LOS ANGELES – A year ago, Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo routinely asked for an extra out or an extra inning from his starting pitchers. They rewarded him with a trip to the postseason. He has tried going back to that playbook this year. The results haven’t been nearly as smooth.
Lovullo’s decision to stick with right-hander Zack Greinke into the eighth inning might have cost the Diamondbacks the game in a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night. Whether it’s an outcome that costs them more than that won’t be known until October.
“That’s not a good one,” Greinke said, “because of where we are in the season.”
BOX SCORE: Dodgers 3, Diamondbacks 2
Each of Lovullo’s decisions in the eighth backfired almost immediately, none more dramatically than when Justin Turner drilled the first pitch he saw from Greinke for a go-ahead solo homer to lead off the bottom of the inning.
The Diamondbacks had a one-run lead, their ace on the mound and seven outs to go to seal a second win in as many nights against one of their chief rivals in the National League West. And then things fell apart.
Greinke had been cruising. Since leaving Los Angeles as a free agent three years ago, Dodger Stadium has not been friendly terrain for Greinke, who had pitched here four times prior to Friday night and struggled in three of them.
For four innings, Greinke skated by mostly on good fortune. The Dodgers were hitting balls hard off him, but most of them had gone for outs. But something clicked starting in the fifth, and he had retired eight of his past nine batters before pinch-hitter Kiké Hernandez came to the plate with two out in the seventh.
On a 2-2 count, Greinke fired a fastball over the heart of the plate. Moments earlier, catcher Jeff Mathis had called for a breaking ball. Greinke shook his head, opting instead for the fastball, and Hernandez made him pay, hammering a game-tying blast to right-center field.
“Just got him in a good spot and got ahead and felt pretty good about throwing that pitch right there,” Greinke said. “Maybe felt too good and got a little too aggressive with it.”
Diamondbacks right-hander Zack Greinke talks about the pitches that Enrique Hernandez and Justin Turner hit for homers on Friday night in L.A.
Due up third in the bottom of the inning, it felt like the end of Greinke’s night. That seemed even more certain when Ketel Marte reached via an error to open the Diamondbacks’ half of the eighth.
Light-hitting catcher Jeff Mathis was up, Greinke on deck, and Lovullo had a decision to make. With a full complement of bench players, his options were wide open.
He stuck with Mathis, who first failed to get a sac bunt down then struck out looking for the first out of the inning. Then he stuck with Greinke, who put down a successful sacrifice, but Steven Souza Jr. followed with a bouncer back to the mound to end the inning.
The decision raised eyebrows everywhere, including on the opposing team.
“I thought it was interesting when he went back out there to sacrifice bunt instead of pinch-hitting for him to try and get some more,” Turner said. “But who knows why stuff happens? You just roll with it.”
With Turner and Manny Machado due up, Greinke then took the mound for the bottom of the inning.
“I felt like he was throwing the ball extremely well and he deserved that opportunity to go out there and face those two right-handed hitters,” Lovullo said. “Those were going to be his last two guys. I liked those matchups.”
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo explains his thought process in sticking with Zack Greinke in the eighth inning on Friday night.
Greinke hung his first pitch, a slider, and Turner hit it out to left field to make it a 3-2 game. It was the third time in four plate appearances Turner had reached safely against Greinke on the night; his lone out came on a liner to third.
“I just felt like I was doing the best thing for the matchups the next inning against the two guys,” Lovullo said. “Zack has done that time and time again as indicated by his track record, so I felt like he was going to get through it.”
A closer look at his track record tells a different story. Since Lovullo took over as manager, he has allowed Greinke to face the opposing team’s lineup for a fourth time on only a handful of occasions. It has rarely gone well. Counting Friday, opponents are 8 for 15 (.533) with a double, a triple and a home run against Greinke in those situations.
Lovullo said he had right-handers Archie Bradley, Yoshihisa Hirano and Brad Ziegler available in the bullpen. He was saving Bradley for the ninth because he wanted to avoid using closer Brad Boxberger, who had pitched the past two days.
It was the second time in the past two weeks the Diamondbacks were burned after Lovullo stuck with his starter. It also happened on Aug. 18 in San Diego, when Lovullo gave Zack Godley too long a leash in a loss to the Padres.
“It’s easy to sit right now and say, knowing what the results are, that we would do it differently,” Lovullo said. “Of course, I would have done it differently had I known what the outcome was.”
There was another obvious reason why the Diamondbacks lost: their offense remained in a deep freeze. Since the first game of the Mariners’ series one week ago, the Diamondbacks’ run totals have been as follows: 3, 3, 5, 0, 0, 3, 3, 2.
On Friday, they did what they’ve done so often in recent weeks, scoring in the first inning only to disappear after that.
Reach Piecoro at (602) 444-8680 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @nickpiecoro.