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Dodgers unable to recover from early hole in 4-2 loss to Nationals

The Dodgers had not seen Gio Gonzalez in nine months. It had been a warm afternoon at Dodger Stadium. The Washington Nationals won that game, closing within one victory of eliminating the Dodgers from the 2016 playoffs.

The Nationals never did get that victory. They went home for the winter, and they did not get another look at the Dodgers until Monday.

It was a cool evening at Dodger Stadium. Gonzalez started, again. The Nationals piled up four runs against an underwhelming Dodgers starter, again. The Nationals won, again.

The score this time was 4-2. The first meeting of what might be the two best teams in the National League went to the Nationals.

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There was no shame in the defeat. The Nationals have scored the most runs in the major leagues. The Dodgers’ starter, Hyun-Jin Ryu, completed the seventh inning for the first time in three years.

But he also put them into a 4-0 hole, even with magnificent hit-saving plays from third baseman Logan Forsythe, shortstop Corey Seager and right fielder Yasiel Puig.

The Dodgers closed within 4-2 in the sixth inning, and Seager doubled to start the eighth, bringing the potential tying run to the plate against left-handed reliever Enny Romero.

Seager never even got to third base. With Cody Bellinger, Adrian Gonzalez and Chase Utley marooned on the bench, the inning ended with Franklin Gutierrez striking out and Enrique Hernandez grounding out.

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Gutierrez, whose sole role on the Dodgers is to hit left-handers, is batting .226 against them. He also has one hit in 14 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Manager Dave Roberts said he trusted Gutierrez’s career record against left-handers and did not consider batting for him.

“He’s on this club to hit left-handed pitching,” Roberts said.

In the ninth inning, against the team with the most combustible bullpen in the majors, the Dodgers did use Utley and Bellinger as pinch-hitters.

Utley struck out, but Bellinger doubled. Oliver Perez got Yasmani Grandal for the last out, becoming the sixth Washington pitcher to record a save this season.

The Dodgers stacked their lineup with right-handed bats against the left-handed Gonzalez (5-1). They were so determined to get the platoon advantage that they benched all three of their first basemen — Bellinger, Gonzalez and Utley — and Hernandez made his major league debut at the position.

Gonzalez is something of a worker bee in Washington’s star-studded rotation. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg head the rotation, a combined $385-million worth of excellence. Tanner Roark started for Team USA in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic.

And then there is Gonzalez, a former first-round pick who was traded four times by age 26. He found a home with the Nationals, with whom he won 21 games his first year, but he has faded into relative obscurity since then.

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Except against the Dodgers, that is. He has started seven games against them, including that game in October. He has lost once, and his ERA against them is 1.89.

“Our guys are on the fastball, aggressive to the fastball,” Roberts said. “He’s a guy that commands his secondary [pitches] probably better than his fastball. He pitched backward a lot tonight.”

On Monday, Gonzalez gave up two runs and four hits in six innings. Ryu (2-6) gave up four runs and seven hits in seven innings and Roberts said Ryu had earned another start.

He started well Monday, breaking the bat of the first hitter, Trea Turner. He also struck out Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy in succession.

He got two strikes on the next hitter, Anthony Rendon, then threw three balls. On the next pitch, Rendon homered.

In the fourth inning, the Nationals grouped three hits against Ryu, the last a two-run, two-out single by Matt Wieters.

The Nationals took a 4-0 lead in the fifth inning, when Harper singled home Turner, who had singled and moved into scoring position on a wild pitch by Ryu.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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Twitter: @BillShaikin


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