Max Scherzer outdueled Clayton Kershaw in a battle of three-time Cy Young winners in LA, and Washington’s ace handed a 4-1 lead to the Nationals’ bullpen after six innings and 106 pitches. Two nights after the Nats’ relievers blew a late lead in Citi Field, they held on for a 5-2 win over the Dodgers in the series opener in Chavez Ravine, with Matt Grace, Sammy Solis, Brandon Kintzler, and Sean Doolittle locking down the third win in four games on the current road trip.
Scherzer vs Kershaw: Max Scherzer started the night (3-4) with a 3.07 ERA in 11 games and nine career starts against LA, though he’d posted a 0.69 ERA in two starts and 13 IP against the Dodgers in the regular season since he signed with the Nationals in 2015.
Over that stretch, he’d struck out 22, walked three, and avoided giving up a single homer.
Scherzer took the mound tonight (3-1) in four starts this season, with a 1.33 ERA, 1.73 FIP, four walks (1.33 BB/9), 38 Ks (12.67 K/9), and a .147/.182/.253 line against in 27 innings.
Clayton Kershaw, who finished second behind Scherzer in the voting for the NL Cy Young last season, started the night in Dodger Stadium (1-2) in four outings with a 1.73 ERA, 3.09 FIP, three walks (1.04 BB/9), 31 Ks (10.73 K/9), and a .204/.228/.378 line against in 26 IP this season.
Kershaw was making his 16th career appearance and 15th start against Washington, after going (11-3) with a 1.97 ERA, and a .186/.229/.297 line against in 96 innings on the mound against the Nationals before tonight’s outing.
LA’s ace was down 2-0 after the top of the first, however, as the Nationals jumped on him early in the game and the count with Trea Turner and Bryce Harper connecting with a first-pitch fastball and slider, respectively, doubling and singling, respectively, one out apart in the opening frame. Turner scored on the grounder Harper hit through the right side, 1-0, and Harper came around on an RBI double to center by Ryan Zimmerman, 2-0.
Scherzer gave up a leadoff triple by Chris Taylor on the first pitch he threw tonight, but one hit-by-pitch and three outs later the Dodgers’ leadoff man was stranded at third.
The following video has been rated TV-MA. pic.twitter.com/WTotU90S77— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) April 21, 2018
Both starters settled in after the wild first, with Kershaw setting down eleven-straight to get through the fourth and Scherzer retiring 11 of 14, working around two walks and a second-hit-by-pitch.
Michael A. Taylor snapped Kershaw’s streak of retired batters with a leadoff double in the top of the fifth, and a one-out single to right by Scherzer moved him to third.
Trea Turner bunted for a hit, a safety squeeze down the first base line, to bring Taylor in, 3-0, and reach base when no one covered first.
Ah ... a nice, refreshing glass of fresh squeezed baseball. pic.twitter.com/umirCIGpnK— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) April 21, 2018
Zimmerman, Matt Wieters and Taylor all singled in the top of the sixth, with Taylor’s two-out liner to center field on a 2-2 curve from Kershaw bringing Zimmerman around for a 4-0 lead after five and a half.
Back-to-back, two-out singles by Joc Pederson and Chase Utley pushed Scherzer up to 22 pitches in the sixth, and 98 pitches overall, and Yasiel Puig lined the 103rd pitch to left for an RBI single that got the Dodgers on the board, down 4-1.
#Dodgers get on the board on an RBI single from @YasielPuig and cut Nationals' lead 4-1, heading to the seventh. pic.twitter.com/JM8OQhyC2A— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) April 21, 2018
Scherzer picked up his third K with his 106th pitch, but was done for the night after a 29-pitch sixth inning.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 9 Ks, 106 P, 68 S, 3/4 GO/FO.
Kershaw came back out with an eight-pitch, 1-2-3 seventh before he too was done for the night.
Clayton Kershaw’s Line: 7.0 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 Ks, 85 P, 64 S, 11/2 GO/FO.
Hollywood Bryce: Bryce Harper was back in LA tonight, where he made his MLB debut back in 2012. He took the field in Dodger Stadium leading all major league hitters in HRs (8) and walks (24), leading the National League in SLG (.712) and OPS (1.183), tied for first in RBIs (18), and ranked second in the NL in runs scored (18) and OBP (.471).
Harper stepped up to plate for his first at bat with a runner on third and one out after Trea Turner doubled and took third on a fly to center, and drove the first run in with a grounder through the right side on a first-pitch slider from the Dodgers’ left-hander, 1-0.
Harper scored on a line drive double to center by Ryan Zimmerman and it was 2-0 early in the series opener in Chavez Ravine.
Walks, Walks, Walks: Nationals’ hitters started the night leading Major League Baseball with 90 walks overall on the year. The next closest teams were the Philadelphia Phillies, with 88, and the New York Yankees, with 80. Clayton Kershaw doesn’t walk anyone, of course, and he avoided issuing any tonight.
Bryce Harper took his MLB-best 25th walk from Dodgers’ reliever Pedro Baez in the eighth, and Matt Wieters walked one out later to load the bases. One out later, the third walk, with the bases loaded, forced in a run.
BULLPEN ACTION: Nats’ left-hander Matt Grace took over on the mound for Scherzer in the seventh and gave up a single and a walk to the first two batters he faced.
Grace received a visit from the trainer 13 pitches into the frame, when he flinched and felt his back after a pitch, but stayed in the game, and struck Corey Seager out before he was lifted.
Sammy Solis came on against Yasmani Grandal with two on and one out and gave up an RBI single to left, 4-2, but stranded two to keep it a two-run game.
Pedro Baez took over for LA in the top of the eighth inning, giving up a leadoff walk to Bryce Harper, a one-out bloop single to right field by Moises Sierra, a base-loading walk to Matt Wieters, and a bases-loaded walk to Wilmer Difo, forcing in a run, 5-2.
Brandon Kintzler retired the side in order in an eight-pitch eighth, and Sean Doolittle got the ninth, and ended the series opener with a quick, 1-2-3 frame. Ballgame.
Final Score: 5-2 Nationals
Nationals now 10-10