Hill, Bellinger send Dodgers past Nationals
WASHINGTON — The swagger is back for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Or at least manager Dave Roberts certainly hopes so.
After losing 11 games in a row the Dodgers have now won four straight. The first two came at rival San Francisco and the past two have come in a playoff atmosphere in Washington, as starter Rich Hill and five relievers limited the Nationals to four hits in a 3-2 win Saturday afternoon.
The win wasn’t secure until left fielder Curtis Granderson, acquired in an August 18 trade with the New York Mets, made a diving catch in foul territory to retire Jayson Werth for the final out in the ninth after the Nationals nearly tied the game in the eighth.
The Nationals had just four hits in each of the first two games of the series.
“The guys played great. We played great defense,” said Hill, who gave up just a solo homer in five innings. “The bullpen did the job today. The goal again is to win series but win games as well. Go out there and give our best effort and play with conviction — that is what we did here today. Everyone seems to be coming back to form.”
Hill was able to throw his breaking ball over the plate and set up his fastball, which sits in the low 90s. He struck out six batters in the first three innings, including the side in the third. Five of his strikeouts came on called third strikes.
Why did Roberts pinch-hit for Hill in the top of the sixth with a 3-1 lead?
“He threw the ball really well. I wanted to get a couple more runs (if possible). I liked our chances with nobody out and a bullpen that is fresh,” Roberts said.
The Nationals cut the lead to 3-2 with an RBI single by Trea Turner off Tony Watson with one out in the eighth. But the lefty reliever retired the next two batters to end the threat, as Yasiel Puig made a diving catch in right to rob Daniel Murphy of a possible RBI hit for the final out with two runners on base.
Closer Kenley Jansen pitched the ninth for his 38th save as he retired all three batters he faced, the first two via groundouts.
The Nationals have scored just four runs in the first two games of the series.
“Well, they lead the league in ERA, you know they’ve got a good pitching staff, and so you know it’s usually going to be a close game,” Washington manager Dusty Baker said.
The Dodgers (96-52) entered the game with a magic number of six to clinch the National League West. The Nationals (89-59) have lost four of five since clinching the National League East title Sept. 10.
Cody Bellinger gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead as he led off the second with a solo homer to right off starter A.J. Cole (2-5), who lost for the fifth time in his last six starts as he went five innings. Bellinger tied a National League rookie record with his 38th homer.
“The last inning, I was on four days of rest and pushing,” Cole said. “I just ran out of gas that last inning. The ball got away from me the last inning.”
In the third, Chase Utley (2-for-4) doubled with two outs and came around to score on an RBI single by Bellinger to make it 2-0.
Anthony Rendon (2-for-3, walk) pulled Washington to within 2-1 with a solo homer with two outs in the fourth into the bullpen in left.
But Justin Turner had a sacrifice fly in the fifth to give the Dodgers a 3-1 lead.
Hill threw just 74 pitches and struck out seven with two walks. He had lost his last four starts, beginning with the game when he had a no-hitter going into the 10th inning in Pittsburgh on Aug. 23.
Cole gave up three runs on seven hits with five strikeouts and two walks. He could be making a case for a postseason spot out of the bullpen.
“I am ready for whatever,” Cole said. Starting “is what I have done my whole career.”
The Dodgers are 23-6 against the National League East this year and will go for the three-game sweep Sunday.
So have the Dodgers erased some doubts?
“I think so,” Roberts said. “I guess the way we were going that (doubt) may have crept in a little bit. (We are) trying to get that swagger back.”
NOTES: Washington RHP Stephen Strasburg (13-4, 2.64 ERA), who has not allowed a run in 34 innings, will face Dodgers LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu (5-7, 3.59) in the series finale Sunday night. ... Former Dodgers ace and broadcaster Orel Hershiser turned 59 Saturday. ... Dodgers 1B Cody Bellinger tied a National League record Saturday for homers (38) by a rookie that is also held by Wally Berger (1930) of the Boston Braves and Frank Robinson (1956) of the Cincinnati Reds. ... Dodgers LHP Rich Hill, the Saturday starter, pitched in 25 games for Triple-A Syracuse of the Washington system in 2015.