A loss by the Dodgers in Game 2 on Sunday guaranteed that this National League division series will last for at least a fourth game. The team still intends to start rookie Julio Urias in that spot, but will remain flexible if it chooses to insert Clayton Kershaw if the team is facing elimination.
Kershaw threw a bullpen session Sunday morning as a contingency plan for Game 4 on Tuesday. His availability will depend, the team insists, on how Game 3 goes.
Kershaw threw five strenuous innings in the Game 1 victory. He needed 101 pitches to last that long, his highest pitch count since before he went on the disabled list in June because of a herniated disk. The uncertainty about his back has added a new wrinkle in the team's now annual debate about whether to use Kershaw on short rest.
If Kershaw pitches again in this series, it will be on an irregular schedule. He will either go on three days of rest in Game 4 or on five days of rest in a decisive Game 5.
The Dodgers continue to express confidence in Urias, who made 15 starts with a 3.25 earned-run average. He also has not pitched since Sept. 29. But the team is willing to trust him in either Game 4 or Game 5. If Kershaw needs to stave off elimination in Game 4, the Dodgers will likely use Urias in the final outing, as the team is hesitant about using Rich Hill on short rest.
Espinosa bounces back
The weekend did not begin auspiciously for Nationals shortstop Danny Espinosa, an alum of Santa Ana Mater Dei High and Cal State Long Beach. On Friday, he struck out three times against Kershaw, stranding a slew of runners in the process. On Saturday, Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said he continued to play Espinosa because he had no other options.
Sunday provided some relief for him, even if it might have been painful. Espinosa was hit twice by Hill. The second occurrence set the table for catcher Jose Lobaton's series-swinging home run.
"He stands close to the plate," Baker said. "He's as strong as Jack Johnson."
Baker indicated Espinosa would be ready to go for Game 3.
"Hopefully [with] some of Mama's home cooking and some homeboys around, his dad, [he'll] respond admirably tomorrow and the next day," Baker said.
Maeda leaves D.C. early
The Dodgers and Nationals will need to make a quick turnaround Monday morning, after flying across the country following the game. But Kenta Maeda, the Dodgers' Game 3 starter, had already left the building hours before Sunday's first pitch was thrown.
Maeda acknowledged the unique circumstances of making his first postseason start.
"In terms of how I've been preparing and thinking throughout my preparation, it hasn't changed," Maeda said. "But I'm sure that when I stand on the mound tomorrow, I'm sure there's going to be more excitement and pressure."
Hill collected his first hit in a game since June 19, 2009 when he had an infield single in the fourth inning. Hill rolled a bunt toward second baseman Daniel Murphy, who could not retrieve the ball from his glove in time. … The parking lot opens at 10:08 a.m. for Game 3. … Nationals closer Mark Melancon recorded the first postseason save of his career.