SAN DIEGO — Entering the top of the fifth inning on Friday night, Padres starter Nick Martinez had not allowed a run, and, considering the way his night had gone, that was no small feat. Martinez had walked five Dodgers. He’d spent most of the game pitching with traffic on the basepaths.
And, yet, Martinez had pitched his way out of that traffic, too, putting up only zeros as the Dodgers began their third trip through the order. The Padres clung tightly to a one-run lead.
Twenty-three fateful pitches later, that one-run lead was a one-run deficit. Manager Bob Melvin had emerged from the dugout to take the ball from Martinez’s hand, perhaps a batter too late, and the Padres were on their way to a 6-1 defeat in their first matchup against their Southern California rivals this season.
“I was just kicking myself … out there,” Martinez said. “I was falling behind guys and putting myself in bad situations.”
Leading off the fifth, Mookie Betts finally made Martinez pay. Betts demolished a solo shot on a 2-1 cutter that hung over the middle of the plate. Martinez retired the next two hitters. But the second out of the fifth inning was a grind of an at-bat by Trea Turner.
Martinez finally won that duel, getting Turner to ground to third base with the 10th pitch. But his pitch count had climbed to 99. The lefty-hitting Max Muncy was due up, and Melvin had a decision to make. He stuck with Martinez. Three pitches later, Muncy sent a towering home run into the right-field seats.
In a different setting, Melvin might’ve dipped into his bullpen a bit earlier. But this was one game in April. Melvin was managing with the big picture in mind, taking the burden off his bullpen and putting his trust in his starter.
“I was trying to get him through the fifth,” said Melvin. “It was two out, nobody on, I’m trying to get him through the fifth, so we don’t have to [go to the bullpen]. It ended up being another run, but we didn’t do too terribly much offensively.”
Indeed, aside from Wil Myers’ RBI groundout in the second inning, the Padres offense didn’t do much of anything. No matter who’s on the mound, it’s hard to win games with one run of support, particularly against this Dodgers offense.
“This offense has not hit its stride yet,” Myers said. “There’s plenty more left in the tank with the guys we have. But we’ve definitely got to find it.”
The Padres have made up for their lack of offense with pitching and clean defense, but they did neither of those things on Friday night.
Sure, their season-opening errorless streak remains intact (now a record-setting 15 games). But Myers misplayed a first-inning line drive to right field into a Freddie Freeman single. Shortstop Ha-Seong Kim misplayed a second-inning chopper into a Chris Taylor single. Those miscues cost Martinez precious pitches. They let the Dodgers cycle back to the top of their order faster.
Pair that with Martinez’s trouble finding the strike zone, and he would be throwing his 102nd pitch to Muncy in the fifth inning. Perhaps, then, it’s no coincidence that his fastball missed its spot that badly.
“I felt fine,” Martinez said. “With that fastball, I just caught myself in between pitches and left it over the middle. Whenever you’re in between pitches at this level, it always seems like it’s an extra-base hit.”
If nothing else, the series-opening showdown against the Dodgers seemed to offer some insight into Melvin’s managerial style. Beyond the Martinez decision, we got a glimpse into Melvin’s aggressiveness with his bench pieces, a trademark of his in Oakland.
Without a pitcher’s spot in the lineup, the need to preserve those bench pieces in the NL has been greatly minimized. So Melvin pinch-ran with José Azocar for Luke Voit in the sixth inning. Two innings later, he pinch-hit with the lefty-hitting Matt Beaty for Azocar in the eighth, then subbed Jorge Alfaro in when the Dodgers went to a left-hander to face Beaty.
“We’re down at that point, and we’re trying to score a run,” Melvin said of his decision to use Azocar on the bases. “I felt like I had decent matchups in the DH spot later, and we could mix and match there a little bit. We were doing the best we can to try and get a run.”
That run never came, and the Dodgers put the game out of reach with three runs in the seventh and Betts’ second home run of the night in the ninth.