Matt Kamlet,

WASHINGTON D.C. ( — The Dodgers are clearly a different ball club when their two-time Cy Young-winning ace is back in the rotation.

Kershaw’s first 2014 start on American soil was an anticipated sight for sore eyes, striking out nine over seven shutout innings as the Dodgers beat the Nationals 8-3 Tuesday night.

True to the theme of Monday night, the Dodgers found themselves in a position to threaten, but ultimately proved to be more bark than bite in the early innings of Tuesday evening.

Matt Kemp led the second inning off with a single up the middle, with Andre Ethier following him with a single to left-center. With the duo many considered to be LA’s “Smash Bros.” just a couple years ago on base, Juan Uribe grounded into a double play, before Scott Van Slyke grounded to third to end the inning, and the chance to collect their first run of the series.

Then the Dodgers managed to load the bases without ever getting the ball beyond the infield.

Kershaw, who last pitched in March, provided a leadoff runner for the Dodgers in the sixth, after showing a worry-settling hustle, running out a routine come-backer to Blake Treinen on the mound. The hustle proved to be to Kershaw’s benefit, as well as that of the Dodgers, when Treinen bobbled the ball, and could not fire to first on time.

Dee Gordon, who leads the Majors with 19 stolen bases, then reached on an infield single, before Carl Crawford did the same, with a slow-roller up the first base line.

The Dodgers’ first run since Sunday came across the plate, in the form of none other than Kershaw, when Hanley Ramirez, who ranks fourth in active batters against Washington, landed a short liner into shallow right field, giving the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.

The lead became 2-0 when Ethier grounded into a fielder’s choice to second, after having forced a full count. Former Long Beach State Dirtbag Danny Espinosa turned to Desmond at short, who was unable to get the ball to third in time to record the double play.

Juan Uribe then broke his bat on a pitch with two outs, and landed the ball in shallow left field, with Hairston unable to make a sliding catch as the Dodgers made it a 3-run inning.

To showcase his recovery even further, Kershaw put on an impressive move — he has one of the best in the National League — to pick off Anthony Rendon at first base, who had led off the inning with a leadoff single to left.

The pickoff proved to be tremendous, as Kershaw subsequently allowed back-to-back singles to Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche, presenting the first real threat to Dodger pitching.

The increased challenge to the reigning National League Cy Young winner, however, is but an opportunity to showcase more talent.

Following the singles, Kershaw retired his next two batters, including a particularly nasty breaking ball to put Scott Hairston away, and escaped the inning unscathed.

Hairston, brother of former Dodger Jerry Hairston Jr., would play another unfortunate role in the top of the seventh inning, when he failed to catch a routine fly ball to left field. Gordon, who had just tripled to right-center, scored on the play to give the Dodgers a 4-0 lead.

Hanley Ramirez provided further insurance when he smoked a leadoff solo home run to dead center, giving him his second hit of the game (he would have three), his fourth homer of the season and his 15th RBI.

The ball game was busted wide open when Drew Butera smacked a 3-run home run into the left field stands, increasing the score to 8-0 Dodgers.

Chris Perez, however, was something of a buzz-kill in the bottom of the eighth, giving up three earned runs and a pair of walks, loading the bases on two separate occasions in the inning, as the Nats brought the lead down to 8-3.

The win marked Kershaw’s fourth straight win against the Nationals.

The Dodgers will send Dan Haren (4-0) against Stephen Strasburg (2-2) on Wednesday.

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