Every day, the Dodgers construct a lineup with various variables figured into the equation. After player availability, none are given more weight than whether the opposing starting pitcher is left-handed or right-handed. And their three-game series against the Chicago Cubs this week presented a twist: left-handed starters for each game, after the Dodgers hadn’t faced one since April 5.
In the Dodgers’ 2-1 win Thursday, veteran Jon Lester toed the rubber at Wrigley Field for the Cubs following a two-week stint on the injured list. He encountered a slightly different Dodgers lineup than Jose Quintana and Cole Hamels had in Cubs wins the previous two nights.
Alex Verdugo, a left-handed hitter, wasn’t in the lineup those first two games, but he was there Thursday. Corey Seager was given a scheduled day off as the Dodgers (16-11) continue to monitor his workload in his return from Tommy John and hip surgeries. Chris Taylor filled his vacancy at shortstop, creating an opening for Verdugo in left field after he hit a three-run home run off the bench Wednesday.
Not that left-handed pitchers have stifled Verdugo this season. The gregarious rookie entered Thursday three for seven with a double, tripleand home run opposite left-handers. He improved the stat line against Lester, launching a ball to the right-center-field gap for a leadoff triple in the fifth inning. He scored the game’s first run when Cubs shortstop Javier Baez -- one of baseball’s best defenders -- muffed a hard-hit groundball off Taylor’s bat.
“It was a big triple,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “It was obviously a big run. Just the way he saw the ball, the way he stays in there against the left-hander, he just gives you a good quality at-bat and forces you to make good pitches to get him out.”
Cody Bellinger -- the only other left-handed hitter in the lineup and in the cleanup spot after batting sixth the previous two games -- supplied the Dodgers’ second run with a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning after doubling off Lester in the fourth. That was the difference once Kenley Jansen allowed a two-out homer to Albert Almora Jr. in the ninth inning before slamming the door for his eighth save.
The victory gave the Dodgers four in seven games on a challenging trip against their National League Championship Series opponents the past two seasons that began with four games against the Brewers in Milwaukee and ended 90 miles south on I-94.
“I thought it was a good road trip,” Roberts said. “I really did.”
Ross Stripling made his sixth start knowing it would be his final one for an undetermined duration. Rich Hill will take his place in the rotation when he makes his season debut Sunday at Dodger Stadium, pushing Stripling to the bullpen. Stripling will serve primarily as a long reliever. Roberts labeled the role as an “aggressive” version of the role Julio Urias, whose workload is being closely monitored, has assumed since sliding to the bullpen last weekend.
Stripling’s goal Thursday was to continue his solid start to the season, to leave no doubt he is an effective starting pitcher when given the opportunity and ensure he gets the chance the next time a starter misses time. His final audition was short but strong. The right-hander logged 4⅔ scoreless innings before he was removed with a runner on third and two outs in the fifth. Boosted by a sharp curveball, he allowed five hits, struck out six and walked one.
“I’ll go down there, if that’s what they want, and get after guys out of the bullpen and get outs there, and be ready for when an opportunity comes up,” Stripling said.
The lack of support left Stripling on a short leash. Stripling surrendered a leadoff double to Kyle Schwarber in the fifth. Pinch-hitter Mark Zagunis struck out and Ben Zobrist moved Schwarber to third with a groundout on Stripling’s 76th pitch. He didn’t throw another one.
Pedro Baez walked Kris Bryant but got Anthony Rizzo to fly out to escape the frame unscathed. Baez recorded a clean sixth inning and Caleb Ferguson used a double play to wiggle out of peril in the seventh, then Roberts elected to summon the struggling Joe Kelly to protect the two-run lead in the eighth inning. Kelly had given up a solo home run Wednesday night, leaving him with a 9.82 ERA in 11 innings.
The right-hander induced two groundouts to begin the inning. Familiar turbulence followed. Baez launched a high 0-1 fastball off the wall in right field, missing a home run by a few feet. He settled for a single after a delayed start out of the batter’s box. Kelly recovered, rifling a full-count, 98-mph fastball by Daniel Descalso for the third out. It was just the fourth time Kelly didn’t give up a run in 11 appearances this season.
The Dodgers headed home to conclude their stretch of 20 consecutive games against National League Central foes with a three-game set against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Dodger Stadium this weekend.