Dodgers shut out by Nationals, drop another series at home in Landon Knack’s first start

Los Angeles, California - April 17: Washington Nationals pitcher Jake Irvin (27) forces out Los Angeles Dodgers' Teoscar Hernandez (37) on a ground out during the fourth inning at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Dodgers right-hander Landon Knack recovered from a brutal two-run, three-hit, 28-pitch first inning in his big-league debut to blank the Washington Nationals on one hit over the next four innings and keep the Dodgers within striking distance on Wednesday.

But the Dodgers never struck. An offense that ranks second in the major leagues in runs and homers and fourth in on-base-plus-slugging percentage mustered only five hits off Nationals starter Jake Irvin and three relievers in a 2-0 loss before a matinee crowd of 44,428 in Chavez Ravine.

The Dodgers lost for the fifth time in seven games — including four of six on the current homestand — and were shut out for the first time since a 9-0 loss to the Reds on July 30.

The top four batters in the Dodgers’ lineup, who had produced a big-league best .342 average and .973 OPS entering Wednesday, had only three hits — all singles by Shohei Ohtani — and one walk and struck out twice in 16 plate appearances

Read more: Mookie Betts continues his torrid start to lead Dodgers past the Nationals

Irvin mixed his 96-mph fastball, 82-mph curve, 94-mph sinker and 92-mph cut-fastball to limit the Dodgers to four hits, striking out six and walking one to improve to 1-1 with a 3.13 ERA and help Washington win two of three games in the series.

The Nationals backed Irvin with three superb plays, second baseman Luis Garcia Jr. diving to his left to stop Freddie Freeman’s third-inning grounder and to his right to snag Gavin Lux’s fifth-inning grounder and first baseman Joey Meneses gloving Freeman’s 100-mph shot at the bag and throwing to second to complete a double play in the sixth.

Garcia made another Gold Glove-caliber play behind reliever Hunter Harvey to save a run in the eighth, diving his left to smother another Freeman grounder and throwing to first for the third out, stranding Ohtani at second base. Closer Kyle Finnegan retired the side in order in the ninth for his seventh save.

Knack, a 2020 third-round pick out of East Tennessee State, knew he would be nervous the moment he stepped onto the Dodger Stadium mound for the first time.

Dodgers outfielder James Outman is unable to catch a home run hit by the Nationals' CJ Abrams to lead off Wednesday's game.Dodgers outfielder James Outman is unable to catch a home run hit by the Nationals' CJ Abrams to lead off Wednesday's game.

“If you’re not getting at least a little bit of butterflies in your stomach,” Knack said on Tuesday, “then you’re not even alive.”

Those nerves got the best of Knack in the first inning, when he grooved a 93-mph fastball to leadoff man CJ Abrams, who drove a 392-foot homer to right-center field for a 1-0 Nationals lead. Jesse Winker singled to left, took third on Garcia’s one-out single to right and scored on Meneses’ sacrifice fly to center for a 2-0 lead.

Knack walked Joey Gallo to put two on with two outs but escaped further damage by striking out Nick Senzel with an 85-mph changeup, a whiff that seemed to calm the nerves of Knack, who retired the side in order in the second, third and fourth innings.

Eddie Rosario led off the top of the fifth with a single to center, but Knack induced a double-play grounder from Riley Adams and got Abrams to ground out to first to close out his five-inning, four-hit, two-run, four-strikeout, one-walk, 75-pitch start.

Read more: ‘Pleasant surprise.’ How Andy Pages overcame serious shoulder injury to make Dodgers debut

Knack was the third Dodgers player to make his major league debut in this series, joining reliever Ricky Vanasco, who threw two perfect innings of relief on Monday night, and outfielder Andy Pages, who singled in his first plate appearance on Tuesday night.

The Dodgers weathered a slew of rotation injuries to win 100 games last season, leaning heavily on youngsters such as Bobby Miller, Emmet Sheehan, Michael Grove and Ryan Pepiot, and top pitching prospect Gavin Stone earned a spot in this year’s opening-day rotation.

The fact they’ve won 12 of their first 21 games despite cycling through 21 pitchers already — they used all of 19 pitchers during their 1988 World Series-winning season — is a testament to the depth of an organization that has maintained a productive farm system while carrying one of baseball’s top five payrolls for 12 straight years.

“I think that whole narrative of how we spend overall on payroll gets lost when you’re talking about how we can backfill with homegrown players,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Shout out to Billy Gasparino [vice president of baseball operations] and our player development and scouting guys. We’re finding and developing a lot of players.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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