Dodgers Get Off to a Left-Footed Start

Somehow, this isn't the way Joe Torre had thing planned. After recording the best record in baseball before the All-Star break, the Dodgers have been thumped convincingly, 3-0 and 8-1, by a Houston team that was .500 (44-44) and fourth place in the National League Central. Roy Oswalt allowed four hits and was given an early 7-0 margin to work with in his third complete game of the season.

Oswalt (6-4) only used 105 pitches over nine innings, is 12-0 with a 2.13 ERA in his last 13 starts against the NL West, and is 36-12 against that division during his career.

The Astros, who were a season-worst nine games out of first place on May 31, are three games behind NL Central-leading St. Louis following their 14th win in 20 games.

Los Angeles still owns the best record in the majors at 56-33, with a 6 1/2 game lead over San Francisco.

"We've had very few games where a ballclub just manhandled us," said Torre. "If we're going to be a first-place team, we're going to have to shrug off this stuff. Right now we're not scoring runs, and tonight we didn't get good starting pitching."

The Dodgers bullpen, that has pitched a major league-high 312.1 innings, got the calll this night with two outs in the second after Billingsley, (9-5) gave up hits to nine of the 14 batters he faced and left with a 6-0 deficit. The All-Star right-hander is 0-2 with a 6.55 ERA in six starts since beating the Texas in 112-degreet heat on June 14 at Arlington.

He threw 33 of his 52 pitches in the first inning while giving up four runs on six consecutive two-out hits.

Miguel Tejada slugged a homer with two outs in the first for his eighth of the season. Hunter Pence added a two-run double and Pudge Rodriguez singled home the fourth run after the Dodgers came into the game having outscored their opponents 70-29 in the opening inning.

Billingsley left after a two-run double in the second, and Rodriguez tagged Jeff Weaver for his eighth homer in the third to make it 7-0.

"He got the first two outs in five pitches and then the roof caved in," Torre said. "Right now it just doesn't look like he's as sure of himself as he was. I'm not concerned about it. It's going to happen from time to time."

Billingsley left after 1.2 innings having allowed nine hits and six runs.

Right-hander Jeff Weaver worked 4.1 innings and gave up two runs on four hits. He used 58 pitches and probably eliminated any chance to start on Monday. Scott Elbert added two scoreless innings and had three strikeouts before Claudio Vargas worked around a single in the ninth. The Los Angeles relievers have thrown 10 1/3 innings in the past two games.

Ramirez is 12 for 37 with three homers and nine RBIs in 11 games since returning from his 50-game drug suspension on July 3, and the Dodgers are 6-5.

The Dodgers touched Oswalt for their single run in the third inning when Orlando Hudson tripled (and has six hits in his last 10 at-bats) on a drive that right fielder Hunter Pence lost in the lights. Hudson then scored on a Russell Martin groundout. Hudson was the only Dodger to reach scoring position during the game.

The complete offensive attack can be summed up in one paragraph: Hudson tripled after the first six went out in order. After Martin drove him in with a ground ball to third, Weaver dropped a single into right, Rafael Furcal looped a single to left in the sixth and Casey Blake singled to center in the seventh.

The Dodgers are only 15-15 at home since their record-setting 13-0 start. San Francisco lost 2-1 in 14 innings to Pittsburgh on a pair of Garrett Jones home runs and Colorado dumped San Diego 5-3 for their second win in a row after the break.

The Dodgers continue their longest homestand of the season with the third of four games with the Houston Astros. They will start LHP Clayton Kershaw (7-5, 3.16 ERA), their hottest pitcher over the last two weeks. The 21-year-old lefty's first loss of the season came against the Astros on April 21, when he gave up six runs on eight hits in 4.1 innings.

Houston's LHP Mike Hampton (5-6, 4.52 ERA) had one of his best starts of the season on July 6 against the Pirates, but was roughed up in his final start before the All-Star break, allowing five runs in 3.5 innings against the Nationals. He is 8-7 with a 4.61 ERA in 22 career games (19 starts) against the Dodgers

 Score by innings
Houston	        421 010 000-8
Los Angeles	001 000 000-1

 Los Angeles	ab r  h  bi  ave
Furcal ss	3  0  1  0  .254
 Elbert p	0  0  0  0  .250
 Loretta ph	1  0  0  0  .241
 Vargas p	0  0  0  0  .000
Pierre cf	4  0  0  0  .322
Ramirez lf	4  0  0  0  .341
Blake 3b	4  0  1  0  .285
Ethier rf	3  0  0  0  .248
Loney 1b	3  0  0  0  .279
Hudson	        2  1  1  0  .289
 Castro ss	1  0  0  0  .347
Martin c	2  0  0  0  .235
Billingsley p	0  0  0  0  .235
 Weaver p	1  0  1  0  .333
 DeWitt ph-ss-2b 2  0  0  0  .160
---------------------------------------
 Totals	        30 1  4 1
 Houston 	42 8 16 8

 Three-base hit- Hudson. RBI- Martin (28).
LOB- Los Angeles 3, Houston 9.

 Los Angeles	   in  h r-er bb so  era
Billingsley (9-5) 1.2  9  6-6  0  0  3.76
Weaver	          4.1  4  2-2  1  2  3.54
Elbert	          2.0  2  0-0  0  3  3.97
Vargas	          1.0  1  0-0  0  0  0.00
 WP- Billingsley. HNP- Martin. T- 2:44
Att- 51,209. 
Still Looking for Pitching
The Dodgers sent two scouts to see Halladay's most recent start, but the Dodgers also are looking at Jays reliever Jason Frasor, major-league sources say, and Orioles closer George Sherrill is another reliever on their wish list.

General manager Ned Colletti has identified setup relief as a principal area of need, and Frasor and Sherrill are two of the better options available.

Frasor, a right-hander, did not pitch behind Halladay last Thursday, but his opponents' on-base/slugging percentage is the seventh-best among AL relievers.

Frasor was drafted by Detroit in 1999 and sent to the Dodgers as the player to be named later, along with Tom Farmer, for Hiram Bocachica in 2002. He was traded to Toronto in 2004 for outfielder Jayson Werth.

Sherrill, a lefty, is 20-for-23 in save opportunities with a 2.41 ERA. He has been particularly effective against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .132 batting average in 38 at-bats.

Along those same lines, left-handed pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo said he felt he was "pretty close" to returning to the majors. "It could be next week, it could be in a couple of weeks," Kuo said.

A key part of the Dodgers' bullpen last season, Kuo went on the disabled list May 2 because of a strained elbow. He had undergone four operations on the elbow. Kuo has pitched twice for triple-A Albuquerque as part of a minor league rehabilitation assignment.

Feedback
While I agree with some of what Roy Lieberman said how can he call himself a serious baseball fan and not know those [All-Star] players? I guess we have a difference in opinion about what constitutes a serious baseball fan. Going to the stadium once a week to cheer on your own team while being ignorant of the opponent does not constitute being a serious fan. --Phil Gurnee, Chatsworth, CA.

And Carlos Fragoso of Mexico City, Mexico, pointed out that Albuquerque starter Giancarlo Alvarado is not a Venezuelan but actuallly he is from Puerto Rico. Thanks, Carlos.

Dodger Blue Notes --Relief pitcher Cory Wade was placed on the 15-day disabled list for a strained right shoulder and infielder Blake DeWitt was recalled from Albuquerque. ...Closer Jonathan Broxton, dealing with an irritated nerve in the big toe of his right foot that kept him from playing in the All-Star game, reported no problems after tossing practice pitches before Thursday's game. "I didn't feel it today," he said. "It's a lot better." But when Torre was asked if this could be a problem for Broxton all season, Torre replied: "It wouldn't surprise me." ...The Dodgers have been in sole possession of first place in the National League West Division for 90 consecutive days since the start of play on April 19.  They have had at least a share of the lead for 94 straight days since the start of action on April 15.  In 104 days of the season overall, the Dodgers have had at least a share of the NL West lead for 96 of them. ...The Dodgers have lost five in a row to the Astros at Dodger Stadium and eight of their last 10 beginning May 11, 2006.

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