Forgetting about their loss to reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers should be a snap for the Washington Nationals once Bryce Harper comes through the clubhouse door Saturday to make his much-anticipated major league debut.
The 19-year-old outfielder is getting his chance because of injuries that have put third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and left fielder Michael Morse on the disabled list. Their absence made it easier for Kershaw to pitch three-hit ball for eight innings in a 3-2 victory Friday night. One of the hits was a two-run homer by Adam LaRoche.
"It was a tough ballgame," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "Kershaw made a lot of quality pitches. He crowded right-handed hitters all night. We weren't able to hit the ball real hard."
Harper was the first overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft and Zimmerman was the fourth selection in 2005. Once they get to appear in the same lineup, things should be even more interesting for the Nationals, who are off to a 14-6 start.
"I'm going to put him in left field and let him play," Johnson said. "Harp had a great spring training, he's a phenomenal talent, and he's been swinging the bat down there. But we have a need here for a left-handed bat, and he's the guy that fits the role. As far as I'm concerned, he's earned the right to get the opportunity."
In addition to Zimmerman's injury, the Nationals got more bad news Friday when reliever Brad Lidge was placed on the 15-day disabled list — retroactive to April 22 — with an abdominal wall strain.
"It's pretty frustrating right now," Lidge said. "You want to be there for your teammates the whole year. I haven't had anything like this before, so I'm concerned about that."
Ross Detwiler (2-1) allowed three runs and five hits over six innings before Johnson lifted him for a pinch-hitter. The left-hander had given up only one earned run in 16 innings over his first three starts, a homer by Cincinnati's Ryan Ludwick.
Washington's three starting pitchers in this series — Detwiler, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez — all came in with 2-0 records and ERAs under 1.53.
"For them, it's all been about their starting rotation," Kershaw said. "They're pitching really well. So as a pitcher on the other side, you know you've got to be on top of your game. I didn't have great fastball command, but I was fortunate to battle through eight — which was big. Getting two runs early was huge."
The Nationals, who allowed a major league-low four home runs through their first 19 games — and only one measly run by their starting pitchers in a span of 34 2-3 innings — fell behind 2-0 in the first when Andre Ethier drove his fifth homer into the right-field bullpen following Matt Kemp's single.
"They are on fire. Hitters like that are carrying their ballclub," Johnson said. "We made mistakes to them. It was a curveball on the inside half to Ethier and he jumped all over it. He got ahead of Kemp, but you can't throw him down low. That's where Det kept throwing it."
Ethier leads the majors with 24 RBIs, one more than Kemp, who stranded two runners in scoring position when he grounded out against Ryan Mattheus to end the seventh.
The Dodgers' bid for an insurance run in the eighth was squelched when pinch-runner Tony Gwynn Jr. tried to score from first base on a two-out double into the right-field corner by Juan Uribe and was thrown out on the relay from Mark DeRosa to second baseman Danny Espinosa to catcher Jesus Flores.
Kershaw (2-0) struck out six and walked one, becoming the first Dodgers pitcher to win 10 consecutive decisions since Ramon Martinez from August 1995 through May 1996.
The 24-year-old left-hander hasn't lost since last Aug. 7 at Arizona, when the Diamondbacks beat him 4-3 with two-run homers by Kelly Johnson and Cody Ransom. Kershaw also joined Ed Roebuck and Orel Hershiser as the only Dodgers to win 12 decisions in a row at home since the franchise moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958.
Kenley Jansen pitched a hitless ninth for his first save of the season, but had to hold his breath until Espinosa's bid for a tying home run landed just foul in right field. Espinosa eventually lined out to center field before Jansen plunked pinch-hitter Chad Tracy with two outs and struck out Flores to end it.
NOTES: A moment of silence was observed in memory of former Dodger Bill "Moose" Skowron, who died Friday of congestive heart failure at age 81. ... Before LaRoche's third homer of the season, no one on the Nationals' roster had hit more than two home runs — making them the only team with that dubious distinction.