By Sonja Chen
SAN FRANCISCO — The Dodgers have already locked down the NL West and are trending in the right direction to secure home-field advantage throughout their entire playoff run — all with 19 games remaining in the regular season.
But that doesn’t mean they’ll phone it in until the calendar flips to October. As manager Dave Roberts said prior to the series opener in San Francisco, the team holds itself to a “certain standard of play.”
That standard is pretty darn high.
The Dodgers beat the Giants, 5-0, to kick off this season’s final edition of the L.A.-S.F. rivalry — which the Dodgers have dominated, going 13-4 against the Giants so far in 2022. The Los Angeles pitching staff was particularly solid on Friday night, two-hitting San Francisco’s lineup and combining for the club’s 14th shutout win of the season.
The Dodgers’ strong night on the mound was led by right-hander Dustin May, who dazzled across five hitless innings. Friday night marked May’s fifth start since returning from Tommy John surgery — and it might have been his best so far.
Though May was originally scheduled to start earlier in the week, the Dodgers opted to push him back a few days and cap him around 75-80 pitches. Roberts clarified that May had experienced some arm soreness after his Sept. 9 start, which is why the team made the “overly cautious” decision to restrict his workload.
Though May’s lights-out performance might have made the decision to stick to that plan more difficult, Roberts held true to his word and lifted his starter at 69 pitches ahead of the sixth inning.
“Getting him out of the game feeling good is the win,” Roberts said. “Considering how he threw the baseball the last couple times, building off tonight, going on regular rest his next turn [instead] was the smart decision.”
Lefty Alex Vesia then entered the game and retired his first two batters to keep the no-no intact, but he lost it on the softest-hit ball of the game, a 53.9 mph grounder off the bat of Giants right fielder Luis González that went for an infield single.
Though a no-hitter would have been a feather in the Dodgers’ cap in an already-impressive 2022, it ultimately didn’t matter that they gave up a pair of knocks to the Giants. The Dodgers had already built a solid lead by that point, tagging Giants right-hander Logan Webb for four runs and chasing him after four innings.
“That [three-run] fourth inning, considering who we were facing, was one of the best offensive innings we’ve had,” Roberts said. “You’re talking about situational hitting, you’re talking about two-strike hitting, you’re talking about good baserunning. That inning right there did ’em in.”
The Dodgers are optimistic that May can use Friday’s abbreviated outing to build some positive momentum for the remainder of the regular season — and beyond.
In May’s first two starts of 2022, the right-hander allowed two runs (one earned) over 11 innings while striking out 13 and walking three. His next two starts weren’t quite as sharp — May gave up 10 runs (nine earned) over 10 innings while striking out eight and walking eight.
May gave up one free pass on Friday, yielding his only baserunner of the game. What was different between then and his previous two starts?
“I threw strikes,” May said, “plain and simple.”
“I thought the cutter command was much better,” Roberts said. “The changeup was in play more than it has been in any of his starts. … They mixed really well, he and Will [Smith], and just overall command was what you hope for.”
The oft-repeated feeling is that command is one of the last things to return after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and that has been true for May in his abbreviated 2022 season.
“It’s not that I was lacking feel,” May said. “I just wasn’t throwing it where I wanted to.”
Friday night’s version of May — the one with electric stuff and pinpoint command — is exactly what the Dodgers need to bolster their playoff rotation. And they’re encouraged to see May find that form as September bleeds away and October rapidly approaches.
“We expect that out of all our guys who go out there,” said Justin Turner, who went 2-for-4 and hit his career-high 35th double of the season. “Pound the zone, be aggressive, not walk guys. That certainly helps the rotation if he’s going to go out and pitch like that.”