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Dodgers power their way to 4-2 win over the Athletics

As he gathered himself at first base, Matt Kemp clapped his hands together and pointed skyward. He had reason to feel gratitude in the seventh inning of a 4-2 Dodgers victory over the Oakland Athletics. His cue-shot, opposite-field RBI single was only his second hit since July 24, a stretch that agonized Kemp and robbed the Dodgers of one of their most effective first-half hitters.

“That’s life, man,” Kemp said. “It’s baseball. It can’t be good the whole year. There’s got to be a grinding time, and I’m in my grinding time right now. As long we win, I’m good. But at some point, I think I’ll get another hit.”

Kemp did not announce his presence with full authority Tuesday, but he did contribute that hit and a walk as the Dodgers (63-51) returned to first place in the National League West. A loss by Arizona opened the door. The Dodgers squeaked through, producing enough offense with an inefficient but relatively effective output.

Electric for five innings, Rich Hill wavered in the sixth, yielding a two-run homer before departing. He struck out five in 51/3 innings, but exited with his club still ahead.

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“I should have gone deeper in the game,” Hill said. “It didn’t work out that way. But the bullpen did a heck of a job.”

The game represented a homecoming of sorts for Hill. After he reinvented himself as a starter in the summer of 2015, his four-outing cameo with Boston convinced Oakland to sign him to a one-year, $6-million contract for 2016. The Athletics shipped Hill, along with outfielder Josh Reddick, to the Dodgers for three pitching prospects: Jharel Cotton, Frankie Montas and Grant Holmes.

Cotton underwent elbow ligament replacement surgery in March. Montas has bounced between triple A and the majors all season. Holmes hurt his shoulder this spring and hasn’t pitched in a game in 2018. Hill, meanwhile, missed a month with a blister on his left hand before returning as a force.

Hill left the disabled list June 19. He had appeared in nine games before Tuesday. During that stretch, he struck out 56 batters in 492/3 innings with a 2.36 ERA. He stayed on a roll in Oakland.

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The offense generated a lead for Hill in the first inning. A leadoff single by Brian Dozier off Sean Manaea allowed Manny Machado to replace him on the bases after a fielder’s choice. Justin Turner skied a fly ball onto the warning track in right-center field. The baseball hung in the air long enough for Machado to pause, waiting to see if an outfielder would catch it.

Neither Oakland center fielder Mark Canha nor right fielder Stephen Piscotty made the play. Turner chugged into second for a double. Machado held at third base, then scored on a groundout by Enrique Hernandez.

The Dodgers annoyed Manaea with their legs again in the second. After Chris Taylor took a leadoff walk, he went first to third on a ground single by Yasiel Puig. Batting in the No. 9 hole, catcher Austin Barnes chopped a bunt to the right side of the infield. Taylor broke for home on contact, and Manaea could not make a play at the plate in time.

Manaea could not finish the third inning. The Dodgers squeezed a third run out of him with patience and well-placed hits. Turner led off with a single. Kemp walked. Cody Bellinger lined a two-out RBI single in center field to end Manaea’s evening. He threw 77 pitches to collect eight outs.

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As the Dodgers were taking it one run at a time, Hill was cruising. Through three innings, he had issued two walks and nothing more. He finished the third by fanning Oakland third baseman Matt Chapman with a curveball for Hill’s fourth strikeout of the evening. Chapman slammed his helmet and his bat in disgust as Hill trotted to his dugout.

“I thought Rich was really good early,” manager Dave Roberts said.

The Athletics made better contact in the fourth. Oakland slugger Khris Davis recorded his team’s first hit with an infield single. Canha smoked a line drive into Taylor’s glove in left field. Hill was not perturbed. He fooled first baseman Matt Olson with an 85-mph slider for a harmless popup to end the inning.

Hill’s command faltered in the fifth. He handed out back-to-back walks to open the inning. Hill stepped off the mound to gather himself, and then crawled out of the hole.

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His defenders helped.

Hill flooded the strike zone with curveballs against Jonathan Lucroy. When Lucroy chopped one to the left side of the infield, Machado and Dozier teamed for a 6-4-3 double play. Marcus Semien popped up another curveball for the third out.

The Dodgers missed a chance to crack the game open in the top of the sixth. With runners at the corners, Barnes tried another squeeze play. This time he pushed the ball too close to the mound. Oakland reliever Ryan Buchter shoveled the ball home in time for Lucroy to tag Bellinger out. Two batters later, Machado popped up with the bases loaded. Turner lined out to strand all three runners.

In the sixth, Hill paid for two mistakes. The first was a curveball that swept over the center of the plate. Chapman cracked it into left field for a leadoff double. The second was a fastball that drifted down the middle. Davis walloped it into the deep recesses of center field for a two-run homer.

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“That fifth inning, the fastball started to cut a little and didn’t have that life to it,” Roberts said. “And the curve got a little loose. And the same in the sixth.”

The pitch to Davis was Hill’s 98th of the evening. It was also his last.

Roberts took the ball from Hill and tasked his bullpen with protecting the lead — which would grow in the seventh, after Dylan Floro and Scott Alexander finished the sixth.

Joc Pederson came off the bench to get a leadoff double against reliever Yusmeiro Petit. Kemp followed with his single to provide an insurance run. Kemp caught a piece of a curveball from Petit and shot it into right field for a hit.

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“To get a knock and drive in a run,” Roberts said, “I think he’s pretty relieved.”

andy.mccullough@latimes.com

Twitter: @McCulloughTimes


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