LOS ANGELES - The Nationals arrived in Chavez Ravine Thursday to begin a four-game set against the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers desperate to get their offense going to take pressure off their pitching staff.
Mired in a four-game losing streak and fresh off a rough series sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers, in which they scored only six total runs, the Nats tallied three runs quickly to set the tone in the opener against the Dodgers. They added three more tack-on runs late to help the club post a 6-0 series-opening shutout.
Howie Kendrick led the way with an early three-run homer, finishing with two hits and four RBIs. Anthony Rendon and Michael A. Taylor each had two hits as well. Rendon and Yan Gomes notched the other RBIs.
With masterful command of his slider, left-hander Patrick Corbin (3-1) struck out eight and allowed only three hits in seven shutout innings. He walked four and hit a batter, but was able to pitch out of trouble several times with his sinking pitches and big defensive plays behind him.
“They came out and Howie (started it all) with a big home run,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez. “We scored first. What a performance by Patrick. He dealt tonight. It was good to see, but typical. He’s been pitching really well. (Kyle Barraclough) comes in and gets the outs we need and (Sean Doolittle) comes in and finishes.
“The boys played well, they really did. When you play clean baseball and limit the mistakes, we have a chance to do those things.”
Kendrick slammed the three-run line drive homer over the left field wall and the Nats led 3-0 in the top of the first, before the Dodgers even had a chance to bat. Adam Eaton had doubled and Rendon was hit by a pitch from southpaw starter Rich Hill to open the door.
Did Kendrick sense a bit of wildness from Hill he could take advantage of for the big homer?
“It doesn’t matter really what the guy’s doing before you, you just get an idea of how he is pitching, but right there he just made a mistake,” Kendrick said. “A couple of the pitches he left over the plate that way, and I was able to put a good swing on it. Rich, he’s a pretty good pitcher, he does really well. He’s actually a great dude. I got to know him a little bit playing with him. But right there in that situation I was able to look for a pitch that I could drive.”
Hill lasted five innings, allowing three runs on five hits with two walks, one hit-by-pitch and five strikeouts. He threw 96 pitches, 59 for strikes.
Los Angeles challenged Corbin’s advantage in the fourth by loading the bases on walks to Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager and a base hit by David Freese. With one out, Chris Taylor grounded to Rendon, who then started a huge, inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
The Dodgers went after Corbin again in the seventh.
With one out and Russell Martin on first, thanks to a single to left field, pinch-hitter Austin Barnes connected on a hot shot down the third base line that looked destined for extra bases. But Rendon nabbed the well hit grounder with his glove, starting a 5-4-3 twin killing to end the threat.
“Just felt really good today, everything,” Corbin said. “(I) just faced these guys quite a bit. They can do some damage, so trying to make quality pitches. Slider was on all day, I felt it today and was able to get ahead of guys, and a couple big double plays that they turned behind me to get me out of a couple jams. But overall, felt great.”
Nationals media relations tweeted out that Corbin’s recent numbers have been impressive against the Dodgers, a team he saw a lot of while with the Diamondbacks. In Corbin’s last five starts against the Dodgers, he has a 0.59 ERA with 39 strikeouts and only 13 hits allowed over 30 1/3 innings.
Martinez agreed that Corbin’s slider was causing the Dodgers hitters major problems.
“It’s really nasty because it looks like a fastball,” Martinez said. “The break is so late. Looks like a fastball coming in.”
In the eighth, Barraclough surrendered hits to Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger but did record two outs. Closer Doolittle arrived to strike out Max Muncy to end the frame.
The Dodgers had allowed only seven runs in their last three games combined, and had won 10 straight at home before the Nationals shut them out.
Corbin benefitted from the two double plays, but also another one-handed glove and throw by Rendon to rob Chris Taylor in the second inning and Victor Robles’ impressive catch in right field versus Justin Turner to end the third.
The southpaw has been as advertised ever since he was signed in the offseason. He has confidence that the Nats can turn things around despite a rocky 15-22 start.
“We’re a very good ballclub,” Corbin said. “Things are going to turn around, for sure. The guys in here are too good for us to keep losing. I mean, guys come every day, they work hard and they’re prepared. I know everyone’s going to just continue fighting and keep things going. I still think we’re the best team in our division. We just haven’t played like it. So every day we just come here and try to get better.
“That was good baseball,” Martinez said. “We turned some double plays, which was really, really nice. We did all the little things, ran the bases well. Let’s enjoy the victory today. Turn today, we’re 1-0, come back tomorrow and do it again.”