The marquee pitcher’s duel between three-time Cy Young Award winners and future Hall of Famers lived up to its billing on Sunday, with Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw and Washington Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer combining for 12 innings of one-run, eight-hit, 11-strikeout, one-walk ball.
But the pair of aces was nearly upstaged by one-of-a-kind, Dodgers rookie utility man Zach McKinstry — known as Z-Mac to his teammates — continuing his torrid start by driving in all three runs of a 3-0 victory before a reduced-capacity crowd of 15,049 in Chavez Ravine.
McKinstry lofted a two-out, run-scoring double to left-center field off Scherzer in the second inning and lined a two-out, two-run homer to right-center off reliever Tanner Rainey in the seventh to help the Dodgers complete a three-game sweep and improve to 8-2 on the season, a 129-win pace.
Thrust into a wider role because of injuries to star outfielders Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger, McKinstry, 25, is batting .321 (nine for 28) with two homers, four doubles and a team-leading 10 RBIs in nine games, seven of them starts. He’s also made several fine defensive plays in the outfield.
“He’s a baseball player, man — I think that’s the best compliment you can give someone who plays our game,” Kershaw said of McKinstry, a 33rd-round pick out of Central Michigan in 2016. “He has a great feel for the game, he can play multiple positions. He has a great arm.
“He’s like the left-handed-hitting Kiké [Hernández, former Dodgers utility player], doing the things Kiké used to do. He’s filled in with Belly and Mookie out, and he’s done such a great job. And he has some thump, too, man. He can really hit.”
McKinstry’s RBI double could have been caught. Washington center fielder Victor Robles lost it in the sun, and the ball bounced at the base of the wall, about six feet away from Robles.
There was no doubt about McKinstry’s homer. He followed Chris Taylor’s one-out single by turning on a 94-mph fastball from Rainey, sending a 106-mph line drive to right-center field.
“It was nice to hit a ball over the fence,” said McKinstry, who hit an inside-the-park homer in the season-opening series at Colorado. “It’s definitely awesome when you get to jog the bases instead of having to run them.”
McKinstry’s clutch hits made a winner of Kershaw, who yielded five singles in six scoreless innings, striking out six and walking none to improve to 2-1 with a 2.89 ERA in three starts. Scherzer gave up one run and three hits in six innings, striking out five and walking one.
Kershaw mixed his 91-mph fastball with an 88-mph slider, which had good depth and horizontal movement, and a looping 75-mph curve.
He retired Juan Soto, the dangerous Nationals slugger who hit a game-tying homer off Kershaw in the decisive loss to Washington in Game 5 of the 2019 National League Division Series, three times, including a sixth-inning strikeout with a runner on second and no outs.
Kershaw then escaped the jam — and preserved a 1-0 lead — by getting Ryan Zimmerman to ground out to shortstop and handcuffing Jordy Mercer with a down-and-in slider that Mercer swung through for strike three.
“I thought the curve was really good, the fastball had life, he was using it to all quadrants, and the slider was good,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “With Clayton, when the slider is good, he’s getting swing and miss with it, you know he’s going to pitch well that day.”
Corey Knebel retired the side in order in the seventh, Blake Treinen escaped a two-on, no-outs jam in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen, who blew a save in Oakland on Wednesday, struck out two of three in the ninth, whiffing Luis Garcia with a 95-mph fastball and Starlin Castro with a 94-mph fastball.
“It was a really dominant outing,” Roberts said of Jansen. “I know he’s been working really hard with the performance guys … the coaches … a credit to Kenley. That was the best stuff he’s had in quite some time.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.