Dodgers drop series to Mets as their nightmarish homestand continues

Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani (17) reacts to a close pitch during.

Two early realities have emerged for the Dodgers during the opening month of the season.

As currently constructed, their banged-up, undermanned pitching staff isn’t great.

Which, most days, means their star-studded lineup needs to be.

During an auspicious 10-4 start to the season, the Dodgers navigated that dynamic with apparent ease. In a current nightmarish homestand, however, the club has repeatedly stumbled in one area or the other, failing to execute enough either on the mound or at the plate again Saturday in a 6-4 loss to the New York Mets.

Read more: Shaky defense the latest problem to afflict struggling Dodgers in loss to Mets

It marked the Dodgers’ fifth loss in six games, and their seventh loss in the last nine. It clinched a third straight series loss, the first time the Dodgers have dropped three series in the same homestand since 2011.

Most of all, it further highlighted the growing number of issues facing their $300-million roster.

“We’re in it,” manager Dave Roberts said. “I think it’s just a bad week, I really do. But with that, even with bad weeks, we still usually find ways to carve up a couple wins. But this week we haven’t. We usually play well at home. This week we haven’t.”

Saturday’s setback followed an increasingly familiar script.

Dodgers pitchers issued nine free bases (seven walks, two hit batters). The bullpen surrendered four runs (plus an inherited runner) in a continuation of its opening-month struggles. And despite a late comeback attempt, the offense went just two for 12 with runners in scoring position, including a one-for-eight mark with six strikeouts in five different bases-loaded situations.

Dodgers starting pitcher Gavin Stone delivers against the Mets in the first inning Saturday.

Suddenly, almost a month into their highly anticipated 2024 season, the Dodgers (12-11) find themselves one game above .500, in danger of being swept by what was supposed to be a mediocre Mets team, and searching for answers from several corners of what is currently a top-heavy roster.

Saturday’s game was a slog from the beginning.

After Roberts preached pregame about the importance of a clean start, starter Gavin Stone instead put the team in immediate danger. He walked three batters in the top of the first. He gave up an RBI double to Francisco Lindor. And while he limited the damage there by stranding the bases loaded, he never found a groove the rest of the day, exiting after 72 pitches with one out in the fourth inning.

Stone’s replacement, right-hander Michael Grove, let the one runner he inherited score on a Starling Marte single.

Then, with the score tied 2-2 in the sixth, Marte struck again, hammering the second pitch he saw from reliever Ryan Brasier to deep center for a three-run blast.

Despite all that, the Dodgers hung around.

New York's Starling Marte celebrates in the dugout after hitting a three-run home run in the sixth inning Saturday.
New York's Starling Marte celebrates in the dugout after hitting a three-run home run in the sixth inning Saturday. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Freddie Freeman ended a rare 14 at-bat hitless streak with an RBI single in the first inning.

Shohei Ohtani led off the fifth inning with a double — his 25th hit, and 13th extra-base hit in the last 15 games — before scoring on a Max Muncy sacrifice fly.

Freeman delivered again with the bases loaded in the sixth, roping a two-run single that got the Dodgers back to within 5-4.

“I think he just kind of felt and got to the point where he got into compete mode,” Roberts said of Freeman, who had been changing up his pregame routine this week — most notably by taking batting practice on the field even before Saturday’s afternoon matinee — amid a three-for-27 start to the homestand.

“I think there were some mechanical stuff [he changed], but he was swinging at strikes, taking balls, getting to the fastball and using the big part of the field,” Roberts added. “This is what we were used to seeing from Freddie.”

Unfortunately for the Dodgers, the string of squandered opportunities that followed have become commonplace for the lineup lately.

The sixth-inning rally ended on a nice play by Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, who snared a hard-hit one-hopper from Muncy and beat him to the bag with a diving effort.

A leadoff single from James Outman in the seventh was negated when Outman was called for baserunner’s interference on a double-play grounder.

Then, after a Mookie Betts throwing error in the top of the eighth inning led to an unearned run against Evan Phillips, the Dodgers wasted their last real chance to rally in the bottom of the inning.

Betts, Ohtani and Freeman all worked good at-bats, drawing three consecutive walks to load the bases with one out.

But on a day offensive greatness was once again required, the Dodgers came up short, leaving the bases loaded on consecutive strikeouts from Teoscar Hernández and Muncy en route to yet another frustrating loss on this reality check of a homestand.

“The pitching and hitting, we haven’t been able to mix and match well,” Ohtani said through interpreter Will Ireton. “But all the games are really close and we are working hard to make sure that we come out on top. We just have to keep plugging away and move on.”

Another pitching injury

Dodgers starting pitcher Kyle Hurt delivers against the Washington Nationals on April 16.

The Dodgers pitching staff suffered another loss as right-hander Kyle Hurt was put on the injured list because of shoulder inflammation.

Left-handed reliever Nick Ramirez was called up in a corresponding move.

Hurt, 25, was the Dodgers minor league pitcher of the year last season and entered this season as their No. 6 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

He opened the regular season in the bullpen, was sent back to triple A during the opening week of the schedule, then was called up again this week to make a spot start Tuesday.

Read more: The Dodgers bullpen was supposed to be a strength. Why has it struggled early on?

After that two-inning outing, however, Hurt reported shoulder discomfort to the team. According to Roberts, it wasn’t the first time Hurt’s shoulder has given him problems this year.

“It’s sort of been something that has been in and out,” Roberts said.

Hurt tried to throw a bullpen session Friday but “just didn’t feel well,” Roberts said, leading to Saturday’s decision to put the pitcher on the injured list.

Hurt hadn’t undergone any medical imaging as of Saturday afternoon, but Roberts said it’s “probably a safe assumption” he will get scans in the coming days.

Short hops

Walker Buehler will make his next rehabiltation outing with triple-A Oklahoma City this week, Roberts said. The club is hoping Buehler will get through five innings. His status will be reevaluated after that start. ... The Dodgers have flipped their starting rotation for the next couple of games. Tyler Glasnow was bumped to start Sunday’s series finale against the Mets, and James Paxton will slide to start Tuesday in Washington against the Nationals.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.