Dodgers pitching struggles again in loss to Cardinals

ST. LOUIS — The Dodgers have counted on Clayton Kershaw for so many things over his 16-year career — not the least of which was to never follow a poor outing with another one.

Over the course of his first 407 big-league starts, Kershaw had failed to pitch beyond the fourth inning in consecutive starts only once. In August 2008 (three months into his MLB career), he went four innings in a loss to the Phillies then lasted just 2⅓ in a loss to the Nationals five days later.

It has happened again.

Kershaw couldn’t get through the fourth inning Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals, putting the Dodgers in an early hole on the way to a 10-5 defeat.

The loss was the Dodgers’ third in the four-game series, their first series loss since they dropped two out of three in Pittsburgh last month. The three-city road trip now continues with series against the Braves and Rays — the teams with the best records in the National and American leagues.

Those tests come at a time when the Dodgers’ pitching appears to be leaking oil and running on fumes. They gave up 32 runs and nine home runs to the Cardinals, even with a two-hit shutout in Friday’s game, and will turn to prospects Gavin Stone and Bobby Miller for back-to-back starts in Atlanta.

In his previous start Tuesday against the Twins, Kershaw was not sharp. He needed 90 pitches to get through four innings but did limit the damage, allowing just two runs despite seven hits and a walk.

“I just haven’t pitched very good,” he said. “It’s nothing specific. I just haven’t been pitching very well. Frustrating, not a great time with guys going down. Obviously you’d like to get some length. It’s disappointing. You feel like you let the guys down, especially the bullpen. There’s really nothing to say except pitch better next time.”

There is more to say. Kershaw’s back-to-back short starts have followed his mother’s death. He will leave the Dodgers for a few days to attend a service for her and be placed on the bereavement list. Dave Roberts said Kershaw is expected to rejoin the Dodgers in Tampa and make his next start on Saturday.

“I think he’s done as good a job as you can do of compartmentalizing and trying to keep it out of your mind,” Roberts said.

“There’s no one that works harder or prepares himself more. So he probably doesn’t want to admit it. But sometimes the emotional toll takes a toll on your body too. So I’m sure it plays some factor.”

Against the Cardinals, things began to get away from Kershaw in the third inning. He gave up a leadoff double to Nolan Arenado and a soft double to Tommy Edman, walked Brendan Donovan with two outs then gave up a two-run double to Oscar Mercado during a 33-pitch inning.

Kershaw retired the next six batters (three on strikeouts). But the second inning left a mark and Roberts pulled him in the fourth inning when Kerhaw ran into more two-out trouble with two walks wrapped around two singles including another two-out single by Mercado.

“I don’t really point to those at-bats (by Mercado). I point to the walks before with two outs. Those were the problems,” Kershaw said. “The stuff before that is what’s unacceptable — two-out walks, let an inning fester instead of being able to get three outs quickly.”

Roberts said Kershaw had mentioned “body fatigue” after his start against the Twins and there were signs of that again Sunday.

“We were hoping that was just a one-time deal, and you feel that he would come back and reset in this one,” Roberts said. “But it showed a lot of similarities to that last one, as far as fatigue.

“I know health-wise, he’s fine. But the fact of the matter is that the ball just wasn’t coming out like we’re used to, these last two. So we’ll see.”

Down 4-1, the Dodgers’ offense was in the position of having to make another comeback — and they weren’t really over the way their comeback attempt was cut short in the ninth inning Saturday night. Neither was the umpire at the center of that.

When Max Muncy was called out on strikes in the fourth inning, he objected to home-plate umpire Nic Lentz’s strike zone. But Muncy gestured towards third-base umpire Paul Emmel as he walked back to the dugout and was ejected.

“I think it was kind of a weekend-long frustration building up,” Muncy said. “For me, it wasn’t about the call. … To me, it was how the calls were happening. The pitch before was almost the exact same location. Whether it was a ball or a strike, I don’t care. He called it how he saw it. He called it a ball and for the catcher to sit there and tell him that’s a terrible call and he missed it and needs to be better and then the next one he gives it to him. That, to me, is where the frustration was coming from.

“I felt like that was happening all weekend long. I felt they were getting bullied and they gave in to it.”

Emmel was behind the plate Saturday night and made two bad strike calls in the ninth inning that effectively thwarted a Dodger comeback, leaving them with a one-run loss. He was the one who ejected Muncy, not Lentz.

“I wasn’t referencing last night. I was referencing the whole weekend,” Muncy said. “I was referring to all of them and he took it as I was talking about last night.

“When I went out there, before I had a chance to say anything, he (Emmel) said, ‘We’re not going to talk about last night.’ In a way, I was referring to last night but I was really referring to just the whole weekend and the fact that I felt they were giving calls that didn’t need to be called. That’s how it was.”

The Dodgers did make it a one-run game again — briefly — on Freddie Freeman’s RBI single and a bases-loaded balk in the fifth inning. But their beleaguered bullpen couldn’t hold the line. Justin Bruihl gave up a two-out, two-run single to Mercado in the bottom of the fifth, and Wander Suero served up a three-run home run to Paul DeJong in the seventh.

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