Kuroda Allows Three, Two-Strike Homers

Hiroki Kuroda had never given up three home runs in any start in the majors. Then he gave up three in the first inning on Monday. The Dodgers never recovered from that 4-1 deficit en route to a 7-2 loss to the Nationals. All the homers came with two strikes, which continued a bizarre stretch for the Dodgers that's probably a statistical anomaly but still baffling and frustrating.

At one point, Dodgers pitchers allowed 11 consecutive hits with two strikes. The streak started with the final seven hits in Sunday's game (four by Clayton Kershaw, one by Josh Lindblom, and two by Blake Hawksworth).

Then the first four hits in Monday's game were the same:
--Ian Desmond hit a 1-2 slider for a home run.

--Rick Ankiel hit a 1-2 slider for a single.

--Michael Morse hit a 2-2 sinker for a home run.

--Jayson Werth hit a 1-2 slider for a home run.

The two-strike streak ended when Chris Marrero singled on a 1-1 pitch with two outs in the fateful first inning.

Kuroda settled down after that, retiring 13 of the next 14 batters. Then Morse led off the sixth inning, and another fateful slider on a two-strike count wound up over the fence.

Overall, eight of Kuroda's 21 home runs this year have come with two strikes.

Kuroda, who left Japan for the United States in 2008, allowed four home runs.

D.J. Holton, who left the United States for Japan after 2007, was the last Dodgers pitcher to give up four home runs in a start.

Unlucky Inning Hurts Kerhsaw
Matt Kemp's chances of winning the hitters' Triple Crown are decreasing by the day, while Clayton Kershaw's chances of winning the pitchers' Triple Crown decreased in a rainy, broken-bat filled seventh inning Sunday.

Kershaw took a five-hit shutout into the seventh, before the Braves scratched for three runs to deny Kershaw his 18th victory. The Braves won the game 4-3 on a Martin Prado walk-off single against reliever Blake Hawksworth.

After Kershaw struck out David Ross to open the seventh, Alex Gonzalez singled to left and Jack Wilson hit a soft single to right to put runners at the corners. Jose Constanza hit a potential double-play grounder to third baseman Aaron Miles, but his throw to second base pulled Justin Sellers off the bag. Everybody was safe and a run scored.

A wild pitch advanced the runners to second and third, and then pinch hitter Brooks Conrad dumped a broken-bat single to center that tied the game at 3. Kershaw retired the next two hitters to end his day at 115 pitches.

Kershaw finished the afternoon having allowed three runs (two earned) on eight hits and no walks. He struck out 10. It was his first no-decision since June 14, a stretch of 13 consecutive starts. Kershaw's ERA remained 2.45.

On a day when Roy Halladay was also mortal (four runs, three earned in six innings), Kershaw probably missed on a chance to add more distance from Halladay, and now he's got four chances to get three wins and reach 20 for the year.

The pitchers' Triple Crown (wins, ERA, strikeouts) is far more common than the hitter's version.

It's been done 20 times in the National League, including three times by Sandy Koufax. The most recent to sweep the categories was Jake Peavy in 2007. It's been done 15 times in the American League, including four times by Lefty Gomez. The most recent AL pitchers to accomplish the feat was Johan Santana in 2006.

A look at this year's NL leaders in the pitchers' Triple Crown categories:

Wins: Ian Kennedy 18, Kershaw 17, Halladay 16

ERA: Johnny Cueto 2.29, Kershaw 2.45, Halladay 2.49, Cliff Lee 2.59.

Strikeouts: Kershaw 222, Tim Lincecum 200, Lee 198, Halladay 195.

Meanwhile, Kemp's three-run home run provided the Dodgers with all of their offense for the game. It was Kemp's first long ball in seven games, and in that time, the competition has increased for the home run crown.

The latest numbers for Kemp as he pursues the hitters' Triple Crown: Home runs: Albert Pujols 34, Dan Uggla 32, Mike Stanton 32, Kemp 32, Prince Fielder 31.

RBI: Fielder 107, Ryan Howard 106, Kemp 105, Troy Tulowitzki 97. Batting average: Ryan Braun .335, Jose Reyes .333, Kemp .320, Joey Votto .318.

Veterans Flash Late-Season Brilliance
Two weeks ago, the decisions on James Loney and Hong-Chih Kuo looked like no-brainers. Even though they've been big parts of the organization for a long time, their rising salaries and declining performances suggested they were going to get non-tendered.

Now, it's not such a given. The decisions have become much more difficult.

Loney and Kuo were among those on next year's roster bubble who had a big role Friday night in the Dodgers rally from a five-run deficit for an 8-6 win over the Braves. The Dodgers have won five straight and 10 of 11, getting within three games of .500 for the first time since May 17.

Kuo, the lefty reliever, is making $2.73 million this year. He was an all-star last year, set a Dodger record with a 1.20 ERA, and posted a 0.78 WHIP. This year, he missed about six weeks battling an anxiety disorder caused by a case of the yips. It was the second time in three years he's fought those demons.

When mentally healthy, Kuo's mostly been a shell of his former self. Entering the weekend, his WHIP was 2.03, the ERA was 10.61, and manager Don Mattingly's been forced to use him carefully in mostly non-pressure situations.

However, over the last 13 days, Kuo has turned the clock back to 2010. He pitched two scoreless innings Friday, needing just 20 pitches (15 strikes) and whiffing three. Kuo's retired 14 of the last 19 hitters he's faced.

That allowed the Dodgers to get back into the game, after starting pitcher Chad Billingsley put them in a 5-0 hole, and Kuo earned the victory after the Dodgers staggering five-run rally in the seventh.

The biggest hit in that inning was by Loney. He continued his recent tear with a three-run double, which gave the Dodgers a 6-5 lead. Loney also walked, and was robbed of hits by a diving Michael Bourn in center field, and a leaping Dan Uggla at second base.

Loney is making $4.88 million, and even though by rule you can be offered a maximum 20 percent pay cut, the reality is everybody gets a raise in arbitration.

Including Friday, Loney's 12-game stretch is now 23-for-50 (.460) with four home runs, seven doubles and 14 RBIs. That's raised his slash line from .254/.305/.327 to a more respectable .277/.328/.385 -- although that's still quite low for a first baseman.

Juan Rivera is a free agent, and making a case to get a job somewhere, perhaps the same job in Los Angeles. Acquired for virtual peanuts at the all-star break from Toronto, Rivera drove in three runs last night and now has 27 in 40 games.

Rivera's making $5.25 million this year, the final year of a three-year, $12.75 million contract originally negotiated with the Angels. The Dodgers are paying the minimum, and getting the maximum they could have expected.

In 275 plate appearances with the Blue Jays, Rivera's slash line was .243/.305/.360 with 28 RBIs. Hitting mostly behind Matt Kemp, Rivera is slashing .292/.346/.438 with 27 RBI in 153 plate appearances with the Dodgers.

The fates of Rivera and Loney are tied together, along with rookie Jerry Sands, who has 28 minor league home runs at Triple-A Albuquerque and is expected to get promoted back to the majors in a few days.

Is there enough playing time for all three next year, considering Rivera and Sands can both play first base and left field? If so, how does that affect Tony Gwynn, Jr.? Would a Rivera-Sands platoon work since both are right-handed? Do the Dodgers go after a big free-agent whale, such as first baseman Prince Fielder?

Another 25 games remain to separate if these last two weeks are an aberration, then the decisions begin for the Dodgers.

NOTES AND QUOTES
--CF Matt Kemp has become the first major leaguer since 2004 to have at least 30 home runs, 30 steals, and 10 outfield assists. On Friday, Kemp made it 11 assists by throwing out Alex Gonzalez at home plate in the third inning, stole his 37th base in the sixth inning, was thrown out trying to steal for the eighth time in the eighth inning, and reached base four more times. He was intentionally walked four times in the Braves series, and six times in the last seven games.

--RHP Nathan Eovaldi allowed one run in six innings in his final start of the season. The run came on a leadoff homer by Florida 2B Dan Uggla in the second inning. Eovaldi issued leadoff walks in the third, fourth and fifth innings, but a couple of double plays allowed him to escape without any further damage. Eovaldi only threw 52 of his 96 pitches for strikes. He'll move to the bullpen for the rest of the season to limit his innings. He has thrown 103 inning in the minors and 32 in the majors. Last year, he threw 98.1 innings.

--RHP Javy Guerra saved four games in a five-day stretch -- Tuesday and Wednesday, then Friday and Saturday. Guerra worked an inning in each game, allowing two hits, one run and two walks while striking out four. He threw a combined 74 pitches.

--RHP Chad Billingsley, who had thrown 241 pitches in his last two starts, threw 90 in four-plus innings Friday. He allowed nine hits and three walks en route to five runs (three earned). It was the sixth time in nine starts, since the all-star break, he's allowed more hits than innings pitched.

--SS Dee Gordon committed a costly error in the second inning, which led to two unearned runs. He redeemed himself later in the game with three singles, two stolen bases (giving him 14 this year), and three runs scored.

--INF Juan Uribe, who hasn't played since July 23, has agreed with the plan of having season-ending surgery. Before that, however, Uribe is getting a second opinion on a hip strain that's now being called a sports hernia.

--RHP Ramon Troncoso was recalled from Class AAA Albuquerque before Sunday's game. Despite rosters expanding, the Dodgers didn't previously add any bullpen arms, and it was nearly costly in an extra-inning game on the road Saturday. Tronoco went 2-4 with a 5.05 ERA in 35 appearances for Albuquerque. He had a 6.23 ERA in 12 games with the Dodgers in the season's first half.

--RHP Matt Guerrier rejoined the team, after leaving for four days as his wife gave birth to the couple's second child.

--SS Dee Gordon went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. That dropped his batting average to .265, not very good for a leadoff man, but also sent his on-base percentage to .276, awful for any hitter.

--RF Andre Ethier didn't start Monday against lefty John Lannan. He has started only three of the last six games.

--C Tim Federowicz, acquired from Boston in a three-team trade that sent OF Trayvon Robinson to Seattle, and INF/OF Jerry Sands were not in the lineup for Triple-A Albuquerque on the final day of their regular season. It's likely they were traveling to Washington, along with RHP John Ely, to join the Dodgers.

--1B Scott Van Slyke won the Southern League batting title for Double-A Chattanooga with a .348 average. The Lookouts' playoffs begin Thursday with the opener of a best-of-five series at the Tennessee Smokies. Van Slyke also led the league with 45 doubles.

--INF Russ Mitchell, called up from Triple-A Albuquerque on Thursday, originally thought it was a joke when he saw manager Don Mattingly say he's going to work on catching. Mitchell now knows it was serious and he's embraced the idea. Mitchell isn't being converted to catcher. He's just going to get more versatility by catching some bullpens this month, work on blocking balls, and is taking a catcher's glove to Winter Ball.

--RHP Zach Lee, the Dodgers' first-round pick from 2010 who signed a $5.25 million bonus instead of playing baseball and football for LSU, allowed four runs in four innings Thursday in his final start of the season for low-A Great Lakes. The 19-year-old Lee finished his pro debut with the following numbers: 24 games (all starts), 9-6 record, 3.47 ERA, 109 innings, 91 strikeouts, 32 walks, .242 opponents average, nine home runs. He was slightly better after the all-star break (3.20 ERA) than before the break (3.86). By comparison, when Clayton Kershaw was 19 years old in the Midwest League, he went 7-5 with a 2.77 ERA, while striking out 134 in 97.1 innings and was promoted to Double-A for the final month.

BY THE NUMBERS: 14 -- Dodgers pitchers who have allowed four home runs in one game, in the last 34 years. That goes to show how rare it was that Hiroki Kuroda allowed four in one game.

BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- Number of pitchers to last at least eight innings, while giving up one run or less, in their first start as a Dodger. Dana Eveland (8 innings, one run) became the most recent on Thursday in Pittsburgh. The others: Fernando Valenzuela in 1981, Dave Stewart in 1982, Pedro Astacio in 1992 and Brad Penny in 2004.

BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Consecutive rookie starting pitchers the Dodgers faced in Atlanta over the weekend: RHP Brandon Beachy, LHP Mike Minor and RHP Randall Delgado. Los Angeles won two of three. The last time the Dodgers faced three rookies in the same series was Aug. 4-6, 2006, at Florida. Dodgers swept that series as they faced RHP Anibal Sanchez, RHP Josh Johnson and LHP Scott Olsen.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's made a nice case for himself. With his age and development down the road, he's got a lot of intangibles. He's a tough kid, really competitive, willing to keep working on getting better. He's got that type of makeup. It's hard to say, 'It's yours.' We may go into the season planning that way, but you've got to have all kinds of options. You've got to look at him as one of the candidates." -- Manager Don Mattingly, on whether RHP Nathan Eovaldi will be a member of next year's rotation.

QUOTE TO NOTE "Dee obviously will play shortstop, for the most part. Is he ready? I don't know. So far, he's been successful enough. To me he's holding his own. He'll keep getting better, no doubt. He'll get bigger and stronger. I compare to him (Omar) Vizquel in the beginning. It looked like you could almost knock the bat out of his hands. Some teams look at Dee like that. But he can hit. If we think he can play, at some point we have to let him struggle, unless it gets to the point where you see this is not good for him. He's a talented kid, and he'll have to make adjustments, take his lumps. Thats' how you grow up." -- manager Don Mattingly, when asked if Dee Gordon is the starting shortstop next season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The guy pitches a gem of a game, doing his thing that he always does, and in one inning there's a hard-hit ball and I think I can get two and probably should have held the ball a split second to give (Justin) Sellers time to get there. It wasn't a bad throw, just to the side enough that he couldn't get there and we don't get anybody. You're hoping (Kershaw) does his magic. Something so subtle as that and we're sitting here with a loss. It's tough for me. He's the Cy Young candidate, the man, he should be winning it. I didn't help him. Cy Young is not only personal, but it's a team award, too. It's a tough play for me. It doesn't feel good." -- Infielder Aaron Miles, on his errant throw, which led to three runs Sunday and took away an 18th win from Clayton Kershaw.

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