Dodgers wait out long rain delay, defeat Nationals for eighth consecutive win

The Dodgers' Justin Turner slides home to score during the fourth inning against the Nationals on July 3, 2021.
Justin Turner scores on Albert Pujols’ sacrifice fly during the Dodgers‘ three-run fourth inning Saturday. The Dodgers won 5-3 after a rain delay of 1 hour 44 minutes in the fifth inning. (Nick Wass / Associated Press)

Clayton Kershaw glanced up when Yan Gomes swatted the pitch Saturday night at Nationals Park, yelled in frustration once he realized where the ball was going and looked away. It landed over the left-field wall with two outs in the fourth inning for a score-tying, three-run home run.

Most of the time, Kershaw would have rebounded, finished strong and kept the Dodgers in the game. Mother Nature had other plans. Within minutes, with one out in the top of the fifth inning, the skies opened and the game was stopped. It resumed after a rain delay of 1 hour 44 minutes without Kershaw or Washington Nationals starter Paulo Espino.

The Dodgers went on to win, 5-3, to extend their winning streak to eight games and tie the San Francisco Giants for first in the National League West. The Giants were still playing at Arizona later Saturday.

The Dodgers scored three runs in the fourth inning on two sacrifice flies and an RBI double from Gavin Lux. Then they took the lead without hitting a ball out of the infield in the top of the sixth on a hit by pitch, a fielder’s choice, an error and AJ Pollock’s RBI infield single to the third baseman. The dribbler had an exit velocity of 65.1 mph.

Lux worked a walk to lead off the ninth inning, stole second base and scored on Chris Taylor’s single to give the Dodgers a two-run cushion. The Dodgers manufactured enough offense despite just five hits. They are riding high, but Sunday will present a challenge.

Kershaw’s rain-shortened outing means the Dodgers will effectively be forced into bullpen games on back-to-back days.

Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw delivers during the fourth inning against the Nationals on July 3, 2021.

Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw went four innings, giving up three runs. His rain-shortened outing means the team will effectively be forced into bullpen games on back-to-back days. (Nick Wass / Associated Press)

Trevor Bauer was scheduled to start Sunday’s matinee — the series finale is scheduled for 11 a.m. Eastern — until he was placed on paid administrative leave Friday after a woman accused him of sexual assault and obtained a temporary restraining order against him Tuesday.

The Dodgers, without an obvious viable choice to immediately log a conventional starter’s workload, have opted for a bullpen game. They will be in a bind after using five relievers to cover the final five innings Saturday.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said the team will recall right-hander Edwin Uceta from triple-A Oklahoma City on Sunday to shoulder some of the workload. Uceta is a starter by trade, but he hasn’t logged more than four innings in any of his 12 outings between triple A and the majors.

MLB can keep Bauer on leave for seven days, but it would need approval from the players’ union to extend the duration. If the approval isn’t granted, Bauer would return to the roster Friday when the Dodgers host the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium unless the team decides to act on its own. That appears unlikely.

If Bauer does miss more than seven days, the Dodgers would prefer to avoid navigating the schedule with a four-man rotation for an extended period. They have two internal options for a starting role: veteran David Price and minor leaguer Josiah Gray.

Price is a former Cy Young Award winner whom the Dodgers placed in the bullpen after he opted out of the 2020 season, citing health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. He has started two games as an opener this season during the Dodgers’ five weeks with four starters following Dustin May’s season-ending elbow injury. He threw a season-high 50 pitches in one of those appearances. He has given up 12 runs — 11 earned — in 25-2/3 innings this season.

The scoreboard at Nationals Park during Saturday's rain delay.

The scoreboard at Nationals Park during Saturday’s rain delay. (Mitchell Layton / Getty Images)

On Saturday, Roberts said Price wouldn’t be available for more than 40 pitches Sunday. The left-hander would need multiple starts, perhaps up to a month, to build up the stamina for a conventional starter’s workload.

“The buildup is something else that is not ideal and practical,” Roberts said.

Price said there’s a plan in place, but he declined to disclose details.

“I’ll start if they want me to start,” Price said. “That’s fine with me.”

While the 35-year-old Price has 11 full major league seasons of experience as a starter, Gray has yet to make his big league debut. The 23-year-old right-hander began the season as the organization’s top-ranked prospect, but he has pitched in just one game this season. He was shut down with a shoulder impingement after starting opening day for Oklahoma City.

Gray resumed throwing recently, and Roberts said he expects he will appear in games soon. But he also will need time to build up his arm strength. Acquiring a starter before the July 31 deadline, already a possibility before the allegations against Bauer surfaced, is an alternative.

The Dodgers have recently been reluctant to trade talent from a farm system that has thinned out considerably at the triple-A level.

They, however, have little depth and a question mark in Tony Gonsolin, who hasn’t logged more than four innings in any of his five starts since coming off the injured list. Last week, Gonsolin said he experienced shoulder soreness after his second outing similar to what sidelined him for two months. He surrendered a run on two hits and threw 52 pitches in three innings Friday.

Roberts has also said the team wants to lighten the burden for the other starters as they enter the second half of the season. Bauer, Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Julio Urías all rank in the top 13 for innings pitched across the majors.

“I think it’s game to game,” Roberts said. “We have to still win baseball games. We do a good job of making sure the temperature of each guy, the body, how they’re feeling is where it needs to be. So, nothing has made me think otherwise as far as how we use them.”

Mother nature didn’t let Kershaw pitch deep into Saturday’s game. A day after speaking at the president’s podium during the Dodgers’ visit to the White House, Kershaw’s outing began with a brief scare.

Josh Harrison welcomed him with a line drive up the middle on his first pitch. Kershaw evaded the come-backer, but he emerged wincing. His neck bothered him. That prompted a visit from Roberts and a trainer.

He threw a warmup pitch, stayed in the game and got Juan Soto to ground into a double play. Soto was the first of nine straight batters Kershaw retired until Soto walked with one out in the fourth inning. Ryan Zimmerman then struck out, but Kershaw gave up a single to Starlin Castro before his 2-2 mistake to Gomes. His night would end shortly thereafter, with a sour taste and the Dodgers in a thorny spot.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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