April 13, 2024

The Dodgers alleviated one big roster question Saturday night.

But, in a 6-5 extra-innings loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, another personnel concern quickly surfaced in its place.

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

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

The bad news for the team: Their biggest bullpen weakness — a lack of reliable options to deploy against left-handed hitters — blew up in their face during a seventh-inning collapse.

Leading by two runs entering the top of the seventh, right-hander Joe Kelly was summoned to face not only the middle of the Cardinals’ underwhelming lineup, but the string of left-handed bats lurking at the bottom of it.

Kelly did himself no favors by walking the leadoff batter and then plunking the next. Catcher Will Smith worsened the jam moments later, committing a catcher’s interference infraction to load 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 in for the four straight left-handed Cardinals hitters due up next (lefties batted just .197 against Kelly last year but posted a troubling .748 OPS)?

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

Roberts chose the former option.

It immediately blew up in the team’s face.

The first left-hander, Alec Burleson, hammered an elevated fastball to right that tied the score.

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

Then, in a briefly confounding sequence that gave the Cardinals the lead, Victor Scott II hit a seemingly routine lineout to left — only for third base umpire Ryan Blakney to call Kelly for a balk that negated the out, and forced the go-ahead run across the plate.

It wasn’t until the Cardinals stretched the lead to 5-2 on a two-run double from Brendan Donovan — the fourth left-handed hitter in a row to come to the plate against Kelly — that Roberts finally turned to Vesia.

He limited the damage by retiring Nolan Gorman, yet another left-handed hitter in the Cardinals’ unbalanced lineup. But by then, it was already too late.

As Kelly exited the field, not even his Mariachi-fueled popularity left him immune from boos, with a crowd of 45,019 expressing its frustration on a night it had already endured a rare 35-minute rain delay — believed to be the first at Dodger Stadium since 2015.

However, the real ire might be better directed at the team’s decision-makers; not only Roberts, but a culpable front office that traded away productive (albeit, hardly unhittable) left-handed relievers Caleb Ferguson and Victor González this offseason without adding any capable replacements.

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

In the seventh inning, Betts doubled and scored on a Smith single, cutting the deficit to 5-3. In the ninth, Betts whacked his fourth home run of the season to trim the Cardinals’ lead to one, before Freddie Freeman, Smith and Max Muncy tied the score with three straight singles.

However, the Dodgers couldn’t complete the rally.

The Cardinals scored their automatic runner in the 10th. The Dodgers stranded the bases loaded in the bottom of the inning, which ended on a routine pop-up from Shohei Ohtani. And, for the first time on home soil this year, the Dodgers were reminded that even $1.4 billion of offseason spending failed to address every hole that could potentially cost them games.

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