SAN DIEGO —
The champagne can stay on ice at least through the weekend. The Dodgers won’t be clinching the National League West in San Diego in the next couple days.
Needing a sweep against the Padres this weekend to lock up the division title on the opening leg of their three-city trip, the Dodgers instead lost the series’ opener in extra innings Friday night, getting walked off on Jake Cronenworth’s 10th inning RBI single in a 5-4 loss at Petco Park.
The Dodgers still lead the NL West by 18 games. But with their magic number stuck at six, the earliest they can clinch the division is Tuesday, when they’ll be in Arizona facing the Diamondbacks.
For the Padres (77-62), Friday’s win was monumental, moving them into the National League’s second wild-card spot and four games clear of the playoff cut line.
For the Dodgers (94-43), it was far less consequential, evidenced by their decision to use journeyman reliever Heath Hembree in the bottom of the 10th while Evan Phillips, Alex Vesia and Blake Treinen all remained in the bullpen for rest.
“I’m still trying to win, we’re still trying to win every game,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Where we’re at, being mindful of workload and usage is important. But every guy we ran out there today I felt was going to throw up a zero.”
The most important pitcher to take the mound for the Dodgers on Friday was the first one.
In his fourth start back from Tommy John surgery, Dustin May gave up four runs (three earned) in a five-inning start, overcoming early command issues and a three-run second-inning home run by Trent Grisham to bounce back from a six-run clunker against the Padres last week.
Despite walking three batters, hitting another and committing a couple defensive miscues on ground balls back to the mound, May did settle into a groove over his final three innings, retiring six in a row at one point before limiting the Padres to one unearned run in the fifth inning after Mookie Betts booted a ball in right field.
“I think right now I’d chalk it up to a little bit of rust,” Roberts said of May, who now has a 4.29 ERA since coming back from his injury. “Like I said from the get go, a guy coming off Tommy John, to expect him to hit the ground running is a bit unfair. We have time to continue to get him to harness that command.”
May voiced similar sentiments, calling Friday’s game “a half of a step in the right direction from the last one” while also bemoaning his recent tendency of “putting myself in a lot of bad situations.”
May still left the mound in a tied game.
Freddie Freeman homered in the first inning following a 45-minute rain delay. Freeman and Will Smith tacked on a couple more RBIs after the Dodgers loaded the bases in the third. Trayce Thompson also went deep in the fourth, marking his first game back in San Diego since being cut by the Padres earlier this year with his ninth home run as a Dodger.
Both teams’ middle relievers kept it tied down the stretch.
The Dodgers managed just three baserunners after the fifth inning, stranding each one. However, they also got four scoreless innings from their bullpen, including a 1-2-3 frame from Craig Kimbrel in the ninth — lowering his ERA to 3.81 after his eighth consecutive scoreless outing.
In the 10th, however, the Dodgers turned to Hembree, a midseason minor-league signing who was only called up two weeks ago to provide bullpen depth.
He only managed to get one out, surrendering the game-winning hit to Cronenworth on a line drive to right.
Roberts said the team had decided to give Phillips an off day. He wanted to stay away from Vesia if possible, though he would have pitched the 11th if it got there. Roberts also revealed that Treinen has been battling some recent arm soreness, though it isn’t considered to be serious.
Is it getting harder for the Dodgers to balance their roster’s workload and keep their edge, as Roberts has emphasized in recent weeks?
The manager didn’t think so. Neither did his first baseman.
“I don’t think there is any sense of any less urgency. I thought we played just a good ball game and come out on the short end,” Freeman said. “We expect to win every time we walk on the field. So that’s what we’re trying to do. If you let up the gas at any point in time, it’s really hard to turn it back on.”
Max Muncy wasn’t in the Dodgers lineup Friday after getting an injection in his knee this week to alleviate some discomfort. Roberts said he hopes to have Muncy available off the bench Saturday … Roberts said Gavin Lux (neck) won’t play this weekend, though he still isn’t going on the injured list … Injured pitchers Tony Gonsolin (forearm), Brusdar Graterol (elbow) and Yency Almonte (elbow) could throw bullpen sessions Sunday as they progress in their recoveries.