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Alexander: Dodgers’ young pitchers learn some lessons

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LOS ANGELES — They might be good, maybe eventually very good, but young pitchers still have things to learn. And while those bumps in the road can be learning experiences and eventually beneficial, that can be scant comfort when the result is grisly.

Gavin Stone and Michael Grove, two of the Dodgers’ early-season surprises, both dealt with the harsh parts of a rookie’s education on Tuesday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Stone, who has been a solid part of the rotation for a month, was cuffed around in the Diamondbacks’ 7-3 win – eight hits and four runs, including a booming home run by Christian Walker, in his six innings of work. Grove, who has emerged as a leverage reliever in recent weeks, entered the game in the seventh trailing 4-3 and left it down 7-3, with a leadoff walk to No. 9 hitter Kevin Newman eventually leading to a three-run shot by Joc Pederson that put the game out of reach for Arizona.

“It’s a situation where he just can’t walk that leadoff guy,” Roberts said. “And then obviously that brings Joc to the plate and, you know, (Grove) left a slider out over and he does what he does to right-handed pitchers.

“Michael’s been on a good run. And so hopefully he can learn from it but continue to build on that momentum he’s had.”

Stuff happens and you learn from it, right?

In the big picture, it was one night, a temporary setback maybe but also a night that allowed Manager Dave Roberts to save his bullpen. Stone making it through six innings and 93 pitches was a definite plus, with the Dodgers nearing the end of a string of 13 consecutive games and leverage guys Alex Vesia, Blake Treinen and Daniel Hudson able to rest.

Stone “did a good job of competing, keeping us in the ballgame, getting through six innings,” Roberts said afterward. “I thought those guys had a pretty good game plan against him.”

Stone gave up four straight hits and two runs in the second, with Eugenio Suarez going the other way on a slider for an RBI single and catcher Gabriel Moreno ripping another slider up the middle for Arizona’s second run. Newman singled with one out in the fifth, moving to third on Corbin Carroll’s double to left off a sinker and scoring on Ketel Marte’s infield out. And Walker hit his ninth home run of the year in the sixth for a 4-1 lead, a drive deep into the box seats down the left field line on a 3-and-2 changeup.

“Probably just with the changeup, it didn’t really feel the best,” Stone said. “But I really did feel good with everything else, though.”

The key to Stone’s success is fastball command, as Roberts pointed out in his pre-game briefing.

“He has a couple different breaking balls (to lefties and to right-handed hitters),” Roberts said. “But if he can get ahead with the fastball and command it, then, it puts those guys more on their heels. And to be honest, he’s been very good with that this year. His results are a byproduct of getting ahead and commanding of the fastball. So, you know, if he can get that fastball on the plate with some late movement, there’s induction of soft contact, getting ahead in the count, swing and miss with other pitches.

“He’s been fantastic. He’s weathered some big-stress innings, minimized damage, which shows growth. I think it’s just kind of, the low dart getting ahead of hitters. It’s very telling for me because then everything else plays off of that.”

According to the Baseball Savant website, Stone started seven Arizona hitters with first pitch strikes Tuesday night and got outs on six of them. Five others swung at the first pitch, and two got hits, Suarez’s RBI single in the second and Carroll’s double in the fifth. He was out of the zone with the first pitch to 13 hitters, and five of them got hits.

“Every outing is a learning experience, no matter how old you are,” Stone said. “Just learn from it and grow.”

He’ll get the ball again in a few days, in a rotation that is very much a work in progress.

Hours before Stone took the mound under the lights, Bobby Miller pitched a three-inning, 51-pitch simulated game. Miller, went on the injured list April 13, retroactive to the 10th, with shoulder inflammation. He’s scheduled to make a rehab appearance Sunday at Rancho Cucamonga and probably a couple more rehab starts after that.

Beyond that, Clayton Kershaw and Dustin May have thrown bullpens recently with an eye toward the second half of the schedule. Tyler Glasnow, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, James Paxton and Walker Buehler are part of the current rotation along with Stone. Landon Knack came up for a spot start the other day. There are, undeniably, more starting pitchers than there is roster room when all are healthy.

So, when SCNG colleague Bill Plunkett brought up the possibility of a six-man rotation, Roberts replied, “Uhh, I think we’re open to anything.” And then he noted his biggest misgiving, which is that a six-man rotation would trim the bullpen from eight to seven pitchers, and in this era of baseball that brings considerable risk.

Tuesday aside, Grove has demonstrated he could ultimately be one of those leverage relievers, though it’s a bullpen that will become even more crowded when Evan Phillips, Ryan Brasier, Joe Kelly and Brusdar Graterol are again ready to pitch.

Eventually, the pitching situation will sort itself out. With a big division lead already, and the realization that this organization is playing for October, there’s time.

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