Dodgers get two big reminders of what a mega-trade with Nationals costs in 8-3 loss

The Dodgers’ Mookie Betts hits a leadoff home run in the first inning as Washington Nationals pitcher Josiah Gray and catcher Keibert Ruiz, both former Dodgers prospects, watch on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Josiah Gray and Keibert Ruiz, the über prospects the Dodgers traded a year ago to acquire Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, were the Washington Nationals’ battery Tuesday night.

Watching them toil for the last-place Nationals in an 8-3 win over the Dodgers, the questions were obvious although the answers are not. At least not yet.

Which team won the deal? Or was it a wash?

At the time, it looked like a steal for the Dodgers. But they didn’t reach the World Series and Scherzer didn’t re-sign. Turner, a free agent after this season, is playing at the level of a most valuable player, but wouldn’t the Dodgers need to win the World Series for the trade to be worth giving up arguably their top two prospects?

Gray, a starting pitcher with electric stuff, strikes out more than a batter per inning and gives up less than a hit per inning. Ruiz, a switch-hitting catcher, is solid defensively and makes contact at a high rate from both sides of the plate. Both are under team control until 2028, cornerstones of the Nationals’ rebuilding plan.

Yet they have a significant blemish: Gray gives up too many home runs. Ruiz doesn’t hit enough of them.

Gray has been touched for a staggering 42 home runs in 167-2/3 career innings. Mookie Betts greeted him with a 404-foot blast to center field in the first inning Tuesday — the 14th time in 18 starts this season Gray has surrendered a home run — and Cody Bellinger hit a soaring drive to right on the first pitch of the fifth inning.

Betts thwarted a Nationals scoring threat in the fifth when he threw out Victor Robles at the plate on Josh Bell’s two-out single, but defense hurt the Dodgers in the eighth.

The inning began with second baseman Gavin Lux making a throwing error, and Luis García homered against reliever Garrett Cleavinger on an 0-and-2 pitch with two out to give Washington a 4-3 lead.

“I left it up a bit,” Cleavinger said. “Hung it in a bad spot.” Referring to Lux’s error, Cleavinger said, “It happens to everybody. We’re all human. The next 100 times he’ll make that play.”

Cleavinger was called up from triple A before the game to give what manager Dave Roberts called “a fresh arm.” Roberts stayed with him in the ninth because he wanted to give several other relievers the night off, and the Nationals scored four insurance runs.

Ruiz, who is batting .249, drove in one of those runs with a single. However, he has only three home runs in 310 plate appearances. He doesn’t strike out much but too often makes weak contact on pitches out of the strike zone.

Dodgers' Mookie Betts blows a kiss toward the crowd as Washington Nationals catcher Keibert Ruiz watches.

Dodgers’ Mookie Betts blows a kiss toward the crowd after hitting a solo home run as Washington Nationals catcher Keibert Ruiz watches during the first inning on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Regardless of their longball shortcomings, Roberts holds Ruiz and Gray in high regard.

On Gray: “I like Josiah a lot. What stands out is the fastball; it’s a unique fastball. It’s a low arm slot, there is rise and there is a slider in there. He’s been very good against right-handed hitters and had a tougher time against left-handed hitters.”

On Ruiz: “Keibert is going to be a really good player for a long time. The main thing for him is to take on the catching duties and get familiarized with the pitchers. There has never been a lot of power but he has elite bat-to-ball skills from both sides of the plate.”

The Dodgers and Nationals might work another mega-trade ahead of this year’s Aug. 2 trade deadline. Washington is considering offers for superstar Juan Soto and the Dodgers have the enticing young players to swing a deal.

If that should occur, the Dodgers ought to win another World Series or three before Soto could become a free agent after the 2024 season. And the Nationals ought to successfully rebuild around the plethora of prospects.

Anything less from either team, and winner and loser should be easy to determine.

Dodgers change tune on Taylor

Several weeks ago, Roberts made it clear that valuable utility man Chris Taylor would play only outfield the rest of the season because of concerns about his right elbow, which as surgically repaired during the offseason.

Then Taylor went on the injured list July 5 with a fractured foot, and now is about to go on a minor league rehab assignment.

Will he play only outfield or will he mix in some second base? Have the Dodgers changed their stance?

“We have in the sense that a lot of it was driven by the elbow and giving it time to heal up,” Roberts said. “We just feel like he can handle the different arm angles from the infield and outfield, so having him taking grounders in the infield gives us more options.

“I just don’t think there is a lot of downside as far as having Chris getting re-familiarized with second base.”

And if the Dodgers acquire Juan Soto at the trade deadline, Taylor wouldn’t have an outfield spot. Reminded of that possibility, Roberts laughed and said, “That’s right, that’s right.”

Heaney to give it another go

Left-hander Andrew Heaney will make his fourth start of the season and first since June 19 when he takes the mound against the Nationals on Wednesday

Heaney made two highly effective starts at the beginning of the season before missing two months with a sore left shoulder. His return lasted only one start, when again he was dominant yet reinjured the shoulder.

In 15-1/3 innings over three starts, he’s given up one run while striking out 23. His ERA is 0.59.

Roberts said Heaney would be restricted to about 75 pitches Wednesday. Heaney has made only two appearances against the Nationals in his nine-year career, giving up four runs in seven innings.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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