WASHINGTON (AP) — Matt Kemp returned to the lineup with a home run and a double in the same inning Sunday, and the Los Angeles Dodgers completed a sweep of the Washington Nationals with a 9-2 win that moved them into a tie for first place — at least temporarily — in the NL West.
Activated from the 15-day disabled list before the game, Kemp led off the second with a homer that bounced among the cherry trees beyond the left-field stands. He then doubled home Andre Ethier in a seven-run inning against Jordan Zimmermann (12-5), quickly turning a much-anticipated matchup of All-Star aces into a rout.
Clayton Kershaw (9-6) allowed two runs and two hits over seven innings with nine strikeouts and no walks, putting his major league-best ERA at 2.01.
The Dodgers were 9½ games out of first on the morning of June 22, but they’ve since gone on a 20-5 splurge. Sunday’s win pulled them even with the Arizona Diamondbacks, who played the San Francisco Giants later in the day.
While the Dodgers are brimming with confidence and improved health — Sunday marked the first time all season that Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford were all in the lineup together — the series was a nadir for the Nationals, who have dropped eight of 10 and lost all semblance of the “Natitude” that produced the best record in the majors a year ago.
After losing close games Friday and Saturday because of a collapse in clutch hitting — 2 for 21 with runners in scoring position — the Nationals on Sunday looked like a once-promising TV series that has finally jumped the shark. They hit only six balls out of the infield in Kershaw’s seven innings, including two mostly meaningless homers by Jayson Werth after the game was well out of reach.
Manager Davey Johnson experimented again with Bryce Harper batting leadoff; Harper went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. Adam LaRoche returned after missing two games with the flu and went 0 for 3. Scott Hairston started in place of Denard Span and went 0 for 3. Zimmermann, who has been battling a sore neck, lasted just two innings, the shortest outing of his career.
Meanwhile, everybody in the Dodgers’ starting lineup except Kershaw scored at least one run, and even he had an RBI groundout. Kemp added another hit, an RBI single in the fourth. Ramirez lifted his average to .393 with a three-run homer and a single, and Crawford had three hits and a walk.
One player missing out on the fun was rookie Yasiel Puig, who played a major role in starting the Dodgers’ surge. Puig didn’t start after going 4 for 25 in his last six games — including 0 for 9 with five strikeouts against the Nationals.
Manager Don Mattingly said Puig needs to “catch his wind and clear his head a little bit.”
“He seemed a little lost to me the last couple of days, just kind of confused at the plate,” Mattingly said.
While Puig might be lost, Kemp certainly seems to have found himself. He had been hindered by inflammation in his left shoulder after offseason surgery and was hitting .254 with four home runs in 61 games before going on the disabled list.
A possible concern: Kemp limped off the field after a sliding into the catcher on a force play in the top of the ninth. Puig took Kemp’s spot in right field for the bottom half.
Ramirez and Crawford have also spent time on the DL, and the only time the trio had appeared in the same boxscore was on April 29 — but that was when Ramirez entered as a pinch-hitter after Crawford had left the game. This was the first time they were all starting, all playing together.
“First time? Really? Huh,” Mattingly said before the game. “Well, here we go. We’ll see what it looks like.”
NOTES: It was the first road sweep for Los Angeles against the Nationals franchise in the U.S. The Dodgers went to Canada to take three from the Montreal Expos from May 24-26, 1996. … The Dodgers optioned OF-1B Scott Van Slyke to the minors to make room for Kemp.