On Saturday afternoon, the Dodgers learned they would be without setup man Daniel Hudson for the rest of the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Later that night, they were reminded just how much they will miss him.
After coming back from a three-run deficit earlier in their game against the Atlanta Braves, the Dodgers’ 5-3 loss was cemented during a high-leverage sequence that, had he still been healthy, likely would have gone to Hudson.
After tying the score in the top of the eighth, the Dodgers summoned hard-throwing right-hander Brusdar Graterol out of the bullpen for the bottom half of the inning.
Two batters later, the Braves had retaken the lead, with Graterol giving up a leadoff double to Travis d’Arnaud before throwing a slider in the zone that Marcell Ozuna clobbered for a two-run home run.
“In that spot right there, I liked Brusdar,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said afterward.
Nonetheless, in an instant example of the challenge ahead for the Dodgers’ short-handed bullpen, it was also a spot that, previously, would have suited Hudson more.
Already, the Dodgers had been missing key relievers Blake Treinen and Tommy Kahnle, experienced right-handers not expected back from injuries until likely the latter third of the season.
Other depth pieces such as Danny Duffy and Victor González aren’t expected back until at least August either.
In their absence, Hudson had ascended into the setup/fireman role, often facing the most difficult part of an opposing lineup in the latter innings to help bridge the gap to closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth.
Not only was his 2.22 ERA third lowest in the Dodgers’ bullpen behind only Evan Phillips and Yency Almonte, but Hudson had the second-best WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched), the most holds and the third-best strikeout percentage.
“I was throwing the ball pretty well and helping us win games,” said Hudson, who suffered the injury in Friday night’s win, had scans taken Saturday that confirmed the tear, and will head back to Los Angeles to likely have a surgery that will come with a six-to-nine-month recovery process. “That’s the most disappointing part, for sure.”
Added Roberts: “When you lose a guy like Huddy, it’s got an exponential effect on everyone.”
The first three relievers the Dodgers called upon Saturday stepped up. After starter Mitch White — who was filling in for the injured Andrew Heaney — gave up two runs in the third inning and exited with two aboard and no outs in the fifth, left-hander Alex Vesia limited the damage to one more run.
In the sixth, veteran David Price flashed season-high velocity, touching nearly 96 mph during a scoreless appearance. In the seventh, Phillips retired the side in order.
The Dodgers’ offense, meanwhile, struggled early on against Max Fried, whom Roberts called the best left-handed pitcher in baseball postgame.
“It’s electric stuff,” Roberts said. “He always seems to bring out his best against us.”
In the seventh inning, however, the Dodgers (44-26) finally came to life. With two on and two outs, Cody Bellinger narrowly missed a home run that drifted foul of the right-field pole, but he still managed an RBI single. After Fried exited, Austin Barnes also singled home a run before Trea Turner drew a walk to load the bases.
That brought Freddie Freeman to the plate. Up to that point, the second night of Freeman’s homecoming in Atlanta had been subdued. But with a chance to give his new team a lead, the former Braves star was booed by his old fans.
“I’m on a visiting team,” Freeman said afterward, unsurprised by the crowd’s reaction. “You expect it.”
The boos turned to cheers four pitches later when Freeman went down swinging to retire the side.
The Dodgers did eventually level the score in the top of the eighth, when Will Smith belted his 11th home run of the year to make it 3-3.
But in the bottom half of the inning — in a situation that Roberts said afterward likely would have belonged to Hudson — Graterol let the Braves (42-31) go back in front, leaving a slider too high to Ozuna that was deposited into the Braves’ center-field bullpen.
“They’ve given me their confidence to pitch in those innings, and I’ve tried to take advantage of it,” Graterol said. “Things happen, and there are good days and bad days.”
The Dodgers — who, in one more cruel twist of fate, had their loss sealed in the ninth when their former closer, Kenley Jansen, struck out the side for his 20th save this season with the Braves — can only hope for more good.
“We’re going to figure out who that guy is to bridge the gap to the closer,” Roberts said. “To lose [Hudson], it’s a big loss.”