Johnson's pitching baffles Dodgers
The Marlins pitcher and MLB ERA leader showed Los Angeles what an ace looks like
Good enough to thwart the Los Angeles Dodgers' stated game plan of driving up his pitch count early and getting him out of the game, carving up the Dodgers' lineup through eight shutout innings. Good enough to stop not only Rafael Furcal's longest hitting streak of the season but also Furcal's run-scoring streak, the longest by any Dodgers player since the team played in Brooklyn.
And, ultimately, good enough to stick the Dodgers with their ninth blanking of the season, 4-0 before 41,947 at Dodger Stadium.
Johnson began the game by retiring the first 11 Dodgers batters. He retired the first two batters in each of the first six innings and retired the first batter in all eight of the innings he pitched. And he struck out eight, including Casey Blake with runners on the corners and two outs in the fourth, the only time all night the Dodgers would get a runner to third.
Along the way to shaving his big league-best ERA to 1.70, Johnson looked like an entirely different pitcher from the guy the Dodgers drove from the game after just five innings April 10 in Miami by pushing him to 98 pitches. They actually were in line to win that game until Ramon Troncoso and George Sherrill coughed up a two-run lead in the ninth.
This time, the Dodgers weren't in line to do much of anything against Johnson, who has allowed no more than one run in 10 of his past 11 starts and zero runs in five of his past 10.
"Johnson is like an old-school, rear-back, I-dare-you type of pitcher," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "He's got a changeup that is like a lot of guys' fastball. His changeup is 86-88 [mph], and his fastball is 96-98. ... With a four-run lead, he can challenge you more with his fastball, and that thing isn't just a fastball. He's got a little giddy-up at the end of that thing where it either cuts or sails. It's pretty tough to go up there looking for a fastball and hit it."
The Dodgers (46-38) -- who remained three games behind division-leading San Diego in the National League West but fell into a second-place tie with Colorado and lead fourth-place San Francisco by just one game -- knew exactly what they were in for against Johnson and that the only way to hold their own against him was to make him work.
But on an evening when Hiroki Kuroda (7-7) was otherwise masterful in a seven-inning performance, the Dodgers right-hander suffered a momentary meltdown in the second, giving up three consecutive hits to start the inning and then leaving a breaking ball up against rookie Mike Stanton, who hit it right into a glove. Unfortunately for Kuroda and the Dodgers, that glove wasn't on anyone's hand. It was a catcher's mitt sitting on top of an equipment bag in the Dodgers' bullpen, just inside the gate.
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And against Johnson, that was pretty much the ballgame. Free to simply come right at the Dodgers' hitters, Johnson sailed through his eight innings on 117 pitches.
"If he's on that night, throwing strikes and getting ahead early in counts, it makes for a tough night," Dodgers second baseman Blake DeWitt said. "You just have to go out and battle and grind out at-bats as much as you can. I thought we had some good at-bats, but he was just tough on us. That was some great stuff."
Furcal's season-best hitting streak ended at 10 games as the shortstop went 0-for-4 without hitting a ball out of the infield. He also had scored in 12 consecutive games, the team's longest such streak since Gil Hodges also scored in 12 games in a row in 1953.
"Pitching is always going to dominate when a pitcher like that is on his game," Torre said. "When he's throwing strikes and not throwing a lot of pitches, he's probably going to have a good result."
Lost in the Shuffle
In his first visit as a major league player to the ballpark where he grew up going to major league games as a fan, Stanton went 4-for-11 in the three-game series, with a double, two homers and six RBIs. The former Notre Dame High of Sherman Oaks standout had a large, vocal rooting section that could be heard plainly when he hit a two-run homer off Vicente Padilla in the seventh inning Tuesday night and then again when he connected for the backbreaking three-run shot against Kuroda in the second Wednesday.
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Stanton, 20, has been one of the Marlins' most coveted prospects since they drafted him in the second round three years ago. But before his triumphant homecoming, he wasn't exactly taking the majors by storm. Since being called up for the first time June 8, Stanton is hitting .223 with four homers and 19 RBIs. He has struck out 39 times and walked only six.
By the Numbers
75--plate appearances between extra-base hits for Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, who finally delivered his first one since June 15 with a seventh-inning double against Johnson. Martin's drought spanned 19 games, during which he had 12 singles in 59 at-bats and batted .203. Martin's double hit high off the wall in deep left-center, just eluding the grasp of leaping left fielder Chris Coghlan, and his third-inning flyout to right also went to the warning track before Stanton hauled it in. Torre said that both of those balls likely would have been home runs in the daytime, when the ball generally carries much farther at Dodger Stadium.
Dodgers catcher Brad Ausmus, who underwent surgery back in April to repair a herniated disc in his back, began his minor league rehabilitation assignment with high Class-A Inland Empire on Wednesday night at Lake Elsinore. Ausmus went 1-for-2 with a single to right field, a groundout to third and a walk. Ausmus was the 66ers' designated hitter and didn't catch at all in the game. He is expected to start behind the plate in Thursday's game.
The Dodgers begin their final series of the first half, a four-game set with the Chicago Cubs, by sending left-hander Clayton Kershaw (8-4, 3.02) to the mound for the opener. He took a hard-luck loss in his only previous career start against the Cubs, on May 25 at Wrigley Field, when he gave up just an unearned run on four hits over six innings on a night when the Dodgers were shut out 3-0 by Ryan Dempster and Carlos Marmol. Right-hander Randy Wells (4-6, 4.67) goes for the Cubs.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com