Lowe and Behold

Baseball can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. It ranges from Willie Mays' "You throw it, I hit it. You hit it I catch it" to the precise arm angle a pitcher falls into, turning a World Series hero into a high-priced batting practice pitcher. Monday night, against the Reds, Derek Lowe gave up only a single in the fifth, striking out five batters and walking one. He boosted his record to 7-10, after suffering a 10.35 earned-run average in his previous three home starts, all losses.

Lowe, who signed a four-year, $36-million free-agent contract with the Dodgers on Jan. 11, corrected the problems that plagued him and, after smothering the Phillies in his last start, followed with an even more masterful performance, a 4-0 win over the Reds, working eight innings, allowing one hit, striking out five and walking one before leaving with a blister on his pitching thumb.

Lowe (7-10) allowed only a fifth-inning single to Rich Aurilia while crafting his best start since coming to the Dodgers from the Boston Red Sox as a free agent. It topped the three-hit shutout he turned in April 15 against San Diego.

The only other Cincinnati baserunner was purported Dodger trade target Adam Dunn, the Reds' left fielder, who walked in the first inning but was wiped out on a double play. Aurilia's hit was a liner to the right of diving shortstop Cesar Izturis.

Before starting his previous game in Philadelphia, Lowe had suffered five losses and two no-decisions in his seven starts.

Lowe kept the ball down and in the park against the Reds and hasn't allowed a homer in his last two outings after distributing 18 of them in his first 20 starts.

Quote--"One day we're eight games out, the next we're only five games out. It's not new life, because we never quit. It's just that now we need to take advantage. It's right there in front of us," shortstop Cesar Izturis.

The victory moved the Dodgers within five games of idle San Diego and two games behind second-place Arizona, which lost for the seventh straight time, 4-2 in Milwaukee.

The Dodgers' offense was provided by Jason Repko's three-run double in the second inning and Jason Phillips' RBI single in the third.

Olmedo Saenz and Ricky Ledee led off with consecutive singles, Jason Phillips walked to load the bases and Jayson Werth popped out to second base. Then center fielder Jason Repko and his .215 batting average drove a shot to deep right-center, the ball bouncing to the wall.

Saenz and Ledee scored easily but the slow-footed Phillips barely beat the throw home, sliding head-first and getting his hand on the plate under catcher Jason LaRue to give the Dodgers a 3-0 lead.

An inning later, Phillips, who was three for three, gave the Dodgers a 4-0 advantage when his two-out single to right scored Jeff Kent.

Phillips and Repko struggled on the recent six-game road trip. Repko was 1-for-15 and Phillips 3-for-17. Phillips added a single in the sixth.

Dodgers reliever Steve Schmoll worked a perfect ninth.

So here we are after going 3-3 on a road trip to Philadelphia and New York, and with nine weeks left in this perplexing season, sitting on a 45-54 record but only five games behind the division leader.

Outfielder Milton Bradley, who had the night off, has returned to the lineup and third baseman Jose Valentin will be back very soon. Ricky Ledee has added some options to the Dodger lineup and Jayson Werth seems to be on the brink of playing like he did in 2004.

The July 31 trade deadline must still be in the mind of General Manager Paul DePodesta and if he is willing to trade some of the glittering Dodger minor league players, some kind of reinforcements could be on the way.

Dodger Blue Notes-- Infielders Antonio Perez and Mike Edwards are working on their outfield play, helped by first-base coach John Shelby. Perez has been unable to find a position — he's played second base, third base and shortstop — and an everyday spot in the lineup, even though he is batting .326 in 57 games. Manager Jim Tracy will also be working Jose Valentin, who's recovering from torn knee ligaments, in the outfield when he returns from his rehabilitation assignment at Las Vegas. …J.D. Drew has had the cast removed from his broken left wrist, and the outfielder, who was hit by a pitch on July 3, is wearing a splint…. Milton Bradley, who suffered from cramps in his left calf and hamstring in his first two games after returning from the disabled list, did not start but was available to pinch-hit. …The Dodgers are searching for a big bat in the outfield and middle-relief help. The most recent rumor had the New York Mets asking about the availability of second baseman Jeff Kent. DePodesta said he wasn't interested in the idea of giving up Kent, who leads the team in batting average (.299) home runs (17) and RBI (66).