Commentary

Dodgers find themselves at home

Updated: May 3, 2010, 8:34 AM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- There are a million theories as to why some hitters perform better against certain teams than others, better against certain pitchers than others and better in certain ballparks than others. Most of the time, the hitters in question don't concern themselves with the whys or the hows. They are somewhat aware of their tendencies, but they don't spend a lot of time thinking about them. Their approach is simple in that when they get hot, they try to stay hot as long as they can, knowing that another famine waits at the end of every feast.

[+] EnlargeJames Loney
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireJames Loney is now hitting .500 (19 for 38) at home this year, with a .525 on-base percentage.

To that end, there is no explanation why Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier and first baseman James Loney have torn up Dodger Stadium to the extent that they have this year. Even before Sunday, when a 9-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates before 39,339 gave the Dodgers their first three-game winning streak of the season, Loney led the National League in home batting average, and Ethier ranked fourth.

That was before the tandem went a combined 6-for-9 with two homers (by Ethier), a double (by Loney) and six RBIs against a less-than-imposing trio of Pirates right-handers.

Loney is now hitting .500 (19-for-38) at home this year, with a ridiculous .525 on-base percentage. Ethier is hitting .452 (19-for-42) with a .489 on-base percentage, and of his nine home runs this season, seven have come at home -- including four in the past three games.

Conversely, neither player is hitting as high as .280 on the road.

So why the dual discrepancies? A lot of it has to be comfort, and comfort comes with familiarity. In baseball, it doesn't get any more familiar than your home stadium. And keep in mind that not one of the Dodgers' 15 road games this season have come in N.L. West ballparks, where there also is a level of familiarity because the Dodgers play in those other four parks so often.

The cities the Dodgers have visited -- Pittsburgh, Miami, Cincinnati, Washington and New York -- usually appear on the schedule just once a year.

Whatever it is, both players apparently were glad to get home after the Dodgers' 2-7 trip to those latter three locales. On this three-game winning streak, Loney and Ethier are a combined 14-for-24 (.583) with five doubles, five homers and 15 RBIs. And their performances have stood out even more because the Dodgers still are without Manny Ramirez, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a right-groin strain and who historically has left a gaping hole in the lineup whenever he isn't in it.

At a time when Russell Martin, Matt Kemp and Casey Blake all have been slumping to one degree or another, Loney and Ethier have basically saved the Dodgers' bacon. And the best part, if you're Loney, Ethier or a Dodgers fan, is that there are still six games left on this homestand, starting Tuesday night against Milwaukee.

Lost in the shuffle

Hiroki Kuroda
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireHiroki Kuroda completed eight innings for the second time this season, something no other Dodgers starter has done.

It was obscured somewhat by the Dodgers' 16-hit outburst, but Hiroki Kuroda turned in a masterpiece. He completed eight innings for the second time this season, something no other Dodgers starter has done even once.

Kuroda gave up one run on five hits and, in the words of manager Joe Torre, provided a perfect primer on how to pitch with a comfortable lead. After the Dodgers scored two runs in the second and another one in the third, Kuroda went after hitters aggressively and threw strikes. The Pirates got their only run off him following a leadoff double by Garrett Jones in the fourth inning.

Jones moved to third on a groundout by Ryan Church and scored on another groundout by Andy LaRoche. After Jones' double, in fact, Kuroda faced the minimum the rest of the way, allowing only an infield single by LaRoche in the seventh inning. LaRoche was subsequently erased on a highlight-reel double play, but more on that later.

Although the Dodgers' rotation isn't very deep at the moment, the three regulars -- Kuroda (3-1, 2.08), Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw -- all have showed marked improvement of late. It might be just enough to keep the team afloat until Vicente Padilla returns from the disabled list, probably in about a month.

By the numbers

1 -- Career four-hit game for Dodgers second baseman Blake DeWitt, who reached that plateau for the first time on Sunday. DeWitt poked a double up the left-field line in the second, driving in the Dodgers' second run of the game. He beat out an infield hit in the fourth and hit a ground single up the middle in the fifth. Finally, in the seventh, DeWitt hit a ball that caromed just inches from the top of the wall in right-center for a two-run double that was almost a three-run homer.

Key moment

The game was well in hand by the sixth inning, but given what Kemp has been through in the past week -- being called out by general manager Ned Colletti on a radio show for lackluster play -- his highlight-reel diving catch to take a hit away from Akinori Iwamura in the sixth inning was still significant. Kemp, the defending NL Gold Glove winner at his position, went airborne, hit the turf hard and rolled completely over, but somehow he held onto the ball, holding it aloft in his glove before he even got up as second-base umpire C.B. Bucknor signaled it was a catch.

Trends

Just when lefty setup man George Sherrill seemed to have put his problems behind him, they jumped up and bit him again in the ninth inning, when he entered with an eight-run lead. Sherrill immediately gave up a single and a double down the left-field line before getting Church to fly out to deep left and LaRoche to ground out to third. After giving up another run-scoring double to Bobby Crosby, Sherrill walked Jason Jaramillo, and Torre had seen enough. Ronald Belisario had to be brought in for the final out.

Sherrill's ERA remains an unsightly 8.00, and he has walked 11 batters in nine innings.

"He has been much better,'' Torre said. "He just wasn't locating. I thought maybe he was rushing himself a little bit, because he was pitching really quickly.''

Belliard I didn't catch that ball. That ball caught me. It is hard to see here during day games. ... I just threw my glove out there, and the ball caught me.

-- Dodgers infielder Ronnie Belliard

Quote of the day

"I didn't catch that ball. That ball caught me. It is hard to see here during day games. He hit the ball, and I hesitated a little bit. I started running back, and I knew I was close to the ball, but I didn't know where it was. I just threw my glove out there, and the ball caught me. Then I turned and threw it as hard as I could, but from where I was, I couldn't see the play at first base. I haven't seen it on video. I'll watch it when I come back for Tuesday's game. I don't like to watch video of things I do in the field.'' -- Dodgers infielder Ronnie Belliard, who filled in for a resting Casey Blake on Sunday and made a breathtaking double play. With his back to home plate, Belliard ran down a blooper hit by Bobby Crosby in short left field, then turned and fired about a 200-foot relay to Loney at first, doubling off LaRoche in a close play.

Looking ahead

The Dodgers will take Monday off, their first off day in two weeks, then kick off a three-game series with Milwaukee on Tuesday at 7:10 p.m. at Dodger Stadium. Left-hander Clayton Kershaw (2-1, 2.36) will take the mound for the Dodgers against fellow lefty Chris Narveson (1-0, 6.60), who will be making his second start since moving from the bullpen. The Dodgers and Brewers split six games last season, each winning two of three in the other's park.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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