LOS ANGELES - How do you beat Clayton Kershaw, Davey Martinez was asked this afternoon.
“You’ve got to be aggressive,” the Nationals manager said. “He’s going to be in the strike zone. So get a good pitch you can hit.”
How about three pitches to three batters? Is that aggressive enough?
The Nats came out swinging tonight against the Dodgers’ three-time Cy Young Award winner, and they were greatly rewarded for the no-holds-barred approach, scoring two runs in the top of the first to give their own three-time Cy Young Award winner a quick 2-0 lead.
Trea Turner laced Kershaw’s first pitch of the night down the left field line for a leadoff double. The speedy leadoff man then advanced to third when Howie Kendrick drove the next pitch to center field. And when Bryce Harper sent the first pitch he saw through the right side of the infield, Turner scored the evening’s first run.
Throw in Ryan Zimmerman’s RBI double to left-center on a 2-2 pitch, and the Nationals had themselves a two-run lead before Kershaw or anyone else inside Dodger Stadium had a chance to get settled in for the evening.
It’s the 13th time the Nationals have scored in the first inning in 20 games this season. They’ve been even better on the road, scoring in the top of the first eight times in 10 games.
The Dodgers tried to be just as aggressive against Max Scherzer in the bottom of the inning, with Chris Taylor driving a triple off the right field wall on the Nationals ace’s first pitch. And when Scherzer plunked Corey Seager with his very next pitch, he found himself in a tight jam
Scherzer, though, escaped without any harm, getting Yasmani Grandal to pop up, then striking out Cody Bellinger swinging at a 95 mph fastball and Joc Pederson looking at a 3-2 curveball that completely froze the slugger.
Update: The Nationals are putting together some quality at-bats against Kershaw tonight. And high on the list is Michael A. Taylor, who drove a ball to deep left field in the top of the second and then delivered a double to lead off the top of the fifth. That set the stage for a tack-on run, which came after Scherzer singled to center (he’s got a four-game hitting streak!) and Turner put down a nice squeeze bunt and beat it out when nobody was covering first. That made it 3-0, and Scherzer is doing everything he can to make that lead hold up. He hasn’t been able to get Taylor out in any of three at-bats so far, but he’s done well against everybody else and is trhough five scoreless innings on 77 pitches.
Update II: The Nationals keep hitting the ball hard against Kershaw, and Taylor has been among the best at that tonight. He has made solid contact three times, capped by a sharp single up the middle on a 2-2, 2-out curveball to drive in the Nats’ fourth run of the night. Scherzer finally faded in the bottom of the sixth, though, issuing a two-out walk, followed by back-to-back singles. And after returning to the dugout with his pitch count at 106, he got a handshake from Martinez. So he’s done fo rthe night. The Nats will need nine outs from their bullpen to protect a 4-1 lead.
Update III: Well, it took two left-handers to record the first three outs. After Matt Grace put two on and retired one - with a visit from trainer Paul Lessard thrown in there for good measure - Sammy Solís entered and served up an RBI single to Grandal that trimmed the lead to 4-2. Solís, though, came up big after that, striking out Cody Bellinger with a couple of nice changeups and then getting Matt Kemp to ground to second. Six outs to go.
Update IV: Nothing like Pedro Baez to bring a ballgame to a crawl. The slowest-working reliever in the majors faced six batters in the top of the eighth. He gave up one hit. He struck out two. He walked three, including Wilmer Difo with the bases loaded. So the Nats get a run back and now lead 5-2, with Brandon Kintzler entering to pitch the bottom of the eighth.
Update V: And that’ll do it. Kintzler retired the side in the eighth, then Sean Doolittle finished it off in the ninth for his fourth save. Nats win 5-2, with Scherzer easily outdueling Kershaw. They’ve won three of four and are back to the .500 mark at 10-10.