Miguel Vargas capitalized on a sudden start, driving in three runs to lead the Dodgers over the Padres 5-2 on Thursday night at Petco Park in San Diego.
With first base manned almost literally every day by Freddie Freeman, and with Justin Turner and Max Muncy having third base covered, Vargas’ two primary defensive positions are well accounted for, limiting him to near Maytag repairman status. He’s had to take starts where he can get them, which on Thursday meant left field, where he’s made four of his eight starts since getting called back up for September.
Trayce Thompson was originally in the Dodgers lineup in left field on Thursday, but was a pregame scratch. Manager Dave Roberts before the game told reporters Thompson was away from the team on a personal matter, and is expected to be back with the team on Friday once they are back home in Los Angeles.
With runners on the corners for his first trip to the plate, Vargas hit the first pitch he saw to centerfield for a sacrifice fly, driving home the Dodgers’ first run.
In the sixth, the Dodgers Pierced Johnson by greeting the reliever with consecutive hits by Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, and Freddie Freeman to tie the game. With two outs and the bases loaded, Vargas fell behind 1-2, then fouled off one pitch and took another to even the count before lining a curve into center for two go-ahead runs.
The kid comes through! pic.twitter.com/nNtJZBRq3F— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) September 30, 2022
It was the first game in five days for Vargas, who hit a two-run shot on Saturday against St. Louis for his first major league home run. He has five RBI in his last two games.
Both teams used an opener on Thursday, likely preparing both bulk pitchers for roles outside of their normal use.
Brusdar Graterol allowed a pair of soft-contact singles in the first inning and then a hard grounder that should have been the third out of the inning instead founds its way under and through both Trea Turner and Chris Taylor for two runs, scored a single.
Andrew Heaney’s previous 14 games this year were starts, as well as 126 of his 135 career games. But on Thursday he entered in the second inning. Heaney ran into trouble right away, and loaded the bases with two outs to face Manny Machado, who hit the first pitch into the second deck in right field but foul. Heaney recovered to strike Machado out, and got his first six outs via the strikeout.
Strikeouts have been a huge part of Heaney’s game all season, with a 35.2-percent K rate that leads the rotation. Heaney allowed only three hits and a walk in four scoreless innings, and more importantly kept the ball inside the park after getting plagued by home runs over the last month.
Neither team hit a home run in this series at Petco Park until Will Smith took Adrián Morejón deep in the eighth inning Thursday.
Sean Manaea was also in an unfamiliar role of following in opener. The left-hander was briefly removed from the rotation after getting blasted by Los Angeles for the third time in three starts on September 3. A week later he pitched a scoreless inning in mop-up relief against the Dodgers, and made two spot starts in between then and now.
Manaea’s night began in the second inning with a single and hit by pitch, and the Dodgers immediately capitalized by scoring once. But after those first two hitters, Manaea recovered to retire 12 of his final 13 batters, getting the left-hander through four innings with just one run allowed.
Thursday lowered Manaea’s ERA against the Dodgers this season from 14.49 to 11.72.
Thursday was the Dodgers’ 108th victory of the season, a win total that hasn’t been bested by a National League team since 1909. They can clinch the best record in baseball as early as Friday, needing only one more win or an Astros loss to Tampa Bay.
In addition to completing their road schedule at 54-27 on the season, the Dodgers on Thursday secured their 13th consecutive series win against the National League West, dating back to the end of June. Los Angeles has 37 wins in its last 46 divisional games.
The Dodgers won all six series against the Padres this season, winning 14 of 19 games against them. Dating back to last season, Los Angeles has won nine consecutive series against San Diego.
Home run: Will Smith (24)
WP — Andrew Heaney (4-3): 4 IP, 3 hits, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts
LP — Pierce Johnson (1-2): ⅔ IP, 4 hits, 3 runs, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts
Sv — David Price (2): 1 IP, 1 walk
Only home games for the Dodgers over the next two weeks, beginning with a marathon six-game series against the Rockies at Dodger Stadium. Clayton Kershaw starts the series opener on Friday (7:10 p.m., SportsNet LA), with Chad Kuhl pitching for Colorado.