Dodgers ride Freddie Freeman’s grand slam, Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s strong start to victory


Freddie Freeman rounds first base after hitting a grand slam in the third inning Monday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

There are days the Dodgers have to grind out wins, the way they did against the Cincinnati Reds to take a tight four-game series over the weekend.

Then, there are days like Monday, when the Dodgers blitz an opposing pitcher, take a massive early lead, then shift into cruise control, turning stress-free wins into something of a routine affair early on this season.

The club’s 6-4 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium featured all those familiar, one-sided hallmarks.

The Dodgers exploded for six runs in the third inning, keyed by a grand slam from Freddie Freeman. It erased a short-lived Diamondbacks lead, swiftly erasing an RBI single from Joc Pederson in the top of the third. And then it turned the keys over to starting pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, getting a strong two-run, 6-⅓ inning start from the Japanese rookie.

There was some late drama, when the Diamondbacks cut a four-run deficit in half in the eighth with back-to-back home runs off Elieser Hernández, a low-leverage long reliever in a banged-up Dodgers bullpen.

But, like usual, the club shut the door before things ever got truly interesting, getting a straightforward ninth-inning save from Daniel Hudson to complete their fourth straight win.

This has been a common script for the first-place Dodgers, who own the third-best record in the majors and the best overall run differential at plus-87.

Read more: ‘He’s turned into a weapon.’ How Michael Grove became a high-leverage Dodgers reliever

On Monday, the final six innings were nothing more than a formality, allowing Yamamoto to throw 100 mostly stress-free pitches, his most yet in a big league start, as he lowered his ERA to 3.17 while giving up two runs.

Manager Dave Roberts was able to get star players off their feet early (Teoscar Hernández was the beneficiary this time, exiting the game at the start of the seventh), and the Dodgers stayed on their torrid early-season pace (they are 14-4 in May and 33-17 overall, tied for the eighth-most wins through 50 games of a season in the club’s Los Angeles history).

The big third inning began with a home run, when Kiké Hernández connected on his third home run of the season to lead off the inning with a score-tying blast.

The Dodgers jumped all over Arizona pitcher Slade Cecconi after that.

Miguel Rojas and Mookie Betts singled. Shohei Ohtani drew a five-pitch walk. Then Freeman unloaded on a 2-and-1 fastball at the knees, crushing his sixth career grand slam to center field.

In the next at-bat, Will Smith added on for good measure, hammering his fifth homer of the season to complete the Dodgers’ second-highest scoring inning of the season (and 14th inning scoring at least four runs).

From there, Yamamoto’s job was easy: Fill up the strike zone, limit damage and pitch as deep as possible in a start that included eight strikeouts, seven hits and few threats from the injury-plagued Diamondbacks (22-26).

Once again, it was winning made easy by the powerhouse Dodgers — continuing a familiar theme in their fast start to the 2024 season.

Sheehan update

Seven days earlier, doctors told Emmet Sheehan he had a choice.

Keep trying to bypass surgery and hope his ailing arm might eventually heal, or undergo Tommy John surgery and attempt a comeback sometime next summer.

Sitting in the dugout with his arm in a sling Monday, Sheehan discussed for the first time why he picked the latter.

“I knew what it meant,” Sheehan said. “Obviously it’s not the best feeling in the world.”

Despite that, Sheehan wasn’t daunted by the diagnosis. He didn’t seem worried about his long-term outlook. During his chat with reporters Monday, he hardly looked shaken by the roughly 13-month rehabiltation process ahead of him.

Like most modern pitchers, he knows injuries are an occupational hazard of the job.

And, like most modern pitchers, he is hoping his operation is merely a detour in his career; that the progress he made while going 4-1 with a 4.92 ERA as a rookie last year won’t be erased by a year recovering from surgery.

Read more: Hernández: The Dodgers have good reasons to be patient, believe Walker Buehler can still dominate

“There’s no real point in thinking about that now,” he said of his disappointment to not be able to pitch this year. “Kind of just moving on to the next thing, trying to progress and get better and be healthy for next year.”

Sheehan first got hurt during the spring, when arm discomfort — and, as he revealed Monday, a previously undisclosed oblique strain — forced him to miss the start of the season. Sheehan said there was no one pitch when he felt his ligament tear. He had even tried ramping up in recent weeks, completing regular sessions of pre-game long toss in the outfield.

However, when his pain didn’t go away, doctors told him it might be time to go under the knife, leading to his decision to have a Tommy John surgery that also included an internal “brace” to give his damaged ligament extra support.

“There’s a lot of work to be done ahead of me, but I’ve been in situations before where it didn’t look like I was going to make it to the big leagues or get drafted, stuff like that,” Sheehan said. “I haven’t had a rehab that long. But I know what it looks like. So I’m not too scared.”

Sign up for more Dodgers news with Dodgers Dugout. Delivered at the start of each series.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.