Dave Roberts defends Dodgers' pitching changes against Braves despite criticism

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Atlanta, GA - October 17: Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, left, relieves starting pitcher Max Scherzer during the fifth inning in game two in the 2021 National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021 in Atlanta, GA.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts relieves starting pitcher Max Scherzer during the fifth inning in Game 2 of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on Sunday in Atlanta. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Dave Roberts knew there “could be a cost” to having Max Scherzer close Game 5 of the National League Division Series last Thursday, and the bill came due Sunday night when Scherzer, complaining of a “dead arm,” lasted only 4-1/3 innings in a 5-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series.

The decision to use 20-game winner Julio Urías in the eighth inning Sunday night also came with a potential price. The Dodgers might push the left-hander’s next start from Game 3 to Game 4 to give Urías an extra day of rest after he was roughed up for two runs and three hits and failed to preserve a 4-2 lead.

“There’s certainly a cost, absolutely, but if we didn’t go with Max [to finish off the San Francisco Giants] we might not be having this conversation right now,” Roberts said on Monday’s off day before Game 3 in Dodger Stadium on Tuesday. “And we had to get to a point to win that game [Sunday] and sort of figure it out.

“Things can’t be scripted. You’ve got to sometimes go off script to what we feel, what I feel is the best chance to win a game, let alone a particular series.”

The Dodgers were heavily criticized for their improvisational approach in Game 2. After scoring twice in the seventh to take a lead, they needed nine outs to tie the series one game apiece.

They had five quality arms — Phil Bickford, Justin Bruihl, Brusdar Graterol, setup man Blake Treinen and closer Kenley Jansen — left in a bullpen that Roberts called the best he has taken into a postseason.

With the bottom third of Atlanta’s order due up in the seventh, the logical course would have been 100-mph-throwing Graterol in the seventh, Treinen against the top of the order in the eighth and Jansen in the ninth.

Treinen pitched the seventh and needed nine pitches to retire three batters. But instead of leaving the right-hander in for the eighth, Roberts handed the ball to Urías, who threw 59 pitches in Game 5 against the Giants. Ozzie Albies’ RBI single and Austin Riley’s RBI double tied the score 4-4.

Graterol started the ninth and gave up a leadoff single and two groundouts, the second advancing Dansby Swanson to second base. Jansen entered, and his first pitch was smacked to center field for a walk-off RBI single by Eddie Rosario.

Roberts was asked Monday how he would respond to the perception, built over several Octobers, that the Dodgers tend to overthink and almost outsmart themselves with their postseason pitching decisions.

Atlanta Braves teammates Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies celebrate after scoring the tying run.
Atlanta Braves teammates Freddie Freeman, left, and Ozzie Albies celebrate after scoring the tying run in the eighth inning against Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in Game 2 of the NLCS. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“That’s certainly something that’s alive,” Roberts said. “It’s something we’ve kind of had to deal with all year, every year, as far as the way we go about how we manage a roster or how we go about playing games and using pitchers.

“It’s more magnified in the postseason, which I absolutely understand. But again, just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s wrong. A decision that doesn’t work out doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision.

That's the great thing about baseball, man, that it opens things up for second-guessing. It's not basketball. It's not a missed shot. It's not football, a play that wasn't executed. It's a lot of different variables that you can think through, second-guess.”

The cold corner

A neck stinger that knocked Justin Turner out of the starting lineup for the first time in 77 postseason games Sunday is not expected to sideline the Dodgers third baseman Tuesday. Roberts said “my expectation” is that Turner will be in the lineup for Game 3.

Turner hit .278 with 27 homers and 87 RBIs this season, but has been slowed by a left-groin injury since early August, bruised by several pitches that have hit him and now is dealing with a neck that was so stiff he couldn’t turn his head to the right Sunday.

Have those nagging injuries contributed to Turner’s .107 average (three for 28), one homer, one RBI and seven strikeouts in eight playoff games this month?

“With all that he’s gone through, it certainly hasn’t been easy, and it’s certainly been a grind,” Roberts said. “But I think he’s just so mentally tough to kind of get through it all, to be present and to put his best foot forth in a particular game.”

Clutching pearls

Braves manager Brian Snitker, who turned 66 on Sunday and has spent more than four decades in professional baseball, on the pearl necklace outfielder Joc Pederson has worn since mid-September:

“Was I raised like that in the game? No, but these guys, they’re a different generation, and they have fun with it. And they’re going to have fun playing baseball. God, what a novel idea to do something like that, and you’re not hurting anybody.

“You look at the big screen in Atlanta, and you’ve got all these big, rough, tough guys and they got pearls on. And all the ladies went in their jewelry boxes and got their pearls out. So, shoot, I’m fine with it. I’m not going to wear them, but …”

Atlanta Braves' Joc Pederson celebrates while rounding the bases off a two-run home run.
Atlanta Braves' Joc Pederson celebrates while rounding the bases off a two-run home run during the fourth inning in Game 2 of the NLCS against the Dodgers on Sunday in Atlanta. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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