In the first, they bulldozed opponents to a major league-best 13-2 record. Then the wheels came off in the second. They lost 15 of 20 as the injuries piled up, the offense disappeared and the defense floundered. They fell to a game over .500. The third resembles the first. They’re winning again. They’ve taken six straight games and 10 of 11 to catch the Giants in the National League West standings.
All along, through the ups and down, the starting pitching hasn’t budged. The Dodgers (28-18) boast perhaps the best rotation in the majors despite being without a fifth starter since the start of the month after Dustin May was lost for the season. It ranks third in the majors in earned-run average and strikeout rate. Most importantly, no group pitches deeper into games.
“It’s certainly the root of all the success,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
They’ve ridden the rotation to wins in the first two games of this three-game weekend series at Oracle Park. On Friday, Trevor Bauer gave up an unearned run and had 11 strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings. Walker Buehler snatched the baton Saturday, holding the Giants (28-18) to one run and six hits with five strikeouts and one walk across seven innings.
The right-hander has logged at least six innings in each of his nine starts and at least seven in his last three outings. He owns a 2.78 earned-run average and the fourth-lowest walk rate (1.23 per nine innings) in the majors.
“Getting deep into games is the biggest thing for us,” Buehler said. “I felt pretty good. I felt like I was locating where I wanted with a lot of fastballs. They put a lot of them in play and the defense played well.”
Buehler’s counterpart Saturday was a familiar face. The last time Scott Kazmir had appeared in a major-league game, he was at the end of his first year of a three-year, $48-million contract with the Dodgers. That was Sept. 23, 2016. The two-time All-Star left the game against the Colorado Rockies after one inning because of a rib injury never to pitch for the Dodgers again.
Nearly five years later, Kazmir, now 37, took the mound to face the Dodgers, who will pay him $8 million in deferred money this year to complete the contract he signed in December 2015.
“Credit to Scott,” Roberts said before the game. “He wants to keep going. Feels there’s more in the tank. I definitely didn’t expect him to make a start against us this year, but credit to his perseverance.”
The Braves released him the following spring, seemingly ending his playing days.
But Kazmir, a first-round pick in 2002, announced a comeback attempt last year and made four starts for the Eastern Reyes del Tigre of the Constellation Energy League. The Giants thought he showed enough promise to sign him to a minor league contract in February. He pitched in two games for triple-A Sacramento before getting the call to start Saturday.
Kazmir’s longest outing in the minors was 3 1/3 innings. He wasn’t expected to pitch deep into Saturday’s game, and he didn’t. But he was effective, yielding one run on two hits over four innings. Both hits came off Max Muncy’s bat. The first one was a 423-foot blast that splashed in McCovey Cove in the first inning.
The Dodgers then tallied five runs against three Giants relievers. Catcher Austin Barnes cracked his first home run of the season and dropped a successful safety squeeze. Matt Beaty collected an RBI double. Right fielder DJ Peters, who entered two for 15, went two for four with a double in place of Mookie Betts, who was given the day off to rest.
Left-hander Alex Vesia surrendered a two-run home run to Buster Posey in the eighth inning, but the Giants’ rally ended there. Kenley Jansen was given the ninth. He continued his recent stretch of dominance, tossing a perfect inning, and hasn’t yielded an earned run in 10 1/3 innings in May.
The veteran closer has been instrumental in the Dodgers’ recent resurgence, the third stanza of their young season. But it all starts with the starting pitching.
Cody Bellinger and Zach McKinstry both began rehabilitation assignments with triple-A Oklahoma City on Friday and remained with the team Saturday, but they didn’t start in the affiliate’s game. McKinstry (oblique) was scheduled to come off the bench, simulating the role he’ll assume at times with the Dodgers once he returns. Bellinger (fibula) was given the day off. On Saturday’s TV broadcast, Roberts said he expects Bellinger to return in seven or eight days. … Right-hander Tony Gonsolin (shoulder) is slated to also begin a rehab assignment with Oklahoma City on Sunday and make a two-inning start. … Roberts said right-hander Brusdar Graterol (forearm) completed a 30-pitch bullpen session Friday and will log another one Tuesday in Houston.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.