In an interview shown on MASN before Tuesday night's game in L.A., Washington Nationals' manager Matt Williams discussed the ideal strategy for attacking Los Angeles Dodgers' left-hander Clayton Kershaw.
"I think it's important for anybody to try to hit his fastball," Williams said.
"He's big on getting ahead. And once he gets ahead, all of his secondary pitches are so good that you really don't want to hit them. You want to hit the fastball. So it's a double-edged sword, because you want to swing early at the heater. He's going to get ahead with the heater. But if you don't capitalize, it can be a really quick night.
"So, we want to make sure we're getting good pitches to hit if we can. And look to swing early, look to be aggressive on him. And try to hit the fastball, but you don't want to get to the other stuff."
Two of the three hits the Nationals did get off Kershaw in the Nats' 4-1 loss in Dodger Stadium came on first-pitch fastballs, with Anthony Rendon's eighth-inning single the exception, coming as it did on an 0-1 curve.
The three hits and two walks were all the 26-year-old Cy Young-worthy lefty gave up in eight innings of work on the mound. Between Wilson Ramos' leadoff single in the second and Bryce Harper's two-out home run in the seventh, Kershaw retired 15 of the 16 batters he faced.
On the night, he threw first pitch strikes to 24 of the 29 batters he faced, struck out eight, induced eight ground ball outs and finished his outing at 108 pitches, earning his 17th win of the season in the process.
He did, however, give up the first home run by a left-handed hitter he's allowed in 118 plate appearances vs LHBs this season.
"I didn't realize that," Williams said when told Harper's homer was the first a lefty has hit off Kershaw all summer.
"That's pretty impressive."
As was Harper's swing on the first-pitch fastball.
"It's a good swing," Williams said. It was Harper's eighth home run in his last 100 plate appearances, another sign for the Nats' skipper that the 21-year-old slugger is getting closer to full strength after suffering the torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb in April, which required surgery and cost him 57 games on the DL earlier this season.
"He's finding his strength in his hand," Williams explained. "It's coming back to him. So his bat speed is much better. He doesn't have to try to generate with his lower half. All of those things that are important for a hitter. And he's got good bat speed. So he got a good pitch to hit and he delivered it. It's good for him, it's good to see him start to come."
"Bryce put a good swing on one, but that was about all he gave us tonight," Williams said.
The other two hits Kershaw allowed didn't amount to anything for the Nationals, who made several mistakes on defense that cost them in a tightly-contested game with the NL West-leading Dodgers.
"That's the thing about Kershaw," Williams said. "To beat him, he makes you play a flawless game. Tonight was kind of a clunker."
"He's a good pitcher," Williams told reporters, "but on any given day anybody can beat anybody. Tonight he didn't give us many opportunities. So that's why he's doing so well, because he's not making any mistakes. So, like I said, you've got to play a really good game to beat him and tonight wasn't the case. But he pitched really well, he's been pitching well all year."
Asked if he though at any point this week about the three-game set in Los Angeles being a preview of a potential postseason matchup, Williams was clear that he doesn't think that far ahead.
"We're not concerned about any of that," he said.
"What we're concerned about is seeing if we can beat them tomorrow and trying to win the next day too. And that's as far as we go with it. If it all happens, then we'll deal with it at that point, but tomorrow is our game, so that's what we concentrate on."
• We talked about facing Kershaw, Harper's home run and the Nationals' loss after last night's game on Nats Nightly: