LOS ANGELES ― Six games into his return from Tommy John surgery, Dustin May has given the Dodgers equal reason for optimism and worry.
To the optimist, May’s weapons on the mound – a five-pitch arsenal bolstered by a 100-mph fastball – appear no worse for his 15-month layoff that began with elbow surgery in May 2021. To the pessimist, the Dodgers’ 6-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday night demonstrated how May’s sporadic command and one big hit can lead to a lopsided defeat.
May (2-3) was roughed up for seven hits and five runs in four innings. He walked two batters and hit another. The Dodgers had not lost consecutive games since a streak of three in a row from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2, but they will carry a two-game losing streak into Thursday’s series finale.
The Dodgers’ meager offense left May (2-3) almost no path to victory. Mookie Betts’ solo home run against Madison Bumgarner (7-15) was their only hit until the ninth inning. The loss by itself meant little, however, besides dashing the Dodgers’ chances of breaking the all-time regular-season record for wins (117).
The more pressing concern was May, a potentially large piece of the Dodgers’ five-man October rotation. He has allowed zero or one earned run in three starts since being activated from the injured list. In the other three starts, May has an ERA of 9.00.
“(Arizona) hit the stuff that I threw in the zone, and I threw a lot of balls in bad counts,” May said. “I set myself up for failure, walking guys and giving up weak contact. It’s just overall bad.”
Veteran catcher Austin Barnes, noting the speed and movement on May’s fastball and slider, leaned toward optimism. He took the blame for over-relying on May’s four-seam fastball in certain situations.
“Today was a bad outing,” Barnes said. “We just didn’t do it today.”
But Manager Dave Roberts noted a consistent pattern in May’s three losses that was not present in his other three outings – including five no-hit innings in San Francisco in May’s previous start.
“He’s doing a lot better sequencing,” Roberts said. “The two-seamer, better. The breaking ball, better. It’s not a mental thing. We’ve got to kind of be willing and open to using your entire pitch mix.”
May’s inconsistency is not related to his physical recovery, Roberts said.
“It’s not just about stuff,” he said. “It’s something he’s got to continue to learn and understand. That’s why the radar gun can be misleading at times. The velocity was there. It’s been there all year for him. There’s a strike quality, getting ahead, a component of when you have a hitter in a leverage count you have to put him away.
“Trying to bully guys – which I think at times he’s guilty of with the four-seamer – gets to be too predictable.”
The Diamondbacks were leading 2-0 when they loaded the bases in the fourth inning on two walks and a hit batter. Up stepped Corbin Carroll, who correctly hunted a first-pitch fastball and lined it to the outfield for a bases-clearing double.
May finished out the inning, then gave way to reliever Chris Martin. Arizona had no hits and only two baserunners over the final five innings against five different pitchers.
Arizona used a walk, a stolen base, and an RBI single by Christian Walker to score solo runs in the first and third innings against May.
“I just need to execute,” he said. “It’s just part of it. I’m to a point where I feel comfortable with everything. I just need to go out and execute it. It’s not really a thing with Tommy John anymore. I just need to go out and throw strikes.”
Bumgarner, the veteran left-hander, was every bit May’s opposite. He retired the first nine batters in order before surrendering Betts’ 35th home run of the season to begin the fourth inning. He walked one batter and struck out five in six innings.
“You tip your cap,” Roberts said.
“He’s still Madison Bumgarner,” Betts said. “He’s not just a horrible pitcher. He gets paid a lot of money to do what he’s doing. He’s still Madison Bumgarner at the end of the day.”
After Betts’ home run, the Dodgers (103-46) put only three runners on base the remainder of the game, never threatening to emerge from their early deficit before an announced crowd of 38,845.