The Dodgers suffered their first shutout in 74 games Wednesday.
It wasn’t for a lack of chances late in the game.
In each of the final two innings, the Dodgers had runners on first and second with one out — a base hit away both times from erasing a one-run deficit against the Washington Nationals.
However, the team came up empty in each situation, sealing a 1-0 defeat at Nationals Park that denied them the chance of a series sweep and squandered an impressive six-inning, one-run start from left-hander Julio Urías.
On a day Mookie Betts, Will Smith and Cody Bellinger were all out of the Dodgers starting lineup — Betts and Smith both had scheduled days off, while Bellinger didn’t start for a second straight game because of an illness — all three still had important at-bats off the bench late.
Betts was summoned to lead off in the eighth, but struck out looking. The Dodgers manufactured a chance later in the frame, after Trea Turner singled and stole second, and Freddie Freeman was intentionally walked.
But Justin Turner popped out and Edwin Ríos struck out swinging.
Though manager Dave Roberts said he briefly considered it, Betts wasn’t kept in the game for the final inning.
Keeping Betts’ streaking bat — he was batting .345 this month and hit two home runs Tuesday — out of the lineup in the first place had been the more difficult decision for Roberts on Wednesday.
“It’s certainly not easy to rest a player of his magnitude,” he said.
While Roberts said Betts still wanted to play, despite making 40 starts in the team’s first 42 games, the manager had also been planning to give him a day off this week. And even with the hindsight of the shutout defeat, Roberts said postgame he would have made the same decision.
“I’m the first advocate to say that every game is important and you try to win every game, but there are costs,” Roberts said. “I do believe that in the short and longer term, he’s going to stay healthy and it’s going to allow him to be more productive the rest of the way.”
Roberts acknowledged that, “in a vacuum, for one game, to not have him in the lineup, could it have made a difference? Sure. But I still have confidence in the guys we ran out there.”
“And,” Roberts added, “we still had chances.”
Perhaps none was bigger than in the top of the ninth, when the Dodgers had the tying and go-ahead runs on base with one out.
Bellinger had the first chance to save the day, having entered the game in the seventh after battling a cough and other symptoms the last couple days (Bellinger said postgame he is feeling good enough to start in this weekend’s series in Arizona).
After getting ahead in the count against Nationals closer Tanner Rainey, however, Bellinger flied out to center.
Had Betts stayed in the game, his spot in the order would have come up next. Instead, it was Smith who stepped to the plate for the first time all day, scorching a deep fly ball to right only to watch it die at the edge of the wall.
It was the Dodgers’ ninth at-bat of the day with a runner in scoring position. They failed to record a hit in any of them.
“Over the course of 162, I think that’s gonna happen,” Bellinger said. “It’s just one of those days.”
Earlier in the day, Urías had kept the Dodgers in the game. He didn’t give up a hit through four innings. The lone run he gave up didn’t come until the sixth, after a walk, bunt single and RBI hit from César Hernández to begin the inning.
Urías still got through the frame. With one out, he froze Nationals star Juan Soto with a late-breaking curveball for a called third strike. Then, after a motivational mound visit from Roberts, he retired the side when Nelson Cruz hit a grounder that led to a rundown on the bases.
“It gave me a lot of confidence [for Roberts] to come out, ask me how I was feeling and leave me out there,” Urías said through an interpreter. “Give me the opportunity to get out of it.”
The Dodgers lineup couldn’t get Urías off the hook. Erick Fedde blanked them for six innings. And even though the Nationals bullpen bent after he exited, the pitching staff with MLB’s second-highest team ERA didn’t break.
“They pulled the right strings,” Roberts said. “And they beat us today.”