LOS ANGELES — With starting pitcher Zach Eflin on the injured list for a start, the Phillies joined the ranks of teams using an “opener” on Saturday night.
Reliever Jose Alvarez made the start against the Los Angeles Dodgers and pitched two scoreless innings before five pitchers finished the game for the Phillies.
Manager Gabe Kapler said he went the route of opener because he believed it gave the Phillies the best chance to win the ballgame.
The Phillies did keep it close but lost the game, 4-3, when Will Smith clubbed a solo homer against Hector Neris with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Smith hit a 3-2 splitter (see story).
The homer was the first of Smith's career.
The Phillies (33-25) will try to avoid a sweep Sunday.
The Dodgers have the best record in the NL at 40-19.
• Phillies pitching kept the game close and that enabled them to tie it on Bryce Harper’s two-run homer against lefty Julio Urias with one out in the top of the eighth.
• Defense helped the Phillies. Catcher J.T. Realmuto showed a lightning quick release in gunning down Cody Bellinger trying to steal second in a tie game in the bottom of the eighth. Huge play.
• Defense also hurt the Phillies. It cost them two runs in a close game.
In the third inning, Max Muncy plunked a base hit in front of centerfielder Scott Kingery. Kingery was playing deep for the power-hitting Muncy, but the ball appeared catchable. It fell in and Muncy scored the Dodgers’ first run after a walk and a hit.
In the seventh, Vince Velasquez was trying to keep the Phillies’ deficit at a run when he threw away an attempted pick off to second base. The error allowed runners on first and second to move up, setting up a sacrifice fly by Muncy as the Dodgers went up by two runs.
• Clayton Kershaw might not be as dominant as he was in his (three) Cy Young years, but he’s still pretty darn good. He pitched seven innings of one-run ball for the Dodgers. He struck out six and walked none. Kershaw gave up a leadoff double to Kingery in the seventh then got three quick outs to protect a one-run lead. He struck out pinch-hitter Sean Rodriguez to end the frame. Phillies pinch-hitters are 14 for 92 (.152) on the season.
The series concludes on Sunday afternoon. Nick Pivetta (3-1, 7.71) faces lefty Rich Hill (1-1, 2.73).
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