When a team is struggling, a starting pitcher like Alex Wood can fan a career-high 13 in only six-plus innings, something no Dodgers pitcher has ever done, then watch the game get away from 34-year-old Taiwanese journeyman reliever Chin-hui Tsao, who walked the last three batters he faced in the 11th inning in San Diego's 3-2 walk-off-walk win.
"We're finding different ways to lose games and I haven't seen this one," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, whose club has lost four straight and six of seven, dropping 4 1/2 games out of first. "It's a tough one and to try to defend it, having a hard time."
One night after closer Kenley Jansen served up Melvin Upton Jr.'s walk-off homer, Roberts defended his use of Tsao, who wasn't even invited to Major League camp in Spring Training, but was promoted this week as a reinforcement for the beleaguered bullpen.
"He had two outs and the wheels came off a little bit with Tsao and he couldn't find the strike zone," said Roberts. "He had two days off after an inning in Anaheim where he really threw the ball well, really well. He's here for a reason, to pitch, so with the [bullpen] use we've had, I went with the stuff, and we have to see what we have with the guys that are here. Two outs, a guy on second base and I felt good about him getting an out."
He didn't. Tsao faced six batters, retired two, allowed three walks and a single.
"I think he was attacking early, then he was around the zone, but not too many were in the zone," said A.J. Ellis, who caught Tsao. "I think they recognized it and got extremely patient."
By dramatic contrast, Wood retired 18, 13 by strikeout and walked only one, although that turned into one of the two runs he was charged with. The other reached on a broken-bat double. Both scored on sacrifice flies.
Although winless since April 13, Wood has a 2.76 ERA in his last five starts with 43 strikeouts and five walks, crediting a mechanical adjustment that reduced the lift of his lead leg.
"It's the consistency of all my pitches, to get ahead and throw all three when and where I want them," he said. "When I can do that, it turns into punchouts and more importantly keeps guys off the bases. I'm getting to the point where I'm not having to think about it as much, keeping that foot closer to the ground. It's becoming muscle memory."
"He's been getting better and better as the season's gone on," said Yasmani Grandal, who caught Wood's innings before leaving with a bruised right foot. "It was pretty exciting seeing him throw first time in Spring Training, knowing he's got it in there. It was a matter of how do we get it out? It seems like as he's gone on, he's improving more and more. Sky's the limit for him."