But on Tuesday night, Clayton Kershaw struck out 11 in 8 2/3 innings to beat Washington, 2-0. And Zack Greinke comes off the disabled list to start Wednesday night, reuniting the co-aces in the rotation for the first time since Greinke broke his left collarbone on April 11.
"He's really good. That helps, getting an ace like that," Kershaw said of Greinke's return. "It's a big deal."
Just like every Kershaw start, especially this one. Coming off back-to-back no-decisions, Kershaw recorded only his second win since April 6, riding Andre Ethier's two-run single to outduel Dan Haren.
Kershaw is 4-2 with an MLB-leading 1.40 ERA. He allowed five hits, three to Ryan Zimmerman, and was removed one out shy of a shutout with a Fernando-like 132-pitch count.
"He is an unbelievable pitcher," Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond said. "He is the best in the game, in my opinion."
In an interesting subplot, one day after manager Don Mattingly said that struggling Brandon League was still his closer, Mattingly brought in the overpowering Kenley Jansen to save the game. Jansen has struck out 13 in his last six innings.
"In that game, I had to go with the guy who's throwing the ball best; as much as anything he's been throwing the ball better than anybody," said Mattingly, who was lustily booed by the sellout crowd for bringing in anybody to relieve Kershaw.
Mattingly wouldn't say that Jansen is his closer, even though he never warmed up League.
After a pair of warning-track outs, Kershaw allowed a two-out single to Adam LaRoche on the 10th pitch to reach a career-high 132 pitches and Mattingly went to Jansen, who struck out Tyler Moore.
"Donnie made the right move," Kershaw said. "I don't know how long that at-bat was, but I left it all out there on that one. Just pumping heaters, he did a good job on that at-bat. When you have Kenley, it's an easy call."
Mattingly said the workload will force him to give Kershaw an extra day of rest, so his next start will be Monday in Milwaukee instead of Sunday in Atlanta.
Facing a Nationals club that was without Bryce Harper (still queasy from colliding with the fence Monday night), Kershaw reached the 1,000-inning milestone and now ranks third (first among starters) since 1920 with a career ERA of 2.70 (minimum 1,000 innings pitched).
"I haven't been playing very long," said Kershaw. "I've got a lot of time to screw it up."
He also has allowed three or fewer runs in his last 21 starts, the longest active streak in the Majors and longest for a Dodgers pitcher since Orel Hershiser had 27 in 1985-86. He has the second-lowest career opponents batting average for a Dodgers pitcher behind Sandy Koufax and the third-lowest career ERA for a Dodgers pitcher behind Jeff Pfeffer and Nap Rucker.
Kershaw had seven strikeouts through the top of the third inning (including six in a row), but he didn't have a lead until the bottom half, and he got it started when he was hit on the foot by a Haren pitch leading off.
One out later, Matt Kemp extended his hitting streak to 13 games on his bobblehead night to send Kershaw to second, and they advanced on a wild pitch. After Adrian Gonzalez struck out, Ethier lined a two-out single through the box, one of only four Dodgers hits. Ethier came into the game hitting .426 lifetime against Haren.
"I know a lot of people are going to ask why you didn't walk Ethier," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "I have a veteran pitcher and I have a base open. I know If he makes his pitches, he is not going to give anything to hit. It's going to be out of the zone."
Kershaw had 11 strikeouts through six innings and none after. It was a 29-pitch first inning, when Kershaw loaded the bases, that ultimately kept him from sticking around for the complete game.
The inning was prolonged with a two-out walk to LaRoche, whom Kershaw appeared to strike out on a 1-2 pitch, but plate umpire Ted Barrett called it a ball.
"He seemed to be on a mission tonight," Mattingly said of Kershaw.
Still, the Dodgers came away with their third win in the last four games.
"Wins are big right now. It's not coming easy, no secret about that," said Kershaw. "We've won three of four and we've got to keep rolling. It sounds cliche, but we've got to play baseball and wins are going to happen."