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Column: Nationals’ pitching strategy makes the Dodgers look clueless in Game 2 of NLDS

Dodgers center fielder A.J. Pollock reacts after striking out in the ninth inning.
Dodgers center fielder A.J. Pollock reacts after striking out in the ninth inning of a 4-2 loss to the Washington Nationals in Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Friday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

These aren’t the Colorado Rockies.

Or the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Or any of the other pitching-deprived National League teams against whom the Dodgers inflated their offensive statistics.

With Stephen Strasburg opposite them Friday, the Dodgers were overmatched.

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They were often clueless.

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And they were taken down by the Washington Nationals in a 4-2 defeat at Dodger Stadium that leveled their National League Division Series at one game apiece.

The Dodgers remain in control of the best-of-five series, which resumes Sunday at Nationals Park. They still have the better team and the Nationals’ bullpen is still a land mine that could detonate at any moment.

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A disconcerting pattern has emerged for the Dodgers over the two games of this series, however. They haven’t been able to touch the Nationals’ starters.

“Certainly not ideal,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts conceded.

The Dodgers managed only a run and three hits over the six innings pitched by Strasburg. The previous night, they were gifted two runs by the Nationals but otherwise failed to score in the six innings pitched by Game 1 starter Patrick Corbin.

And Max Scherzer is probably up next.

Two games into October, the Dodgers are batting .190.

Corey Seager is one for eight. Cody Bellinger is 0 for 6 with four strikeouts. A.J. Pollock is 0 for 8 with six strikeouts.

The highest-scoring lineup in the NL better wake up. Or else.

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Game 2 was particularly difficult, with the Dodgers collecting just five hits and striking out 17 times.

“Strasburg was good,” Seager said.

The same sentiment was voiced in other parts of the clubhouse.

“We haven’t seen Strasburg use his breaking ball as much as he did tonight,” Roberts said. “We just didn’t see it well.”

Ten of the Dodgers’ strikeouts were against Strasburg, who was only three days removed from a three-inning relief appearance in the wild-card game.

The Dodgers failed to do to Strasburg what they did the previous day to Corbin, whose pitch count they ran up by taking a selective approach at the plate.

Strasburg cruised for the majority of the contest, pitching one quick inning after another. The 18-game winner had a perfect game until rookie catcher Will Smith singled to left-center field with two outs in the fifth inning.

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Strasburg delivered 13 pitches in the first inning, 10 in the second, 14 in the third and 10 in the fourth.

The Dodgers often found themselves behind in the count. They couldn’t catch up to his fastball and they chased his off-speed pitches. From the second inning onward, the Dodgers were down 3-0.

They didn’t mount their first sustained attack until the bottom of the sixth inning, when Matt Beaty hit for Clayton Kershaw and stroked a single to right field. Beaty reached third base on a double by Joc Pederson and scored on a sacrifice fly by Justin Turner.

Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg earned his second win in four days this postseason by taming the Dodgers in a 4-2 victory in Game 2 of the NLDS.

With the deficit narrowed to 3-1 and Pederson now 90 feet from home plate, Pollock lined a screamer that Strasburg snagged out of the air. The inning was over.

Strasburg’s pitch count was at 85, which under normal circumstances would have meant the All-Star had another inning to give. But these weren’t normal circumstances. His night was over.

“He started getting the ball up a little bit,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “I thought that was it.”

Except turning the ball over to the bullpen wasn’t the death sentence it was the previous night. With a two-run lead, the Nationals could be more aggressive.

Martinez went in the seventh inning to one of his team’s two serviceable relievers, Sean Doolittle. Max Muncy reminded Martinez of why Doolittle lost his role as the team’s closer, sending a first-pitch fastball halfway up the right-field pavilion to move the Dodgers within 3-2.

The Nationals gave themselves a 4-2 cushion after scoring an insurance run in the top of the eighth inning, after which they deployed their secret weapon.

Instead of throwing a bullpen session to prepare for his Game 3 start, Scherzer came out of the bullpen to pitch the eighth inning. Scherzer was downright nasty, touching 99 mph and striking out Gavin Lux, Chris Taylor and Pederson in succession.

Roberts acknowledged he didn’t expect Scherzer to pitch.

Closer Daniel Hudson reopened the door for the Dodgers in the ninth. Turner doubled and remained on second base as Pollock struck out and Bellinger popped up on a questionable first-pitch swing. Muncy was walked intentionally and Smith unintentionally, loading the bases with two out for Seager, who ended the game by striking out.

The series moves to Washington. Martinez said he will check on Scherzer on Saturday before locking him in as the Game 3 starter. Maybe the Dodgers can do against Scherzer what they did against Strasburg and Corbin and still win. The Nationals’ bullpen is that bad. But the Dodgers can’t go through an entire postseason like this and expect to win a World Series. At some point, they will have to hit front-line pitching.


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