Max Muncy’s two home runs lift Dodgers to victory
LOS ANGELES ― The Dodgers mustered only two hits against a pitcher who awoke Saturday with an ERA above 7.00. They failed to collect a hit with a runner in scoring position because they never had a runner in scoring position to begin with.
The Dodgers beat the Cincinnati Reds anyway, 3-2. Their two hits added up to 771 feet of home runs for Max Muncy – a two-run shot in the first inning and a go-ahead solo shot in the sixth, the only hits allowed by right-hander Luke Weaver.
Dodgers starter Emmet Sheehan threw five scoreless innings himself, but the game nearly turned in the sixth. The Reds rallied for a pair of runs against reliever Caleb Ferguson, tying the score at 2-all.
Joe Kelly, in his first appearance since the Dodgers acquired him a day earlier from the Chicago White Sox, halted the rally in its tracks when he struck out Will Benson to end the inning.
Then in the bottom of the sixth, Muncy swung away at a 3-and-0 pitch and hit his second two-out home run of the game into the Reds’ bullpen, giving the Dodgers a 3-2 lead. Brusdar Graterol and Evan Phillips divvied up the final three innings without allowing a run, and the victory was secure.
Muncy got the green light from Manager Dave Roberts to swing away on a 3-and-0 count.
“We get the green light quite a bit, but they usually trust me knowing that I’m not going to just swing to swing,” Muncy said. “If it’s a pitch right where I’m looking, I’ll take a hack at it. But I’ve taken plenty of 3-0 strikes this year when I’ve had the green light.”
The win allowed the Dodgers (59-44) to maintain their three-game lead on the second-place San Francisco Giants in the National League West.
“Max is a big cog in what we’re trying to do, and it was pretty much Max Muncy and Emmet versus the Reds tonight,” Roberts said. “We couldn’t figure out Weaver, clearly, but we scored enough runs to win a ball game.”
Muncy’s fifth multi-homer game of 2023 gave him 27 home runs for the season, matching Mookie Betts for the team lead and giving him more homers than all but four major league hitters.
David Peralta was a late addition to the lineup replacing Mookie Betts, who has a sore right foot. He began the first inning by reaching on a fielding error by Reds third baseman Spencer Steer, then was forced out at second after a ground ball by Freddie Freeman.
With two outs in the inning, Muncy blasted a 400-foot homer halfway up the bleachers in right-center field to give the Dodgers a quick 2-0 lead.
Sheehan appeared determined to make that lead hold up. The rookie twirled five shutout innings in what might have been his final major league start of 2023. With the Dodgers set to welcome Lance Lynn to their starting rotation Tuesday or Wednesday, and welcome back Clayton Kershaw a short time after that, the 23-year-old rookie figures to continue his development in the minor leagues after Tuesday’s trade deadline.
Saturday’s start was not Sheehan’s best, but only because he threw six no-hit innings against the Giants in his major league debut. Sheehan looked progressively more hittable in each of his next five starts. In his sixth major league start, the Texas Rangers erupted for eight runs against Sheehan last weekend in Arlington.
Sheehan’s fastball was consistently registering 94-95 mph on the radar gun in that game, but he was up to 98 mph for the first inning Saturday. He began the night by striking out rookie sensation Elly De La Cruz on three pitches and allowed only three baserunners (two hits, one walk) while facing the Reds two times through the batting order.
After his disastrous outing in Texas, Sheehan made some adjustments to his delivery. More than that, he said, his mental approach made the difference against Cincinnati.
“Just being on the attack and trusting my stuff in the zone,” he explained. “I think before I was a little on the defensive and that’s not the way I like to pitch.”
Sheehan lowered his ERA to 5.77 but ended his seven-start debut on a high note.
“He’s not a finished product,” Roberts said of Sheehan. “He would be the first to say that. He was thrust into this position because of injuries, and his performance, to his credit. To go from Double-A to here, there’s a lot of things – game management, sequencing, third time through (the batting order), better hitters – all this stuff that we’ve had to throw him into the fire. Overall it’s been a really good thing.”
The Reds had a much easier time with Ferguson than with Sheehan. De La Cruz roped a double to center field to begin the sixth inning. TJ Freidl legged out a weakly hit infield single, sending De La Cruz to third. Ferguson struck out Jake Fraley, but pinch hitter Kevin Newman lofted a fly ball to right field.
Jason Heyward caught the ball with his momentum carrying him toward home plate, but his throw airmailed the cutoff man and the Dodgers’ catcher, Will Smith. That allowed Freidl to tag up and go to second base. When the next batter, Steer, singled to center field, Freidl was able to score easily. The score was tied 2-2.
Ferguson walked Joey Votto before Roberts called on Kelly to put out the fire. After jogging out to a thunderous ovation from the announced crowd of 51,015, the former Dodger (2019-21) walked Christian Encarnacion-Strand to load the bases.
Kelly got behind Benson 1-and-0 before throwing three consecutive strikes – the last two a pair of fastballs at 100 and 99 mph, respectively – to notch the strikeout.
“The crowd, it was awesome,” Kelly said. “It helped with the four hours of sleep I got last night. I was a little bit groggy, but when it comes time to pitch it’s always an adrenaline rush.”
The Reds had the potential tying run at second in the eighth. Matt McLain singled off Graterol and took second on Newman’s groundout. After Graterol struck out Spencer Steer, Phillips came on and retired Joey Votto on a groundout to first to end the inning.
Phillips got the final four outs to earn his 13th save.