Two baseball teams heading in very different directions opened a four-game series at Dodger Stadium on Thursday night. The Washington Nationals arrived in Los Angeles in utter disarray with baseball’s worst bullpen and a debilitated lineup. The Dodgers welcomed them with the National League’s best record and top-ranked offense. For 3 hours and 11 minutes Thursday, the opposite seemed true.
After steamrolling through the Atlanta Braves to begin the week, the Dodgers fell behind in the first inning, were sloppy and muffled in a 6-0 loss to the reeling Nationals. They committed three errors. The shutout was for their third time this season and first at home. They were again overmatched by left-hander Patrick Corbin in a replica from their encounters in 2018 and they squandered their few scoring opportunities.
The lousy combination snapped their 10-game home winning streak and the Nationals’ four-game losing skid.
“You got to give credit to Corbin,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “We’ve seen him a lot and he’s had his way with a lot of our hitters.”
Expected to compete for the National League East crown despite losing Bryce Harper, the Nationals had dropped 11 of their previous 14 games entering Thursday and were coming off a dismal three-game sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers. They have been beset by injuries — notably to Trea Turner, Juan Soto, and Anthony Rendon — but a shoddy defense and baseball’s worst bullpen have exacerbated the problems. Last week, they fired their pitching coach. Rumblings about manager Dave Martinez’s job status have grown louder.
Luckily for them, the first inning continued to poison Rich Hill. The left-hander didn’t survive the first inning in either of his first two starts without giving up a home run. Thursday was no different.
Adam Eaton led off with a double. Two batters later, Hill hit Anthony Rendon with a cutter with two strikes. Howie Kendrick took advantage and deposited a curveball over the left-field wall. Four batters into the game, the Nationals led 3-0 and the Dodgers faced their first deficit since their walk-off loss to the San Diego Padres on Sunday.
“Just getting behind the eight-ball early put us in a tough spot,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
Hill completed his night with 42/3 scoreless innings but the damage was done. The 39-year-old blamed himself for deciding to throw a cutter to Rendon instead of sticking to his curveball, his best pitch. He thought the curveball Kendrick caught too much of the plate. The mistakes extended his early-game troubles. Of the 11 runs Hill has allowed in three starts this season, 10 have come in the first or second inning.
“I just got to not do that,” Hill said. “That would be nice. I don’t think there’s an explanation for that. It’s coming out and continuing to attack hitters.”
It was all the run support Corbin needed. After six seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Corbin’s decision to sign a six-year contract with the Nationals was a minor offseason victory for Los Angeles. It meant Corbin was out of their division, far, far away in the NL East and they’d face him no more than twice per season for the foreseeable future. Corbin tormented the Dodgers in four starts in his final hurrah with Arizona last season. He allowed two runs in 231/3 innings, using his wicked slider to flummox the Dodgers.
It was more for the same in a different uniform Thursday. Corbin held the Dodgers without a hit for three innings. David Freese sullied the no-hitter with an infield single in the fourth. He singled again in the sixth and Russell Martin added one in the seventh. Those were the Dodgers’ only hits against Corbin.
The Dodgers knew the slider was coming and still couldn’t solve it. Corbin accumulated eight strikeouts and he finished seven of them with a slider. The left-hander walked four and hit a batter, but the Dodgers couldn’t capitalize on the baserunners. The hosts hatched their best scoring threat in the fourth inning, loading the bases with Freese’s single and two walks, but Chris Taylor grounded into an inning-ending double play. Austin Barnes grounded into another one in the seventh.
“Corbin just kept making pitches,” Dodgers catcher Russell Martin said. “Kept getting us to chase outside the zone, disguising that slider really well behind that fastball. So it was one of those days the offense just couldn’t get going.”
Corbin’s night ended after seven innings, opening the door for the Dodgers to prey on Washington’s dreadful bullpen, which began the night with a 6.41 earned-run average. An opportunity arose against Kyle Barraclough in the eighth. Singles by Turner and Cody Bellinger put two on with one out for Alex Verdugo. But the excitable rookie grounded out and the Nationals turned to close Sean Doolittle, one of the sport’s best closers, to face the hot-hitting Max Muncy. Muncy struck out on three pitches