With Mookie Betts' return near, Dodgers set off early fireworks to beat Padres again

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The Dodgers' Freddie Freeman waves to fans after hitting a solo home run during the first inning July 2, 2022.
Freddie Freeman waves to fans after he hit the first of the team's three first-inning home runs against Padres starter Yu Darvish in a 7-2 win that pushed the Dodgers' NL West lead to 4½ games. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

It wasn’t Yu Darvish’s worst outing atop the Dodger Stadium mound.

But as the right-hander got rocked Saturday afternoon by his former team, it sure looked similar to a certain November night five years prior.

In the first inning of their 7-2 win over the San Diego Padres, the Dodgers tattooed three home runs against Darvish.

Freddie Freeman launched a missile to right. Will Smith lifted a moonshot to center. Justin Turner stung a line drive to left.

Each one was met by a louder roar from the 47,061 fans and an increasingly enthusiastic reception in the dugout.

Will Smith rounds the bases on a first-inning home run July 2, 2022.
Will Smith rounds the bases in the first inning after he followed Freddie Freeman's homer with a blast. The Dodgers have won 14 of their last 15 against the Padres. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

“Guys on the bench were waiting to see someone do something offensively,” manager Dave Roberts said. “There was that energy, that mindset of, ‘I want to be the next guy to do something, to help the ballclub.’ ”

The sequence also summoned flashbacks to the 2017 World Series when Darvish was ambushed early in the Dodgers’ Game 7 loss to the Houston Astros at home.

Only this time, it was the Padres (46-34) on the receiving end of a sudden beatdown — and the Dodgers (49-28) cruising to their fourth straight win and 14th of their last 15 against the Padres.

The Dodgers' Justin Turner and Padres starting pitcher Yu Darvish watch Turner's first-inning homer July 2, 2022.
Justin Turner and Padres starting pitcher Yu Darvish watch the flight of Turner's homer — the last of three in a span of four batters for the Dodgers in the first inning. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

After the first-inning outburst, the Dodgers quickly added to their lead to put the game out of reach.

With two outs in the second, Padres right fielder José Azocar dropped a line drive, allowing Gavin Lux to reach second base with a double and score on a Trea Turner single in the next at-bat.

Again with two outs in the third, Jake Lamb dumped an RBI double into left just beyond a diving effort by Jurickson Profar that made the score 5-0.

After Tyler Anderson completed a 6⅓-inning, one-run start, the Dodgers tacked on a couple of late insurance runs in the seventh with a pair of sacrifice flies.

“The capability of this lineup is pretty special,” Justin Turner said.

The Dodgers’ offense could soon be getting a boost.

After the game, Roberts said Mookie Betts probably would return from the injured list Sunday and play right field, after Betts felt good following a session of live batting practice Saturday afternoon.

Out since June 15 because of a cracked rib, Betts was initially planning to return at second base to avoid long throws that he said still gave him some discomfort, though posed no threat of further injury.

However, after Chris Taylor left Saturday’s game early with a left foot bruise — Roberts said an X-ray on Taylor’s foot was negative, but he wasn’t expected to play Sunday — the Dodgers now plan to put Betts back in his customary corner outfield spot.

“I feel good,” Betts said. “I’m ready to get back out there.”

Where Betts will be in the batting order is another question.

Despite hitting Betts leadoff in all 59 of his starts this season, Roberts said he was still deciding whether he would put Betts in the top spot or keep Trea Turner there.

In Betts’ absence, Turner entered Sunday hitting .339 with an .891 on-base-plus-slugging percentage since sliding into the leadoff role.

“I’m going to have a conversation with Mookie to make sure that we’re on the same page,” Roberts said. “Obviously Trea has been thriving in the leadoff spot. But I don’t know, we’re gonna keep having those conversations.”

Wherever he returns, though, Betts will rejoin a Dodgers team that has started to rediscover its stride.

Saturday’s victory was the Dodgers' 12th in their last 17. They also extended their division lead over the second-place Padres to 4½ games, their largest of the season.

“Obviously you want to play good against division opponents, especially the team that was right behind you,” Freeman said. “No one in here is looking at standings, it’s way too early for that. But ... it’s just nice to put together this series of work.”

This weekend has been as much about dominant starting pitching as it has explosive offense.

Anderson spun the team’s latest gem Saturday, lowering his season ERA to 3.09 while becoming the third straight Dodgers starter to give up only one run against the Padres’ slumping lineup.

Dodgers starter Tyler Anderson pitches during the fourth inning July 2, 2022.
Dodgers left-hander Tyler Anderson gave up one run in 6⅓ innings innings and improved to 9-1 this season. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

“As a rotation, you want to keep the ball rolling,” Anderson said. “You want to take the ball and try to keep up with the guy the day before.”

Darvish, who had pitched well in three previous outings at Dodger Stadium the last three years since leaving the team, eventually found his own groove, getting through six total innings without giving up another run.

All that early damage, however, proved to be more than decisive.

Once again, he suffered a loss at Dodger Stadium.

This time, the hosts were happy to be on the other side.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.