LOS ANGELES — Perhaps one day, Bryce Harper will be hitting home runs at Matt Kemp’s current pace — although very few can.
For now, the Washington Nationals’ top prospect can take satisfaction out the fact he hit a rope over Kemp’s head in center field for a double in the third at-bat of his major league debut.
Harper also drove in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning with a sacrifice fly and Wilson Ramos added an insurance run for the Washington Nationals with an RBI single. But closer Henry Rodriguez gave both runs back in the bottom half with the help of three wild pitches, and Kemp homered leading off the 10th to give the Los Angeles Dodgers a 4-3 victory on Saturday night.
“Kemp hit a bomb, and that’s terrible,” Harper said. “But he’s a great player and a great hitter. He’s hitting like .440 right now with 11 jacks and 24 RBIs. I know that if I had a number one pick, he’d be it. He’s unbelievable.”
Harper, the Nationals’ much-ballyhooed 19-year-old outfielder and the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, was 1 for 3 in his four plate appearances. He started out by hitting a comebacker in the first inning and flied out in the fifth.
“I really didn’t have butterflies at all. I think that’s one of the first times I’ve never gotten butterflies,” Harper said. “I was sitting in the dugout before the game and I was thinking to myself: ‘Wow, I’m in the big leagues.’ But I was talking to Adam LaRoche before the game and I told him: ‘Hey, I’m really calm right now.’ I was just trying to look for my pitch and got into some good counts. I think in the next week or so, it’ll really sink in.”
Because of the Nationals’ rainout last Sunday at Miami, Stephen Strasburg didn’t get the marquee matchup with NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw that many had hoped for. But the Nationals’ ace right-hander still had his hands full keeping up with Chad Billingsley, who matched zeros with him until both teams scored a run in the eighth against the two starters.
“We played a great team tonight,” Harper said. “Billingsley threw a great game and we fought ‘til the end. That’s the way you want to start off your career, I think. But I wish we would have gotten the W, of course.”
Kemp drove a 1-2 pitch off Tom Gorzelanny (1-1) to center field for his majors-leading 11th home run, breaking the Dodgers record for long balls in April set by Gary Sheffield in 2000. Kemp tossed his helmet as he galloped from third to home plate, where he was mobbed by teammates.
Jamey Wright (1-0) pitched a perfect inning for the win.
Strasburg allowed one run and five hits over seven innings, struck out nine and walked none in his Dodger Stadium debut before a rollicking crowd of 54,242.
“I knew it was going to be a loud stadium tonight, so I just wanted to go out there and keep my composure, pound the strike zone and do my best and keep the team in the ballgame,” Strasburg said. “This was a tough one for us.”
Rodriguez, trying for his sixth save and first since tag-team partner Brad Lidge went on the disabled list on Friday, gave up a ground-rule double by Juan Uribe — one pitch after a fan ran onto the field and was tackled in left-center by security guards.
A.J. Ellis struck out and James Loney was thrown out at the plate on a grounder to first by pinch-hitter Adam Kennedy. But Rodriguez threw a wild pitch to Dee Gordon on a 1-2 count, allowing the tying run to score, and Gordon reached on a strikeout-wild pitch. Gorzelanny relieved Rodriguez, and Tony Gwynn Jr. lined out to first with two runners in scoring position.
LaRoche, whose two-run homer Friday night against Kershaw accounted for all the Washington scoring in a 3-2 loss, put the Nationals ahead 1-0 against Billingsley with a line drive into the lower seats in the right field corner on a 3-1 pitch. It was his third home run in 24 career at-bats against the right-hander.
The Dodgers pulled even after Strasburg hit Jerry Hairston Jr. leading off the bottom half. Loney reached on a fielding error by second baseman Danny Espinosa, and Hairston scored on a one-out single to left field by Ellis. Harper made a strong throw to the plate on the fly, but Ramos couldn’t handle it cleanly.
“I was trying to make a good throw and I had a good opportunity to try to throw him out,” Harper said. “I did the best I could, but it didn’t go our way.”
Billingsley gave up one run and five hits in seven innings with six strikeouts and a walk. He came in 4-0 with a 2.28 ERA in his four previous starts against Washington at Dodger Stadium.
Notes: Strasburg hit two batters, one more than he plunked in 177 innings over his 21 previous big league starts. But he hasn’t allowed a home run in his last 10 starts and 63 1-3 innings since LaRoche took him deep on Aug. 15, 2010 while playing for Arizona. … Strasburg led off the sixth with an opposite-field double to right-center, his first extra-base hit in 35 career at-bats to that point and the first by a Nationals pitcher this season. … Billingsley has given up five homers in 30 2-3 innings this season. Last year, he had a homerless stretch of 92 innings. … Strasburg, who was born in San Diego, made his first start in California. … The youngest player in the 44-year history of the Montreal/Washington franchise was LHP Balor Moore, who was 19 years and 116 days old when he made his big league debut on May 21, 1970. Harper is 79 days older than Moore was.