Ramon Troncoso Rescues Dodger

For the first 17 games of the 2009 season, Ramon Jose Troncoso worked in only 7.2 innings and allowed seven hits. The quiet young man with a Lincolnesque beard that frames a round face seemed destined to be a periphial player -- but no more.

Troncoso restored order after starter James McDonald, given a 4-0 first inning lead, gave back three runs in the third. The Dodgers added two in the fourth but again McDonald was overly-generous, allowing two more in the fifth to keep the game exciting.

Manager Joe Torre's sensitive stomach had seen enough and, sorting through his bullpen options, selected the 6-foot-7, 26-year-old Dominican and he stopped the Colorado offense cold (pun intended). Torre's bullpen on life-support after three trying games in Houston and a tough opener in Colorado,

Troncoso retired the first five, allowed a scratch hit, then retired the final seven, using a superb sinker to go with a fastball, curve and change, to induce eight ground balls. Only one of his pitches was hit hard, a shot to right field to end the eighth. He used but 45 pitches and looked good for another three or four innings.

"That was incredible," said Torre, who changed his mind about hitting for Troncoso after he retired Colorado in order in his first inning.

"After that, with his low pitch count and getting left-handed hitters to hit ground balls, that was huge," Torre said. "That's as good a job as anybody could do, in this park, against that club. We knew coming in [because of his tired bullpen], we had to score a lot of runs or get something of a surprise, and that was at the top of the list."

Troncoso had pitched only one other time in Coors Field, allowing four runs on six hits in one inning that sent his rookie ERA soaring to 6.11 -- something that Coors Field usually does to young middle relievers.

The Dodgers habit of jumping into a first inning lead expanded under cloudy skies and a chilling wind in Coors Field. They wracked up six hits and scored four two-out runs while sending nine men to the plate.

They added two more in the fourth, then turned off the offensive switch, collecting only one hit over the final four innings.

Russell Martin, who was forced to take a night off in the opening game of the series, had a pair of two-run singles and James Loney was 2-for-3 on a night that Manny Ramirez went 0-for-5, leaving a runner in scoring position in two of his first three trips to the plate.

"My timing was a little bit off," said Martin, who went 2-for-12 in the team's three-game series in Houston. "I felt that I was rushing a little bit at the plate. I used the day off to do a lot of work in the cage and on the tee just to make sure I am keeping my weight back."

McDonald started fast, retiring six of the first seven Rockies he face but then his GPS apparently burned out and he had trouble locating the strike zone. He eventually walked four and three of them scored but thanks to Troncoso, he picked up his first Major League win.

Rafael Furcal opened the game with a push-bunt down the third base line that he beat out for a hit. Orlando Hudson and Ramirez were retired before a landslide of hits washed over Colorado starter Ubaldo Jimenez.

Andre Ethier singled to score Furcal, recording his 27th hit of the season, tops in the National League. James Loney shot a double down the left field line and Martin's first single knocked both of them in. Mat Kemp (RBI) and Casey Blake singled to right before McDonald struck out to end the long inning.

After throwing 26 pitches in the first two innings, McDonald threw 36 in the third. After retiring the first man, he allowed a pair of walks, an RBI single, another walk and a two-run single to cut the Dodgers lead to 4-3.

L.A., countered in the fourth on Hudson's double an intentional walk to Ethier with two out and an unintentional walk to Loney, who was on base four times during the game. Martin's line single knocked in the final two Dodger runs and signaled the end of their offense.

McDonald found his bearings, retiring three straight in the fourth and the first two in the fifth before allowing his fourth walk and a booming home run by Garrett Atkins that made it 6-5.

Colorado used four relievers, Glendon Rusch, Matt Daly (making his first Major League appearance), Glen Embree and Matt Belisle to hold the Dodgers scoreless over the final five innings. Loney's single in the seventh was the only hit over that span.

Then Troncoso slammed the door and everyone gladly rushed inside for a hot shower and with a 2.5 game lead over San Diego.

Long apprenticeship
Troncoso finally got off the island after three years pitching in the Dominican Republic and has been a reliever his entire career in the United States, saving as many as 14 in one season. The Dodgers asked him to become a starter in the Dominican Winter League, anticipating he might be the fifth starter they were searching for.

He came to spring training in remarkable shape but suffered a finger injury that sidelined him for some time and erased any possibility that he might start.

Over the first 17 games of the season, Troncoso had worked in four games for 7.2 innings and had allowed seven hits, two walks and struck out five, seemingly nothing special.

Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said Troncoso ironed out some mechanics with extra bullpen work in the mornings as Spring Training neared its end. He also said Troncoso's improvement accelerated when he gained confidence in supplementing his sinker with an occasional breaking pitch.

"Last year, we saw he was durable, he could get the ground ball, but we didn't see it consistently all spring," he said. "The last time [1.1 scoreless innings in Houston on Tuesday night] was what we saw last year. And after the game tonight, I told him he never has to prove himself again. That's a tough spot, a one-run lead, and he didn't give them anything. Pretty amazing."

Dodgers go to 13-5 and now share the best record in baseball with the Cardinals and Toronto. Clayton Kershaw against Jason Marquis today.

  Score by Innings
LA Dodgers	400 200 000-6
Colorado	003 020 000-5

  LA Dodgers	ab r  h  bi  ave
Furcal ss	4  1  1  0  .264
Hudson 2b	5  1  1  0  .370
Ramirez lf	5  0  0  0  .328
Either rf	4  2  1  1  .308
Loney 1b	3  1  2  1  .299
Martin c	5  1  2  4  .241
Kemp cf        	3  0  1  0  .333
Blake 3b	2  0  1  1  .228
Mc Donald	3  0  0  0  .000
 Troncoso p	1  0  0  0  .000
  Totals 	35 6 9 6
  Colorado	32 5 5 5

  2B- Loney (4), Hudson (5). RBI- Ethier (20), 
Martin 4 (10), Blake (12). LOB- Dodgers 10, 
Colorado 4. SB- Furcal 2 (3), Kemp (5). 

  LA Dodgers 	in  h r-er bb so  era
McDonald (1-1)	5.0  4  5-5  4  2  7.11
Troncoso (sv 1)	4.0  1  0-0  0  1  1.54
  HBP- Kemp, Blake. T- 3:01. Att- 32,476.
Kuroda to Return to L.A.
Hiroki Kuroda experienced more tightness in his left oblique after his most recent bullpen session and head trainer Stan Conte stressed that it isn't a "setback," as oblique injuries are very slow to heal, but the fact there was no reason for him to go to to San Francisco with the team. It doesn't appear Kuroda will return very soon.

Dodger Blue Notes-- Furcal, Blake are and Ramirez (who failed to reach base for the first time this season) will sit out today's game. Pierre will play LF, Castro SS and DeWitt 3B. ...It was the third time in Hudson's career that he has hit in 11 straight. ...RHP Cory Wade (shoulder) and RHP Jason Schmidt will pitch in the same game Tuesday in San Bernardino. ...RHP Hiroki Kuroda continued to experience soreness with his strained oblique muscle. ...Jeff Weaver made his first start for Albuquerque at New Orleans tonight, threw 60 pitches in 3.1 and allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits with four Ks and no walks. He probably needs one more start before he is ready to come up and either relieve or take the fifth spot.