The Dodgers were bulldozing the Arizona Diamondbacks through five innings in their 9-8 win Sunday, on their way to a clinical three-game series sweep of the worst team in the majors without a sweat.
They had finally mashed a left-handed starting pitcher — Alex Young gave up five runs in three innings — to build a 9-1 lead and put the Diamondbacks on track for their 17th straight loss. They were confident. So confident that manager Dave Roberts took Justin Turner out of the game in the fifth inning to give him some rest.
Then it nearly all fell apart. The Diamondbacks scored one run in the sixth inning and erupted for six more in the eighth, hammering the soft underbelly of the Dodgers’ bullpen.
Edwin Uceta, called up before the game, yielded three hits, two walks and three runs in the eighth inning before he was pulled with two outs. The suddenly tight score forced Roberts to summon Victor González, one of his three most trusted relievers, for his 29th appearance, a small defeat regardless of the game’s outcome.
González got pinch-hitter Stephen Vogt to bounce a groundball to first baseman Albert Pujols, but Vogt beat Pujols and González to the bag for an infield single to load the bases. González then walked Josh VanMeter on five pitches to trim the Dodgers’ lead to three. Ketel Marte then singled in two more to make it 9-8, moving the tying run just 90 feet away. But González induced a groundout to escape. Kenley Jansen logged a crisp 1-2-3 ninth inning to seal his 18th save and the Dodgers’ 10th win in 12 games.
“It was a little tough in the end there, but a win’s a win,” said Dodgers left fielder AJ Pollock, who finished three for four with three RBI.
The Dodgers began the day with a hampered Tony Gonsolin on the mound for his third start since coming off the injured list with a shoulder injury that delayed his season debut to June 9.
Gonsolin arrived built up to five innings and 75 pitches following a three-start rehab assignment coming off a shoulder injury. His right shoulder was healthy. The expectation was he would immediately provide the bullpen some relief. That didn’t happen.
Gonsolin threw 66 pitches in 1 2/3 innings in his first start and 81 pitches in 3 2/3 innings in his second outing against the Philadelphia Phillies. Both became bullpen games for the Dodgers.
“It just hasn’t worked out as far as the efficiency once he’s got here,” Roberts said before Sunday’s game. “Some of it is on Tony to go out there and be efficient and go deeper in games.”
Gonsolin was better Sunday, but his leash was short. The right-hander threw 30 pitches through three innings – a pitch count he reached in the first inning in his each of his first two starts. He encountered trouble in the fourth inning.
Marte banged a leadoff double and Eduardo Escobar lined an RBI single for the Diamondbacks’ first run. Gonsolin retired the next two hitters, bringing his pitch count to 46, when Roberts emerged to pull him.
Gonsolin surrendered the one run on three hits over 3 2/3 innings. He posted two strikeouts without a walk but his average four-seam fastball velocity dropped from 94.6 mph in his first two outings to 91.8 mph Sunday.
After the game, Roberts revealed the reason for the velocity dip and quick hook: Gonsolin has dealt with shoulder soreness since his outing against the Phillies. Gonsolin said the soreness resembles his previous discomfort, but he insisted he will be ready to make his next start.
“It’s probably more muscle fatigue this time than the last time,” Gonsolin said. “Throwing less will help. Not a high-level concern at all.”
The Dodgers built a large enough lead to absorb the de facto bullpen game by overcoming one of their glaring weaknesses.
The Dodgers, by every conceivable metric, advanced and archaic, possess one of the best offenses in the major leagues despite injuries to key contributors. They entered Sunday second in the majors runs scored. Which makes the following sentence difficult to comprehend: They have been one of the worst teams in the majors against left-handed pitching.
They began Sunday tied for 25th in batting average (.221) and 21st in slugging percentage. They’ve struggled particularly against left-handed starters. The perplexing trend continued Friday when Caleb Smith held them to one hit over six scoreless innings.
They were better Sunday against Young behind a trio of veteran newcomers. A rejuvenated Albert Pujols fronted the charge, cracking a three-run home run off Young to left field give the Dodgers a 4-0 lead in the third inning. It was the future Hall of Famer’s sixth home run in 26 games with the Dodgers, his 11th of the season and the 673rd of his career.
Andy Burns, a 30-year-old journeyman called up last week, then walked before Steven Souza Jr. continued his successful return to Chase Field with an RBI triple in his third start as a Dodger to complete the team’s five-run inning.
The Dodgers added four runs over the next two innings off right-hander Corbin Martin for just enough insurance to avoid a monumental collapse and hand the Diamondbacks their 31st loss in 33 games. The Dodgers begin a three-game series Monday in San Diego, where the third-place Padres await and the margin for error will undoubtedly shrink.
Roberts said shortstop Corey Seager is scheduled to go on rehab assignment Friday or Saturday. The affiliate – triple-A Oklahoma City or single-A Rancho Cucamonga – remains undecided. Roberts said the length of Seager’s stay will depend on how he feels. Seager has been out since fracturing his right hand May 15. …Roberts said Sunday that he still expects Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger to come off the injured list during the Dodgers’ upcoming series against the Padres. Both players are eligible for activation Tuesday. ….The Dodgers optioned right-hander Mitch White to Oklahoma City before Sunday’s game.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.