LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers’ remaining deadline to-do list smacked them in the face on Sunday afternoon. They need pitching help, particularly as two arms the club had interest in — St. Louis’ Jordan Montgomery and Jordan Hicks — went elsewhere to contenders.
That goes beyond adding Lance Lynn, who officially arrived on Sunday morning and will make his first start on Tuesday against Oakland. He, in all likelihood, will take Michael Grove’s spot in the rotation after the 26-year-old right-hander was battered for eight runs (including three home runs) in a 9-0 loss to the Reds.
It took three pitches for Los Angeles to fall into a hole, with Elly De La Cruz chopping up dirt with his long legs as he scored from first base on TJ Friedl’s double — and the beating didn’t slow from there. His cutter, a new weapon to neutralize lefties, was ineffective. Grove’s ERA ballooned to 6.75.
The swift beatdown capped off a month that saw Dodgers starters produce a 6.18 ERA, the second-worst in baseball for July. It was the worst month of starting pitching the franchise has seen since moving to Los Angeles and the second-worst since at least 1912, according to MLB researcher Sarah Langs.
At least one arm will be booted from the rotation to the bullpen. Will another join before Tuesday’s deadline?
“Not sustainable,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “We always have room to improve on the pitching side. So we’re gonna go with who we have until we have more when and if we do. … We’re always trying to upgrade. But again, it still takes two teams to make a deal.”
The momentum from a slugfest road trip has slowed some. Consecutive series losses at home, capped off with a thumping on Sunday afternoon, isn’t just inauspicious: It’s ending the 13-10 month on a dud.
The club has sought out a controllable starter at the deadline even after acquiring Lynn, according to a league source with knowledge of the Dodgers’ thinking. That includes showing interest in three-time Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, league sources said, though concerns about Verlander’s contract (which includes a $35 million vesting option for 2025) appear to be a hurdle in the deal gaining traction.
“How can you not think about it?” Verlander told reporters in New York when asked about the deadline in the wake of the Mets’ deals to ship Max Scherzer and David Robertson out of town.
Other options still remain, including Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty, Detroit’s Eduardo Rodriguez and Michael Lorenzen, Pittsburgh’s Mitch Keller and others.
The Dodgers, along with the Diamondbacks, were among the clubs involved in talks for Hicks before the hard-throwing reliever was traded from St. Louis to Toronto on Sunday, according to a league source. The Astros also showed interest, according to The Athletic’s Chandler Rome.
The cost — Toronto sent starting pitching prospects Adam Kloffenstein and Sem Robberse to the Cardinals — is indicative of the high prices in this shallow market, even for rental relievers such as Hicks. It also reflects the Dodgers’ desire to keep adding to the bullpen even after bringing back Joe Kelly in the Lynn deal.
Kelly flashed his typical premium stuff in a chaotic return on Saturday, spiking the second pitch he threw for a wild pitch, issuing a walk, nearly throwing another wild pitch, touching 100 mph and then getting Reds outfielder Will Benson looking with the bases loaded to end the threat. He’s already a leverage reliever for a group that has stabilized some, but still entered Sunday with a 4.19 bullpen ERA that ranks 21st in baseball.
The Dodgers have expressed interest in Royals right-hander Scott Barlow in the past. He was listed as one of the best relievers available at the deadline by The Athletic’s Jim Bowden on Sunday.
Yes, Lynn has heard about his peripherals as well. It’s the stuff “under the hood” that compelled the Dodgers, according to general manager Brandon Gomes, far more than Lynn’s 6.47 ERA through his first 21 starts. Lynn still ranks 17th among qualified starters this season in strikeout rate (26.9 percent), but has been dinged massively by left-handed hitters and given up the most home runs (28) in baseball.
“When you look at ERA and wins and losses, it’s the worst I’ve had in my career,” Lynn said on Sunday, his first day joining his new club. “And then you look at strikeouts per nine and stuff like that, they’re the best I’ve ever had. It’s been a weird year.”
It’s been a trying one. His fastball still misses bats, though its velocity is a tick down again this season. The Dodgers have highlighted some specific usage tweaks, even for someone as fastball-heavy as Lynn has been throughout his career. More than anything, the Dodgers need innings from him to get through the remainder of the year.
“You’re gonna get a warrior out of him,” said Kelly, who came with Lynn from Chicago and has known the right-hander since they were teens.
Lynn starts Tuesday after the Dodgers pushed Julio Urías’ next start back to Thursday against Oakland. Urías is dealing with a nail issue on his pitching hand, something he was seen chatting with Dodgers icon Sandy Koufax about after Saturday night’s 3-2 win.
It’s hard to talk about Bobby Miller or Emmet Sheehan without discussing their fastballs. Yet it’s sorting through the rest of their arsenal that will decide whether they sink or swim.
For each, that has meant a lot of tinkering, particularly with a slider that plays off of the rest of their mix. Miller has fiddled with a harder slider, similar to the one Sheehan has thrown throughout his time in the minors. Then during Sheehan’s start last week in Arlington, he broke out a sweeper, too. During their last turn through the rotation, each has thrown sliders with different shapes over the course of the outing, trying to settle each in the right mix.
The difference between the two pitches is stark, with enough variance between each to get by while they sort out the best overall mix. Miller reintroduced his sweeper some in his start Friday, like this one:
He mixed in the harder, cutter-like one as well, albeit with a lot less swing and miss involved.
For Sheehan, it’s been a similar dance. With the way his arm slot works, Sheehan explained, “a curveball might not make as much sense as a sweeper off of that slider” after throwing a curveball through most of his minor-league career. Throwing each variation of the pitch is mostly done off feel.
“If I show them the smaller one early, then can throw the bigger one after that is usually pretty good. Still learning how to use it,” Sheehan said.
Odds and ends
• Mookie Betts was out of the Dodgers’ lineup a second consecutive game on Sunday as he deals with soreness in his right ankle he suffered trying to avoid getting hit by a pitch on Friday. But there isn’t much lingering concern, with Roberts saying Sunday morning the swelling has gone down.
• J.D. Martinez was pulled before even taking an at-bat on Sunday, complaining of a recurrence of tightness in his left hamstring — the same one that got him scratched from last Sunday’s series finale in Texas. The issue impeded Martinez’s ability to run or even swing a bat, Roberts said, adding that Martinez was undergoing an MRI on Sunday afternoon. If he misses time, that could only further emphasize the Dodgers’ pursuit of another right-handed bat — according to league sources, the Dodgers have been interested in the Mets’ Tommy Pham and Mark Canha.
• Will Smith exited Sunday’s loss after three innings with a left elbow contusion after getting hit by a pitch in his first at-bat. Testing, including x-rays, came back negative, and Smith said he hopes to be back in the lineup.
• Clayton Kershaw’s return is approaching. Roberts said Kershaw will face hitters again on Thursday after simulating three innings at Dodger Stadium on Saturday. From there, the organization will finalize a decision whether he will be able to start for the Dodgers in Arizona.
(Top photo of Michael Grove: Kirby Lee / USA Today)