Dodgers don't go with bullpen game after all but still fall to Giants and Logan Webb

Wednesday was expected to be a bullpen game for the Dodgers. But instead, in their series finale against the San Francisco Giants, an unexpected pitchers’ duel broke out at Oracle Park.

The Giants prevailed 4-1, avoiding a three-game sweep behind six scoreless innings from ace right-hander Logan Webb.

But the Dodgers — who have adopted the bullpen game routine at the end of each turn through their rotation, to give their starters an extra day of rest — received a pleasant surprise in the form of Elieser Hernández, a 29-year-old former Miami Marlins pitcher making his first major league appearance since 2022.

Hernández didn’t match Webb’s brilliance, giving up three runs in the Dodgers’ first loss to the Giants (20-25) in six games this season. But, on the kind of day the Dodgers (29-16) typically have taxed their undermanned relief corps, the right-hander navigated six innings, filling up the bottom of the strike zone with low-90s fastballs, late-biting changeups and swing-and-miss cutters in a solid, bullpen-saving start.

“I don’t think we could have done a much better job of preventing runs,” manager Dave Roberts said of Hernández, who had a 5.04 earned-run average in five seasons with the Marlins from 2018 to 2022 and signed with the Dodgers this offseason. “We had our guys available [for a bullpen game], but just with the way he was throwing the baseball, and then with them catching a lead, it made sense to try to stretch him out more.”

Indeed, had the Dodgers taken advantage of a first-inning, bases-loaded opportunity against Webb, Roberts’ game plan might have played out differently. But it was one of several missed opportunities on a night they left 11 men on base and went hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Then, when they fell behind in the third inning on a two-run home run from Mike Yastrzemski that just caught the short porch down the right field line — a ball that catcher Will Smith noted is a “pop fly in most places” — Roberts let Hernández pitch to exhaustion.

It went well enough, and Hernández will stick around as a long reliever.

“It was really exciting,” said Hernández, who made only eight minor-league appearances in the New York Mets’ organization last year while battling injuries. “The important thing is that I’m healthy now and enjoying the opportunity they’re giving me … Who doesn’t want to be here?”

Hernández’s outing also offered a potential preview of things to come for the Dodgers’ ever-evolving pitching staff.

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 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 — Hernández’s effort showcased the possible benefits too, saving much of the bullpen during this run of 13 straight games.

“We did a nice job saving our leverage guys,” Roberts said. “So yeah, it wasn’t a bullpen game. I guess that was fortunate.”

The Dodgers could have a similar decision to make on the horizon, with their starting pitcher for Sunday’s upcoming series finale against the Cincinnati Reds undecided.

That day is lined up for Yamamoto to pitch on his typical five days of rest. Though, with the newcomer still adjusting from his previous once-per-week schedule in Japan, Roberts said the club is considering giving him an extra day between outings.

Usually, that would mean a bullpen game. But now, the Dodgers finally are starting to have more pitching options.

Hernández won’t be ready to pitch Sunday, but another minor-league arm, Landon Knack, might. Miller could be ready to rejoin the rotation relatively soon after. And the days of the Dodgers needing tiring, patchwork bullpen game plans might almost be a thing of the past.

Heyward update

Jason Heyward (back) played the second game of his rehab assignment Wednesday with triple-A Oklahoma City, going hitless in three at-bats with a walk and a running catch in right field.

Roberts said it’s possible Heyward, who has been out since March 30, won’t need any further rehab games. But, the team will evaluate how he is feeling in the coming days.

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