Bullpen, timely hitting lifts Dodgers past Nationals in series opener

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles used a solid performance from the pitching staff and some clutch late hits to open the series with a victory.

Left-hander James Paxton allowed one run in 4 2/3 innings and the bullpen kept the Washington Nationals to two hits, helping the Dodgers cruise to a 4-1 victory Tuesday at Nationals Park.

The Dodgers’ bats were quiet before they managed to break through in the sixth inning with a two-out single from Kike Hernandez. They would add on two more runs in the eighth with a pinch hit on a go-ahead double from James Outman and an insurance single from Miguel Rojas.

The flashiest moment came in the top of the ninth, when Shohei Ohtani blasted a mammoth home run to right-center field that gave the Dodgers a decisive three-run lead.

In a dramatic bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers managed to keep the Nationals off the board and walk away with a 4-1 victory (their second in a row).

Here are three takeaways:

Paxton labors through start

The 35-year-old managed to keep the Nationals lineup in check and provide a promising start. The lone run he allowed came in the bottom of the second innning, when Ildemaro Vargas hit a leadoff double and scored on Jacob Young’s one-out infield single.

Paxton saw his pitch count soar (89 pitchers, 52 strikes) thanks to three walks and five hits.

He was pulled in the bottom of the fifth inning after allowing a two-out single to Lane Thomas and walking Jesse Winker.

Paxton lowered his ERA this season to 2.61. That’s the best of any Dodgers pitcher this season, proving his ability to be an impactful starter in the Dodgers’ rotation. Although he wasn’t credited with the win on Tuesday, his strong start kept them in the game long enough to pull ahead late.

Outman, Ohtani deliver big hits

Although at different ends of the lineup, James Outman and Shohei Ohtani each had big moments in the Dodgers victory. Outman, who was not even in the lineup to start the game, delivered a go-ahead double in the top of the eighth inning with his pinch-hit appearance.

He was finally able to break through for Los Angeles with what was just their second hit since the sixth inning. Despite the early season struggles, the 26-year-old delivered when it mattered and gave the Dodgers their first lead of the game.

Credit also has to be awarded to Rojas, whose RBI single later in the inning helped provided an insurance run. Rojas finished the game 2 for 4 while hitting out of the No. 9 spot in the lineup.

In the ninth, Ohtani sent a rocket home run that traveled 450 feet to the seats in right-center. It was the hardest-hit homer of Ohtani’s career, coming off of the bat at 118.7 MPH.

It was also the hardest-hit home run by a Dodgers player since the beginning of the Statcast era. He is now tied with fellow superstar Mookie Betts for the team lead in homers with six.

Ohtani’s .364 batting average leads all of the MLB. His mammoth blast gifted a little bit more breathing room in what turned out to be an intense bottom of the ninth.

Bullpen dominates with shutout performance

Perhaps the biggest factor in the Dodgers’ victory over the Nationals was the 4.1 shutout innings that they got from their bullpen.

Michael Grove, Alex Vesia, Daniel Hudson and Evan Phillips each came through with clutch performances to keep Washington off the board.

After starting the ninth with a strikeout of Nick Senzel, Phillips walked Luis Garcia and Joey Gallo. CJ Abrams followed with a single to right field, but Garcia was thrown out at home for the second out.

Phillips would then walked his third batter of the inning, loading the bases with two outs. He struck out Jesse Winker and earned his sixth save.

It wasn’t pretty, but the Dodger bullpen came through in a huge way to keep the Nationals off the board from the fifth inning onward. They deserve major credit for their efforts in the victory.

Los Angeles and Washington will meet for the second game of the series at 3:45 p.m. Wednesday. The Dodgers will start right-hander Landon Knack against Nationals right-hander Jake Irvin.