Kuroda, Fresh Off DL, Throttles Astros

After Hiroki Kuroda dispatched hard-hitting Houston in his first game back from off the disabled list, you can hear a stirring in the front office of the players union with lawyers scrambling around to put a demand for mid-season rest breaks in next year negotiations. The Japanese righthander worked seven shutout innings and limited Houston to five hits and no runs in a 4-1 win.

After going on the disabled list June 12, Kuroda (4-6) allowed only a broken-bat single and a walk through the first four innings, throwing only 48 pitches. His 83-pitch performance delighted manager Joe Torre and provided needed rest for a bullpen that used six pitchers the night before.

The win cut the Arizona lead to 1 1/2 games (one in the important loss column) after the Snake's loss to Milwaukee. San Francisco also lost and trails the Dodgers by four.

On the flip side of the coin, and it certainly isn't a flip item, shortstop Rafael Furcal will have surgery that could sideline him for a couple months or more.

"I expected him to have a good outing," Torre said of Kuroda, "but to give us seven innings like that and to have his pitch count where it was (83) and to be as sharp as he was (five hits), I didn't expect him to be that good. He was great and saved the bullpen to boot."

The Dodgers continued their "one run at a time" program, scoring their four runs in the first, third, fourth and fifth innings.

Cory Wade, who seems to throw nothing but strikes (20 in 26 pitches), closed out the game and allowed a shutout-breaking home run to Carlos Lee in the last of the ninth.

Kuroda said he worked hard during the time off to stay in shape. "It was a break, but I wasn't really resting that much," Kuroda said through an interpreter. "In my head, I always wanted to come back and pitch as many games as possible. Mentally, it was a struggle. But I was able to rest my body."

Of the five hits he allowed, three were of the opposite-field variety and three of them came in the fifth inning, the only time he was threatened.

With one out, a pair of singles put runners on first and second. But the runner on second had little time to enjoy his stay. Kuroda picked him off base with Luis Maza making a acrobatic tag for the out.

The play became more important after pinch-hitter Darren Erstead doubled to left. James Loney then made a sparkling play on a shot headed toward right field and threw to Kuroda to end the inning. No other runner reached second over his seven innings.

Kuroda said he tired in the seventh but wasn't as impressed by his performance as Torre seemed to be. "I wasn't really surprised," he said. "It turned out really well for the team and for myself. It was nice."

The Dodgers tagged Runelvys Hernandez for all four of their runs.

Andre Ethier and Jeff Kent doubled off the scoreboard in the first; Matt Kemp tripled and Kent doubled again in the third to increase his career total for 551 two-baggers, the highest total in baseball history by a second baseman.

The Dodgers went back to the future in the fourth inning. Blake DeWitt singled, stole second and moved on to third when the throw was off-target, then scored on a perfectly placed squeeze bunt by Luis Maza.

Andre Ethier led off the fifth with a 438-foot homer high into the upper deck in right, his eighth of the season. That gives the Dodgers 11 runs in their last two games after scoring only 14 in the previous seven.

All that action pleased Torre. "What I like about what we're doing right now is we're scoring in more than one inning and we're manufacturing stuff, doing little things," he said. "We need to do more of that, for our own confidence, so that we can come to the ballpark with a good feeling, rather than just wondering."

The bullpens shut the game down over the final four innings. Los Angeles managed only 2-for-17 after Ethier's homer and Houston was 2-for-15, including Lee's homer in the ninth.

Ethier lacked a triple of hitting for the cycle and Kent, who is hitting .375 over his last 14 games, had his two doubles to lead the offense.

He summed the Dodgers situation up neatly. "You've got to move forward, go ahead and say this is what we've got until it's shown otherwise. Furcal's a talented guy. And we're more than sure if he were to come back, he'd really help the team a lot. But what we got here is what we're going with. And we're not going to look over our shoulder waiting for guys to show up."

In the fourth and final game of the series, an afternoon get-away game, the Dodgers will send RHP Chad Billingsley (7-7, 3.38 ERA) to the mound to oppose Houston's RHP Brandon Backe (5-8, 5.12 ERA).

?Billingsley has a three-game win streak, including the remarkable 1-0 against the Angels when he Dodgers were stopped without a hit. He pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing only three hits while striking out seven.

Backe earned his first win in a month when he beat the Rays on June 22 with seven strong innings. The next time out, he gave up six runs on nine hits in 5.1 innings against Boston Saturday night. Backe 0-0, 4.50 ERA in six career innings vs. the Dodgers.

  Score by Innings
Dodgers	101 110 000-4
Houston	000 000 001-1

  Dodgers	ab r h  bi  ave		
Kemp cf        	5  1  1  0  .282
Either rf	5  2  3  1  .275
Martin c	4  0  0  0  .308
Kent 2b        	4  0  2  2  .265	
 Wade p        	0  0  0  0  .000
Loney 1b	2  0  0  0  .301
DeWitt 3b	4  1  1  0  .261
Young lf	4  0  1  0  .270
 Berroa ss	0  0  0  0  .183
Maza ss-2b	3  0  0  1  .239
Kuroda p	2  0  0  0  .080
 Repko lf	1  0  0  0  .000
  Totals	34 4 8 4
  Houston	31 1 6 1

  2B- Ethier (19), Kent 2 (14). 3B- Kemp 
(3). HR- Ethier (8). RBI- Kent 2 (38), 
Maza (3), Ethier (33). S- Maza. LOB- Dodgers 
7, Houston 5. SB- DeWitt (3). 

  Dodgers	 in  h  r-er bb so  era
Kuroda (4-5)	7.0  5  0-0  1  1  3.73
Wade 	        2.0  1  1-1  0  2  2.45
  HBP- Loney. T- 2:36. Att- 34,058.
Surgery for Raffy
Rafael Furcal will have a disc in his lower back, or part of a disc, removed in a procedure known as a mircodiscectomy. Torre estimates he will be on the shelf for eight weeks and possibly -- possibly -- return in August. But as Tony Jackson of the Los Angeles Daily News wrote: "The Dodgers have learned not to put much stock in best-case scenarios."

Now the Dodgers start a scramble to fine another shortstop, with all the General Managers in baseball knowing their pressing needs. The Dodgers have no one in the minor league system ready for prime time and GM Ned Colletti will have to determine if he is ready to swap one of the club's prospects or whether he will try to work in Nomar Garciaparra, a one-time all-start at short, with Luis Maza and Angel Berroa who are hitting .213 combined.

Garciaparra, who was 3-for-3 for Las Vegas last night, is expected to rejoin the Dodgers when they begin their final homestand of the first half Monday night against Atlanta.

"I certainly like Nomar at shortstop, but I'm not thinking about playing him there on an everyday basis," Torre said. "I don't think that would be fair to him, especially with how long it has been since he has played there. We'll try to figure it out and probably piecemeal it for now."

Torre also said Colletti has been trying for a while to acquire a reserve shortstop. Now he is looking for an everyday player.

In June, the only full month the Dodgers were without Furcal, they scored only 84 runs in 27 games, worst in the majors.

Closing in Top Pick Logan White, the assistant general manager for scouting, said the Dodgers and first-round draft pick Ethan Martin, a high school pitcher from Toccoa, Georgia, are close to an agreement. "We're making progress," he said. "Trust me, it isn't going to be a problem."

White did not reveal the team's bonus offer or Martin's asking price, but the 15th pick in the draft signs for something in the neighborhood of $1.5 million, a pretty comfortable neighborhood to be in.

However, he Dodgers are not optimistic about the possibility of signing 11th-round pick Nathan Eovaldi, a right-hander from Alvin, Texas who was given a tryout recently in Dodger Stadium. Eovaldi is committed to Texas Tech in the fall and White knew he was going to be a tough sign when he drafted him.

Dominican Dandys
Today is the first day clubs can sign international free agents who will turn 16 after Aug. 1, and the Dodgers are hopeful of reaching terms with at least a half-dozen prospects in the Dominican Republic, said Ralph Avila, the team's advisor of Latin American scouting and player development. "We've got seven kids we really like," Avila told Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times. The Dodgers have already signed one Dominican teenager, landing 16-year-old pitcher Jose Morillo, whose fastball currently is about 90 mph. Avila projects him to throw harder as he grows.

Dodger Blue Notes-- Jeff Kent is 6-for-11 (.545) with four extra-base hits in the series. ...Bullpen coach Ken Howell, who left the team because of what the Dodgers called an infection related to his diabetes, underwent a successful amputation of part of the third toe on his right foot. There is no timetable for his return to the team. ...The Dodgers have won consecutive games in Houston for the first time since 2003. ...Minor League reliever Yhency Brazoban, again out with shoulder discomfort, has started an injury rehab assignment in the Gulf Coast League. ...Nomar Garciaparra and Andruw Jones started for the third consecutive game at Las Vegas, with Garciaparra, the designated hitter, collecting three singles and an RBI in three at-bats while Jones, who started in center, was hitless in two at-bats before they both left after five innings. Right-hander Jason Schmidt, who hasn't pitched in the majors in 13 months, is scheduled to start for Las Vegas tonight.

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