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Dodgers bullpen carries complete load to beat Pirates

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Relievers pitch 9 innings after Dennis Santana scratched late with lat soreness.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

An overworked Dodgers bullpen was tasked with covering an entire game on Thursday, and used nine different pitchers to do it, backed by a healthy offense in an 8-7 win over the Pirates on Thursday afternoon.

The Dodgers moved back to .500 by winning for the 15th time in their last 20 games, and are 5-0-1 in their last six series.

Dennis Santana was scratched just minutes before the first pitch with right lat soreness, adding to the woes of an already decimated starting rotation. Thursday marked the sixth time in the last 10 games the Dodgers planned starter has failed to pitch more than four innings, and fourth time in six games on this road trip.

That meant nine relief pitchers covering nine innings for the Dodgers in Thursday’s series finale, setting a franchise record for pitchers used a nine-inning game, one day after using eight pitchers.

On the six-game road trip the Dodgers amassed 34 total relief appearances, counting Daniel Hudson‘s one-inning “start” on Thursday.

“They’ve been definitely overworked and tested this whole road trip,” manager Rick Honeycutt told Alanna Rizzo during the game on the SportsNet LA. “Guys are just going to have to pick each other up.”

Pick each other up is exactly what the Dodgers bullpen did. Relievers* on the road trip pitched 35⅔ innings, posting a 3.36 ERA with 26 strikeouts and 12 walks. Asked to complete a seemingly impossible task over the last six days, they came through, with nearly all of that damage coming in the last two days.

*This counts Santana’s Friday outing at Coors Field as a start, even though it technically wasn’t.

The 2016 Dodgers set a major league record with 607 relief appearances, an average of 3.75 per game. This season the Dodgers have averaged 3.90 relief appearances per game, the most in baseball, on pace for 632 over 162 games.

Such usage is the antithesis Buster Olney’s proposed plan of capping each game to four pitchers total per team at ESPN, something the Dodgers have done in just over half (32) of their 62 games in 2018.

Hudson filled in on the fly with the start after Santana was scratched, and Scott Alexander pitched the second inning, both scoreless. Josh Fields didn’t fare as well later, allowing a walk and a double to his two batters faced, both scoring.

Hudson, Alexander and Fields each appeared in all three games against the Pirates, just the second, third and fourth time a Dodger has pitched three straight days this season.

Brock Stewart, normally a starter, faced four batters in the eighth inning about 18 hours after throwing two innings Wednesday night. He allowed three runs, including a three-run shot by Elias Diaz.

In other words, it’s reasonable to expect even more reinforcements joining the Dodgers bullpen Friday in Los Angeles.

Stewart’s exit necessitated the last man standing, Kenley Jansen, to record the final five outs of the game. He allowed a home run to Francisco Cervelli to trim the deficit to a run in the ninth but held on.

On the offensive

The combined pitching effort was backed by a Dodgers offense led by a trio on a redemption course.

Joc Pederson homered in the first inning, then doubled and scored in the fifth. He added a solo home run for insurance in the eighth, giving him five home runs and two doubles in 17 plate appearances on the road trip, and a pair of two-homer games.

Pederson was hitting .246/.333/.385 when the road trip started. Six days later, he’s hitting .272/.347/.510.

Cody Bellinger doubled and scored in the fourth inning, and added some much-needed insurance with a two-run shot in the seventh. Bellinger was 3-for-4 with a walk on the day and homered in all three games in Pittsburgh.

Yasiel Puig didn’t start the finale but still pinch hit and doubled off the center field wall in the sixth inning, driving in a run. Puig had five extra-base hits on the road trip and since returning from the disabled list on May 9 is hitting .320/.386/.667 in 25 games.

The Dodgers scored 55 runs in six games on the road trip, including at least five runs in all six contests, to finish 5-1.

Up next

The Dodgers return home to host the Braves for a weekend series, with Walker Buehler starting the series opener on five days rest. Old friend Brandon McCarthy starts for Atlanta.

Thursday particulars

Home runs: Joc Pederson 2 (6), Cody Bellinger (11); Elias Diaz (4), Francisco Cervelli (9)

WP - Pedro Baez (3-3): 2 IP, 2 hits, 1 run

LP - Jameson Taillon (3-5): 5 IP, 8 hits, 3 runs, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts

Sv - Kenley Jansen (15): 1⅔ IP, 1 hit, 1 run, 2 strikeouts