Utley delivers, Dodgers beat Nationals to force decisive Game 5


Utley delivers, Dodgers beat Nationals to force decisive Game 5


LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw left with a lead in the seventh inning and the bases loaded. After the bullpen faltered, veterans Chase Utley and Andre Ethier rescued the Dodgers.

Utley singled home the tiebreaking run with two outs in the eighth, and Los Angeles avoided elimination Tuesday with a 6-5 victory over the Washington Nationals that forced a deciding Game 5 in their NL playoff.

Kenley Jansen worked the ninth for a save, one day after giving up four late runs during Los Angeles' loss in Game 3.

"I got out there and focused and fought," he said.

Game 5 is Thursday in Washington, with 20-game winner Max Scherzer set to pitch for the Nationals.

"Man, this is going to be a heck of a ballgame," Scherzer said. "The effort from both sides over the first four games has been incredible. Great pitching, great hitting, defense, everything."

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he will use left-hander Rich Hill and rookie Julio Urias, but did not announce which one will start.

"If anyone gives up on this team, they haven't seen us play a whole lot this year," Roberts said, "and it starts with what Clayton did - short rest and leaving it all out there. Everyone fed off that."

After failing to close out the Dodgers on the road, Washington will get one more chance Thursday to win a playoff series for the first time since the franchise relocated from Montreal. NL East champions in three of the past five years, the Nationals were unable to advance during their two previous trips to the postseason.

"That's why we fought so hard for the home-field advantage," manager Dusty Baker said. "This year, it's coming to fruition."

Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run homer for the Dodgers, who turned to Kershaw on three days' rest to salvage their season.

The score was tied 5-all with two outs in the eighth when Andrew Toles got hit by a pitch from loser Blake Treinen. Ethier followed with a single to left and Utley singled to right, scoring Toles from second for a 6-5 lead.

Trailing 5-2 in the seventh, the Nats had runners on first and second against Kershaw with two outs. The crowd chanted Kershaw's name as he and Bryce Harper battled through eight pitches before Harper drew a walk.

"Man, that's what baseball is all about right there: a matter of will," Baker said. "Kershaw was on empty. We knew it. They knew it. Everybody knew it."

Harper's walk loaded the bases and chased Kershaw, who walked off with his head down. He sat alone in the dugout with his head resting on his right hand.

"Kershaw was outstanding," Baker said. "That's one of the best performances I've seen, especially on three days' rest."

But the Dodgers' bullpen nearly gave the game away.

Pedro Baez came in and hit Jayson Werth with his only pitch, forcing in a run to make it 5-3. Baez got booed off the field.

Daniel Murphy's single off Luis Avilan dropped between Toles and Joc Pederson in left-center field, scoring two runs to tie it at 5. Avilan also heard boos.

Joe Blanton, who earned the win, retired Anthony Rendon on a swinging strikeout to end the inning.

"Our bullpen has been unbelievable," Kershaw said. "Joe did what Joe's been doing all season. He's been through a lot in his career but he came in and shut them down."

Desperate to avoid another early playoff exit, the Dodgers went with Kershaw, their three-time Cy Young Award winner who won Game 1 last Friday despite going just five innings and allowing three runs.

This time, he was charged with five runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out 11 - equaling his second-best postseason total - and walked two.

The left-hander was limited to 149 innings while compiling a 1.69 ERA during the regular season. He missed 2 1/2 months with a mildly herniated disk in his back.

Kershaw opened the game by giving up a leadoff single and a walk before Murphy's RBI single.

The Dodgers took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the inning on Gonzalez's two-run shot that scored Justin Turner, who was hit by a pitch from Joe Ross.

Werth's RBI single tied it 2-all in the third.

Los Angeles again answered in the bottom of the inning, with Kershaw getting the rally going with a double to left field. He slid into second and clenched his fists in a rare show of emotion.

Kershaw scored on Turner's single with two outs. Pederson got hit by a pitch from Ross with the bases loaded, forcing in Turner

Ross made his postseason debut for the Nationals, giving up four runs and three hits in 2 2/3 innings, equaling the shortest playoff start in the history of the Montreal-Washington franchise. The 23-year-old right-hander struck out three and walked two. He hasn't pitched more than four innings since coming off the disabled list on Sept. 18.

Five players were hit by pitches, including four Dodgers, which set a single-game franchise playoff record. Of the quartet, two ended up scoring. Werth was the lone Nationals player to get hit.

There have been 11 hit batters in the series, a postseason record.

"No one on either side is trying to hit anybody with everything on the line right now," Scherzer said. "That's just baseball being played at its highest."

Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg experienced discomfort in his right elbow during a bullpen session Monday at Dodger Stadium. He threw 30 or 31 pitches instead of the scheduled 35. Strasburg has been out since tearing the pronator tendon in his elbow on Sept. 7.

Baker said Strasburg was throwing the ball "very good" and he's not concerned about the pitcher's progress. Strasburg has said he would try to return this season if the Nationals advance to the NLCS.

Kershaw started a game on three days' rest for the fourth consecutive postseason.

Baker has lost eight consecutive postseason games when his team would have advanced with a victory. That's the longest such streak in major league history, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

The Dodgers improved to 12-15 in postseason elimination games since moving to Los Angeles.

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.

Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential


Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For most pitchers, spring training is a time to experiment and add a pitch or two. Josh Osich is using this month to go the other direction. 

Osich spent the offseason watching film of his 2015 season, when he looked like he might one day be the closer in San Francisco, and decided that he needed to get back to his roots. That means the curveball, which he tried so hard to mix in last year, is now far back in the cupboard. The four-seam and two-seam fastballs are once again the focus, with an emphasis on changing eye levels more than he did a year ago. The changeup and cutter will round out his arsenal for the most part. 

Osich’s raw stuff is still as good as just about any lefty reliever in the league, and he hopes to take advantage of that while putting a rough 2017 season in his rearview mirror. He had a 6.23 ERA last season and 1.73 WHIP.

“It’s just one of those learning years,” Osich said. “I tried to live at the bottom of the zone and I was, but I was actually below the zone. So then I would fall behind and need to throw a strike and that’s when guys would hit me.”

Osich, 29, had a 2.20 ERA and 1.12 WHIP during that 2015 season that he keeps going back to. He walked eight batters in 28 2/3 innings, a far cry from the 27 he walked in 43 1/3 last year. While watching the 2015 version of himself, Osich saw that his hands were higher, and that’s something he’s working to replicate. He’s also trying to slow his pace to the plate. So far, the results are nothing but encouraging. Osich allowed one hit and struck out one in a 2 1/3 inning appearance on Wednesday night. Manager Bruce Bochy let him extend himself to keep the good vibes going. 

In six appearances this spring, Osich has allowed just four hits over seven scoreless innings. He has seven strikeouts and one walk. 

“O, it just seems like he’s got confidence,” Bochy said. “He’s kept it simple, he’s not tinkering with different pitches. He’s throwing more strikes, and more than anything he’s just trying to pound the strike zone now with quality strikes. That’s all he has to do. You look at him and he’s hitting 95 with a couple of good off-speed pitches. That works here.”