LOS ANGELES -- There's not much separating the careers of three-time Cy Young Award winners Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer. But after getting outpitched by the Nationals' ace on Friday night at Dodger Stadium, Kershaw offered his opinion on what makes Scherzer elite.
"His fastball is dominant. His fastball is the separator for him," said Kershaw, who was beaten by Scherzer and the Nationals, 5-2. "The life and carry he has on that ball, it's really hard for me to hit, it's just a really good fastball."
Scherzer's fastball touched 96 mph, Kershaw's topped out at 92. So, in a duel between two of the best pitchers of their generation, that might be one reason Scherzer has won two National League Cy Young Awards since Kershaw won his third in 2014.
While the velocity edge goes to Scherzer, he complimented Kershaw on the mental game. The mutual admiration is obvious.
"He attacks the zone, doesn't walk guys," Scherzer said. "He brings it every single time, that's just the on-surface stuff that you know is going on between his ears, that he goes out there and competes as well as anybody and attacks the zone."
Although they met in Game 1 of the 2016 NL Division Series (Kershaw won), the classic pitching matchup marked a regular-season rarity, the first between three-time Cy Young Award winners in a dozen years (Roger Clemens vs. Greg Maddux). And it was a shaky beginning for both.
Kershaw (1-3) was ambushed in a two-run first inning -- three pitches, three swings and the first run. Ryan Zimmerman was next with an RBI double and Kershaw was down, 2-0.
"That was their game plan," manager Dave Roberts said of the Nats' aggressiveness. "Knowing Clayton is a strike-thrower, get him before he gets you was their mentality. High risk, high reward."
"The deeper into the at-bat you go with him, the harder it gets, especially if he can get ahead of you," Zimmerman said. "It worked out good tonight. But he's still pretty good."
Kershaw was charged with four runs in seven innings on nine hits, striking out only four because the Nationals wouldn't allow their at-bats to go deep enough to get to three strikes. Of the 29 batters Kershaw faced, 14 swung at the first offering.
"I usually expect that with every team; sometimes they foul off the first pitch, sometimes they don't," Kershaw said of Washington's aggressiveness. "I've got to make a better pitch to Zimmerman and get out with one run."
Kershaw retired the next 11 batters before allowing runs in the fifth and sixth innings for a 4-0 deficit.
The Dodgers -- who came into the game with a four-game win streak after breaking out offensively during a three-game sweep in San Diego -- went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position, wasting Chris Taylor's triple on Scherzer's first pitch and his fifth-inning two-out double.
"More a product of who they're facing. He's pretty good," Kershaw said, forgiving an offense that's facing Scherzer. "We did the same thing [swinging early] to Max. He was able to pitch out of it. Usually you can come back from two [runs down], but it's tough against Max. I can get through seven [innings] and two [runs], but I had those two tack-ons late that you can't have. We had opportunities, Max limited the damage."
The Dodgers didn't score on Scherzer until Yasiel Puig's RBI single with two out in the sixth. Scherzer finished with nine strikeouts in six innings. The Dodgers added a run in the seventh off Washington's bullpen. They scored seven runs in Kershaw's lone win this year, but only five runs total in his other four starts.
In the Dodgers' first inning, Taylor's triple was followed by the first of two times Corey Seager was hit by a pitch. Runners on the corners and no outs, but hot-hitting Yasmani Grandal popped out and Scherzer fanned Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson.
"First and third, nobody out, came up empty," said Roberts. "That was a big part of the game. If we get one across, it could have been a different ballgame. Couldn't come up with the big hit."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Leave 'em stranded: In addition to the missed opportunity in the first inning, the Dodgers had a two-on, one-out setup in the third with hot-hitting Yasmani Grandal up. But Scherzer induced a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
Where's the bunt defense? While Washington's execution of the safety squeeze was perfect, you can't say the same for the Dodgers' defense. First baseman Bellinger charged hard, but the bunt was fielded by Kershaw, and second baseman Chase Utley had no chance to outrun Turner to first. The third run scored as Turner raced to an easy single.
"Belly and I just have to be on the same page. We can't both do the same," said Kershaw. "[Turner] is really fast, a run is going to score regardless. Just a good play by them."
HE SAID IT
"This is a hard gauge, Scherzer." -- Roberts, on judging the Dodgers' offense on this game
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Kershaw entered the game 10-0 against the Nationals in 10 starts since 2012, including the postseason.
After dealing with Max Scherzer on Friday night, the sledding doesn't ease up on Saturday when the Dodgers face Stephen Strasburg at 6:10 p.m. PT at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers will counter with Hyun-Jin Ryu, who is coming off his second consecutive effective start, striking out nine in six innings against San Diego.