It took until the eighth inning of their 3-2 loss Tuesday night, 17 innings into their marquee three-game series against San Diego, for the Dodgers to apply pressure to the Padres’ pitching staff.
Chris Taylor singled, Justin Turner walked and Albert Pujols singled to load the bases with no outs. The Dodgers fans at Petco Park sensed the moment. A “Let’s Go Dodgers!” chant echoed. It was time. But the rally never came to fruition.
Will Smith hit a ground ball to third baseman Manny Machado, who turned a crafty double play by getting Turner to step out of the base line before firing to second base as Taylor scored the Dodgers’ first run. Padres manager Jayce Tingler then summoned Mason Thompson to face Max Muncy in his major league debut. Muncy walked before AJ Pollock grounded into a fielder’s choice to squash the threat.
Austin Barnes clubbed a pinch-hit solo home run in the ninth inning, but that was all the Dodgers (44-29) mustered as their sporadic offense fell short again. A night after tallying two runs on three hits, left-hander Blake Snell held the Dodgers scoreless over five innings in his third start against them this season. They went two for eight with runners in scoring position and left 10 runners on base.
“We gotta be better there,” Taylor said.
Clayton Kershaw kept the Dodgers in the game, giving up three runs over six innings after a rough first inning. All three runs came on home runs — a two-run shot by Jake Cronenworth in the first inning and a pinch-hit solo homer from Ha-Seong Kim in the fifth.
That was enough to beat a Dodgers club that saw Mookie Betts leave the game in the sixth inning because of stomach-flu symptoms. The Dodgers have scored four runs over their last 22 innings and lost six of seven games to the Padres. San Diego (44-32) moved to within 1½ games of the second-place Dodgers in the National League West. They will look for a series sweep Wednesday.
“We’re in those games,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I still like our guys. We just gotta find a way to win them.”
The offensive inconsistency persisted despite receiving a much-needed reinforcement Tuesday when the Dodgers activated Muncy from the injured list.
Muncy was sidelined 10 days because of an oblique strain. He credited returning so quickly from the injury — oblique strains often force players to miss weeks — to immediately speaking up when he felt the discomfort. He took between 12 and 14 at-bats over the weekend at the Dodgers’ spring-training facility in Arizona and a few more Monday in a simulated game against Dodgers left-hander Scott Alexander.
“I had a swing and felt it grab a little bit, felt some pain in there, and I did all the checks that we normally do and I could feel it a little bit, but it wasn’t too severe,” Muncy said before Tuesday’s game. “I mentioned something to the trainers, and we decided to be precautionary with it. I got pulled out of the game, and the next day it didn’t get any better, so we figured we should give it some rest. Ten days is better than six weeks.”
Muncy had been playing through a mysterious ankle injury before landing on the injured list. He said the time off allowed for it to improve, but it’s still not 100% and the Dodgers still aren’t sure what’s wrong. Muncy said they believe it could be a nerve issue.
The ankle wasn’t a problem when he made a sliding stop on Eric Hosmer’s hard-hit ground ball at second base in the second inning. He finished 0 for 2 with two walks and was robbed of a hit by the Padres’ aggressive defensive positioning when he cracked a 111.7-mph one-hopper to third baseman Manny Machado. But Machado wasn’t standing by third base. He was in right field and threw Muncy out on a ball that had an expected batting average of .870.
It was the second time in two nights that Machado recorded an out from right field. On Monday, he made a leaping catch on a line drive from Matt Beaty.
Roberts has been a vocal proponent of defensive shifts. His club is one of the best at optimizing fielders’ positioning and turning balls in play into outs because of it. The Dodgers lead the majors in total shifts this season. But before Tuesday’s game, Roberts said he has reversed course on the subject.
Roberts said Major League Baseball should limit shifts by forcing two infielders to stand on each side of second base or forcing infielders to stand on the infield dirt for pitches.
“I just think that sometimes we end up kind of talking out of both sides of our mouths as far as trying to promote offense but allowing for other things that kind of suppress it,” Roberts said. “So I guess if I had my druthers I would do away with it.”
Most days, those little bad breaks are forgettable. The Dodgers are accustomed to scoring runs in droves. But they haven’t since arriving in San Diego and it has cost them two games.
Roberts said Cody Bellinger is still expected to come off the injured list Wednesday. He will start in center field. Bellinger has been out since June15 with left hamstring tightness. … The Dodgers optioned outfielder Zach Reks to triple-A Oklahoma City to make room for Muncy on the active roster. Reks was with the Dodgers for a day, making his major league debut in Monday’s loss. He started in left field and went 0 for 2 before he was removed from the game.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.