In desperate need of length from a starter to avoid a repeat of the previous two games against the Reds, the Dodgers got exactly that from Clayton Kershaw. Allowing just one runner to reach third, Kershaw took advantage of the Dodgers early lead to avoid a sweep in Cincinnati on Thursday afternoon.
With the D-backs game delayed in Washington D.C., the Dodgers (36-27) snapped their four-game losing streak and are 1.5 games back of first-place in the NL West and 2.0 games back of the Braves in the National League.
Unlike Tuesday and Wednesday, the Dodgers offense failed to produce much of anything in the 1st inning. In fact, it took all the way until 3rd inning to put a run on the board against Graham Ashcraft and his 6.64 ERA.
Meanwhile, Kershaw walked Kevin Newman, struck out Matt McLain on an 0-2 slider and ended the 1st with a double play off the bat of Jonathan India. An infield single put Elly De La Cruz on to open the 2nd, but 10 pitches retired the next three Reds to avoid any trouble even after yet another steal.
With both sides scoreless after two innings, the Dodgers struck first as Ashcraft struggled with his control in the 3rd. Hitting James Outman on the back foot with a slider on the first pitch of the inning, Ashcraft then took a comebacker off his leg by Austin Barnes and hit Mookie Betts after falling behind 2-0. With runners at first and second with just one out, Freddie Freeman singled to left to bring home Outman and keep the situation the same for J.D. Martinez.
While Martinez lined out, Max Muncy laid off a pair of high and outside cutters to turn a 1-2 count into a full count and walked to load the bases on a slider down and in. David Peralta, who has slashed .310/.351/.451/.801 since May 1st, dropped in his second single of the day for another two runs.
That would be it for Ashcraft after just 46 pitches (26 strikes), who lasted just 2 2/3 innings with three hits, two walks and two hit batters leading to three runs. Fernando Cruz finished off the 3rd with just one pitch to Miguel Vargas, but once again the Dodgers took a 3+ run lead against the Reds.
Handed the 3-0 lead, Kershaw struck out De La Cruz on a 1-2 slider and recorded another ground out before Newman doubled to left. The two-out extra base hit didn’t amount to anything as Kershaw got McLain swinging at a slider again to end the 3rd.
Meanwhile, Cruz may have escaped the jam he was thrown into in the 3rd, but created his own problems in the 4th as the Dodgers doubled their lead.
Chris Taylor sent an 0-1 slider 400 feet to center to open the inning, the first of four straight Dodgers to reach base in the 4th.
Outman walked after falling behind 0-2 and scored on Barnes’ double to left, just his second extra-base hit of 2023. With Betts singling to put runners on the corners, Freeman recorded his second RBI of the day on a sacrifice fly for the 6-0 lead.
That was really all Kershaw needed for the day as he cruised through the 4th with his first 1-2-3 inning, which included a strikeout of De La Cruz, and worked around a two-out single and walk in the 5th by getting Newman out for the first time in the game with a 2-2 fastball to finish off a strikeout.
While the Dodgers offense slowed in the 5th and 6th, the Reds did finally threaten to break through against Kershaw. With his command waning a bit in the 6th after hitting 68 pitches through 5, Kershaw allowed singles to McLain and India to open the inning. An automatic ball to De La Cruz opened the at-bat, but Kershaw battled back from a 2-0 count with a fastball and slider for strikes before getting him swinging at a curve for strike three.
A one-pitch pop out and a three-pitch strikeout ended the threat as Kershaw closed out the inning with seven consecutive strikes after opening it with seven balls among 13 pitches.
Three consecutive two-out singles by Vargas, Taylor and Outman loaded the bases for Barnes in the 7th, but a 104.7 mph ground ball ended the inning without anything to show for it. That actually made it three exit velocities around 105 mph for Barnes, in addition to a line out that was at 78.8 mph with a .810 xBA, so that seemed like a pretty productive 1-for-4 game to that point.
Kershaw returned for the 7th, needing just 10 pitches to retire the bottom of the order. That quick inning included his ninth strikeout of the game, and 2,900th of his career, with yet another swing and miss at a slider.
A very impressive 7 IP with five hits and two walks allowed to the nine strikeouts which included 17 misses on 48 swings. That included 5 misses on 6 swings against the curve and 12 on 31 sliders. Take out the 11 swings against the fastball that led to eight balls in play and it’s a 17 misses on 37 swings against breaking pitches (45.9%).
A single by Freeman was all the offense could muster in the 8th as Tayler Scott took over for Kershaw. Recalled earlier in the day with Noah Syndergaard hitting the IL, Scott is probably a few days away from heading back to Triple-A when Julio Urias returns. Scott allowed a one-out double, but otherwise was fine in his first inning of work which ended with another strikeout of De La Cruz on a swing and a miss at a change.
Peralta singled for the fourth time in the 9th, and Outman drew an intentional walk to bring Barnes back to the plate with two outs. Sadly he wouldn’t get a fifth opportunity to make contact in the game as he took a 2-2 fastball off his hand and Betts grounded out with the bases loaded to end the inning.
Scott remained in the game for the 9th, with Will Smith taking over behind the plate, and needed just 11 more pitches to close out the victory.
The Dodgers head to Philadelphia tonight as they begin a three-game series with the Phillies tomorrow at 4:05 p.m. PT. Michael Grove will face Ranger Suarez, who holds a 5.47 ERA/3.69 FIP/3.79 xFIP in his 24 2/3 innings this season. The Dodgers swept the Phillies in Los Angeles at the start of May, with 36 runs scored in three games.