Kuroda Proves He is Ready

Although the Dodgers lost for the third time in their last four games Monday night, any questions about the fitness of Hiroki Kuroda were quickly answered in the positive. Making his first start since opening day -- exactly eight weeks to the day -- Kuroda had no trouble with his left oblique,but was stuck with his first loss of the season.

Kuroda went five strong innings, allowing two runs on three hits while striking out six and walking three. He threw 86 pitches and went deep enough into the game that Clayton Kershaw wasn't needed out of the bullpen, a fact that will allow Kershaw to make his next start Friday night against Philadelphia instead of being pushed back to Saturday.

After retiring the Diamondbacks in order in the first, Kuroda gave up a leadoff double to Stephen Drew in the second, then immediately picked him off. But Kuroda then issued back-to-back walks to Mark Reynolds and Miguel Montero, and although the came back to strike out Chris Young, Josh Whitesell then touched him for a two-out, two-run double that would prove decisive.

In his other four innings, Kuroda faced just one batter over the minimum and set the Diamondbacks down in order three times.

>b>Stults Luck Runs Out
Eric Stults has been on the cusp of a prosperous Dodger career for many years but finally seemed to crack the ceiling, posting a 4-1 record after starting the season in Albuquerque.

But he wasn't able to pitch with a bad thumb on his pitching hand, which he injured making a fielding play in a game at Florida more than two weeks ago, so the decision was made to try rest.

Stults was placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday. His roster spot was filled by Travis Schlichting, a reliever who will be making his major-league debut.

Stults clearly hasn't been right since the injury. Despite not starting again for 10 days to give the thumb time to heal, he failed to complete five innings in either of his two subsequent starts and lasted just three innings on Saturday at Chicago, when he was torched for four runs on six hits.

Stults also walked seven batters in just 4.1 innings in his previous start on at Colorado, when he failed to stay in the game long enough to qualify for the win despite being staked to a 7-0 lead and came close to blowing all of that lead.

Dodgers manager Joe Torre said he doesn't think Stults will need more than the minimum 15 days for the thumb to fully heal.

--LF Manny Ramirez was rumored to have been at Dodger Stadium for his usual workout on Monday, but then again, he might not have. Dodgers manager Joe Torre said he hadn't spoken with him because Torre hadn't arrived at the ballpark until around 1 p.m. after the team charter from Chicago arrived in the wee hours of the morning. Meanwhile, the controversy of whether Ramirez deserves to start in the All-Star Game might be becoming moot. He dropped to fifth in the latest vote totals released by Major League Baseball, more than 100,000 behind the top three.

--RHP Travis Schlichting was recalled from Class AAA Chattanooga on Sunday, marking his first career call-up. Schlichting, 24, posted a 0.66 ERA in nine games for the Lookouts, allowing just one run in 13 2/3 innings. Schlichting was added to the 40-man roster last winter, just more than two years after converting from an infielder to a pitcher and just a year after spending a season with the Kansas City T-Bones of the Independent Northern League.

BY THE NUMBERS: 32 -- Years since the Dodgers last held a double-digit lead in the National League West, something they have come within a game of on at least two occasions this season. After winning the opener of last week's four-game series at Chicago, the Dodgers held a nine-game lead over San Diego. The Dodgers last led the division by double digits at the conclusion of the 1977 regular season, when they finished 10 games ahead of second-place Cincinnati.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think Manny's popularity is why he has gotten the votes. I think realistically, other than from his reputation, he didn't earn (the right) to be in the All-Star Game this year. It probably isn't the right thing for him to be in it." -- Manager Joe Torre on suspended LF Manny Ramirez, who at last count was fifth among National League outfielders in fan voting.

--SS Rafael Furcal was out of the starting lineup for the sixth time in the last nine games, but manager Joe Torre said that was mostly about the fact the team had arrived home from Chicago in the wee hours of the morning. Furcal entered the game as a pinch hitter for Juan Castro in the seventh, then played the rest of the game at short. He went 2-for-2, drove in a run with a ninth-inning single and was stranded at third to end the game.

--3B Casey Blake was out of the lineup for the third consecutive game with hamstring soreness. Manager Joe Torre said Blake was itching to play, and Torre hinted that he might return to the lineup Tuesday night. Blake pinch hit in the seventh inning, striking out with two men on, but didn't stay in the game defensively.

--LF Juan Pierre was 3-for-5 with three singles, his eighth multiple-hit performance in his past 11 games. He also has 11 multiple-hit performances in his past 17 games. Although Pierre has mostly sizzled since taking over for the suspended Manny Ramirez in left, he had been slumping of late, coming into this game with two hits in his past 16 at-bats, with both of those infield singles.

--RHP Cory Wade delivered two scoreless innings, marking the 10th time in 13 appearances since coming off the disabled list on April 30 that he hasn't allowed a run. But Wade's performance wasn't exactly stellar. He threw three wild pitches in the seventh inning, become the first Dodgers pitcher to uncork three wild pitches in a game since Darren Dreifort on April 9, 1999, and the first to do it in a single inning since Don Sutton on Sept. 11, 1970.

--LHP Clayton Kershaw was not needed out of the bullpen Monday, so his next start will be on schedule Friday..

*M*A*S*H* 4077 MEDICAL WATCH 3B Casey Blake (tight right hamstring) did not play May 30-June 1, and it's likely he will miss a few more games.

LHP Eric Stults (sprained left thumb) went on the 15-day disabled list May 31.

LHP Will Ohman (sore left shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list May 29.

OF Xavier Paul (staph infection) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 21.

LHP Hong-Chih Kuo (left elbow strain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 30. He resumed baseball activities in mid-May, and he threw a simulated game in late May but he is a long way from returning to teh battle.

RHP Jason Schmidt (right shoulder surgery) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 30. He made the first of two rehab starts for Class A Inland Empire on May 12. He started for Class AAA Albuquerque on May 23, but he was shut down May 26 because of right shoulder irritation.

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, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on April 30. He had surgery April 20, and he is unlikely to return before September.

   LHP Randy Wolf
   RHP Chad Billingsley
   LHP Clayton Kershaw
   RHP Hiroki Kuroda
   LHP Eric Milton
   RHP Jonathan Broxton 
   RHP Cory Wade
   RHP Guillermo Mota
   RHP Ronald Belisario
   RHP Ramon Troncoso
   LHP Brent Leach
   RHP Jeff Weaver
   RHP Travis Schlichting

   Russell Martin
   Brad Ausmus

   1B James Loney
   2B Orlando Hudson
   SS Rafael Furcal
   3B Casey Blake
   INF Juan Castro
   INF Mark Loretta
   LF Juan Pierre
   CF Matt Kemp
   RF Andre Ethier
   OF Jamie Hoffmann