Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s recovery start was ruined when Cardinals exposed the Dodgers bullpen

By | March 31, 2024

The Dodgers answered one big roster question on Saturday night.

But in a 6-5 overtime loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, another personnel problem quickly took its place.

The good news for the team: Yoshinobu Yamamoto rebounded from his disastrous debut in South Korea to throw five shutout innings in his first career start at Dodger Stadium.

Mookie Betts also maintained his blistering early-season pace, helping the Dodgers erase a late three-run deficit with three hits, including a homer in the ninth inning, before the team finally left the bases loaded in the 10th inning to to end the duel.

The bad news for the club: The bullpen’s biggest weakness — a lack of reliable options to use against left-handed hitters — blew up in its face during a seventh-inning collapse.

Read more: Teoscar Hernández tries to revive his career in LA. So far it’s working

With a two-run lead entering the top of the seventh, right-hander Joe Kelly was called upon to face not only the middle of the Cardinals’ disappointing lineup, but also the array of left-handed bats lurking at the bottom.

Kelly didn’t do himself any favors by walking the leadoff batter and then plundering the next batter. Catcher Will Smith aggravated the jam moments later and committed a catcher’s interference violation, loading the bases.

After a sacrifice fly by Iván Herrera cut the Dodgers’ lead in half, Roberts faced his first big decision of the season.

Leave Kelly for the next four left-handed Cardinals hitters (lefties hit just .197 against Kelly last year, but posted a disturbing .748 OPS)?

Or do you turn to the lone lefty specialist in his bullpen, Alex Vesia (who followed up the 2023 performance with more inconsistency this spring)?

Roberts chose the former.

“A guy like Joe Kelly,” Roberts said, “he really shouldn’t, no matter when he throws.”

Only this time it did, with Kelly’s sloppy seventh looming as the biggest factor in an avoidable defeat.

The first lefty, Alec Burleson, hit an elevated fastball to right that tied the score.

The next, Brandon Crawford, singled to load the bases again.

Then, in a briefly confusing sequence that gave the Cardinals the lead, Victor Scott II hit a seemingly routine lineout to left — after which third base umpire Ryan Blakney called Kelly for a balk that negated the out, forcing the go-ahead run. about the plate.

Dodgers runner Freddie Freeman goes into a slide before being tagged out by Cardinals catcher Ivan Herrera.Dodgers runner Freddie Freeman goes into a slide before being tagged out by Cardinals catcher Ivan Herrera.

“It was a pretense,” Roberts said. “He didn’t stop. Ryan Blakney got it right.”

But it wasn’t until the Cardinals extended the lead to 5-2 on a two-run double by Brendan Donovan – the fourth straight left-handed hitter to bat against Kelly – that Roberts finally turned to Vesia, who ended the game. threat without further harm.

When Kelly left the field, even his Mariachi-fueled popularity didn’t make him immune to boos, with a crowd of 45,019 voicing their frustration on a night that had already seen a rare 35-minute rain delay — believed to be the first at Dodger Stadium since 2015.

The real anger, however, might be better directed at the team’s decision-makers; not just Roberts, but also a blameworthy front office that traded away productive (if hardly unhittable) left-handed relievers Caleb Ferguson and Victor González this offseason without adding any immediate replacements.

“He’s a neutral guy, he’s a high-impact guy for us,” Roberts said of Kelly, echoing the explanation he gave this spring about the Dodgers having enough “neutral” right-handed pitchers to make up for their lack of left-handers to compensate for depth.

Read more: How the Dodgers got to know Shohei Ohtani, even through his baserunning error

“It was clear Alex was lurking,” Roberts added. “But I still felt very comfortable with Joe. And he just didn’t have a good night.”

Despite that, the Dodgers’ star-studded core all but erased the pain.

Yamamoto’s recovery effort was a sigh of relief for the team, which spent the past week working with the 25-year-old rookie to refine his mechanics and improve his control.

“We just honestly want him to come out and be him,” assistant pitching coach Connor McGuiness said before the game, promising “dramatically improved” form after the $325 million Japanese signing.

“It only gets better from here,” McGuiness added. “That [in Korea]I guess you can just call it a fluke.”

Betts also continued his decidedly non-flukey play — he has now reached base in 18 of his first 25 at-bats — to help the Dodgers get back into the game.

In the seventh inning, Betts doubled and scored on a Smith single, narrowing the deficit to 5-3.

Dodgers runner Mookie Betts scores during the fifth inning against the Cardinals on Saturday.Dodgers runner Mookie Betts scores during the fifth inning against the Cardinals on Saturday.

Dodgers runner Mookie Betts scores during the fifth inning against the Cardinals on Saturday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

In the ninth, Betts hit his fourth home run of the season to cut the Cardinals’ lead to one, before Freddie Freeman, Smith and Max Muncy tied the score with three consecutive singles.

On defense, Betts also made some tough plays at his new shortstop position, paying off hours of pregame work on his backhand by converting several outs on grounders hit to his right.

“I’m very proud of myself for making these plays and all the work,” Betts said. “But we have to win ball games.”

Despite Yamamoto’s improvement and Betts’ heroics, the Dodgers were unable to complete the rally.

The Cardinals scored their automatic runner in the 10th to take a 6-5 lead.

The Dodgers left the bases loaded in the bottom of the inning, which ended on a routine pop-up by Shohei Ohtani, who said after the game that he was feeling a little off with his timing and swing mechanics amid a six for 22 start that contained only one extra base hit.

For the first time on home soil this year, the Dodgers were reminded that even $1.4 billion in offseason spending has its limitations.

Betts, Ohtani, Freeman, Yamamoto and opening day starter Tyler Glasnow can make up for a lot with their raw talent.

But Saturday was a reminder that the Dodgers still have holes that could potentially cost them games.

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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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