Young Dodgers Starters Hit Hard In Colorado

Rookie right-hander James McDonald and second-year lefty Clayton Kershaw suffered almost identical meltdowns in this weekend's series at Colorado. The two combined to give up 14 runs over 9.1 innings, and Kershaw has now allowed a total of 15 runs over nine innings in his past two starts.

Those ugly numbers combined with a recent surge by veteran lefty Eric Milton at Class AAA Albuquerque could force changes in the Dodgers' starting rotation this week.

Milton has now pitched 12 shutout innings in his two most recent starts for Albuquerque, including a six-inning, two-hit effort in Sunday's win at New Orleans. He came to spring training on a minor-league contract that included an escape clause if he didn't make the Opening Day roster. But after getting roughed up all spring, he agreed to go to the minors for about a month and see what happened.

That month is almost over now, and Milton has given every indication of late that he finally is all the way back from the Tommy John surgery he underwent almost two years ago.

Meanwhile, McDonald's next scheduled start is Thursday against San Diego, with Kershaw set for Friday against the Padres. It is difficult to imagine Kershaw, long the organization's brightest pitching prospect, being removed from the rotation. But as the fifth starter, McDonald is something of a swing man, and Dodgers manager Joe Torre has repeatedly hinted that he likes the idea of having him in the bullpen. McDonald pitched 11 1/3 shutout innings of relief, playoffs included, after receiving his first big-league call-up last year.

It also is difficult to imagine, though, that if Milton were to be called up this week, he would be asked to pitch Thursday on short rest. He threw 85 pitches Sunday, and again, he has a history of elbow problems.

"We have no plan yet," Torre said before Sunday's game -- and before Kershaw's implosion or Milton's strong performance. "We haven't really talked a lot about any changes right now. I think we'll wait until (reliever) Cory (Wade) comes back and see where we are, because he certainly will help our bullpen."

Wade, who is on the disabled list with bursitis in his right shoulder, is expected to be activated on Thursday unless he suffers a setback in his rehabilitation appearance for Class A Inland Empire on Tuesday.

--RHP Ramon Troncoso came up big for the Dodgers on Saturday night, when their bullpen was basically shot because Jonathan Broxton had gotten eight outs in the previous two games and Hong-Chih Kuo still can't pitch on back-to-back days. With James McDonald gone after five innings, Troncoso pitched four shutout innings for the Dodgers, allowing only one baserunner on an infield single that Rafael Furcal double-clutched before throwing to first. Troncoso was credited with his first career save, preserving McDonald's first career win.

--RHP Hiroki Kuroda will consult with team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache on Monday to see if a cause can be determined for continued tightness in Kuroda's right oblique muscle, which flared up again after the pitcher's most recent bullpen session on Thursday. Dodgers trainer Stan Conte was quick to say this isn't a setback for Kuroda, who remains on the 15-day disabled list with a mild strain of the muscle and hasn't pitched since opening day. But this clearly means that Kuroda isn't close to beginning a minor-league rehabilitation assignment or rejoining the big-league club.

--2B Orlando Hudson failed to set a career high for length of a hitting streak. After tying his previous best by hitting in 11 consecutive games, Hudson went 0-for-4 with a walk on Sunday. During the streak, he hit .444 (20 for 45).

BY THE NUMBERS: .480 -- Combined batting average for Dodgers reserves Brad Ausmus and Mark Loretta, two veteran players and former everyday guys on the down sides of their careers who have accepted bench roles in their first season with the club. Ausmus, who turned 40 a couple of weeks ago, is hitting .417 (5-for-12). Loretta, 37, is hitting .538 (7-for-13), including five hits in seven pinch-hit at-bats.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "A good night for the old guys. It was past our bedtime, and we had already missed the buffet." -- Dodgers C Brad Ausmus, after delivering two critical hits in the late innings of a three-hour, 45-minute marathon on Friday night at Colorado. Ausmus had scored one tie-breaking run when he was driven in by fellow "old guy" Mark Loretta in the eighth inning, and Ausmus drove in another tie-breaking run in the ninth that ultimately held up as the winner.

The Dodgers not only are off to a 13-6 start, but they also have won 12 of their first 16 against National League West opponents during a season-opening stretch in which they will play 28 of their first 33 games within the division.

The Dodgers already have won five of six from Colorado, swept a three-game series from San Francisco with another one on tap starting Monday night, and taken two of three from Arizona.

Their only hiccup thus far has been a season-opening, four-game split at San Diego in which the final game got away in the eighth inning, a big reason why the Padres continue to hover just behind the Dodgers at the top of the division standings.

With the notoriously weak division appearing to be no stronger than it has been in recent seasons, the Dodgers are the clear favorites to win it. But they aren't scheduled to play a contending team outside the division until visiting Philadelphia on May 12.

PLAYER NEWS: --LF Manny Ramirez was out of the starting lineup for the first time this season after going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts on Saturday night. Ramirez denied the suggestion that he was over-anxious at the plate, saying he felt fine. However, he conceded that at his age (36), he does need an occasional break.

--SS Rafael Furcal also was out of the lineup as part of manager Joe Torre's plan to rest him once a week to protect his surgically repaired lower back. Furcal said he has experienced no discomfort in his back this season despite the fact the Dodgers have played several cold-weather games, including all three games this weekend at Colorado. Furcal is on a core-strengthening program that takes about an hour a day.

--1B James Loney went 3-for-5 with two doubles, finishing a series in which he got at least two hits in each game. Loney reached base 11 times in 15 plate appearances in the series. For his career, Loney is batting .363 (29 for 80) at Coors Field, with four homers and 30 RBIs, nine of which came in a single game in September 2006.

RHP Cory Wade (right shoulder bursitis) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 12. He will make a rehab appearance for Class A Inland Empire Tuesday.

RHP Hiroki Kuroda (strained left oblique) went on the 15-day disabled list April 11. He will need to make a rehab start before rejoining the Dodgers.

RHP Claudio Vargas (right elbow tendinitis) went on the 60-day disabled list retroactive to April 6. He might return as soon as he's eligible.

INF Doug Mientkiewicz (dislocated right shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list April 17. He had surgery April 20, and he is unlikely to return before September.

RHP Jason Schmidt (right shoulder surgery) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 30. He threw in extended spring training in early April. He will make a rehab appearance for Class A Inland Empire on Tuesday.

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