LOS ANGELES – Clayton Kershaw had his shortest outing of the season and fewest strikeouts in more than two years, and Bud Norris came through in a pinch with five innings of one-run ball in his first start in nearly six weeks.
It still wasn’t enough to prevent another loss for the offensively challenged Braves against the the Dodgers, this time by a 4-0 score Saturday night at the place where Atlanta has all but forgotten how to win. The Dodgers tacked on three runs in the eighth inning to erase any lingering suspense.
After dropping the first two games of a three-game series, the Braves have lost 16 of 22 against the Dodgers since the beginning of the 2013 division series. That includes nine losses in 10 games at Dodger Stadium.
After an initial burst of encouraging play when interim manager Brian Snitker replaced the fired Fredi Gonzalez on May 17, the Braves have lost five of seven games while batting .154 with one homer and 15 total runs in that span.
“We had a couple opportunities and were just a hit away,” Snitker said. “Just got to keep plugging and the hits will come.”
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Pressed into emergency starting duty after Mike Foltynewicz went on the 15-day disabled list Friday, Norris (1-7) surpassed most expectations in holding the Dodgers to three hits, one run and four walks in five innings and 91 pitches.
Kershaw (8-1) singled and scored in the third inning, the only run of the game’s first seven innings.
Norris threw as many as 30 pitches in only two of 12 relief appearances since losing his starting-rotation spot in late April. He hadn’t exceeded 26 pitches in nearly three weeks before topping 90 Saturday.
“Great start,” Snitker said. “He said I’ll give you all the bullets I have, and he used all of them and then some.”
Kershaw allowed three hits, one walk and one hit batter in six innings with four strikeouts, the first time he lasted fewer than seven innings all season and first time he had fewer than five strikeouts since May 17, 2014 — 67 starts ago.
The Braves had a chance to tie or take a lead in the sixth after putting two on with one out, but Freddie Freeman flied out and Jeff Francoeur hit a sharp one-hopper to the shortstop and was thrown out to end Kershaw’s final inning.
“To only have him out there for six innings is maybe a win,” Francoeur said. “We put up some good at-bats. That third one for me, I just wish it would have found a hole…. Bud kept us in it, which was big. When you’ve been in the pen now for about a month and you do that, that showed a lot of guts.”
Despite his earlier than usual exit, Kershaw improved to 6-0 with a 0.81 ERA in seven starts since the beginning of May, with 69 strikeouts and three walks in 55 2/3 innings. Against the Braves, the big left-hander moved to 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA in 10 career starts, including eight in the regular season and two in the Dodgers’ 2013 division series win.
Norris held his own for the most part, giving up just a run in the third inning on two singles and a walk, with Justin Turner’s two-out hit giving the Dodgers a 1-0 lead. Kershaw led off the inning with an infield single.
Before losing his spot in the rotation, Norris was 1-4 with an 8.74 ERA in five starts in April. He fared much better in the bullpen, posting a 1.96 ERA in 12 appearances, but Norris has always viewed himself as a starter and didn’t hesitate when the Braves asked Friday if he was ready to replace Foltynewicz.
“I just wanted to go out there and give everything I had,” Norris said. “I was talking to Snit and (pitching coach Roger McDowell) and they were just saying, hey, get as many pitches as you can, get as deep as you can. That was the focus. Didn’t have a lot of added pressure, just wanted to go out there and pitch.”
With the Braves’ going a man short on their bench, Norris was left in to hit leading off the sixth inning, and Kershaw hit him in the left shoulder with a pitch. It was the first time Kershaw hit a pitcher with a pitch in his major league career.
Kershaw also had not put more than one runner on base via walk or hit-by-pitch this season until Saturday, when he walked sub-.200-hitting Daniel Castro to start the third inning and hit Norris, only the second batter he hit with a pitch all season. Kershaw entered Saturday with an astounding 105 strikeouts and five walks.
After the Braves stranded runners at third base to end second and third innings and at first and second bases to end the sixth, hitters are 1-for-21 with no walks and 10 strikeouts against Kershaw with runners in scoring position and two outs.