Grandal’s three-run homer is enough for Dodgers’ 3-2 win over Nationals
The game reversed in an instant, 2 hours 24 minutes of emptiness erased with one swing. Yasmani Grandal pumped his fist before he even touched first base, moments after his go-ahead, three-run homer in the eighth inning disappeared over the center-field fence. A mob of giddy Dodgers greeted him in the dugout, eager to celebrate their only offense in a 3-2 victory Tuesday over the Washington Nationals.
“Three-run homers win games,” Manager Dave Roberts said.
Winners of five in a row for the first time in 2016, the Dodgers can take joy in capturing a series over Washington, the leaders of the National League East. The Dodgers can conjure a sweep in Wednesday’s series finale.
That outcome appeared remote when the eighth inning began. Silent for seven innings against Nationals starter Tanner Roark, the team stoked a rally in brisk fashion. Joc Pederson walked. Yasiel Puig laced a single off the glove of shortstop Danny Espinosa. It was Puig’s first hit in his first game back after two weeks on the disabled list.
To the plate came Grandal. His batting average hovered at .178, the product of a wretched May. He had yet to elevate a ball against Roark. That would soon change.
“I was trying to figure out a way of ‘How can I get the ball in the air?’ ” Grandal said. “Especially in that situation. I don’t want a ball on the ground.”
Down two strikes, Grandal still destroyed a fastball at the thighs. It was his sixth home run of the season. Kenley Jansen slammed shut the door in the ninth for his 21st save of the season.
Scott Kazmir survived a series of rockets off Washington bats to last six innings. He dodged most of the lasers, but did allow a pair of solo home runs. “I was able to be a lot more consistent than I have in the past couple starts,” Kazmir said.
In a corner of the Dodgers clubhouse, hours before the first pitch, a small crowd of reporters surrounded Puig’s locker. He had spent the previous two weeks out of the spotlight, healing his sore hamstring and repairing his misaligned hitting mechanics. The group asked Puig what he had concentrated on during his time on the disabled list.
“Hit the ball,” Puig said through an interpreter. “And focus on good pitches.”
The reality, of course, was more complicated than that, as members of the Dodgers coaching staff at various levels tried to sand away the unnecessary movement from his swing and shorten his path to punishing baseballs.
His return forces daily decisions for Roberts. Roberts intends to use Puig as his regular right fielder, even though Puig hit .237 with scant patience before landing on the disabled list.
With Puig in right and Howie Kendrick in left, Trayce Thompson sat on the bench for the first time all month. Along with Corey Seager and Pederson, Thompson aided a youth movement that powered the offense earlier in the season. But opposing pitchers have scaled back Thompson’s fastball consumption and fooled him with offspeed pitches.
During the past 11 games heading into Tuesday, Thompson hit .195 with a .559 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He struck out 12 times and walked only four.
“The last week, he’s cooled off,” Roberts said. “I think he needs a break, as anyone does.”
Roberts must juggle at-bats between Puig, Thompson and Kendrick, while still searching for time for reserves Scott Van Slyke and Enrique Hernandez. The team hopes by juggling the lineup the group will maintain its stamina through the long season. Given this arrangement, Roberts conceded, Puig must perform in order to retain his status.
“For me, I want consistent, quality at-bats from him, regardless of the results,” Roberts said before the game. “Because I believe that if he’s putting together good at-bats and squaring the baseball up, he’ll get hits and drive runs in.”
The second inning presented Puig with an opportunity to do both. He stepped to the plate with two outs and Pederson at second base after a double. Puig spit on a pair of sliders from Roark to run the count full. Roark threw a belt-high fastball. Puig grounded out.
In the fifth, Pederson smacked a one-out single. A rally never materialized. Roark fired a 93-mph fastball over the middle, but the late movement stifled Puig’s power. He rolled into a double play.
Puig’s third at-bat would prove far more fruitful. He set the stage for Grandal’s game-changing blast.
“To win it today for us, in fine fashion, that was fun,” Roberts said.
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