Lance Lynn’s home run troubles serve up yet another problem for Dodgers’ rotation

MIAMI — The first Dodger this season to 40 home runs is … Lance Lynn. And, boy, was it massive — a tape-measure shot from Marlins outfielder Jesús Sánchez that rocketed towards the upper deck at loanDepot Park and traveled a projected 441 feet, further emphasizing a distinction no one wants.

“I mean, once you go over 30, who gives a s—?” Lynn said, now well clear of that threshold.

No pitcher in baseball has given up more home runs this season, with the next-closest man, Kansas City’s Jordan Lyles, at 35. The Dodgers knew of Lynn’s trouble with the long ball when they acquired him at the deadline. Still, they explained, they saw enough in the 36-year-old, who was just two years removed from three consecutive top-six Cy Young finishes, that it was worth the shot.

But the strikeouts have dried up. The command has faltered. And the home runs keep flying. Wednesday night’s implosion came in a disastrous nine-run fifth inning. That’s the most runs allowed in an inning by the Dodgers since 2017. The 11-4 loss to Miami poured kerosene onto a miserable week for the short-term outlook for this Dodgers rotation.

As part of that fateful fifth, Lynn allowed three homers over the span of seven batters.

“Just an absolute disaster,” Lynn said. “I blew up. Can’t happen. Got to be better. I know that. I’ve pitched way too long to have an inning like that.”

Lynn’s start with Los Angeles was promising. Through his first four starts, he allowed just four earned runs. The home runs were still flying (four in four games), but the damage was limited. He tweaked his arsenal enough to erase the big innings that plagued him in Chicago — but at the expense of the swing-and-miss the Dodgers thought made him salvageable.

He struck out just one batter Wednesday night but managed to get through four innings with just a bunt single from Jazz Chisholm Jr. against him. Jacob Stallings roped a leadoff double to kick off the explosive fifth. Joey Wendle, who hit just one home run in his first 285 plate appearances this season, crushed an elevated fastball to give the Marlins a 2-1 lead and wipe out an early Dodgers lead. Two walks and a flyout later, Chisholm drove a first-pitch sinker to left that just kept carrying for a three-run shot, the 39th Lynn had allowed this season. Sánchez made it a round number two hitters later, annihilating a belt-high cutter.

“It’s just kind of one of those years where they come in bunches,” Lynn said. “It’s been the worst of my career, home-run wise. Bad pitch selection, bad execution. Everything that could go bad has gone bad when they’ve had the opportunity.”

Lynn is now just the 10th Dodgers starter to allow seven or more earned runs in consecutive starts since the franchise moved to Los Angeles, joining Hideo Nomo (2004), Odalis Pérez (2006) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (2019) as the only ones to do so since 2000.

Lynn’s ERA with the Dodgers is now 4.95. His home runs per nine innings is now 2.7 – even higher than it was in Chicago (2.1). The other factors that made him an appealing trade target have waned, with Dodgers manager Dave Roberts saying Lynn has been holding back some of his stuff in the middle of starts to try to pitch deeper into games.

“There’s a lot in the tank as far as velocity, but I think at times there’s a governor on there, where every out, every inning matters,” Roberts said of Lynn, who conceded he has not been “airing it out” for the sake of soaking up innings.

That, of course, will need to change when the stakes are raised in a month.

It’s a concerning result for a deadline in which Lynn represented the organization’s most significant rotation addition. The club agreed to a deal for Eduardo Rodriguez, only to get rebuffed. Ryan Yarbrough has been limited to swingman duty.

And now, the rest of the rotation is as much an issue as ever. Julio Urías, expected to be the club’s Game 1 starter in October, was placed on paid administrative leave on Wednesday and remains the subject of law enforcement and Major League Baseball investigations stemming from Sunday’s arrest on suspicion of felony domestic violence. Clayton Kershaw is pitching through shoulder trouble and had the second-lowest fastball velocity of any start of his career on Tuesday night. Tony Gonsolin has joined Dustin May among Dodgers starters to undergo season-ending elbow surgery since the deadline. It’s difficult to know what to expect from Walker Buehler after his second Tommy John surgery.

So yes, Roberts said, he still plans on having Lynn as part of his list of options in this postseason.

“I think we can,” Roberts said. “Where we’re at, we’re gonna have to lean on him a little bit too.”

Behind them, it’s a lot of faith to put into a crop of rookies — Bobby Miller, Ryan Pepiot, Gavin Stone and Emmet Sheehan — to step up into major roles in October.

That, of course, represents a risk in itself – throwing a veteran with postseason experience who clearly isn’t pitching at his best, or going with the young alternative. The Dodgers will likely have to dip their toe into both paths.

“With the postseason, as I’ve learned, it’s talent,” Roberts said Wednesday afternoon. “It’s (the) ability to control emotions. And it’s execution. So I think you certainly don’t have to debate the talent with those young pitchers. I think the heartbeat, the experience, is an unknown. You don’t know until you know.”

They’d better hope to find out because their options aren’t looking all that promising at the moment.

(Photo of Lance Lynn: Rich Storry / USA Today)

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