PITTSBURGH — Pitching in the big leagues is not easy. If Caleb Ferguson learned this for the first time, others were reminded of it Wednesday night.
Ferguson retired only four of the 11 batters he faced in his major-league debut at PNC Park, putting the Dodgers in a four-run hole less than two innings into the game. They climbed out of that one but not the next, losing 11-9 to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The loss ended a four-game winning streak and was only their fifth loss in the past 19 games.
The 21-year-old Ferguson had never faced major-league hitters in any setting before and had only eight innings of experience above Double-A before he took the mound for the Dodgers on Wednesday.
Ferguson’s nerves and inexperience were evident from the start. He hit the Pirates’ leadoff hitter, Josh Harrison, with the third pitch of his major-league career but got through the first inning unscathed.
He started the second inning by hitting Corey Dickerson with a pitch then compounded his problems with back-to-back walks to load the bases. Harrison cleared them with a three-run double. Another walk ended Ferguson’s debut.
If his family and friends had left right then to make the three-hour return drive to West Jefferson, Ohio, they would have been pulling in their driveways before this nine-inning slog was over.
The Dodgers bullpen, which had already pitched 42-1/3 innings over the previous eight games (in nine days), had a 2.98 ERA over that stretch and was called “the star of the series” by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts when they swept the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field over the weekend.
Dodgers relievers had another long night ahead Wednesday. It was the fourth time in the past nine games that they were asked to cover more than six innings in a game and they were not up to another star turn.
The Pirates pounded seven relievers – none of them Pedro Baez who was demoted to Triple-A to make room for Ferguson – for seven runs on eight hits, seven walks and a hit batter over the final 6-1/3 innings. Each of the first four relievers to follow Ferguson (Daniel Hudson, Brock Stewart, Scott Alexander and Yimi Garcia) allowed runs. Tony Cingrani faced just one batter in the eighth inning before leaving with an injury.
The Dodgers did erase the early 4-0 deficit with a four-run burst of their own in the third inning. Matt Kemp had a two-run double and Cody Bellinger a two-run home run in that inning. Two innings later, Kemp’s three-run home run briefly brought the Dodgers within a run, 8-7. But the bullpen couldn’t maintain the distance.
Kemp finished the game with three more hits, two doubles and the home run, and five RBIs. The National League Player of the Week last week, Kemp is 4 for 6 with six RBIs and four runs scored in the first two games of this week.
Kemp leads the Dodgers with 39 RBIs and is batting .442 (19 for 43) with runners in scoring position. He came up as the go-ahead run with one out in the ninth but stranded two runners when he lined out to second.