LOS ANGELES — Already in 2021, the Dodgers have given the ball to eight rookie pitchers who did not throw an inning of competitive professional baseball last season. Four others threw fewer than five innings in 2020. In an ordinary year, this would count as a high-risk roster gamble, the kind you’d expect from a rebuilding team with little to lose.
The Dodgers had plenty to lose and even more to gain Friday night at Dodger Stadium. The San Francisco Giants lost earlier in the day, giving the Dodgers a rare opportunity to pick up a game in the National League West standings.
Instead, the Dodgers saw their three-game winning streak spoiled with a 4-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies. The first- and second-place teams in the NL West remain separated by 2½ games.
The Rockies scored all of their runs via home runs: a two-run bomb by Charlie Blackmon in the first inning, a 482-foot moonshot by C.J. Cron in the sixth, and an insurance blast by Elias Díaz in the ninth.
Solo home runs by Will Smith and Trea Turner in the third inning accounted for all of the Dodgers’ runs. They struck out 12 times as a team while collecting six hits against left-hander Kyle Freeland (5-6) and three relievers. They did not draw a walk for the first time in more than a month.
“Will had a really nice night and Trea ran into one – really good piece of hitting,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “Outside of that we really didn’t do anything.”
The Rockies were held to seven hits. Like the Dodgers, they batted just three times with a runner in scoring position. Trusting yet another big game to such a young group of pitchers – of the five who pitched Friday, only Shane Greene reached the big leagues before September 2019 – was not the problem.
The bulk of the innings fell to right-hander Andre Jackson, who made his major league debut just 11 days earlier. He was relieved by another August debutant, Justin Bruihl. Left-hander Alex Vesia’s 2020 experience consisted of 4⅓ innings for the Miami Marlins and many more at the team’s alternate site camp.
Roberts caught a glimpse of several of his rookie pitchers in spring training, including some – like Jackson and Vesia – for the first time.
“I’ve certainly seen progress,” Roberts said. “Obviously those guys lost out on a crucial year. I think that we as an organization did a fantastic job of having that secondary site – having those guys take at-bats, pitchers log innings.”
It was a relative veteran, Brusdar Graterol, who opened the game. The right-hander allowed a leadoff single to Connor Joe, followed by the one-out homer by Blackmon.
Graterol’s fateful fastball to Blackmon found the heart of the strike zone and touched 99.9 mph on the radar gun. Only eight faster pitches have resulted in home runs this season, according to Statcast.
Down 2-0, the Dodgers handed the ball to Jackson, who held the Pittsburgh Pirates scoreless for four innings in his debut. Jackson was effective but not overpowering, limiting the damage to Cron’s solo homer that found the back of the Dodgers’ bullpen.
Jackson (0-1) allowed four hits, walked two batters and struck out two. He pitched around what little trouble found him, and was nearly effective enough (77 pitches) to complete five innings.
“My goal was to try to get the off-speed stuff back in the zone – the cutter and the fastball actually,” Jackson said. “I was able to accomplish one goal there.”
“I thought he threw really well,” Smith said of Jackson. “He moved the ball around, kept them off-balance. He did a good job tonight.”
The Dodgers are one starting pitcher short of a five-man rotation. Jackson’s first two appearances have yielded only one run across 8⅔ innings; he and rookie Mitch White are the logical candidates to fill in while Clayton Kershaw and Tony Gonsolin rehabilitate their injuries.
Roberts said Jackson’s short-term role will be determined in the days to come.
“He’s doing exactly what we need from him,” he said.
The offense was another story Friday. The Dodgers threatened to tie the score in the bottom of the ninth when Mookie Betts led off with a single and took second on a wild pitch with no outs. But Carlos Estevez came back to strike out Max Muncy, Corey Seager and AJ Pollock to end the game.
When first base umpire Junior Valentine ruled Pollock did not check his final swing, the announced crowd of 40,100 umpires at Dodger Stadium booed the other four off the field.
Seems a good time to re-up this chart from earlier today https://t.co/XNq4MmWWWZ
— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) August 28, 2021