LOS ANGELES — Clayton Kershaw wanted to give the Dodgers' tired bullpen a rest. He did just that.
Kershaw scattered five hits, struck out 11 and pitched 8 2-3 innings in the Dodgers' 2-0 victory over the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.
The victory was Kershaw's first since April 28, when he beat the Milwaukee Brewers by a 2-0 margin, and it was his most impressive since his shutout of the San Francisco Giants on opening day.
"Clayton was pretty special from the beginning," Dodger manager Don Mattingly said. "He was rolling right away. He seemed to be on a mission."
Kershaw (4-2) was pulled after Adam LaRoche singled with two outs in the ninth on his career-high 132nd pitch, most by a major league starter since Detroit ace Justin Verlander also threw 132 on Aug. 6 last year against the Yankees, according to STATS. Los Angeles' bullpen had to go six innings on Monday.
The Nationals got an early jump on Kershaw but were unable to take advantage of it. Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond singled with two outs in the first inning, and LaRoche walked to load the bases. However, Kershaw struck out Tyler Moore to end the inning.
"The big thing for me was that first inning," Kershaw said. "I threw 29 pitches so I really had to fight that pitch count and go deep in the game. We needed a deep game and fortunately I got the pitch count back under control."
The first out of the game, a strikeout of Danny Espinosa, gave Kershaw 1,000 career innings.
"He's an unbelievable pitcher, the best in the game in my opinion," Desmond said.
Nationals pitcher Dan Haren (4-4) was looking to secure his fourth consecutive victory but a troublesome third inning turned out to be costly.
The Dodgers got runners at first and second with two outs in the second inning but Haren worked his way out of the jam by getting No. 8 batter Dee Gordon to hit a fly ball to right field for the third out.
The Dodgers also got multiple runners on base in the third inning but were better prepared to cash in. Kershaw was hit by a pitch to start the inning and Matt Kemp added a one-out single. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch and scored on cleanup hitter Andre Ethier's sharp single to center.
"Danny made some good pitches but he had some pitches hit and I think he's trying to do too much," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "It's kind of been like that the whole year. He hasn't been himself."
Kershaw kept the Nationals in check after the first inning, retiring 23 of the last 26 batters he faced after the first inning. Zimmerman had three of the Nationals' five hits.
"Zimmerman, I can't get that guy out," Kershaw said. "He owns me so I have to figure that out."
Zimmerman wished he knew the secret.
"He's obviously one of the best pitchers in the game," he said. "I guess you just have to kind of keep it simple. I wish I knew what I was doing so I could tell everyone."
Zimmerman was finally retired with a fly ball to deep right field in the ninth inning.
NOTES: Nationals OF Bryce Harper sat out after running headfirst into the right-field wall while chasing a fly ball Monday night. The violent collision left the 20-year-old slugger with 11 stitches in his chin and soreness all over his body. He is expected to miss the series finale Wednesday night, too. . Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth (right hamstring) was scheduled to make two rehabs starts, beginning Tuesday at Potomac, before joining the team in San Diego on Thursday. . Dodger pitcher Zack Greinke will be activated from the disabled list and start the series finale against the Nationals on Wednesday. Greinke was placed on the disabled list on April 12 after breaking his clavicle in a fight with San Diego Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin. . Outfielder Matt Kemp batted second in the Dodgers' batting order for the first time this season, and ran his hitting streak to 13 games. It's the first time he's batted from that spot since the 2010 season. . Pitcher Ted Lilly (strained right rib cage) is scheduled to make a rehab start on Wednesday for Rancho Cucamonga, the Dodgers' Single-A team.