The Dodgers spent seven innings unable to find an answer for Tanner Roark on Tuesday night, but in the eighth inning one swing of the bat by Yasmani Grandal turned the game around, giving the Dodgers a 3-2 victory in the middle game of their three-game series at Dodger Stadium.
For the first time all season, the Dodgers have won five straight games, after getting stopped in their two previous four-game streaks.
The Los Angeles offense was but a whisper against the Nationals starter Roark, who allowed just two Dodgers to reach second base in the first seven innings. Both opportunities came in the form of two-out doubles, by Joc Pederson in the second inning and Adrian Gonzalez in the seventh. Both were quickly made moot by inning-ending ground outs by the next batter.
But at just 81 pitches through seven innings, Roark was still on the mound in the eighth inning, when down 2-0 the Dodgers found their first true rally. Pederson walked to open the inning, followed by a single by Yasiel Puig off the glove of shortstop Danny Espinosa.
That set the stage for Grandal, who was 0-for-2 on the night and hitting only .178/.300/.329 before he smoked a pitch 109 mph off his bat over the center field wall to completely turn the game around.
Scott Kazmir got touched up in the first inning by Bryce Harper, who muscled out a solo home run to left field with two outs. But that early tally shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Kazmir has a 7.20 ERA in the first inning this season, with 12 runs allowed in 16 starts, and the Nationals have scored a National League-best 60 runs in the first inning in 2016, 16 more than the second-place Reds.
Espinosa added a home run of his own in the fifth inning, a notable feat because the former Mater Dei prep star and Long Beach State product is just 6-for-44 (.136) in his career at Dodger Stadium.
In addition to the solo home runs, Kazmir allowed four doubles, but spread them out nicely, with one in each inning from the second through the fifth. The first three were stranded and then Roark, who followed Espinosa’s home run with a double for his first hit of the season in his 28th at-bat, was erased trying to advance to third base on a ground ball.
Washington still mounted a rally in that fifth inning, putting runners on second and third base with two outs. With Kazmir on the ropes and the left-handed Daniel Murphy at the plate, manager Dave Roberts went the unconventional route and walked Murphy in favor of the right-handed Ryan Zimmerman.
What made the move even more strange was that Kazmir stayed in to face Zimmerman — who doubled against him just one inning before — rather than having the right-handed Louis Coleman enter in relief. Looking at 2016 splits, the move does make some sense, with Murphy hitting .325/.386/.481 against same-handed pitchers in 88 plate appearances, and Zimmerman even with the double just 9-for-52, hitting .173/.281/.423 against southpaws.
Not only did the move work, with Kazmir striking out Zimmerman to end the frame, but Kazmir also retired the side in the sixth, for his longest outing of the month.
It was the first time a Dodgers left-handed pitcher intentionally walked a left-handed batter and stayed in the game to pitch to a non-pitcher right-handed batter since June 19, 2013, when Hyun-jin Ryu issued an intentional free pass to Robinson Cano, then struck out Vernon Wells and got Thomas Neal to ground out, both right-handed batters.
Kazmir’s night was quite unique, allowing just two runs in his six innings, while striking out four with just one walk. But he also allowed those six extra-base hits, the first Dodgers pitcher to allow six extra-base hits while giving up no more than two runs since Luke "Hot Potato" Hamlin on Aug. 30, 1940.
Hamlin pitched a complete game against the Reds, allowing a home run and six doubles in his nine innings, in a 6-2 Brooklyn win.
Kazmir was not so lucky on Tuesday, with runs at a premium for the Dodgers, though thanks to Grandal neither he nor the Dodgers were stuck with a loss.
The Dodgers close out the homestand on Wednesday night with Julio Urias on the mound who, like Tim Wakefield’s old perpetually-renewing contract with the Red Sox, will get at least one more start beyond the series finale against the Nationals. Washington counters with Joe Ross, the second Ross brother the Dodgers will have faced this season.
Home runs: Yasamani Grandal (6); Bryce Harper (15), Danny Espinosa (13)
WP - Louis Coleman (1-1): 1 IP, 2 hits, 1 walk, 1 strikeout
LP - Tanner Roark (6-5): 7⅓ IP, 6 hits, 3 runs, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts
Sv - Kenley Jansen (21): 3 up, 3 down