LOS ANGELES — The top of the Dodgers batting order produced as expected, and the suddenly lengthened lineup fueled a 7-3 win over the Cardinals on Friday night at Dodger Stadium.
With Max Muncy activated off the paternity list and Will Smith coming of the concussion injured list, the Dodgers had those two plus Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman in the lineup together for the first time in 14 games. The top four hitters in the batting order combined for six hits, reached base eight times and scored the first five runs.
Betts homered in the first inning, his 38th career leadoff home run, and 18th with the Dodgers. Muncy, whose 11 home runs lead the majors, hit his first double of the season in the third inning to bring home another run.
A byproduct of playing Betts at shortstop — where he started Friday for the third time — or second base is that it opens up the lineup to play the Dodgers’ three left-handed-hitting outfielders. Five of Betts’ last six starts have come in the infield.
James Outman has basically been an everyday player, starting 24 of 27 games, and has been one of the best rookies in the sport over the first month, even with his current 0-for-11 slump with strikeouts in his last eight at-bats. Outman did mix in a bases-loaded hit by pitch in the fifth inning on Friday.
Betts either in the infield or, for two games, on the paternity list, meant more playing time for Jason Heyward, who has started eight of the Dodgers last nine games against right-handed pitching, and David Peralta, who has started the last nine against righties.
Neither have gotten the results their batted-ball data suggested. Heyward entered Friday hitting .191/.291/.404, but also had the highest hard-hit rate (62.2 percent) on the team., with an expected .518 slugging percentage and .264 batting average.
“I believe the quality of contact is there. I just want them to control the zone,” manager Dave Roberts said before Friday’s game. “If they can do that, we’ll keep betting on them for the results to turn.”
Heyward got his results on Friday, first on an RBI single in the first inning, though his 92.9-mph exit velocity fell shy of reaching the 95 mph required for hard-hit status. The fates smiled further in the third inning, when his cue shot just inside third base ended up an RBI double.
Heyward’s hardest-hit ball came in the sixth, with a 99.9-mph drive that rightfielder Lars Nootbaar plucked out the air at the warning track. That’s the kind of batted ball luck Heyward has been getting, only this time he was awarded first base safely because he managed to hit a ball that hard and that far despite his bat hitting William Contreras’ glove for catcher’s interference.
Well, I guess catcher's interference explains why that wasn't gone like it looked like it should've been. pic.twitter.com/cyvqfo6lF3— Chad Moriyama (@ChadMoriyama) April 29, 2023
Heyward said he didn’t remember hitting a ball harder when interfered with by the catcher, but he did recall hitting one farther. This one was a triple to left field off R.A. Dickey at Citi Field on April 7, 2012, when Heyward was with Atlanta. Under MLB rules, the batter is allowed to pick between the result of the play or taking first base on interference.
“You can choose,” Heyward said. “Because what happened to me in New York in 2012, I was prepared mentally to see if [Nootbaar] caught it [tonight]. Of course, I hit it hard, and he caught it.”
“Jason’s been swinging the bat as well as anybody, if not better as far as quality of contact,” Roberts said. “Tonight, he got rewarded.”
Miguel Vargas added a two-run shot in the seventh inning to widen the cushion, his first home run of the season.
Dustin May was wild, and continued the 2023 Dodgers pitching tradition of allowing multiple stolen bases, but despite not having his best command he got through five innings with only two first-inning runs charged to his ledger.
“I couldn’t throw a strike in the first inning,” said May, who threw 12 of his 26 pitches outside the strike zone in the opening frame.
May needed a career-high 104 pitches for those 15 outs, thanks to walking four batters in a start for the second time this season, one shy of his career high set last September 2. Prior to Friday, May never threw more than 97 pitches in a game.
He also allowed three stolen bases, which coupled with the series against the Pirates in Pittsburgh is the first time the Dodgers have ever allowed at least three steals in four consecutive games.
May allowed three hits, two of them doubles by Paul Goldschmidt, but held St. Louis to 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position to limit the damage in his five innings.
“I applaud Austin [Barnes] for challenging him with the breaking ball, to throw the curveball. He started getting it in the strike zone, getting swing and misses, and slowing guys down, getting them off the hard stuff.”
Home runs: Mookie Betts (4), Miguel Vargas (1)
WP — Dustin May (3-3): 5 IP, 3 hits, 2 runs, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts
LP — Jack Flaherty (2-3): 4⅔ IP, 7 hits, 5 runs (4 earned), 2 walks, 7 strikeouts
Clayton Kershaw is back on the mound for the Dodgers on Saturday night (6:10 p.m.; SportsNet LA, FS1), with left-hander Jordan Montgomery starting for St. Louis. No blackouts in this one, with both the SportsNet LA and FS1 telecasts available locally, with Jason Benetti and Eric Karros on the call for the latter.