ATLANTA (AP) — Max Scherzer fatigued early, Julio Urías faltered late, and when Kenley Jansen couldn’t strand an inherited runner in the bottom of the ninth inning, Los Angeles fell into a 2-0 hole in the NL Championship Series.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has made it clear he’ll use any pitcher at any time. He just hasn’t been able to find the right times in Atlanta.
Eddie Rosario delivered the Braves’ second straight walk-off hit, lining a ball against Jansen that caromed off shortstop Corey Seager’s glove and gave Dansby Swanson an easy path home for the game-ending run in Atlanta’s 5-4 victory Sunday night.
The defending World Series champions are headed home for Tuesday’s Game 3 with a taxed pitching staff and nothing to show for it in the best-of-seven series.
Game 2 was there for LA to take. Seager hit a two-run homer in the first inning before Scherzer even took the mound, but the three-time Cy Young Award winner was hardly himself.
Three days after a gutsy relief appearance earned Scherzer his first career save in the clinching Game 5 of an NL Division Series against San Francisco — and a day after he was scratched from starting Game 1 with arm fatigue — Scherzer simply didn’t have much in the tank.
“I would just say my arm was dead,” he said. “I could tell when I was warming up that it was still tired.”
He worked three scoreless innings before Joc Pederson pounded a two-run homer in the fourth that tied it at 2.
The Los Angeles ace didn’t last much longer, getting pulled after 4 1/3 innings. He allowed four hits and three runs with one walk and seven strikeouts, throwing 52 strikes in 79 pitches.
There was no fight from the often-feisty Scherzer when Roberts came for the ball. Alex Vesia relieved, gave up a single and struck out Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies to end a fifth-inning threat.
“After the fourth inning I was like, ‘Hey, if this is a long inning, you’re going to have to pull me, but if it’s a quick inning I can go back out there,’” Scherzer said. “And that’s when we looked at the lineup and said, ’All right, I got Swanson, the pinch-hitter, and then at that point I knew I wasn’t going to be better than Vesia.”
It’s no wonder the 37-year-old Scherzer was tired. Over the past 12 days, he’s thrown 296 pitches over 16 2/3 innings, allowing four runs.
Scherzer has been on board with Roberts’ aggressive deployment, which includes holding starters from making their usual between-start tuneup bullpens and instead asking them to be available for an inning.
It’s why Urías — Los Angeles’ projected Game 4 starter — was ready to go for Roberts in the eighth.
With Los Angeles leading 4-2, the move backfired when Urías, a 20-game winner, gave up a single to Rosario and let him score from second on Ozzie Albies’ single. Albies scored from first when Austin Riley drilled a double into the gap in left-center and tied it at 4.
Roberts went to Urías — who got the save in the clinching Game 6 of last year’s World Series — to face lefties Rosario and Freddie Freeman, but he also had lefty specialist Justin Bruihl available in the bullpen.
“He hadn’t thrown a bullpen and he was the best option at that point in time,” Roberts said of Urías. “He was prepared for it. It was a perfect spot for him, and getting him through that eighth to go to Kenley to finish the game.
“I just think that if you’re talking about performance, experience, nothing against Justin, but when you have a choice between him and Julio, I think it’s pretty clear who I was going to choose,” he added.
The Dodgers couldn’t score in the top of the ninth, and the bottom began with Brusdar Graterol giving up a broken-bat single to Travis d’Arnaud, who was replaced by pinch-runner Cristian Pache. Pache was erased on Swanson’s bunt, and Swanson advanced on a groundout. Rosario came on and ended the drama.
The loss leaves Los Angeles in a doubly difficult spot considering how hard the pitching staff was worked to get there.
Walker Buehler will be ready on full rest for Game 3, but after that, the Dodgers will wager again on Urías, hoping the fatigue that cost Scherzer on a similar timeline won’t hit the 25-year-old lefty the same way.
“I mean, I think it’s certainly a possibility,” Roberts said. “But I think with Julio the expectation where we kind of, how we use him in his start days, it’s kind of a 75, 80 pitches, so we just felt that, not having the bullpen, to be able to give us what he gives us on a typical start, I just, we don’t think it would be compromised, no.”