LOS ANGELES: In early April, Ross Stripling stood five outs from becoming only the second pitcher to throw a no-hitter in his major-league debut.
At the end of the month, the Dodgers’ rookie couldn’t get out of the fifth inning.
In the Dodgers’ 5-2 loss to the San Diego Padres on Saturday night (Sunday in Manila), Stripling surrendered five runs on seven hits over 4 2/3 innings.
It was the sixth consecutive defeat for the Dodgers, who saw their record drop to 12-13, and marked the first time they have been under .500 at the end of April since 2010, a year where they went on to go 80-82 and finish in fourth place in the National League West.
Because the San Francisco Giants lost Saturday as well, they remained in a tie for first place in the division.
“If you asked any of us when the season started, if we’d be happy with being in first place, record notwithstanding, I think we’d all sign up for that,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
On a whiteboard in the clubhouse, Adrian Gonzalez channeled a similar message, writing, “Can’t Hit – (Stinks), Lose 6 in a row – (sinks), Still in 1st Place – Priceless, Perspective Win Tomorrow!”
Stripling faced a heap of trouble in the fifth inning, as San Diego regained the lead for good. The right-hander gave up a pair of two-out walks to Will Myers and Matt Kemp, his only two of the game. Louis Coleman was warming up in the bullpen, but Stripling stayed in. Myers loaded up on a 3-1 count against Stripling. He had an RBI double in his previous at-bat for the Padres’ first run of the game, as did Kemp.
“I just didn’t want to lay another cookie in there 0-0,” Stripling said. “He’s ready to swing every time he comes up. With Kemp, he already hit the ball hard in the first and the double in the third. I just considered Myers on first a runner in scoring position with the way he can put it in the gap, so I was just being too cautious.”
On the eighth pitch of the next at-bat, the Padres’ cleanup hitter Melvin Upton Jr., who had just one hit in his last 12 at-bats, knocked a double into the right-center field gap to bring in Myers and Kemp. For Kemp, the former Dodger, he is 3 for 8 this series with three runs.
Stripling had not given up more than three runs in his four previous starts. His ERA rose to 4.33 and is sitting at 5.63 since his celebrated debut on April 8 at San Francisco.
“As far as a plateau, I think he’s only going to get better,” Roberts said.
But there was as much fixation on the offense, which continued to struggle at the plate. The Dodgers have scored just 11 runs in the past six games and not more than three in any of them.
Speaking with reporters afterward, Roberts stressed patience, saying, “We have to continue to stay the course.”
“In baseball, you can’t beat somebody over the head,” he added. “You can’t yell at them. As a hitter, you can’t get more mad. That doesn’t equate to getting better. It actually works against you. For us, we’ve talked about routine, consistency, and that’s what the guys are doing.”
And they continued to strand runners.
In the bottom of the second, Yasmani Grandal and Kiké Hernandez advanced to third base and second base with one out, but Joc Pederson grounded into a double play.
For the homestand, with one game left Sunday, they are 2 for 36 with runners in scoring position.
The lone bright spot came from Chase Utley. The 37-year-old infielder hit his first home run in 82 at-bats this season in the third when he stroked a two-run home run 413 feet into the right-field bleachers. Utley’s last home run came on Sept. 23, 2015.
They had just one hit after that — a triple in the fourth by Carl Crawford, who failed to make it home when Stripling struck out to end the inning. Only two batters reached base over the final five innings, both of them via walks.
The bullpen, a source of continued frustration for the club, did keep the game within reach.
After Chris Hatcher and Kenley Jansen gave up a combined four runs in two innings the before, the Dodgers’ bullpen tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings Saturday and gave up just two hits.
Hatcher came in for the final out of the seventh inning, walking Upton Jr. before getting Alexei Ramirez to ground out.