Kuroda ultimately feels comfortable
Pitching in Arizona for the first time since a freak injury, right-hander throws well
PHOENIX -- Hiroki Kuroda wasn't going to deny what was obvious to everyone in the ballpark Wednesday night and probably to those watching on television. Yes, the Dodgers' right-hander admitted after the game, when he stood atop the Chase Field mound for the first time since Aug. 15, he was thinking about what had happened that day, about the line drive off the bat of Arizona's Rusty Ryal that had struck Kuroda in the right temple and caromed all the way into the front row of the stands near the third-base dugout.
And yes, that was the reason he started this game by walking Conor Jackson on four pitches.
"Like I said to everyone yesterday, what happened happened," Kuroda said through team interpreter Kenji Nimura. "I can never forget that, and I think that is one of the reasons why I didn't pitch well to the first hitter in the first inning. That came to my mind a little bit in the first inning. But I had to regroup."
And regroup he did. After Jackson's leadoff walk, no other Diamondbacks hitter reached base until the fourth inning. Kuroda, the Dodgers' most reliable starter all season, turned in yet another masterpiece, pitching the Dodgers to a 6-3 victory before 22,714 to the .500 mark for the first time since April 21 and to their first three-game series sweep of the season.
Kuroda went 7 1/3 innings, giving up three runs (two earned) and six hits. He struck out nine and didn't walk another batter after Jackson.
It was the third quality start in the past four games for the Dodgers -- and the fourth one in a row that was plenty good enough. Since Clayton Kershaw turned in his best performance of the season in a victory over Colorado on Sunday, Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, John Ely and Kuroda are a combined 4-0 with a 2.45 ERA. And that is as big a reason as any that the Dodgers are now riding their first four-game winning streak and have won six of their past seven and nine of their past 12.
So this is what a starting rotation looks like.
"It is sort of a helpless feeling when you get battered around early," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "Starting pitching basically adds stability, and we play a whole lot differently when that is the case. We had a series in Cincinnati [April 20-22] where we scored  runs and still came up 1-2. But if you're pitching well, it can make the rest of your club play well too.''
In a scene that perfectly illustrated the Dodgers' ongoing changing of the guard from veteran players to younger players who are quickly becoming stars, the Diamondbacks intentionally walked Andre Ethier to load the bases with two outs and the Dodgers leading 3-2 in the top of the seventh inning.
With Manny Ramirez on deck.
Ramirez responded with a three-run double off the center-field wall, stretching the Dodgers' lead to 6-2 and giving Ramirez a .500 average (5-for-10) with two outs and runners in scoring position this season.
It marked only the second time this season that the sizzling Ethier has been intentionally walked and the first time it has happened with Ramirez hitting behind him. Ethier said he thought it was the first time he was intentionally walked with Ramirez hitting behind him since the Dodgers acquired Ramirez on July 31, 2008.
A.J. Hinch, the' Diamondbacks manager, could hardly be blamed for the move. It was basically a lose-lose proposition. Ramirez, who spent two weeks on the disabled list and doesn't have enough plate appearances to qualify for a spot among the league's batting leaders, is now hitting .393. Ethier, meanwhile, is hitting .385 and began the day leading the National League in all three Triple Crown categories. And by ordering that Ethier be walked, Hinch at least created a possible force at every base.
Alas, it didn't quite work out that way.
Quote of the day
"It happened to me once. He about knocked down the wall at Fenway." -- Torre, talking about his decision to intentionally walk a batter, presumably David Ortiz, with Ramirez on deck several years ago when Torre was managing the New York Yankees and Ramirez played for the Boston Red Sox.
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After taking Thursday off, the Dodgers will take the momentum of having won six of their past seven games into their biggest series of the season so far, a three-game showdown with division-leading San Diego at Petco Park. Ramon Ortiz (1-1, 5.16 ERA) will make his first major league start since May 26, 2007, after 14 mostly effective relief appearances for the Dodgers this season. Jon Garland (4-2, 1.71), who made six starts for the Dodgers last season after they acquired him from Arizona on Aug. 31, will start for the Padres, who signed him during the winter to a one-year, $5.3 million deal.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.