LOS ANGELES — Tyler Skaggs had a pretty good quiniela working a few years ago, pairing a half-day at Santa Monica High with a half-day at Dodger Stadium. Skaggs was more of an Angels fan, but this park was a lot closer.
“Unfortunately, didn’t have the greatest seats,” Skaggs said.
That changed Saturday.
Skaggs stood in the circle of legends — Koufax, Drysdale, Hershiser, just to name a few — in his first major league start in the region he calls home, and despite receiving no decision in the Diamondbacks’ 2-1 loss, Skaggs gave an indication that there would be plenty more to come.
Warming up in front of his friends and hearing an ovation when his name was announced, Skaggs gave up one run in five innings, that coming on a second-inning home run by Hanley Ramirez on an arm-side fastball that drifted back over the plate. He danced around trouble the rest of the way before leaving with 91 pitches. The D-backs will be careful not to overextend him the rest of this season, so 91 was plenty.
“It was unbelievable. Exciting. It’s nice to know you have people in an away crowd rooting for you,” said Skaggs, 21, whose grandparents, stepfather and brother were among the 35,992 at Dodger Stadium.
Skaggs pitched well enough to deserve better following strong starts by Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill on the first leg of this must-make-a-move road trip that continues in San Francisco on Monday.
But Justin Upton’s 432-foot home run off Josh Beckett in the third was not enough to push the D-backs to their ninth straight victory over the Dodgers, who won on Andre Ethier’s two-out home run off Matt Albers in the sixth inning.
“We haven’t been swinging the bats. We were fortunate to win the first two games,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said.
With the loss, the D-backs (66-68) dropped 9 1/2 games behind the Giants in the division race and 6 1/2 behind the Cardinals for the second wild card.
The D-backs have not had trouble scoring runs this season — they rank fifth in the NL — but they have sputtered lately. They scored six runs in the first two games of the series with the Dodgers and have 20 in their last nine games, 26 in their last 11. That they have won four of those is a credit to both the starting and relief pitching they have received recently. Ethier’s homer off Albers was the first run the D-backs’ bullpen had allowed in its last eight road games, a span of 21 innings.
Catcher Miguel Montero credited Beckett, saying “he made good pitches” in their first meeting against him since he was acquired from Boston in the mega-deal 10 days ago. But is is clear the D-backs have to find a way to do more.
Skaggs’ trajectory is somewhat similar to the one shown last season by Wade Miley, who put a lot of runners on base when he arrived in the majors in August but more often than not was able to get out of the trouble he got himself into. Miley has had far fewer stressful situations this season, thus his candidacy for the NL Rookie of the Year award.
Skaggs gave up only four singles, a walk and Ramirez’s home run to center field in five innings, but he was done in by the pitch count. He threw 17 pitches in the first inning and 31 in the second, although he found a groove later and retired six of the final seven batters he faced.
The Dodgers made him work early, fouling off 12 two-strike pitches in the first two innings. Adrian Gonzalez had a nine-pitch at-bat before lining out to Chris Young on a 3-2 pitch to end the first inning. Ramirez had an eight-pitch at-bat before homering on a 2-2 count, and Luis Cruz had a nine-pitch at-bat before singling to center to put two on with one out in the second.
“That’s good hitters. They fouled off some really good pitches,” Skaggs said. “Threw some really good curveballs, I thought. There is no chance of them hitting it, they barely nicked it. It’s tough. Just have to learn how to really attack hitters, and once they start fouling it off, you have to let them put it in play. Save your pitches. Save your bullets. Get deeper into games.”
Skaggs was again unruffled while pitching from the stretch, a trait common in his first three starts. He got out of the second inning with a fly ball and a strikeout, one of his career-high nine. After Matt Kemp singled and Ramirez walked to open the fourth, Skaggs got two routine fly balls and a ground ball to keep the runners from advancing. Opponents are 0 for 17 with runners in scoring position in Skaggs’ 17 1/3 innings.
“He seems to have a knack for finding a way to make a pitch and get out of jams,” Gibson said.
“I’m sure it was kind of overwhelming to an extent, because he was virtually pitching at home. He threw well. Kept his composure.”