Bullpen comes to the rescue as Dodgers open trip with win over Nationals

Nationals shortstop CJ Abrams waits for the throw as Miguel Rojas steals second during the third inning.
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

After weeks of worrisome late-game blunders, there finally was redemption for the Dodgers bullpen Tuesday night.

On a night their starting pitcher failed to complete five innings, and their lineup managed only one run before the final couple of frames, it was five other numbers that keyed a 4-1 Dodgers win over Washington at Nationals Park.

0. 0. 0. 0. 0.

As in, the five goose eggs the Dodgers’ once-struggling bullpen put on the scoreboard.

“The bullpen,” manager Dave Roberts said, “was really good tonight.”

Entering the night, the unit had been anything but lately, emerging as one of the biggest concerns during the Dodgers’ underwhelming 13-11 start to the season.


The group was without injured right-handers Brusdar Graterol and Blake Treinen (the latter will begin a rehab assignment this week). It had compiled a 4.35 ERA through the opening month, the 10th-worst mark in the majors. And it had been a common culprit during a 3-6 homestand last week.

Struggling with consistency, Walker Buehler might need to make at least a couple more minor-league starts before he returns from Tommy John surgery.

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But Tuesday against the rebuilding Nationals, relievers Michael Grove, Alex Vesia, Daniel Hudson and Evan Phillips helped the Dodgers overcome an early offensive lull, then hang on to a narrow lead late, combining for 4-1/3 scoreless innings in a victorious start to a nine-game trip.

“We’re always gonna be ready to go down there,” Phillips said.

While starter James Paxton surrendered just one run in his fourth start, the veteran left-hander again struggled with his command. He walked three batters (he has 17 this season) and struck out just one, forcing Roberts to replace him with one out in the fifth after 89 laborious pitches.

On the other side of the plate, the Dodgers’ lineup was kept silent by the Nationals’ own left-handed veteran, Patrick Corbin.

Last year Corbin’s 5.20 ERA was third worst in the majors among qualified starters. This season his 8.06 mark entering Tuesday ranked dead last, after he gave up five runs in 6⅓ innings at Dodger Stadium last week.

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In his rematch against the Dodgers, though, the 34-year-old looked like his former All-Star self. He spun 5⅓ shutout innings. He walked three batters but gave up just three hits while collecting three strikeouts.


It was only once Corbin left the game that the Dodgers finally found life. Later in the sixth, they manufactured a two-out rally that culminated with Kiké Hernández’s tying single. In the eighth, James Outman put the Dodgers in front with an RBI double and Miguel Rojas singled him home. Then, in the ninth, Shohei Ohtani supplied an exclamation point with his sixth home run, clobbering a 450-foot, second-deck blast that exploded off his bat at 118.7 mph.

“It looks like a cruise missile,” Outman said. “That was absurd.”

Underpinning the entire performance was the bullpen.

Grove stranded the two runners he inherited from Paxton in the fifth, then got two outs — with a walk in between — in the sixth.

Vesia took over from there, stranding Grove’s runner with a deep flyout before returning to the mound for a scoreless seventh.

And once the Dodgers took the lead in the eighth — a rally that started with a single and steal from Teoscar Hernández — Roberts’ late-game decisions were easy.

It wasn’t even close: Most fans believe in Dave Roberts and want him to remain manager of the Dodgers.

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Hudson, the former Nationals closer who has returned from two injury-plagued seasons to become the Dodgers’ set-up man, worked around a two-out walk in the eighth to lower his ERA to 2.45.

Phillips had a more adventurous appearance in the ninth, loading the bases on three walks and a single — the Nationals ran into one out on the bases — before ultimately surviving with his sixth save and a sub-1.00 ERA.


“Fortunately,” a relieved Phillips said, “I was able to finish it out today.”

Indeed, and as he and the Dodgers celebrated in the handshake line, it was the bullpen at last that deserved the credit — and not the blame — in a close, low-scoring contest that wasn’t decided until the final innings.