What the Dodgers called a “cut” on the index finger of Noah Syndergaard’s pitching hand looked more like a divot, so large was the chunk of flesh missing from the fingertip of the right-hander on Tuesday night.
Unable to stem the bleeding from the wound, Syndergaard was forced out of what he hoped would be a pivotal start against the Milwaukee Brewers after one inning, leaving the bulk of the game to a bullpen that has been better of late but still not as deep as the Dodgers would like.
Seven relievers were up to the task, Phil Bickford, Justin Bruihl, Yency Almonte, Victor González, Shelby Miller, Brusdar Graterol and Evan Phillips combining to limit the Brewers to two runs and four hits in eight innings of a 6-2 Dodgers victory at American Family Field.
“When we were informed that something’s gone wrong with the starter, I think everyone kind of takes ownership of the situation, that it’s our responsibility to cover tonight,” said Phillips, who got the final out for his sixth save. “Everybody knows it’s gonna be a difficult day, but guy after guy came in and picked up the slack.”
This was a highly anticipated start for Syndergaard, who was skipped in the rotation last week and given eight days to work on some of the mechanical and mental issues that plagued him in April, when he went 1-3 with a 6.32 earned-run average, the 10th worst among pitchers with at least 30 innings.
A blister that Syndergaard said began to develop on his finger “a couple of weeks ago” may have contributed to some of his recent struggles. Athletic trainers sealed the finger with a topical skin glue before Tuesday’s game, and Syndergaard didn’t have any issues in the bullpen.
“I warmed up fine — then I went to use the restroom before the game, and I looked down, and my hand was bleeding pretty good,” he said. “We tried to do what we could to make it serviceable.”
After completing his warm-up pitches before the bottom of the first, Syndergaard walked back to the dugout, his finger bleeding badly. Trainers stemmed the bleeding enough for Syndergaard to start the game, but the sealant didn’t dry fast enough.
Syndergaard threw 20 pitches in the first inning and escaped a two-on, no-out jam with the help of left fielder Chris Taylor, who made a leaping catch of a Willy Adames drive at the wall, and second baseman Miguel Vargas, who started an inning-ending double play. But it was clear he couldn’t continue.
“It was pretty nasty, it was raw,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Even in that first inning, there were numerous pitches that he threw that had blood residue on it. He was willing to keep going, but to what end?”
Syndergaard downplayed the issue, describing it as “nothing out of the ordinary,” and said he didn’t think he’d have to go on the injured list.
But Roberts said Syndergaard’s issues were “very comparable” to the ones endured by former Dodgers left-hander Rich Hill, who missed several weeks at a time because of blisters on the middle finger of his pitching hand.
Like with Hill, the Dodgers will have to decide whether to let Syndergaard keep pitching or to shut him down for a few weeks and give the finger time to heal.
“Do we want to try to nip it at some point, or are we gonna have to deal with it for the rest of the season?” Roberts said. “We just don’t know the answer. … Certainly, the injury list is a possibility, but we want to give Noah and the training staff some time before we make that decision.”
The Dodgers offense gave the bullpen some wiggle room Tuesday night, pounding nemesis Eric Lauer, the Brewers left-hander who entered with a 7-1 record and 2.37 ERA in 11 career starts against them, for four runs and four hits in 3 2/3 innings.
Mookie Betts opening the game with his 39th career leadoff homer. Freddie Freeman walked, stole second, took third on Lauer’s errant pickoff attempt and scored on Will Smith’s sacrifice fly to center for a 2-0 lead. James Outman doubled and scored on Miguel Rojas’ two-out RBI single to right in the second, and Smith’s solo homer to left, his fifth of the season, made it 4-0 in the third.
The Brewers scored twice in the seventh, but they couldn’t put a dent in the rest of the bullpen.
“They did amazing,” Betts said of the bullpen. “They kept them off the board, other than two solo homers.”