthy.
“That’s the challenge every single night it seems like. You weigh winning the game. You weigh the pitchers’ health,” Roberts said. “The No. 1 thing is taking the pitcher’s health as a priority.
“Tonight I could have pushed Mac a little bit today to get past five innings. He was throwing the ball well. It’s not like he was getting banged around. Going forward, I do see our starters going deeper.”
Up next is Hyun-jin Ryu, who has lasted just 4⅔ innings in each of his two starts. With Hatcher (47 pitches Monday) and Stripling (49 pitches Sunday) unavailable, the Dodgers are essentially without a long man Tuesday unless they make a roster move.
Roberts did say Baez would be available for multiple innings, plus Dayton and Jansen would be available. Will it be enough?
The Dodgers welcome the Rockies to town for two games beginning Tuesday night, with Ryu against Kyle Freeland in a battle of southpaws and a rematch of their Apr. 7 battle at Coors Field, won by Colorado.
Roberts said that left-handers Adrian Gonzalez and Joc Pederson would start on Tuesday. Both played Monday in reserve.