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Kemp, Dodgers drub Nats, get taste of first place

Seven-run second backs Kershaw; LA ties Arizona before D-backs win

WASHINGTON -- Everything went perfectly for the Dodgers on Sunday, until one hiccup in the ninth inning of their series finale against the Nationals put a slight damper on the festivities.

Matt Kemp came off the disabled list to go 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs, Carl Crawford broke out of a slump with three hits, Hanley Ramirez slammed a three-run homer and Clayton Kershaw dominated for seven innings in a 9-2 victory. That gave the Dodgers a three-game sweep coming out the All-Star break, improved them to 20-5 since June 22, and pulled them into a tie with the D-backs atop the NL West, although Arizona later beat San Francisco to move back ahead by a half-game.

The day's only negative occurred in the ninth, when Kemp suffered a left ankle injury while sliding into home plate on a force play. He left the game with what is believed to be a sprain, although no X-rays were taken and he is not expected to need a return trip to the DL. The Dodgers will reevaluate him before Monday's series opener in Toronto.

"It's just a little swollen. It's not that bad," Kemp said. "I started walking around a little bit and it started feeling a little better, so tomorrow we'll see what it feels like."

Other than that, it was smooth sailing for the Dodgers, who began the series with a pair of close, low-scoring wins. They played with Kemp, Crawford and Ramirez in the same lineup for the first time this season and reaped the rewards, pounding Nationals All-Star right-hander Jordan Zimmermann for seven runs during a decisive second inning.

A team that faced a 9 1/2-game division deficit a month ago gave itself an opportunity to move into sole possession of first place for the first time all season.

"That's not really what we're worried about right now," Kemp said. "We can't worry about what Arizona's doing. We've got to take care of our business. If we continue to play the way we've been playing, we'll be a tough team to beat. We all want to get in first place, and when we do get in first place, we don't want to lose that spot. We just want to keep rolling."

Kershaw (9-6), making his first appearance since the All-Star Game, struck out nine and walked none while twirling a two-hitter over seven innings. He gave up only a pair of home runs to Jayson Werth, in the second and the seventh. Kershaw's Major League-leading ERA climbed slightly, to 2.01.

"Yeah, he's one of the best guys in the game," Werth said. "I was lucky enough to get some pitches I could handle. I'm sure he would tell you he missed his spot. I think both of them were pretty much right down the middle. When you get a guy like that that leaves balls in the middle of the plate, you have to capitalize on it, and luckily I was able to do that."

The left-hander had a 7-0 lead to work with after the Dodgers sent 11 men to the plate against Zimmermann in the top of the second. Kemp, who missed the previous 11 games with a left shoulder injury, led off by blasting a hanging slider well up into the left-field bleachers. Kershaw drove in a run with a groundout, and Crawford hit an RBI single before Ramirez launched a towering three-run shot into the Dodgers' bullpen behind left field. Kemp capped the scoring with an RBI double down the left-field line, as L.A. matched its highest-scoring inning of the season.

That outburst chased Zimmermann (12-5), who came in with a 2.58 ERA this year and a 22-start unbeaten streak at home. He gave up eight hits and two walks over two innings.

After an Andre Ethier RBI groundout against Ross Ohlendorf in the fourth, Kemp struck again with an RBI single to left, making the score 9-1 and pulling him within a triple of the cycle. He lined out to the left-field warning track in the sixth and walked in the ninth.

"He's a great hitter. We all know it," first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. "MVP-type player, and we know he's capable of doing that every time he's out there."

The Dodgers also got a big day from Crawford, who entered play 3-for-32 since coming off the DL on July 5. He matched that hit total in one afternoon, going 3-for-5 with a double and a walk, losing a fourth hit when Kemp didn't hustle home on the ninth-inning forceout.

"We thought yesterday that his [batting practice] was better than we'd seen in a long time," manager Don Mattingly said. "Then yesterday he gets a hit in the game, swung the bat good today, I thought. Hopefully, he's on the road."

The Dodgers now head to Toronto firing on all cylinders after facing three All-Star-caliber starting pitchers in three days and sweeping a team that made the postseason a year ago.

"This was a good sign," Kershaw said. "That's a great team over there. We have a lot of respect for those guys. They did it last year and they pretty much have the same team back. So for us to come in here and play like we did, get some wins against some upper-echelon pitchers like we did, it's a good sign for us, for sure."

Andrew Simon is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @HitTheCutoff.
Read More: Los Angeles Dodgers, Hanley Ramirez, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp