LOS ANGELES -- Trea Turner acknowledged Thursday night that the Nationals’ hitters had been tight throughout their loss to the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium.
“I think right now we’re trying a little too hard,” Turner said. “We need to have a little more fun.”
It’s hard to have fun when the opposing pitcher is Clayton Kershaw, but the Nationals found a way, scoring three runs in the first two innings to seize an early lead that held up in a 4-2 victory in Game 2 on Friday night.
After producing only two hits while getting shut out in Game 1, the Nationals’ offense finally stirred in the first inning against Kershaw, who has struggled to navigate the opening frame this year. He logged a 5.79 ERA in the first inning during the regular season, significantly worse than any other frame.
It didn’t take long for the Nationals to exploit that vulnerability. Turner opened the game with a first-pitch double down the left-field line, Anthony Rendon drew a walk and Juan Soto reached on a hit-by-pitch to load the bases for the Nationals with one out. Howie Kendrick, who committed two errors at first base in Game 1, followed with an RBI single to left to give Washington its first lead of the series.
“We got to him a little bit early,” first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said of Kershaw. “We were pretty aggressive, and then he kind of made an adjustment and settled in a little. But when you go up against a guy like that -- if he settles in, it’s tough. We were lucky Trea started out the game great, got to sneak in a few runs. We had a couple of chances that we really didn’t capitalize on, but to jump out to an early lead with Stephen [Strasburg] on the mound was big.”
Kershaw escaped the first without allowing further damage, though the Nationals forced him to throw 26 pitches in the opening frame.
“I thought Clayton did a good job of limiting damage,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “After that, I thought he threw the ball pretty well, I really did. But those guys were taking good swings and putting together good at-bats. It's a grind, the pitch count got up early.”
Still, Washington continued to pressure Kershaw in the second, adding two more runs in the second on two-out RBI hits from Adam Eaton and Rendon. Victor Robles reached on Kershaw’s second hit-by-pitch of the night, before advancing to second on a sacrifice bunt by Strasburg and scoring on Eaton’s single to center field. Rendon then doubled off the center-field wall to bring home Eaton, allowing the Nationals to turn a 3-0 lead over to Strasburg.
Seven of the first 13 Nationals batters reached base against Kershaw, who blanked Washington over the final four innings of his outing.
Generating early offense had been a challenge for the Nationals over their first two games of the postseason, as they were held to one run over the first seven innings of Tuesday’s NL Wild Card Game against the Brewers before being shut out in Game 1 of the NLDS.
Before Game 2, Eaton said that some of the club’s veteran players had tried to loosen the atmosphere in the clubhouse with “chirps and little tidbits that get guys laughing.” Friday’s early offensive outburst helped ease the pressure, too.
“We put up some runs early, and I think we obviously had a little bit more fun winning today,” Turner said. “But going forward, we just to have fun, enjoy each other and keep battling.”