Home Sports James Paxton, Teoscar Hernández power Dodgers to win over Padres in front of record crowd

James Paxton, Teoscar Hernández power Dodgers to win over Padres in front of record crowd

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Teoscar Hernandez of the Dodgers celebrates with Will Smith, Shohei Ohtani and Max Muncy after hitting a grand slam

He Dodgers They didn’t need a stopper on Saturday, not after winning 13 of their last 16 games.

They also weren’t facing anything resembling a must-win situation, not with a five-and-a-half-game lead over the San Diego Padres in the National League West standings.

Still, after losing the series opener on Friday against the Padres, and entering Saturday just 2-4 against their Southern California rivals on the season, the Dodgers needed a calming presence on the mound, a force stabilizer that set the tone against a record attendance at Petco Park of 46,701 people.

Get into James PaxtonThe 35-year-old veteran is enjoying a productive start to his first season with the Dodgers.

Dodgers starting pitcher James Paxton works against a San Diego Padres batter during the first inning on Saturday.

Dodgers starting pitcher James Paxton works against a San Diego Padres batter during the first inning Saturday at Petco Park. (Gregory Bull/Associated Press)

While Freddie Freeman opened the scoring with a home run in the first inning, before Teoscar Hernandez Opening it up with a grand slam in the sixth inning, it was Paxton who beat the Padres 5-0, firing six scoreless innings in his best start yet. since he signed with the Dodgers as a free agent this offseason.

In a performance of four hits, four strikeouts and zero walks (the last number was the most important for Paxton, who began the night with an MLB-leading 24 walks), the left-hander showed the type of timely execution that has fueled his career. 11 years old.

He worked two-out singles in the first and second innings. He stranded a leadoff double in the bottom of the fifth. And, relying almost exclusively on a combination of fastball and curveball, he was able to complete six innings for the second consecutive start, something he did only once in five starts in April.

Freeman’s blast, a line drive that hooked inside the right field foul pole, gave Paxton some breathing room early. Hernandez’s slam, which came on a two-out, two-strike hanging slider that tied him for second in the majors with 33 RBIs, effectively closed out the game.

Read more: Dodgers’ frustrating night ends with Padres prevailing on Luis Arráez’s hit

Still, it was the half-dozen shutouts Paxton put up on the scoreboard (lowering his ERA to 2.58 in seven starts) that might have been most crucial, sucking the life out of the packed San Diego crowd.

Manager Dave Roberts has been among Paxton’s biggest fans since the spring, when he approached the pitcher near the end of camp for a potentially awkward conversation.

Since Paxton was not scheduled to pitch during the Dodgers’ season-opening series in South Korea, the team decided he would not participate in the trip.

The decision was a logical one, so Paxton could continue to grow without the burden of international travel. The reasoning made sense, especially given Paxton’s injury history, which delayed his one-year deal with the Dodgers this offseason.

The only catch: It meant Paxton wouldn’t receive the $70,000 bonus that players receive from Major League Baseball for participating in international events.

Read more: Two years (and broken ribs) later, Blake Treinen returns at a key moment for the Dodgers bullpen

“That’s real money,” Roberts said, even for a veteran major leaguer like Paxton, who has earned nearly $55 million in his 11-year career.

But when Roberts approached Paxton with the news, “he didn’t even flinch,” the manager recalled.

For Roberts, it was an eye-opening interaction, offering an early indication of what the Dodgers had in their veteran recruiting this offseason, even before he had thrown his first official pitch for the team.

“He gave someone else a chance to go out there, pitch and win $70,000,” Roberts said recently, recounting the conversation. “But his whole point was, ‘Whatever it takes to prepare.’ And that shows me a lot.”

In the two months since then, Paxton has only continued to ingratiate himself into the Dodgers clubhouse.

The team congratulated him with a postgame toast last month after he eclipsed 10 years of MLB service. Young pitchers have considered him an example of a veteran. And on Saturday, he helped them respond in their weekend rivalry series, subjecting the largest crowd in Petco Park history to the Padres’ first home shutout of the season.

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This story originally appeared on Los Angeles Times.

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