The Dodgers jumped on rookie Reynaldo Lopez in his major league debut, and Scott Kazmir pitched arguably his best game of the season, giving the Dodgers a large enough cushion to survive with a 8-4 win over the Nationals in the opener of a three-game series on Tuesday night at Nationals Park in Washington D.C.
The Dodgers find themselves 4½ games back of the Giants in the National League West, the closest they have been in the division race since June 11.
Chase Utley greeted Lopez rudely, hitting his third pitch of the game just over the wall for a quick one-run lead. Howie Kendrick singled, then Justin Turner doubled to put a pair of runners in scoring position just three batters into the game.
Lopez got the next two outs and looked like he might escape the rally without further damage, but Joc Pederson ended those thoughts with a single up the middle in his first at-bat back from the disabled list to give the Dodgers a 3-0 lead.
From there, the Dodgers were able to tack on against the rookie. Chris Taylor, starting at shortstop on Tuesday because Corey Seager has a stomach virus and was sent back to the team hotel, doubled in the second inning, then scored on a single by Utley. Combined with Seager's final three at-bats on Sunday, Dodgers shortstops doubled in four consecutive plate appearances.
Kendrick, who reached base three times on Wednesday and extended his hitting streak to 11 games, walked in the fifth inning, followed by a single by Turner for his third hit of the game. Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig followed with RBI singles in the inning to build a 6-0 lead and chase Lopez, who struck out nine but also allowed 10 hits.
Reynaldo Lopez is the first pitcher since at least 1913 to allow 6+ runs AND strike out 9+ batters in his MLB debut.— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) July 20, 2016
That was more than enough for Kazmir, who cruised through seven innings with the only blip surrounding his awkward landing fielding a ground ball in the fifth inning. It was the second time this season Kazmir lasted at least seven innings, and his first time since May 14.
Staked to a 7-1 lead to open the eighth inning, Chris Hatcher took the mound in a low-leverage relief situation. But after he faced just three batters, the game suddenly got interesting. Hatcher walked Lobaton to open the frame.
"The hope when you're down 7-1 is building an inning. The walk helped them," Orel Hershsier said on the SportsNet LA broadcast, sensing what was happening. "Don't let any positive energy creep into that Nats' dugout."
Chris Heisey followed with a single, then Trea Turner tripled to right center field to cut the lead to 7-3, giving the Nationals some positive . That ended Hatcher's night after those three batters, all of whom scored.
Adam Liberatore got three outs in the eighth, but not before a Daniel Murphy double scored Turner to cut the lead to 7-4. The double by Murphy was off the top of the wall in right center field, inches from a home run that would have not only further cut into the lead but also snapped Liberatore's scoreless streak, which now stands at 26 games.
Yasmani Grandal added a solo home run in the ninth inning for an insurance run, widening the Dodgers' lead to four runs.
Grandal had seven home runs in 57 games and 202 plate appearances through June, including a long ball on the final day of the month. So far in July, Grandal now has six home runs in 12 games and 47 plate appearances.
Heart & Hustle
Utley, who added an RBI single in the eighth inning for his eighth three-hit game and fourth three-RBI game of the season, on Tuesday was named the Dodgers 2016 winner of the Heart and Hustle Award, given annually to players "who demonstrate a passion for the game of baseball and best embody the values, spirit and traditions of the game."
Utley is one of 30 team nominees, with the national award to be announced on Nov. 15, voted on by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, comprised of former players.
"He exemplifies hard work, dedication and respect from his teammates," said Dodgers hitting coach Tim Hyers in a press release. "He’s a class act on the field."
Home runs: Chase Utley (6), Yasmani Grandal (13); Jose Lobaton (3)
WP - Scott Kazmir (8-3): 7 IP, 4 hits, 1 run, 8 strikeouts
LP - Reynaldo Lopez (0-1): 4⅔ IP, 10 hits, 6 runs, 1 walk, 9 strikeout