Dodgers’ late meltdown leads to second straight loss to Nationals – Daily News

LOS ANGELES ― If the San Francisco Giants have the unfortunate gift of bringing out the best in the Dodgers, a team they must play 19 times this season, the Washington Nationals are doing the opposite.

For the second night in a row, the National League’s worst team exposed the weakest links in the Dodgers’ mighty arsenal. A throwing error by Gavin Lux in the eighth inning preceded a two-run homer by Luis Garcia, the decisive blow in the Dodgers’ 8-3 loss before an announced crowd of 53,302 at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers (64-32) have lost consecutive games to Washington (34-65) on the heels of eight straight wins – the last four against their historic rivals from San Francisco.

“We had some opportunities to break through and put together an inning, put up some crooked numbers, but we didn’t,” Manager Dave Roberts said. “Against teams that are below .500, I really wish I had the solution.”

The Dodgers are 3-8 this season against the Nationals and the Pittsburgh Pirates (40-58). They’re 61-24 against the rest of MLB.

They were leading 3-2 after seven innings Tuesday when Roberts called in left-hander Garrett Cleavinger to face switch-hitting slugger Josh Bell. It was a curious choice on the surface.

Cleavinger had not appeared in a major league game since May 14. His last appearance for the Dodgers before that was on April 24. He was only recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City earlier in the day, swapping spots with struggling right-hander Reyes Moronta. He said he arrived at the ballpark around 5 p.m. for the 7 p.m. game.

Afterward, Roberts said he was trying not to use three of his higher-leverage relief pitchers: Evan Phillips, Alex Vesia and David Price. A fourth reliever, Caleb Ferguson, pitched Monday night and hasn’t appeared in consecutive games this season – his first since recovering from Tommy John surgery.

In effect, then, the Dodgers were missing half of their bullpen.

To his credit, Cleavinger did his job against the first three batters he faced. Bell hit the first pitch he saw on a straight line to Lux. The second baseman barely moved to field the ball, then inexplicably threw wide of first baseman Freddie Freeman’s glove. Bell slid in under Freeman’s tag and Lux was credited with an error, his sixth as a second baseman this season.

“It was a throw that got away,” Roberts said. “He knows he should’ve made the play but Gavin’s played the heck out of second base for us.”

“It happens,” Cleavinger said. “I know one hundred times out of the next chances (Lux) gets, he makes that play every time. It just happens. I did my best to try and pick him up. I couldn’t finish the job, I missed one pitch and it cost us. It’s a big blow for me, not being able to get it done for these guys. It’s a tough one for me.”

Cleavinger struck out pinch hitter Nelson Cruz and Keibert Ruiz for two quick outs. Garcia, a left-handed hitter, had hit only two homers in 45 games to begin the season. Yet he turned on a hanging two-strike slider from Cleavinger and clobbered it into the right-field bleachers. Both runs were unearned by virtue of Lux’s error.

Down 4-3, Cleavinger came back for the ninth inning and allowed four more runs, all earned.

The shocking finish spoiled a strong start by Dodgers right-hander Mitch White and a near-heroic effort by Mookie Betts. Trea Turner (2 for 4) and Freddie Freeman (1 for 3) each extended their hitting streaks to 13 games, and Cody Bellinger hit his 13th home run of the season against Nats starter Josiah Gray.

After Monday’s loss to the Nationals, in which Betts went 0 for 5 with two strikeouts, Roberts remarked that Betts looked “a little out of sync.” Betts took a rare round of batting practice on the field prior to Tuesday’s rematch.

Betts announced his presence quickly. He led off the game with a home run for the 34th time in his career. Later, in right field, he threw out Victor Robles trying to score from second base on a single; his mere presence appeared to hinder the Nationals from tagging up and scoring on another fly ball.

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