On the first day of September, however, they still have about as many questions as answers when it comes to health on the mound.
On Thursday, they repeated a familiar sequence, getting both good and bad news on several key arms.
The defeat sealed the Dodgers’ first series loss in more than a month, and came at the hands of perhaps their biggest rivals in the National League pennant race.
The more troubling developments occurred before first pitch.
For the second time in the last two months, reliever Brusdar Graterol was placed on the injured list, this time with what the team said was right elbow inflammation.
Then, during his afternoon scrum, manager Dave Roberts said injured starter Tony Gonsolin’s strained right forearm “just hasn’t progressed” quite as fast as initially hoped, and that the pitcher will get an MRI on Friday.
“Right now, this moment in time,” Roberts acknowledged, “yeah we’re a little bit more banged up than we’d hoped.”
Over the final five weeks of the regular season, there may be no more important storyline for the Dodgers than the evolving health of their pitching staff.
Already since the deadline, they’ve gotten back Dustin May and Kershaw, who gave up one run over five innings in the series finale, but lost Walker Buehler to Tommy John surgery and now await more information on Gonsolin.
Graterol will also join Gonsolin in the MRI tube Friday, so the team can learn more about an elbow issue the right-hander said popped up during his most recent outing on Sunday.
“There’s moderate concern,” Roberts said of Graterol, who missed time in August with a shoulder injury. “He’s obviously a strong, physical guy, but to kind of have him in and out, healthy and not healthy, is a little disconcerting.”
While Blake Treinen is expected to be activated for the team’s series opener against the San Diego Padres on Friday, marking his return from a shoulder injury that has kept him out since April, the Dodgers are still waiting on four other injured relievers to return in mid-to-late September: Yency Almonte (who felt good after a Wednesday bullpen session), plus Danny Duffy, Tommy Kahnle and Victor González (who are all out on rehabilitation assignments).
“It’s been a lot of inconsistencies as far as on the pitching side, mixing and matching the pen, the starters in and out, and the players have done a great job strapping up,” Roberts said. “It’s been different, but we’ve found a way to make it work.”
Kershaw provided some much-needed stability Thursday.
He issued three walks in the first inning, including a bases-loaded free pass to open the scoring, before shaking off the rust and retiring his final 13 batters of the day.
In a 74-pitch outing, he struck out six, let only two more balls leave the infield and lowered his season ERA to 2.59.
“Just needed an inning,” said Kershaw, who hadn’t pitched since suffering his second back injury of the season on Aug. 4. “Thankfully, got out of that not terrible, with only giving up one run. And then after that I was able to try to make some adjustments, figure things out.”
After Kershaw exited, however, the Dodgers (90-40) let a 2-1 lead they’d built on Chris Taylor’s two-run second-inning single slip away.
Sloppy defense and shaky relief pitching fueled a pair of two-run rallies for the Mets (84-48) in the sixth and seventh innings, with second baseman Gavin Lux playing a ground ball too slowly in the sixth before miscommunicating with Mookie Betts on a pop up in the seventh.
“Clearly, for me, we beat ourselves,” Roberts said. “This whole road trip, I don’t think we played great defensively. … They played better baseball throughout the series.”
Roberts was optimistic about one thing Thursday, hopeful Kershaw would hold up for the stretch run despite the pitcher’s long history of back ailments.
“We chalked it up to a flare up,” Roberts said. “We just feel like that’s gonna be enough to get him through the season strong and healthy.”
The Dodgers better hope so.
Nearly a month removed from the trade deadline, they still aren’t nearly as healthy on the mound as they thought they’d be.