Commentary

This is Padilla the Dodgers need

Backed by a powerful offense, right-hander starts strong and does his job in 10-8 win

Updated: April 17, 2010, 2:32 AM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers finally got what they needed from Vicente Padilla on Friday night, and it couldn't have come at a better time with three relievers unavailable because of their recent heavy work loads.

After struggling in each of his first two starts, Padilla was superb, pitching the Dodgers to a 10-8 victory over the San Francisco Giants before 49,319 at Dodger Stadium.

Padilla retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced, giving up only a leadoff walk to Aubrey Huff in the second inning. After a rough patch in the fifth and a leadoff home run by Pablo Sandoval in the sixth, Padilla retired the final six batters he faced en route to becoming the first Dodgers starter other than Hiroki Kuroda to go seven innings.

[+] EnlargeVicente Padilla
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillVicente Padilla may not need to always be at his best as long as the Dodgers' offense supports him the way it did Friday.

And although he still finished the evening with an unsightly 8.04 ERA, when you put it in context -- he had come into the game at 11.42 -- it looks pretty good.

"I had a little more confidence because of the lead," Padilla said, with Kenji Nimura interpreting. "But I also had better control than I had in the other games I pitched. Also, my breaking ball was sharper. My mechanics were better, and that helped my velocity."

The Dodgers, who are averaging almost seven runs a game, staked Padilla to leads of 3-0 after one inning and 7-0 after two. All he really had to do, then, was attack the strike zone and pitch to contact, and for the most part, he did.

Last year, when the Dodgers signed Padilla on Aug. 19 for a prorated share of the major-league minimum after he was released by the Texas Rangers, they figured whatever they got from him the rest of the season was a bonus. What they got from him was a 4-0 record, a 3.20 ERA and two stellar performances in the postseason.

This year, after signing him over the winter to a one-year, $5.025 million deal, the expectations are a bit higher -- and in his first two starts, neither of which saw him get through the fifth inning, he never came close to meeting them.

He wasn't spectacular against the Giants, either, but he was good enough. And if the Dodgers can keep lighting up the scoreboard offensively and Padilla can keep pitching about as well as he did against the Giants, they don't really need him to be spectacular anyway.

Padilla gave up three singles, issued a walk and hit a batter in a two-run fifth inning that might have been worse if Edgar Renteria hadn't lined a ball right into the glove of second baseman Blake DeWitt with the bases loaded. Eugenio Velez, who had just entered the game to run for Aaron Rowand after Padilla hit Rowand on the bill of his helmet and knocked him out of the game, was caught too far off the first-base bag, allowing DeWitt to double him off, end the inning and snuff out the only real threat Padilla faced all night.

Injury watch

Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez left the game after three innings because of tightness in his right calf, but the move was mostly made for precautionary reasons at a point when the Dodgers had a seven-run lead.

Dodgers manager Joe Torre acknowledged Ramirez probably would have stayed in the game if the club hadn't had a seven-run lead at the time. Ramirez ran out ground balls in the first and second innings, then played defensively in the top of the third before taking the rest of the night off. He is listed as day to day. Although the Dodgers have a quick turnaround before Saturday's day game, Torre said Ramirez might still start that game.

By the numbers

9 -- career multiple-homer games for Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier, who blasted shots in the first and second innings Friday night against Giants right-hander Todd Wellemeyer. Ethier followed Matt Kemp's two-run shot in the first with a solo blast to right field, giving the Dodgers their first set of back-to-back home runs this season. Ethier then connected for a grand slam to straightaway center in the second, giving the Dodgers a 7-0 lead. The grand slam was the first of Ethier's career.

Key moment

Three of the first 11 Dodgers hitters in the game -- Rafael Furcal in the first inning, Padilla and Kemp in the second -- worked Wellemeyer for walks. All three of those batters scored on home runs.

Trends

After a disappointing 2009 and a spring training in which he never quite got untracked, Dodgers shortstop and leadoff man Furcal has looked, well, like a leadoff man so far since the regular season began. He was on base four times in five plate appearances Friday night, singling twice and drawing a pair of walks, and he also scored twice. Furcal is now hitting .341 for the season with a .431 on-base percentage.

Lost in the shuffle

Veteran right-hander Russ Ortiz offered more evidence that his long, mostly successful career is in its final days.

Called on to pitch the final two innings with a seven-run lead, Ortiz turned in a scoreless eighth with two strikeouts.

But in the ninth, he ran into more trouble and once again failed to close out a game with a big lead. Torre eventually had to bring in Ramon Troncoso to get the final out, but first, Troncoso gave up a three-run homer to Velez, tacking a third and fourth run onto Ortiz's latest ugly pitching line.

With reliever Hong-Chih Kuo tentatively scheduled to come off the disabled list in time for the start of the Dodgers' upcoming, nine-game trip that begins Tuesday night in Cincinnati, Ortiz could be on the verge of being released. That probably would mean retirement for a pitcher who once won 99 games over a six-year period from 1999 to 2004. He has a 12.00 ERA in five appearances this season.

Scene and heard

The Dodgers' pitchers came out for early bunting practice Friday, and as they went through what is normally a rather monotonous exercise, they were actually serenaded. Behind home plate, a sound-check man for Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash was doing what sound-check men do, playing a few random tunes on Slash's guitar into a microphone with the stadium sound system turned on. Slash played the national anthem before the game and God Bless America during the seventh-inning stretch.

Quote of the day

"I'm just trying to hit the ball hard, and if it goes, it goes. I'm not trying to hit home runs. I just want to have good at-bats. I'm just working on staying inside the ball and getting good pitches to hit. If you do that, good things will happen. Hopefully, I can keep that approach.'' -- Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, who homered for the fourth consecutive game and is six for 17 with four homers and eight RBIs during that stretch.

Looking ahead

Knuckleballer Charlie Haeger will make his second start for the Dodgers on Saturday after striking out 12 on Sunday at Florida, but in a nationally televised affair, all eyes will be on two-time defending Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, who will take the mound for the Giants. Lincecum was fairly vintage in his first two starts this season, winning them both while giving up a total of two runs over 14 innings. He has a 3-1 career record against the Dodgers, but the loss came in his most recent start against them last Sept. 20, when he was rocked for five runs in four innings at Dodger Stadium.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com