June 21, 2024

Wednesday was supposed to be a bullpen game for the Dodgers.

But then, in their series finale against the San Francisco Giants, an unexpected pitchers’ duel broke out at Oracle Park instead.

The Giants prevailed in a 4-1 win, avoiding a three-game sweep behind a scoreless six-inning gem from right-handed ace Logan Webb.

But, in what was originally planned to be yet another bullpen game for the Dodgers — who have adopted the routine at the end of each turn through their rotation, to give their starting pitchers an extra day of rest — the team instead received a pleasant surprise in the form of Elieser Hernández, a 29-year-old former Miami Marlins pitcher who was making his first MLB appearance since 2022.

Hernández didn’t match Webb’s brilliance, giving up three runs in the Dodgers’ first loss to the Giants (20-25) this season (the team was previously 5-0 in the rivalry).

But, on the kind of day the Dodgers (29-16) have typically taxed their banged-up bullpen this year, Hernández navigated through six full innings, filling up the bottom of the strike zone with low-90s mph fastballs, late-biting changeups and swing-and-miss cutters.

“He’s got a few years of major-league service time,” Roberts said of Hernández, who had a 5.04 ERA in five seasons with the Marlins from 2018-22. “So this is not new to him.”

Despite that, don’t get used to watching Hernández pitch.

His outing was the definition of a spot start, after he was called up from triple-A Oklahoma City on Wednesday afternoon. It was still marred by a Mike Yastrzemski two-run homer in the third and an RBI double by Heliot Ramos in the sixth. And it’s doubtful Hernández will be in the Dodgers’ plans again anytime soon, with the team likely to refresh its bullpen ahead of the start of this weekend’s homestand.

But, the kind of outing Hernández provided could become a preview of things potentially to come.

Right now, the Dodgers have five established starters on their roster: Tyler Glasnow, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, James Paxton, Gavin Stone and the recently returned Walker Buehler.

Within the next couple of weeks, they might need to work in a sixth, with Bobby Miller working his way back from a shoulder injury (he pitched two innings of live batting practice at the club’s Arizona complex Wednesday afternoon).

That means, the days of the Dodgers’ bullpen games could be numbered.

And while pivoting to a six-man rotation would come with costs — most notably, leaving the club one reliever short in the bullpen, permanently — Hernández’s effort showcased the possible benefits, too, saving much of the team’s bullpen during this stretch of 13-straight games.

The Dodgers did have chances to make Wednesday a victorious getaway day. But, in a common theme in their defeats this year, they squandered too many opportunities at the plate.

After loading the bases with one out in the first inning, the Dodgers came away with nothing thanks to a Max Muncy strikeout and Teoscar Hernández lineout. Hernández then nearly homered in the fourth inning, but watched center fielder Luis Matos rob him of it with a leaping grab at the wall instead.

The Dodgers did manage one run in the eighth inning, after back-to-back singles from Freddie Freeman (who reached base three times) and Will Smith set up Muncy for a sacrifice fly.

But in the ninth, they let one last chance at a comeback go by the wayside, when Freeman grounded out with two runners on base to end the game.

In all, the Dodgers left 11 men on base and went hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position.

And after dropping a series in San Diego over the weekend, the team finished its California road trip with a 3-3 record.

More pitching decisions await the Dodgers when they return home this weekend.

While Glasnow, Paxton and Buehler were scheduled to pitch the first three games of a series against the Cincinnati Reds, Sunday’s starter was listed as TBD, with the Dodgers deciding whether to give Yamamoto — the offseason signing who pitched once per week during his career in Japan — an extra sixth day of rest before his 10th start of the season.

That means, at least one more time, a bullpen game could be in the cards for the Dodgers.

But, even in a losing effort Wednesday, there were reminders that a six-man rotation might not be the worst alternative.

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