The Los Angeles Dodgers took the field Wednesday without Mookie Betts, the star right fielder they’ve committed to paying nearly $400 million, in their starting lineup for the third straight game. Losing a player of that caliber — a perennial All-Star and former MVP in his prime — would hamstring most teams. For the Dodgers, it just means plugging in other players and riding them to victory.
In right field, the Dodgers had Joc Pederson, fresh off hitting a career-high 36 home runs as the Dodgers’ primary right fielder last season, replacing Betts for the third straight night Wednesday against the San Diego Padres. He fueled the Dodgers offensively with two home runs. On the other side, the versatile Chris Taylor made his third start in left field and threw out Trent Grisham at home to close the Dodgers’ 7-6 win at Petco Park with a double play.
In the end, the Dodgers (9-4) took two of three games from a team clamoring to prove they can compete with them. The Padres (7-6), brimming with confidence, played with an intensity not usually palpable in the second week of a season. They won Monday’s opener, but the Dodgers closed with two wins to finish their seasonlong three-city, nine-game trip 7-2 — and, most importantly, without a player testing positive for the novel coronavirus.
“Really encouraged by that,” Dodgers starter Ross Stripling said. “Especially to come out to two hotbeds between Houston and Arizona, and come out of it unscathed.”
Pederson put the Dodgers on the board with a two-run home run in the second inning off Padres starter Garrett Richards, ignited a two-run fifth inning with a leadoff walk and smashed a three-run homer in the sixth inning that proved to be the difference.
He concluded the series with his first three home runs of the season. He began the three-game set with his 21st career leadoff home run on the first pitch of Monday’s series opener. His third homer was a mammoth 435-foot blast to straightaway center field against right-hander Luis Patino, a top prospect making his major-league debut.
The efforts Wednesday came in support of Stripling, who tossed four scoreless innings before encountering trouble. The right-hander gave up a two-run home run to Fernando Tatis Jr. in the fifth inning. He was chased in the sixth when Greg Garcia lined a two-out, two-run double. He allowed the four runs on six hits. He walked two and struck out seven. But he emerged encouraged by the outing in which he touched 95 mph for the first time this season.
Kenley Jansen nearly blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning, but Taylor’s 93.3-mph, one-hop strike nabbed Grisham, who tagged up attempting to tie the score. The walk-off outfield assist gave Jansen his fourth save in four tries.
“He’s just a manager’s dream,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Taylor, who went two for four with a triple and two runs scored. “He’s always ready when called upon and seems to make an impact every time he’s in there.”
A few hours before the first pitch, the Dodgers recalled utilityman Zach McKinstry and optioned left-hander Victor González to make room on the roster. McKinstry was on the team’s taxi squad for the trip. His first stint as a major leaguer will likely last just one game; teams must reduce their rosters from 30 to 28 players Thursday for the rest of the season.
While McKinstry got the call, Gavin Lux, the organization’s top prospect, remained at the Dodgers’ alternate training site at USC. Roberts strongly shot down the idea that the Dodgers haven’t called up Lux in order to limit his service time and, consequently, have him under club control for an additional year.
“First of all, there is no conspiracy theory with holding Gavin Lux down,” Roberts said. “For any other reason that aside from we don’t feel that he’s ready right now. And we let Gavin know that. So that should be put to bed.”
Roberts went on to explain that Lux, who reached the majors last September and was on the Dodgers’ postseason roster, won’t return to the big leagues until they believe he is ready to play every day. Roberts said McKinstry was already with the club and adding him for one game before rosters were downsized made sense.
“He wasn’t right mechanically,” Roberts said of Lux. “And he knows that and we know that. He’s still getting there at SC. He’s getting at-bats daily. It’s coming. I see video every single day. Still not there yet, but it’s getting considerably better.”
McKinstry was added to the roster Wednesday as insurance.
Edwin Ríos’ status was uncertain after he was hit by a pitch on a toe Tuesday and exited the game. Betts wasn’t available to hit and was absent from the starting lineup for the third straight game after injuring his left middle finger Sunday against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Roberts said he wasn’t sure if Betts will be available to start Friday — after the Dodgers’ off-day Thursday — against the San Francisco Giants. He entered Wednesday’s game as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning. That’s all the Dodgers needed from him.
1. Left-hander Caleb Ferguson surrendered the Dodgers bullpen’s first home run of the season when Wil Myers took him deep for a solo shot in the eighth inning. Dodgers relievers had gone 53 1/3 innings without allowing a homer.
2. The Padres unveiled an unusual defensive alignment in the seventh inning when Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager batted, shifting third baseman Manny Machado to shallow right field. Bellinger flied out to Machado.
3. Padres manager Jayce Tingler earned the first ejection of his managerial career in the seventh inning after arguing balls and strikes. Tingler, of course, pleaded his case socially distanced from home plate umpire Mark Ripperger with a face covering on.
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