Furcal has finally gotten rid of the rust
The shortstop shows he's over post-DL frustrations with five hits and stellar defense
CINCINNATI -- Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal said after Tuesday night's game, a 12-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds before 22,639 at Great American Ball Park, that his body is finally beginning to feel normal after his activation from the disabled list May 25.
It wasn't Furcal's third career five-hit performance that provided proof of that. It was the back-to-back highlight-reel defensive plays he made in the bottom of the sixth -- when the Dodgers led by six runs, when the field was still soggy from a two-hour, 24-minute rain delay and when Furcal could have been forgiven for pulling up to protect himself -- that ultimately showed Furcal was all the way back.
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Reds first baseman Joey Votto began the inning with a solid single up the middle, at least that was what it looked like. Instead, Furcal sprang to his left, went into a full dive behind the bag and snagged Votto's hot grounder before scrambling to his feet and firing a bullet to first to get Votto by three steps.
The next batter, Scott Rolen, hit a bouncer to the left side, closer to third baseman Casey Blake than Furcal. But when Blake couldn't quite get to it, Furcal made a lunging play to his right, planted on the soft grass and threw across his body, getting Rolen on a bang-bang play when first baseman James Loney made a nice reach for the ball.
"Right now, I'm feeling much better," Furcal said. "I know when I first came off the DL, it was a little tough, and I was a little frustrated. I hadn't played many games in the minor leagues, and it's tough because taking ground balls isn't like in a game. There isn't anybody running, so you're more relaxed. When it's a game, you have to be able to make a perfect throw on those close plays. Right now, I'm just doing a lot of early work with [infield coaches Larry] Bowa and Mariano [Duncan].''
Furcal, who helped the Dodgers (37-27) regain sole possession of second place in the National League West and remain half a game behind division-leading San Diego, spent almost a month on the DL with a strained left hamstring, and he struggled mightily offensively and defensively upon his return. He had played only two games at Class-A Inland Empire and one game at extended spring training, the latter coming more than a week after the first two.
But in recent days, Furcal has been noticeably more mobile in the field. At the plate, the numbers speak for themselves.
In his first 10 games off the DL, Furcal hit .216 (8-for- 37) with one extra-base hit. In his next 10 games, including this one, he has hit .386 (17-for-44) with three doubles, two triples and two home runs. His .309 average is his highest since April 27, the day he was injured running out a double-play grounder.
It was Furcal's first five-hit game since April 30, 2008, at Florida. He came to the plate in the ninth inning to try for his first career six-hit game, but he grounded to second to finish the evening 5-for-6 with a double, two runs scored and two RBIs before being double-switched out of the game in the bottom half of the ninth.
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It's hard to pick one in a game that was so lopsided. But in a move that was unusual, but not unprecedented, Torre allowed starter Hiroki Kuroda to return to the mound for the bottom of the fifth inning after the interminable rain delay. Although he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the top of the sixth, Kuroda was able to complete the minimum five innings required for a starting pitcher to qualify for a win and improved his record to 6-4. During his last two starts, Kuroda has pitched 12 shutout innings, giving up seven hits while striking out 14 and walking just three.
"He came in here and politicked hard for staying in," Torre said. "I wasn't planning on doing it. But he was throwing and riding the bike. He was staying warm from the time we shut it down. He probably would have gone another inning, but he threw a lot of pitches in that [fifth] inning. I think he wanted to pitch more than that one inning."
Kuroda said he wanted badly to qualify for the win.
"I think my whole day would have been a waste [otherwise],'' Kuroda said through an interpreter. "I really wanted to go back out there."
By the numbers
• 4 -- Home runs for Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez in his last 17 games and 57 plate appearances after he hit just two in his first 29 games and 110 plate appearances.
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Ramirez hit a two-run shot into the eminently reachable front row in left-center field off Reds right-hander Micah Owings, giving the Dodgers an 8-0 lead. Ramirez went 3-for-4, his second three-hit game in a row, and he has now reached base six times in his last seven plate appearances with the home run, two doubles and five runs scored. He also drove in a season-high four runs Tuesday night, adding RBI singles in the first and fifth innings.
Left-hander Clayton Kershaw (6-3, 3.13), who will start for the Dodgers on Wednesday night, has allowed just four home runs in 77 2/3 innings this season, a fact that will be severely tested in hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. His turn in the rotation didn't come up in the Dodgers' previous series against the Reds in April.
The Reds will send out rookie of the year candidate Mike Leake (5-0, 2.68), who got his first career win against the Dodgers on April 22, giving up five runs on eight hits over seven innings. He is the first player in a decade to go directly from the draft to the majors -- he was the Reds' first-round pick out of Arizona State last year.Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.