Inexplicable Offense Still a No-Show

Jeff Kent is the poster boy of a death spiral that has no explanation and seemingly has no end. He was hitting a sizzling .650 in the final game of the final road trip in the month of July when he strained his hamstring beating out an infield hit in Colorado.

Off for nine days, he was 1-for-20 on the last road trip and is 0-for his last 18 at-bats. Without him, the offense has all but disappeared, with the 4-1 loss to Houston only the most recent installment.

Roy Oswalt, who won his 13th game, could have been Roy Rogers and would have still recorded a win over the team that is more than just puzzled, they seem panicked. Delwyn Young was sent back to Las Vegas with his .500 batting average and newly acquired Shea Hillenbrand quickly stuffed into the impotent lineup.

After going 7-for-13 in three games at Las Vegas he was 0-for-2 as a replacement for the normally placid Nomar Garciaparra who boiled over in the fourth inning after being called out on strikes and was ejected, in what is believed to be the first time in his career.

The usual numbers are being quoted, 0-for-20 with runners in scoring position the last four games; are a mind-numbing three in their past 67. They have lost nine of their past 11 games and 18 of their past 25, and they have scored four runs on their current three-game losing streak.

"The effort is there, the results just aren't," Manager Grady Little said. "We're in the middle of a tough stretch, but I'll guarantee you the sun will come out tomorrow and we'll be back out here tomorrow battling and trying to win a game."

And of course, as the thing deepens, the players try harder to hit a five-run homer and the pitchers want to throw 125 miles per hour in an attempt to turn things around.

Chad Billingsley, who in his two previous starts became the first Dodgers pitcher since the team moved to Los Angeles a half-century ago to lose consecutive 1-0 games and was 7-0 on the season not so long ago, got caught up in the desperation, falling behind in too many counts, throwing too many pitches, walking too many batters and finished the night with his fourth loss.

As usual, he is his own worst enemy, allowing only two hits over the first three innings but used 70 pitches in the process. The Astros finally tagged him for one in the fourth and three in the fifth.

Everyone is scrambling around on the deck of the Titanic, short of life rafts and short of life preservers, grasping for straws in an attempt to stay alive.

Only the Giants, who are starting to sell veterans in preparation for 2008, are keeping them out of fifth place as the first place Arizona Diamondbacks, who didn't play last night, move slowly away.

The Dodgers used Hernandez (his 999th game), Beimel, Broxton and Saito an inning each after Billingsley departed after five innings, four runs, six and 116 pitches.

Some pitcher's can allow four runs and still come up with a win, but right now the Dodgers aren't one of those teams.

After putting runners on first and second with one out in the first, and Kent bounced into an inning-ending double play. After Garciaparra was dismissed for the rest of the evening, Hillenbrand proved he had come to the right place, grounding into a double play on his first time at bat in the sixth.

Offensively, the Dodgers couldn't handle Roy Oswalt, who limited them to six singles on the night. Their only run came in the fifth inning after Juan Pierre, who had three hits in the game, singled to lead off the inning and advanced to third on a single by pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney, his first hit as a Dodger.

Rafael Furcal followed with a sacrifice fly, and the offense disappeared at that point as suddenly as it had started.

The fourth-place Dodgers (60-58) are a season-worst 6 1/2 back, 3 1/2 behind for the wild card, and six back in the loss column with 44 games to play.

Right-hander Brett Tomko (2-9, 5.49 ERA) faces right-hander Matt Albers (2-5, 6.30) tonight in the second game of the series.
 Score by innings
Houston	        000 130 000-4
Los Angeles	000 010 000-1

 Los Angeles	ab r  h  bi  ave
Furcal ss	3  0  1  1  .278
Martin c	4  0  0  0  .292
Loney 1b	4  0  1  0  .324
Kent 2b	        4  0  0  0  .288
Gonzalez lf	3  0  0  0  .275
Garciaparra 3b	2  0  0  0  .280
 Hillenbrand 3b	2  0  0  0  .000
Pierre cf	4  1  3  0  .283
Ethier rf	2  0  0  0  .299
Billingsley p	1  0  0  0  .105
 Sweeney ph	1  0  1  0  .255
 Hernandez p	0  0  0  0  .000
 Beimel p	0  0  0  0  .000
 Kemp ph	1  0  0  0  .311
 Broxton p	0  0  0  0  .000
 Saito p	0  0  0  0  .000
   Totals	31 1 6 1
   Houston	34 4 7 4

 RBI- Furcal. SF- Furcal. SB- Pierre (46). LOB-
Los Angeles 6, Houston 9.

 Los Angeles	   in  h  r-er bb so  era
Billingsley (7-4) 5.0  6  4-4  4  7  3.54
Hernandez	  1.0  0  0-0  0  1  5.40
Beimel	          1.0  1  0-0  1  1  4.06
Broxton p	  1.0  0  0-0  0  2  2.43
Saito	          1.0  0  0-0  0  2  1.58
 WP- Billingsley. HBP- Ethier. T-3:02
Att- 49,511,
Young Gets Pink Slip-- The Dodgers purchased the contract of veteran infielder Shea Hillenbrand from Las Vegas and optioned outfielder Delwyn Young to Las Vegas. Young had done about all he could during his July 31 callup, hitting .500 (7-for-14) appearing in only eight games during that stretch and starting just twice.

The was signed Hillenbrand last week, released by San Diego after he went 5-for-34 for the Padres' Triple-A Portland affiliate. Hillenbrand, 32, began the season with the Angels but was released after hitting .254 in 53 games. A right-handed batter, he has a career .285 average in seven big-league seasons.

Blair Targeted for Signing-- Tony Jackson of the Los Angeles Daily News reports the Dodgers are holding out hope they can still sign right-hander Kyle Blair, their fifth-round draft choice who has signed a letter of intent to attend the University of San Diego. The deadline for signing draft picks is 9 p.m. Wednesday.

"We definitely have interest in Kyle Blair, and we like his ability," Dodgers scouting director Tim Hallgren said. "We just have to see how it works out."

Blair made it clear as far back as draft day more than two months ago, that he wouldn't sign for fifth-round money. It probably will take around $1.1 million, which is almost $1 million more than the Dodgers gave fourth-rounder Andrew Lambo ($165,000). Of all the picks the Dodgers have signed, only first-rounder Chris Withrow ($1.35 million) received a seven-figure bonus.

The Dodgers did sign 25th-round pick Tim Sexton, a right-hander, last week. He received a $123,000 bonus, commensurate with where he would have been drafted if he hadn't fallen so far because of concerns about his signability. Sexton made his professional debut Saturday for Great Lakes and pitched a scoreless, five-inning relief stint in which he struck out six and didn't issue a walk.

Dodger Blue Notes-- Little held a closed-door meeting with his struggling club before Monday night's game but it seemed to bear no fruit. Little has few options other than hint that roster changes might be in store if the slide continues. But with six players on the major-league disabled list and two top prospects on either the disabled or inactive list in the minors, the options are slim and none. ...Left-hander Mark Hendrickson is out of the starting rotation again after giving up eight earned runs in 2.2 innings in Sunday's loss at St. Louis and will be available out of the bullpen. Little wouldn't say who will take Hendrickson's spot on Friday night against Colorado, but if you thing you could help, call the Dodger Stadium switchboard. However, Eric Stults, who was optioned to Las Vegas on July 23, will probably again get a call although he has a 7.56 ERA for the 51s and lasted just 2.1 innings on Friday night against Sacramento, allowing six earned runs and five walks. Righthander D.J. Houlton was optioned last Friday and must stay at least 10 days unless a major-league pitcher goes onto the disabled list. ... rumors are circulating that the Dodgers might sign David Wells or Jose Contreras. Wells was designated for assignment on Thursday by the Padres, and the White Sox's Contreras has cleared waivers. ...Since April 14, when his average was at a season-low .143, Andre Ethier has batted .313 with nine homers and 47 RBIs. Ethier is hitting .333 in August and .365 since the All-Star break. In addition, Ethier is third on team in doubles behind Luis Gonzalez and Kent with 24.  

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