Greinke's early issues, club's hitting woes lead to loss

Righty gives up four runs in first while bats can't solve Cards' Kelly

Greinke's early issues, club's hitting woes lead to loss

ST. LOUIS -- Before the Dodgers took batting practice Saturday, manager Don Mattingly said the team's collective offense was due to break through.

Those words remained true nine innings and two runs later.

A burst of four first-inning runs gave the Cardinals enough offense against a Dodgers group that has gone stagnant of late at the plate. The 4-2 victory in front of 43,922 at Busch Stadium gave the Cardinals the first two games of this series and kept the visitors searching for offensive answers.

"Sometimes it kind of happens all of a sudden," Mattingly said. "You get a couple of big hits or you get a walk and you get a game where you come from behind or something, next thing you know, the momentum turns the opposite direction and you're able to put runs on the board. Obviously, we need to make that turn."

The Dodgers, since a five-run first inning July 8, have scored 12 runs over the last 69 innings. Opportunities presented themselves Saturday, but the big hit or spark that Mattingly envisions didn't come.

The first inning continued to hamper Zack Greinke, who entered Saturday with a 2.02 ERA and 14-3 record in 21 career starts with Los Angeles following a loss. If Greinke were able to leave behind the first four batters he faced Saturday, that trend would have continued. 

Instead, an eight-pitch walk started the game, and a single put two on for Matt Holliday, who drove in all three of the Cardinals' runs Friday night. Holliday singled to left to drive in two for an early lead. The next pitch hung over the plate to Matt Adams, who didn't miss. 

Adams sent the pitch, a 75-mph curveball, over the right-field fence for the Cards' third and fourth runs, the most surrendered in a single inning this season by Greinke. He had previously allowed four or more runs in only three of 19 starts.

"Too many mistakes in one inning," Greinke said. "A lot of them are just slightly off pitches and making small adjustments. Overall it's a bad game if you make that many mistakes. Especially back-to-back-to-back like that."

"Greinke has a great fastball and you have to respect that," Adams said. "The curveball just popped up in the zone. When it does that, you know it's a good one to swing at."

Greinke would settle into a groove after the 31-pitch first, not allowing a hit to any of the next 16 hitters he faced -- although he walked three in that span. He worked out of threats in the fifth and sixth before his day came to an end at 5 2/3 innings.

The first inning has become a talking point for Greinke, who has now surrendered 12 runs in first innings this season, more than any other frame. 

"We always talk about the starter in the first inning," Mattingly said. "For some reason that trip from the bullpen to the mound out there -- you're trying to get your pitches and things like that -- the first inning is always the dangerous inning. They got him early."

The first-inning blemish, though, ended up being the least of the Dodgers' worries. The offense mustered just six hits, getting two singles in the third to plate its first run off Cards starter Joe Kelly, who allowed only that one run in seven innings. Between the third-inning RBI single by Hanley Ramirez and an eighth-inning walk, 14 Dodgers hitters went down in order.

The Dodgers attempted a late rally, but the big hit never came. The leadoff walk to Justin Turner in the eighth was followed by a double and Carl Crawford's sacrifice fly to bring the Dodgers within two. Matt Kemp struck out pinch-hitting for Yasiel Puig, who was hit in the hand by a pitch in the third, and Ramirez followed with a strikeout of his own.

In the first two games out of the break, the Dodgers have stranded 13 baserunners and have gone 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position. That leaves the team in search of a spark to fuel the offense. 

"That's been said since baseball was invented," Adrian Gonzalez said of needing a boost. "Usually it takes one big inning."

For now, that's something that will wait another day. 

"Just playing good baseball is the key more than a spark," Greinke said. "You play good baseball, you're going to lose some games, but you're going to win more than you don't. We just need to get back to playing how we've been playing the last couple months and not how we have the past week or so."

Alex Halsted is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.