LOS ANGELES -- With Josh Beckett and Hyun-Jin Ryu on the disabled list and Zack Greinke fighting to stay off it, the Dodgers rotation is showing the strain.
For the fourth consecutive game, a Dodgers starting pitcher fell behind early. Roberto Hernandez spotted the Padres a three-run lead in the second inning and the Dodgers couldn't duplicate their Tuesday night comeback, losing to former teammate Eric Stults, 4-1, on Wednesday night.
"Last night we were able to continue to score; tonight we weren't able to do anything," said manager Don Mattingly. "Obviously, you don't want to play from behind. Not the place you want to be, that's for sure."
On Tuesday, Kevin Correia earned a win, despite falling behind, 3-0. On Sunday, Dan Haren trailed the Brewers, 6-0, in a three-inning start. On Saturday, even Clayton Kershaw trailed before the Dodgers scored.
It's all part of losing five of their last seven games, as the Dodgers' lead in the NL West, six games on Aug. 12, is now three. With the Giants' successful protest of Tuesday's game against the Cubs, the Dodgers actually lost 1 1/2 games in the standings in defeat.
Kershaw will try to restore order Thursday night, moving up to give Greinke's elbow extra rest, while the Dodgers will try to take the rubber game of the series.
"When the team struggles," said Mattingly, "he seems to be the guy to pick us up."
This series started a 30-game stretch in which the Dodgers play 24 games against teams with losing records. To Mattingly, there is no soft part of the schedule.
"San Diego has the best record in the National League the second half. We're aware of that, we've got nine games [out of 20] with them," said Mattingly. "Get into the last month and it's hard to win games -- for everybody."
One bright spot for the Dodgers was rookie reliever Pedro Baez, whose two scoreless innings gave him a streak of eight since July 8. He's making the most of an opportunity created by injuries to Chris Perez, Paco Rodriguez and Paul Maholm.
The Dodgers hurt themselves in this game by committing three errors (left fielder Scott Van Slyke, rookie shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena and catcher A.J. Ellis), while Hernandez was charged with four runs (three earned) in his home debut after his Aug. 7 trade from Philadelphia. The Padres had the leadoff batter reach base in five innings.
"I got behind in the count and wasn't at my best," said Hernandez, who was missing low enough to issue back-to-back walks that accounted for two of the runs in a three-run second inning.
By contrast, the Dodgers were neutralized by Stults for five innings and San Diego's underrated bullpen the rest of the way. At one point, 11 consecutive Dodgers batters were retired. The only Dodgers run was set up by an infield single and came home on a sacrifice fly.
Stults came into the game 1-9 on the road this year, but he's also 3-0 with a 1.46 ERA in August and he singled home a run. He allowed the Dodgers two runs in seven innings in a June 22 loss.
"I enjoyed pitching here and enjoyed playing for the Dodgers," said Stults. "But I'm a Padre now. And you always enjoy pitching against your old team."
In hindsight, the game might have swung when the Dodgers chose not to challenge a close safe call at first base on Jedd Gyorko in the second inning, the start of the three-run rally. Gyorko's leadoff grounder was backhanded by third baseman Justin Turner, but first-base umpire Adrian Johnson ruled Gyorko beat Turner's throw to first.
Hernandez issued one-out walks to Jake Goebbert and Rymer Liriano to load the bases. A bloop RBI single by No. 8 hitter Alexi Amarista scored one run. Stults singled in Goebbert and when Van Slyke bobbled the ball, Liriano also scored.
The Dodgers tried a comeback in the third with a one-out infield single by Yasiel Puig, a ground-rule double by Adrian Gonzalez and a sacrifice fly by Matt Kemp that scored Puig, with Gonzalez taking third on center fielder Abraham Almonte's throwing error.
San Diego restored the lead in the fourth on singles by Liriano and Amarista, a sacrifice bunt by Stults on which Darwin Barney saved Gonzalez from a two-run throwing error and a sacrifice fly by Yangervis Solarte.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.