Behind Irvin's latest gem, Nats shut out Dodgers and win series (updated)

LOS ANGELES – Jake Irvin walked to the dugout after striking out Will Smith to end the bottom of the sixth this afternoon at Dodger Stadium. The scoreboard showed six zeros for the home team, and it showed only 73 pitches for the visiting starter.

In another world, Irvin would have received a slap on the back and encouragement to get ready to head back out for the seventh. In this world, he was given a round of high fives and hugs from everyone in the Nationals dugout, manager Davey Martinez informing the right-hander his day was done.

Love it or hate it, this is the state of baseball in 2024. Teams aren’t letting their young starters go deep anymore, certainly not early in the season. So all Irvin could do today was join everyone else and watch the final three innings, hoping his teammates could finish the job.

They did, with three relievers combining to hold the Dodgers lineup in check in the seventh, eighth and ninth and ultimately rewarding Irvin with a 2-0 victory in a captivating finale to this series and this West Coast trip.

"He's been unbelievable. He's been outstanding, actually," said Martinez, who received a beer shower from his coaches and players after notching his 400th managerial win. "He just keeps getting better and better. The confidence keeps growing."

Behind Irvin’s pitching excellence and two first-inning runs produced by CJ Abrams and Joey Meneses, the Nationals defeated the Dodgers for the second time in three days, taking the series from one of the best teams in baseball. And in the process, they finished this three-city California swing with a 5-4 record, no small achievement for a team growing more and more confident each day.

"We play good on the road," reliever Hunter Harvey said. "We've done that the last couple years. Coming in here and beating this caliber of a team is awesome. Hopefully we can take this and keep building from it."

The Nats did it with excellent pitching from two young starters, getting Mitchell Parker the win in his major league debut Monday night and Irvin the win this afternoon.

This series actually saw someone make his major league debut each day. Parker earned the win Monday night with five strong innings. The Dodgers’ Andy Pages singled in his first career at-bat Tuesday night. And today, Landon Knack took the mound for L.A. for the first time, hoping to make a little history of his own.

Then Abrams stepped to the plate and reminded the rookie right-hander it’s not quite that easy. Abrams blasted Knack’s second career pitch deep to right-center for his third career leadoff homer and a quick 1-0 lead. Remarkably, it’s not the first time Abrams has done that to an unassuming rookie. Last summer, he ambushed the Reds’ Lyon Richardson for a home run on the very first pitch of his career.

"I mean, it was a righty with a pretty straight fastball," Abrams said. "I wanted to zone him in and get a good pitch to hit, and I got it second pitch."

The Nats kept the pressure on Knack in the first, with Jesse Winker and Luis García Jr. each singling and Meneses driving in Winker with a sacrifice fly. All told, they made Knack throw 28 pitches in the opening frame, scoring two runs.

But that’s all they could muster against him. With a chance to deliver a knockout punch to Knack, the Nationals instead made life easy on the rookie, who retired 12 of the last 13 batters he faced and wound up completing five innings on 75 pitches.

That might have been a problem, if not for Irvin pitching as well as he’s ever pitched, all the more impressive considering the opponent.

Irvin wasn’t perfect, far from it. He let at least one batter reach base in four of his six innings. But he absolutely made pitches when he had to, in several cases without needing any help from his defense.

With two on and two out in the first, Irvin struck out Max Muncy on a 95-mph fastball. With a runner on third and two out in the second, he struck out Gavin Lux on a 95-mph fastball. With a runner in scoring position and one out in the fourth, he got Teoscar Hernández and James Outman to ground out. And after allowing a leadoff single to Shohei Ohtani in the sixth, Irvin watched as Meneses made a nifty snag of Freddie Freeman’s 100-mph scorcher to first to jumpstart a 3-6 double play, then struck out Smith with a 96-mph fastball.

It was Irvin’s sixth strikeout of the afternoon, and every one of them came on a fastball that registered either 95 or 96 mph.

"I've talked to you guys about competing over the plate, and that was the goal today: Just compete over the plate," he said. "I can't create swing-and-miss; it just happens. Just doing my job competing over the plate, and let the rest work itself out."

Irvin returned to the dugout, having just tossed six innings of scoreless ball, and needing only 73 pitches to do it. And then, just as was the case last week in Oakland, he was greeted by high fives and hugs, congratulated for a job well done but not given the opportunity to continue any longer.

"We had a really good conversation after the sixth inning," Martinez said. "I really felt like he let it air out there that last inning. We talked a little bit, and we had a fresh bullpen, so we decided to go with the bullpen."

He watched as Robert Garcia recorded two outs in the seventh, with Harvey taking over and striking out Pages to end the inning. Harvey returned for the eighth and stranded Ohtani on second base thanks to a diving play at second base by Luis García Jr. And then Kyle Finnegan finished it off in the ninth for his seventh save in eight tries, leaving the crowd of 44,428 stunned and leaving the visitors exchanging more high fives and hugs in the middle of the diamond to end an impressive series.

"Pretty awesome," Irvin said. "Those guys have been nails all year. Passing it off to the back end, watching those guys have success, it's a lot of fun to watch. I'm glad we could end the road trip on a high note."

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