Dodgers preview their anticipated October prowess in comeback vs. Padres

Dodgers preview their anticipated October prowess in comeback vs. Padres

The first time through the top of the Dodgers’ order on Saturday night, San Diego Padres starter Mike Clevinger made only one bad pitch, hanging a slider that Will Smith hit for a home run.

The second time, Clevinger survived one tenuous inning, limiting the Dodgers to one run again despite facing a two-on, one-out jam in the third.

By the time the Dodgers’ order turned over for a third time, the Padres had given Clevinger a one-run lead.

And though two more men had reached base in the fifth, the crafty right-hander was a strike away from getting out of the inning unscathed.

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Instead — in a moment that captured why the Dodgers could be difficult for anyone, the Padres included, to knock out come October — Clevinger was punished for one last mistake.

He threw a slider to Max Muncy that was left right down the middle.

The Dodgers third baseman launched it to the Padres right-field bullpen.

The three-run home run propelled the Dodgers to an 8-3 win, clinching their third-straight series win over the Padres this year and giving them a chance to sweep their division rivals Sunday evening on national television.

“Tonight was a clinic,” manager Dave Roberts said. “A team offensive clinic.”

And it came in a game with the same fraught tension reminiscent of fall postseason nights.

Dodgers starter Andrew Heaney stranded a leadoff double in the first, pitched three scoreless innings to help the Dodgers take a 2-0 lead, but then gave up three unearned runs following a Gavin Lux error in the fourth.

Dodgers catcher Will Smith, left, hits a solo home run off San Diego Padres pitcher Mike Clevinger in the second inning Saturday.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Working with a limited pitch count again after two shoulder injuries earlier this season, Heaney was pulled with two outs in the fifth, handing the ball to reliever Chris Martin as the Padres’ three-hole hitter, Manny Machado, came to the plate for the third time.

Martin retired Machado to end the inning, stranding an inherited runner to lower Heaney’s ERA on the season to 0.64.

“Hopefully, we can kind of keep him there or extend him a little more [moving forward],” Roberts said of Heaney, whose ERA is now 0.64 in seven starts this season. “But every time he goes out, he gives us a chance to win the ballgame.”

In the next half-inning, Clevinger was given a longer leash by Padres manager Bob Melvin.

It backfired in spectacular fashion.

Mookie Betts led the inning off with a single, one of his three hits on the night. With two outs, Smith was plunked with a changeup, putting two aboard as Muncy came to the plate.

Entering Saturday, Muncy had been showing some faint signs of life at the plate after a disastrous first half of the season. He’d collected a hit in eight of his previous 10 games. He’d started making hard contact again, too, after battling a lingering elbow injury and an inconsistent swing earlier in the season.

In his third meeting with Clevinger, Muncy took a first-pitch ball, disagreed with a called first strike, then fanned on a sinker to fall behind 1-and-2.

He had to duck out of the way of the next pitch, a wild two-seamer that buzzed by his head.

But when he dug back in, Clevinger offered up something far more enticing: A flat slider that stayed over the middle of the plate.

Muncy clobbered it with the explosive swing that helped him hit 35 or more home runs three times the last four seasons.

And as the ball sailed over the right field fence, he pointed a finger in the air rounding first base.

“It’s definitely a little relief,” said Muncy, who is batting .170 with a .642 OPS. “This is a really hard game, to not focus on results. But when you’re at a spot where I’m at, you kind of need to see a couple results here or there.”

The Dodgers (74-33) pulled away from there, getting a scoreless performance from the bullpen and three insurance runs in the seventh and eighth innings, including a third RBI from Smith on a sacrifice fly.

“It was exactly how you’d script it,” Roberts said. “We just kind of waited them out.”

Dodgers relief pitcher Reyes Moronta delivers during the ninth inning Saturday.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The Dodgers have now won seven straight games, extending their division lead to 14½ games.

And they followed up a dominant performance in Friday’s series opener with a different variety on Saturday — executing the kind of clinical mid-game rally that come the end of this season will make them tough for anyone to beat.

“It kinda seems like our lineup has been forgotten about with a lot of this stuff that has been happening,” Muncy said. “It’s been kinda nice to go out there and prove again that we’re one of the best lineups in baseball, and there’s no question about that.”

Clayton Kershaw update

Roberts said Clayton Kershaw (back pain) got an epidural shot after going on the injured list Friday. There is no timetable for Kershaw to pick up a baseball, but Roberts reiterated the team believes his absence is “going to be shorter than longer term.”

As for the less-than-ideal timing of Kershaw’s injury, which came two days after the Dodgers’ quiet trade deadline?

“That’s baseball,” Roberts said. “I think that if we knew Clayton was gonna go down, then we might have done something different. I don’t know … But you still can’t prepare for what might or might not happen.”

Short hops

Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol faced hitters on Saturday. Roberts said Graterol could be back in action within 10 days, while Treinen remains on track for an early September return.

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