Dodgers wait out long rain delay, defeat Nationals for eighth consecutive win

Justin Turner scores on Albert Pujols’ sacrifice fly during the Dodgers’ three-run fourth inning Saturday. The Dodgers won 5-3 after a rain delay of 1 hour 44 minutes in the fifth inning. (Nick Wass / Associated Press)

Clayton Kershaw glanced up when Yan Gomes swatted the pitch Saturday night at Nationals Park, yelled in frustration once he realized where the ball was going and looked away.

It landed over the left-field wall with two outs in the fourth inning for a tying, three-run home run. On most nights, Kershaw would’ve rebounded, finished strong and kept the Dodgers in the game. Mother Nature had other plans.

Within minutes, with one out in the top of the fifth inning, the skies opened, and the game was stopped. It resumed after a rain delay of 1 hour and 44 minutes without Kershaw or Washington Nationals starter Paulo Espino. With a bullpen game looming Sunday and questions in their rotation, it was an untimely sequence for the Dodgers.

But they went on to win 5-3 to extend their winning streak to eight games and temporarily tie the San Francisco Giants for first in the National League West.

“It certainly wasn’t ideal,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I know Clayton wanted to keep going, which is a credit to him. No surprise. But we managed it and we’ll get through tomorrow.”

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw delivers against the Nationals.

Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw went four innings, giving up three runs. His rain-shortened outing means the team will effectively be forced into bullpen games on back-to-back days. (Nick Wass / Associated Press)

The Dodgers (52-31) scored three runs in the fourth inning on two sacrifice flies and an RBI double from Gavin Lux. Then they took the lead without hitting a ball out of the infield in the top of the sixth on a hit by pitch, a fielder’s choice, an error and AJ Pollock’s RBI infield single to the third baseman. The dribbler had an exit velocity of 65.1 mph.

Lux worked a walk to lead off the ninth inning, stole second base and scored on Chris Taylor’s single to give the Dodgers a two-run cushion. The Dodgers manufactured enough offense despite just five hits and no home runs. They are riding high. But Sunday, after a turnaround of fewer than 11 hours, will present a challenge.

Kershaw’s rain-shortened outing means the Dodgers will effectively be forced into bullpen games on back-to-back days. Trevor Bauer was scheduled to start Sunday’s matinee against the Nationals (40-41) — the series finale is scheduled for 11 a.m. Eastern time — until he was placed on paid administrative leave Friday after a woman accused him of sexual assault and obtained a temporary restraining order against him Tuesday.

The Dodgers, without an obvious viable choice to immediately log a conventional starter’s workload, will go with a bullpen game. They’ll be in a bind after using five relievers to cover the final five innings Saturday.

After the win, Roberts said the team still hadn’t decided on an opener for Sunday morning. He said the club will recall right-hander Edwin Uceta from triple-A Oklahoma City to shoulder some of the workload. Uceta is a starter by trade, but he hasn’t logged more than four innings in any of his 12 outings between triple-A and the majors. Roberts said he can throw 75 to 80 pitches Sunday.

As for after Sunday, the league can keep Bauer on leave for seven days, but it would need approval from the players’ union to extend the duration. If the approval isn’t granted, Bauer would return to the roster Friday when the Dodgers host the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium unless the team decides to act on its own. That appears unlikely.

If Bauer does miss more than seven days, the Dodgers would prefer to avoid navigating the schedule with a four-man rotation for an extended period. They have two internal options for the role: veteran David Price and minor leaguer Josiah Gray.

Price is a former Cy Young Award winner who the Dodgers placed in the bullpen after he opted out of the 2020 season citing health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. He has started two games as an opener this season during the Dodgers’ five weeks with four starters following Dustin May’s season-ending elbow injury. He’s given up 12 runs — 11 earned — in 25-2/3 innings this season.

On Saturday, Roberts said Price wouldn’t be available for more than 40 pitches Sunday. The left-hander would need multiple starts, perhaps up to a month, to build up the stamina for a conventional starter’s workload.

“The buildup is something else that is not ideal and practical,” Roberts said.

The scoreboard at Nationals Park during Saturday's rain delay.

The scoreboard at Nationals Park during Saturday’s rain delay. (Mitchell Layton / Getty Images)

Price said there’s a plan in place, but he declined to disclose details.

“I’ll start if they want me to start,” Price said. “That’s fine with me.”

While the 35-year-old Price has 11 full major league seasons of experience as a starter, Gray has yet to make his big league debut. The 23-year-old right-hander began the season as the organization’s top-ranked prospect, but he has pitched in just one game this season. He was shut down with a shoulder impingement after starting opening day for Oklahoma City.

Gray resumed throwing recently and Roberts said he expects he’ll appear in games soon. But he’ll also need time to build up. Acquiring a starter before the July 31 deadline, already a possibility before the allegations against Bauer surfaced, is an alternative.

The Dodgers have recently been reluctant to trade talent from a farm system that has thinned out considerably at the triple-A level.

They, however, have little depth and a question mark in Tony Gonsolin, who hasn’t logged more than four innings in any of his five starts since coming off the injured list. Last week, Gonsolin said he experienced shoulder soreness after his second outing like what sidelined him for two months. He surrendered a run on two hits and threw 52 pitches in three innings Friday.

Roberts has also said that the team wants to lighten the burden for the other starters as they enter the second half of the season. Bauer, Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Julio Urías all rank in the top 13 for innings pitched across the majors.

A day after speaking at the president’s podium during the Dodgers’ visit to the White House, Kershaw’s outing began with a brief scare.

Josh Harrison welcomed him with a line drive up the middle on his first pitch. Kershaw evaded the comebacker, but he emerged wincing with a neck stinger. That prompted a visit from Roberts and a trainer.

He threw a warm-up pitch, stayed in the game, and got Juan Soto to ground into a double play. Soto was the first of nine straight batters Kershaw retired until Soto walked with one out in the fourth inning. Ryan Zimmerman then struck out, but Kershaw gave up a single to Starlin Castro before his 2-2 mistake to Gomes. His night would end shortly thereafter, with a sour taste and the Dodgers in a thorny spot.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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