LOS ANGELES -- Dave Roberts’ first bullpen shakeup is coming -- if he can just get everybody well rested and at full strength first.
Chris Hatcher was not the answer once again late in a tight ballgame, as Roberts went with what he had in the eighth inning against the San Diego Padres. A walk, a bad-luck single and a no-doubt-about-it three-run home run from the Padres’ Matt Kemp concluded yet another rough outing for Hatcher in a brutal April.
Roberts has tried to avoid overreacting early in his tenure as manager. So while others have pleaded for a change of roles in the bullpen, he has elected to give his players more rope in hopes they can rise to the level of past performances.
In reality, Hatcher already has been slipping from his early-season perch as the setup man to closer Kenley Jansen. Hatcher's high-profile opportunity Friday came because Pedro Baez had pitched 2 1/3 innings over the previous two games and Louis Coleman made three appearances in the recent four-game series against the Miami Marlins. Even Joe Blanton had pitched in four of five games, before getting a break Thursday.
“It’s actually not a role thing, it’s that Peety [Baez] was down and Kenley was going to pitch the ninth,” Roberts said. “Blanton has thrown [a lot], so it was a day where at that point and time [Hatcher] was a guy we were going to go to.”
But where Roberts did not want to move guys into less pressure situations just over a week ago, that no longer seems to be the case now.
“I think that the execution with Kemp, and to walk the leadoff hitter, you can’t walk the leadoff hitter to start an inning when you know [Travis] Jankowski is in the wings to run for him,” Roberts said. “Yeah, I think that, you know, I’m going to look at it.”
Of course, the situation would have been less high-leverage if the offense could have done something against Padres starter Cesar Vargas. The Dodgers were held down yet again, scoring a lone run a day after they concluded a four-game debacle against the Marlins. The Dodgers were swept at home, combining for eight runs.
Vargas fired 5 1/3 scoreless innings, but needed an uneconomical 90 pitches to do it. Five pitches after he was removed from the game, Yasmani Grandal hit a home run off reliever Brad Hand. The hit did not jump-start the Dodgers at all.
“I’ve been on teams that have gone really bad and we’re not going bad,” Grandal said. “We just have to keep on playing our game. We know that every time we step out on the field, we’re the best team no matter what’s going on. We have the talent, we have the guys who can do it, and let’s just come back tomorrow and do it all over again.”
The Dodgers had a closed-door team meeting before Friday’s game with the intention of helping the club get back on track, but the bonding moment seemed to have no effect.
“I think most of it is mental” Roberts said of the lack of run production. “You can tell them to relax and not chase hits and to have good at-bats, but when you step in that box you see them trying to do a little too much right now. It’s not from lack of preparation, work. They just have to ease off the gas a little bit.”
When the Dodgers rallied in the ninth inning Sunday at Colorado with an improbable five runs in the ninth inning to pull off a victory, it looked like they were in good position for a solid homestand against a pair of sub-.500 teams. It hasn’t turned out that way.
The Dodgers’ five-game losing streak is not only the club’s longest since August of last season, it is their longest home losing streak since May of 2013.
At least in Grandal’s eyes, this is just a temporary stumble that will be rectified soon. Those Padres teams he played for that were buried under the weight of losing streaks were too young to know how to get out of their own way, he said.
“We have a lot of veterans here that have played a lot of baseball and know exactly what they need to do and what their abilities are,” Grandal said.