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Dodgers rookie James Outman slumping as opposing teams adjust

LOS ANGELES — It was inevitable.

Going into this season, opposing teams had just 16 major-league plate appearances to formulate a game plan against Dodgers rookie outfielder James Outman. Even as he hit .292 with a .991 OPS and seven home runs through the end of April, earning National League Rookie of the Month honors, those teams were gathering information on Outman’s strengths and weaknesses.

Twelve games into May, Outman has been tamed. He has hit .205 (8 for 39) with 15 strikeouts and a slugging percentage that has dropped precipitously from .615 in April to .385 in May.

With Outman hitless in his past seven at-bats through Sunday, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts decided not to have Outman in the starting lineup against Minnesota Twins right-hander Pablo Lopez. It was only the fifth time in the Dodgers’ first 42 games that Outman wasn’t in the starting lineup.

“The quality of at-bats are good,” Roberts said. “I think what’s happening is they’re pitching him up in the zone and some borderline calls are going against him down below. But I still think the intent to put together an at-bat is good. The results haven’t been good. But that’s part of it. I don’t think any of us expected this year just to be linear (progress). That’s okay. I know he’s preparing every day and he’ll find his way out of it.”

Roberts said he texted Outman on Sunday night to let him know he wouldn’t be in the starting lineup Monday and got a “thumbs up” in response.

“I don’t see any extra anxiety or panic in his demeanor,” Roberts said.

BALANCED SCHEDULE

The Dodgers played the Arizona Diamondbacks eight times in the first 10 games of the season. They played the San Diego Padres six times in 10 days through Sunday.

They won’t see either of those teams again until an August road trip. In fact, they will play just six games against divisional opponents over the next 65 games (three each against the San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies in June) as a consequence of the new balanced schedule.

Instead, they will face every other team in both the American and National Leagues this season. The change adds about 5,000 miles of travel for West Coast teams like the Dodgers.

“I like it,” Roberts said of facing a wider variety of opponents. “On the coaching side … there’s more preparation but that’s our jobs. From the fans’ perspective, I think it’s fantastic. Playing a division team 18, 19 times gets a little redundant. So I think overall it’s been really good.”

The new schedule de-emphasizes divisional games. Instead of playing each division rival 19 times during the season, they will play 13 times each now.

“I think a lot of times in baseball it’s been skewed as far as whether it’s a strong division, whether it’s a weak division and you get a lot of games – it kind of gives you a false sense of what a particular team is,” Roberts said. “Now, there’s more consistency which I think is good.”

BUEHLER BULLPEN

Right-hander Walker Buehler has joined the Dodgers in Los Angeles this week and will be throwing a bullpen session on Tuesday.

Buehler has been throwing off a mound at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona and, according to Roberts, has hit 89 mph during the throwing sessions.

Buehler had Tommy John surgery for a second time and a flexor tendon repair on his pitching elbow last August. He is aiming for a late-season return this year.

UP NEXT

Twins (RHP Bailey Ober, 2-0, 1.85 ERA) at Dodgers (LHP Clayton Kershaw, 6-2, 2.36 ERA), Tuesday, 7:10 p.m., SportsNet LA, MLB Network, 570 AM

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