LOS ANGELES -- For the first time since April 23, the Dodgers are a game above .500.Behind two solo blasts from Yasmani Grandal, back-to-back jacks by Joc Pederson and Max Muncy and a solo bomb from Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers overpowered the Braves in a 7-3 win Friday night at
LOS ANGELES -- For the first time since April 23, the Dodgers are a game above .500.
Behind two solo blasts from Yasmani Grandal, back-to-back jacks by Joc Pederson and Max Muncy and a solo bomb from Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers overpowered the Braves in a 7-3 win Friday night at Dodger Stadium. The victory marked Los Angeles' 16th in its last 21 contests.
"Things are just starting to click," Pederson said. "We're a really good team, and we started off real slow, but we're in a good place right now."
The offensive effort proved just enough for the Dodgers to outlast Atlanta's offense, which entered the night ranked first in the National League in batting average (.261). This, even as Los Angeles' bullpen took over for rookie right-hander Walker Buehler (4-1, 2.63 ERA), who left the contest during the top of the sixth inning with rib soreness.
"To his credit, he's as tough as they come and wanted to stay in there," manager Dave Roberts said of Buehler. "But obviously, it was a no-brainer for us [to pull him out the game]."
Buehler's teammates were perplexed at his early exit in the midst of what's been an injury-riddled campaign thus far. "We saw Doc and the trainer come out, we were like, 'Man. This is crazy,'" Bellinger said. "I've never seen anything like it."
A day after using a team-record nine pitchers to finish a sweep of the Pirates in Pittsburgh, the Dodgers once again turned to the bullpen to hold on to win Friday. Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte and lefty Adam Liberatore each, respectively, were the first to enter in relief of Buehler. Both pitchers had been recalled prior to the game.
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman ripped a ground-rule RBI double off Venditte in the sixth to cut Los Angeles' lead to 5-2. Venditte was removed in the seventh after opening the frame with a four-pitch walk and a bloop single to center. Liberatore managed to extinguish the threat, inducing Charlie Culberson into a double play, then striking out Peter Bourjos on a full count.
Muncy added to the Dodgers' lead with an RBI double in the seventh before Braves third baseman Johan Camargo launched a solo shot to center, making it 6-3 in the eighth. However, Liberatore didn't fold. Facing Atlanta's 1-2-3 hitters -- Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman -- he forced back-to-back groundouts before striking out Freeman looking on an 81-mph changeup to end the eighth.
"The home run didn't get me too rattled, to be honest," Liberatore said. "I don't know what Camargo was hitting before that, but I just was trying to get back into the count, and he put a nice swing on the ball and he hit it out. We still had a three-run lead, so it didn't feel like there was a lot of pressure. [I] got ahead in counts and tried to get weak contact when I can. Just trying to not do too much."
In the eighth, Bellinger popped his fourth home run in as many games to push the Dodgers ahead by four runs before Kenley Jansen closed things out in the ninth to secure the win.
Los Angeles has seemingly found its form, particularly on offense, over the past month. Braves starter and former Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy (5-3, 5.03) was on the losing end of Friday's onslaught, allowing four runs, including three home runs.
Grandal's homers in the second and fourth innings -- his 10th and 11th of the season -- preceded Pederson and Muncy's back-to-back homers in the fifth. For Pederson, it marked his sixth home run in as many contests after hitting just one through 53 games.
With the result -- and despite numerous injuries -- the Dodgers have entered a three-way tie with the Rockies and Giants for second place in the National League West, pulling within 1 1/2 games of first place behind the D-backs.
"We're finally playing with confidence again," Bellinger said. "I think we have been this whole month and the end of last month. And I feel like even when we have injuries, the guys that are coming in are stepping up big time, so it's been really good these past couple weeks."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Liberatore comes around, then holds it down: After reaching safely in the bottom of the seventh, Liberatore would come all the way home, scoring from first base when Muncy drilled an RBI double. Muncy was thrown out trying to stretch for a triple, and Liberatore was immediately called out to pitch in the eighth. He gave up a solo home run to Camargo before retiring the top of Braves' lineup in order to set up closer Jansen in the ninth.
"The thing is he keeps his focus," Jansen said of Liberatore. "He keeps his emotion down, and just figures out how to get three big outs for us and keeping us [ahead]."
Fast start: Matt Kemp, who entered Friday's matchup batting a National League-leading .349, poked a two-out single into right-center for the Dodgers' first hit of the game in the bottom of the first inning. Bellinger followed with a five-pitch walk, before Yasiel Puig laced a single into right, plating Kemp for the first run.
HE SAID IT
"I think that it helped a lot. We obviously know Brandon [McCarthy] pretty well. He knows us well. But no one knows him better than his catcher." -- Roberts, on whether Grandal being McCarthy's catcher last season helped him swat two homers off the veteran right-hander.
PUIG EXITS EARLY
Roberts removed Puig in the sixth inning but gave little explanation why after the game.
"Yasiel's fine, it's just an in-house thing we're dealing with," said Roberts. "He'll be in there tomorrow."
When Roberts pulled Bellinger from a game in San Francisco on April 29, Roberts said it was for not hustling, and that public airing triggered added drama with a back-and-forth between the player and manager.
The Dodgers will take on the Braves in the second matchup of the three-game series on Saturday night, with first pitch scheduled for 6:10 p.m. PT. Left-hander Alex Wood (1-4, 4.48 ERA) will take the mound for the Dodgers, while right-hander Anibal Sanchez (1-0, 2.16) is slated to start for the Braves.
Kaelen Jones is a reporter for MLB.com.