Dave Roberts knew he had a hard case to make.
Between the fastball that right-hander Joe Kelly threw behind the head of the Houston Astros’ Alex Bregman, and Kelly’s taunting that preempted a bench-clearing incident later in the game Tuesday, it was clear MLB would consider punishment for one of Roberts’ most important relievers.
But even the Los Angeles Dodgers manager was surprised by Kelly’s eight-game suspension, a ban that in a normal-length season would equal almost 22 games.
“That’s just, for me, too aggressive,” said Roberts, who on Wednesday served a one-game suspension as a result of the incident, during a Zoom call Thursday. “I’m hopeful, we’re hopeful it gets shortened through an arbitrator. So we’ll see.”
The opinion isn’t exclusive to Roberts. In the 24 hours following the announcement Wednesday, observers around the sport questioned the length of Kelly’s punishment, which could cause him to miss more than 13% of the 60-game season. Others contrasted it to the lack of player suspensions resulting from the Astros’ 2017 sign-stealing investigation this winter, which offered immunity to players in exchange for honest testimony.
Additionally, the league and MLB Players Association agreed Thursday that players can now be punished in the event of future electronic sign-stealing scandals, according to the Athletic.
In the Dodgers’ clubhouse, outfielder AJ Pollock, who hit a home run in the Dodgers’ 6-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday, said the news of Kelly’s suspension was met with shock.
“It seemed pretty harsh,” Pollock said. “I don’t think anybody is too happy about it.”
Pollock took issue with the league seemingly “trying to find some intent” in Kelly’s near-miss of Bregman in the sixth inning. He said, especially given the Astros’ behavior during a 2017 season in which they defeated the Dodgers in the World Series, Kelly’s castigation didn’t feel just. At one point, Pollock turned his ire toward MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.
“You hope that teams are all being treated equally,” Pollock said. “I don’t know if he’s doing that. For me personally, most baseball guys that are true baseball guys, they would say that’s outrageous.”
In addition to Kelly’s own disciplinary history — the pitcher was suspended with the Boston Red Sox for six games in 2018 after his hitting of a batter led to a scrum against the New York Yankees — Roberts acknowledged that the history between the Dodgers and Astros, the bench-clearing incident that ensued Tuesday and a renewed emphasis on eliminating beanballs factored into the seemingly harsh ruling.
But most critically, the league didn’t buy the argument that Kelly simply lost control of his fastball — despite claims to the contrary from Kelly, as well as Roberts and Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
“Joe has a lot of strengths as a pitcher; I would say, being able to execute a pitch exactly where he wants to is not one of them,” Friedman said during a Wednesday podcast interview with team broadcasters Joe Davis and Orel Hershiser. “It plays to his advantage as well, the effective wildness. (But) there wasn’t any conversation internally about, ‘Let’s go into Houston and show them.’ I think society at large has done a pretty good job of speaking pretty loudly about the Astros and what they did in 2017.”
Roberts did talk with Chris Young, MLB‘s senior vice president of baseball operations, about the decision. The manager tried to defend his fiery right-hander, whose pending appeal allowed him to enter in relief in the seventh inning Thursday, throwing a scoreless frame as part of another strong effort from the Dodgers’ bullpen. But Roberts’ pleas fell on deaf ears.
“In their opinion, he was throwing at a hitter,” Roberts said. “They’re trying to get away from balls going at a player. No one admitted that he did it on purpose. It got away. It’s part of the game. But in their opinion, they felt different.”
Tony Gonsolin is slated to start for the Dodgers on Friday. The right-hander drove from the club’s alternate training site at USC to join the team in Phoenix … Clayton Kershaw threw another bullpen session on Thursday. He could be in line to make his season debut soon as Sunday or Monday … The Dodgers recalled pitcher Victor Gonzalez before Thursday’s game and designated outfielder Terrance Gore for assignment.
Observations from the Dodgers’ 6-3 win over the Diamondbacks
1. Hit it hard: AJ Pollock ripped a two-run home run to left his first time up, crushing an elevated fastball 384 feet. In the fifth, he roped a double even farther, bouncing it off the 407-foot wall in straight away center field.
2. Soft ball: Ross Stripling produced only two strikeouts and five total swing-and-misses in his 51/3-inning, three-run start against the Diamondbacks. Yet, the right-hander mostly avoided hard contact and was able to give the Dodgers much-needed length.
3. Mookie making plays: Betts scored on a first-inning sac fly after going first to third on a soft Max Muncy single. In the second, he took second on a routine line drive into right, dancing around a tag on his way to the bag. And in the third, he made a sliding catch in right to prevent a possible extra-base hit.
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