Any sort of handle we thought we had on the Dodgers pitching plans for this series went out the window in the first inning of Tuesday afternoon’s 7-1 loss to the Cubs in the first game of a doubleheader.
One inning was as long as Clayton Kershaw lasted, the shortest start of his career, after giving up four runs in the opening frame. Things went south immediately after getting head of Javier Báez 0-2 and then walking him, just the second base on balls of the season for the player with the lowest walk rate in the game.
It was rare not only that Báez walked, but that Kershaw was the one who issued it. The Dodgers lefty entered Tuesday with five walks in 184 batters faced, but walked two in his first inning, which required 39 pitches.
The inning wasn’t helped by Corey Seager having another grounder elude his glove on the way to left field, which was followed by a three-run double off the ivy by David Bote to drive in three. Seager didn’t get charged with an error on the play, but the Dodgers had two errors as a team — one each by Gavin Lux and Austin Barnes.
“It definitely does bother me, because that’s something we should be able to bank with our guys, the consistent defense that we should play,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Very uncharacteristic what we’ve seen this year. It just has to get better.”
But while it might be easy to point fingers at the shoddy Dodgers defense here, Kershaw was also uncharacteristically wild.
In addition to the two walks, Kershaw threw one wild pitch and didn’t get charged with a second only because his errant pitch ricocheted back to catcher Barnes quickly enough for none of the runners to advance. Kershaw spiked several sliders, and threw eight of his pitches in the dirt.
“Everything was bad, so I’m not going to try and analyze it too much,” Kershaw said. “Just hope this was an outlier, and get ready for the next one.”
Kershaw’s removal — a new shortest start 11 years to the day after his previous low, the day of the #howcanbradpennybebetterthanboth hashtag — came only after a long conversation with Roberts in the dugout in the top of the second inning.
Before immediately assuming Kershaw’s early removal was a precursor to him potentially starting Saturday on three days rest, Roberts before the game didn’t sound too keen on the idea of using the previous assumed short-rest starter, Trevor Bauer, on Saturday.
“Depending on how we come out of this series, coming off the off day [Thursday], it’s probably the bullpen game scenario,” Roberts said earlier Tuesday.
Kershaw wouldn’t reveal the details of his dugout conversation with Roberts, but said he hasn’t talked with anyone about pitching on three days rest. Roberts after the game said any such talk would come in a few days.
“I’ll be ready to go whenever they ask me to,” Kershaw said.
Plans can change though, and it probably will take a few days until the Dodgers decide what to do. In the first game of the doubleheader, the Dodgers used three of their nine relievers — Dennis Santana, Jimmy Nelson, and Alex Vesia — to cover the final five innings.
Kyle Hendricks had an inverse Kershaw scenario on Tuesday. The Cubs opening day starter entered the game with a 7.54 ERA in 22⅔ innings, having allowed a major league-high 10 home runs. Hendricks was bound to improve, considering he gave up 10 home runs all of last season in 12 starts, and his lowest ERA in the previous five years was 3.46.
That improvement hit the Dodgers like a freight train in the opener of the doubleheader, with Hendricks taking a shutout into the seventh, only spoiled by Keibert Ruiz, who like 2020, hit the first pitch he saw in 2021 for a home run.
Hendricks settled for a complete game win.
Tuesday Game 1 particulars
Home runs: Keibert Ruiz (1); Jake Marisnick (3)
WP — Kyle Hendricks (2-3): 7 IP, 7 hits, 1 run, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts
LP — Clayton Kershaw (4-3): 1 IP, 4 hits, 4 runs, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts
Game 2 of the doubleheader starts at 4:40 p.m. PT, with Trevor Bauer starting for the Dodgers and right-hander Keegan Thompson starting the Cubs, the latter making his first major league start and pitching his second major league game. Both teams will add a 27th player to the roster for the nightcap.