MLB Insiders - Los Angeles Dodgers

The Pirates open a four game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday night at PNC Park. Right-hander Ross Ohlendorf will be on the hill for the Bucs. The Dodgers will toss lefty Hiroki Kuroda.

The Dodgers look to tighten their grip on the division lead when they begin a four-game road series against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday night.

Hiroki Kuroda (8-10, 3.93 ERA) looks to post a rare road victory for the Dodgers. The left-hander is 2-8 with a 4.32 ERA in 15 away starts, last winning on the road against Houston on July 2. He did not receive a decision in Los Angeles' 6-2 win at San Diego on Tuesday, allowing two runs and nine hits in six innings.

Kuroda lasted six innings against the Pirates on April 14, and gave up three runs and seven hits in the Dodgers' 6-4 loss.

Ross Ohlendorf (0-1, 8.10) makes his third start of the season for Pittsburgh. The right-hander struggled in his most recent outing, yielding six runs and nine hits in four innings of a 9-3 loss at Houston on Tuesday.

Ohlendorf, acquired from the Yankees on July 26, has surrendered 16 runs - 12 earned - and 21 hits in his last three appearances, spanning 11 1-3 innings.

This will be his first game against the Dodgers.

The Dodgers' uncanny ability to avoid facing other clubs' ace starters has served them well this season, helping them build a 4 1/2-game lead in the National League West with two weeks to go. But there is a question as to how well it has helped them prepare for what is beginning to look like an inevitable playoff appearance.

That point was driven home again on Sunday, when Colorado's top starter, right-hander Aaron Cook, shut out the Dodgers on eight hits over eight innings.

The Dodgers began their late-season run -- they have now won 12 of their past 14 -- by beating Arizona's Dan Haren and Brandon Webb a combined four times in a span of eight days. But other than that, the Dodgers have struggled all year against other clubs' aces. Cook is a case in point. He went 3-0 with a 1.14 ERA in three starts against the Dodgers this season.

The Dodgers begin a four-game series at Pittsburgh on Monday night, and they will face Pirates ace Paul Maholm on Thursday. When they get home, the Dodgers also stand a decent chance of seeing San Diego's Jake Peavy on Sept. 23 or 24.

Until now, though, the Dodgers have mostly led a charmed life. Despite playing, on average, a series a month against the Padres, they haven't seen Peavy since June 12, when he shut them out on three hits over six innings. Incredibly, despite playing San Francisco just as often, the Dodgers haven't seen Tim Lincecum since April 2 and probably won't see him again unless Giants manager Bruce Bochy juggles his rotation for a season-ending series between the clubs Sept. 26-28 at AT&T Park.

ROCKIES 1, DODGERS 0 (10 innings): Greg Maddux was vintage, shutting out the Rockies on two hits over seven innings and using just 68 pitches to do it. Cory Wade followed with two perfect innings. But Hong-Chih Kuo, who hadn't pitched in exactly a week and had received a cortisone shot in his twice-reconstructed left elbow just three days earlier, retired just one of the five batters he faced in the 10th and gave up a bases-loaded single to the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki.

--C Russell Martin was out of the starting lineup for the first time since Aug. 28, mostly because it was a day game after a night game. Martin also entered the day with one hit in 17 career at-bats against Rockies starter Aaron Cook, but manager Joe Torre said he didn't even consult those numbers before making his decision. Martin pinch-hit for Danny Ardoin in the eighth inning and stayed in the game to catch.

--3B Casey Blake left the game after the fifth inning with mild lower back tightness. Blake said his back began to tighten up just before game time and gradually got worse. But he also said he didn't think the problem was serious, although Blake was non-committal when asked if he believed he would return to the lineup on Monday night at Pittsburgh.

--OF Andre Ethier is away from the team to be with his wife for the birth of the couple's first child. It wasn't clear how long he would be gone or whether he would return for Monday night's game at Pittsburgh. Ethier is arguably the league's hottest hitter and is batting .595 (22-for-37) this month, with a .674 on-base percentage.

--2B Jeff Kent is expected to try to take batting practice with the club on Friday night, before the Dodgers begin their final regular-season homestand. Club officials continue to hold out hope that Kent can return from arthroscopic knee surgery sometime this season. Manager Joe Torre was non-committal on whether Kent will have an everyday starting job if he does come back, but all indications are he will probably come off the bench.

--SS Angel Berroa, who had six multiple-hit games all season before the Dodgers began a three-game series at Colorado on Friday night, had two hits in each of the three games. He batted .545 (6-for-11) for the series with two doubles, two runs scored and an RBI. Berroa is batting .333 (20-for-60) over his past 20 games (19 starts) beginning on Aug. 17.

BY THE NUMBERS: 52 -- Career multiple-homer games for Manny Ramirez, who went deep twice on Sept. 10 at San Diego. Both of Ramirez's two-run shots exited Petco Park just to the right of straightaway center field, one of the deepest and most unreachable spots in any National League ballpark. It marked the third multiple-homer game for Ramirez this season and his second since being traded to the Dodgers on July 31.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You don't want to talk too much. You don't want to talk to other pitchers and say, 'This is what you should feel and this is how you should deal with it.' It's an individual thing. I don't think you want to put so much pressure on each game. I think we're very fortunate to have level-headed guys, and guys I don't think pressure does anything to." -- RHP Derek Lowe, on the value of his history of late-season and postseason success.

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