Hyun-Jin Ryu pitches well but not deep and Dodgers bullpen takes heat in loss

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)
Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

WASHINGTON >> Hyun-Jin Ryu is a troublemaker.

The left-hander continues to pitch well enough to give the Dodgers pause when thinking about the makeup of their postseason pitching staff – but probably not well enough to change that thinking.

Ryu held the Washington Nationals scoreless into the fifth inning Sunday, the 10th time in his past 12 starts he has allowed two runs or less and the fourth time in the past eight he didn’t give up a run.

But Ryu’s pitch count swelled with back-to-back walks in the fifth inning and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled him. Ryan Zimmerman hit two home runs and the Nationals scored all their runs off Dodgers relievers, handing the Dodgers a 7-1 defeat.

The loss snapped the Dodgers’ four-game winning streak. But they still made progress towards clinching their fifth consecutive NL West title. An Arizona Diamondbacks loss earlier in the day dropped the Dodgers’ magic number to clinch the division to four.

“We’ve got options,” Roberts said of Ryu’s bid for inclusion on the postseason roster. “I’m like our team president – I like optionality.”

Then they must choose which numbers to believe.

Ryu has a 2.62 ERA over those past 12 starts. But he also has a high WHIP (1.32) during that time while allowing a .244 batting average against.

“He’s always going to give up hits,” Roberts said. “But when he needs to make pitches, he’s always found a way to make pitches and limit damage. I think the WHIP and strikeout vs. walks are all in line with his career. He’s a winning pitcher to me. I feel great when he takes the mound.

“With what he’s done in the last seven, eight starts, whatever it’s been -- he’s done everything we’ve asked of him.”

They haven’t asked him to go deep in games and Roberts pointed out there are few starting pitchers these days who can be expected to get more than “15 or 17 outs in a post-season situation.”

Ryu could only get 14 Sunday.

The Dodgers staked him to a 1-0 lead, ending Stephen Strasburg’s scoreless-innings streak at 35 (the longest in the majors this season) when Nationals center fielder Michael Taylor ran down Logan Forsythe’s two-out drive to the warning track – but dropped it for an RBI double.

That was the extent of the Dodgers’ offense in the game. They had just three more hits against Strasburg and the Nationals’ remade bullpen.

Even before Sunday, Ryu has allowed his highest OPS (.834) and issued his highest walks total (18) after there were two outs in an inning.

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That played out in the fifth. Matt Wieters extended him to 11 pitches before striking out for the second out of the inning. Strasburg then fouled off three full-count pitches to draw a nine-pitch walk. When Ryu followed that with another walk of Trea Turner, he had thrown 30 pitches in the inning and 98 in the game, prompting Roberts to pull him.

“It was definitely frustrating because heading into the fifth inning I felt good with my pitch count and my health,” Ryu said through his interpreter. “But I fell behind in the counts. They made me work and giving up a walk to the pitcher Strasburg definitely hurt.”

Ross Stripling came in and gave up a line drive down the left-field line by Jayson Werth that appeared to clip the chalk. Third-base umpire Gary Cederstrom ruled it foul, however, and a replay review failed to overturn the call.

The Dodgers’ 1-0 lead survived that close call but not Ross Stripling’s struggles in the sixth. He gave up a leadoff walk to Anthony Rendon, a single to Daniel Murphy (the first hit of the series for the Dodgers’ nemesis) and a three-run blast to Zimmerman.

It was a big blow for Stripling whose postseason fate is also not decided.

“It’s definitely in the back of your mind. I don’t want to lie and say it’s not,” Stripling said. “It’s not like you’re on the mound thinking, ‘If I don’t make this pitch, I might not make the postseason roster.’ But when guys like you bring it up, it obviously creeps in.

“We’ve got a lot of talented righties, all pretty similar. With 14, 15 games left, if you have a tough outing it’s something where if you don’t make it, you might look back at that one.”

There was more damage to come. The Nationals added a run on Anthony Rendon’s RBI double off Walker Buehler in the seventh. In the eighth, Zimmerman hit his second homer of the night and Adam Lind hit a two-run pinch-hit home run, both off Josh Ravin.

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