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Penny picks up 10th victory

Penny picks up 10th victory

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PHOENIX -- The announcement was made that James Loney would soon become the everyday first baseman, and the Dodgers went out and scored eight runs.

No telling what might happen later this week once Loney actually takes over and moves Nomar Garciaparra across the diamond to third base.

But Loney gave another indication with a ninth-inning cameo appearance Monday night, slugging a two-run triple off the center-field wall while pinch-hitting for Brad Penny in the Dodgers' 8-1 romp over the Diamondbacks.

The victory put Penny atop the league in victories (10-1) and earned run average (2.04) and pulled the Dodgers to within one-half game of first place. Penny scattered four hits over a season-high eight innings while running his career mark against his former club to 7-2 with a 1.81 ERA.

In so doing, against a team the Dodgers are chasing, he earned the kind of compliment from another former Diamondback, Luis Gonzalez, reserved for aces.

"The way he's been pitching, when I played over there, we had a couple guys in Randy [Johnson] and Curt [Schilling], that when they're pitching, the team confidence level goes sky high," said Gonzalez, whose tie-breaking single preceded Russell Martin's two-run triple in a four-run sixth inning.

"This guy is definitely one of them. When you play with guys like that, you can see the confidence in your teammates," Gonzalez said. "You like your chances to win before the game even starts. When this guy takes the mound, he has a presence and a focus and you know he wanted to pitch in this game."

Indeed, Penny was originally scheduled to pitch Sunday's finale against Tampa Bay, but it didn't take much lobbying for Penny to persuade manager Grady Little to hold him over a day to face a division rival.

The extra rest added some gas to Penny's fastball, which was once clocked at 101 mph and averaged 95. But more than the rest, there's the importance of a two-game swing in the standings. And, of course, a little revenge.

"Any time you get traded," said Penny, "you want to show they traded away the wrong guy."

Penny was struggling in Double-A in 1999 when Arizona, needing a closer, packaged him with two other Minor League pitchers to get Matt Mantei from Florida. Penny missed out on Arizona's title in 2001, but got one with the Marlins in 2003.

Now he's after another, along with another All-Star berth and, who knows, maybe a Cy Young if he can keep this going. Opposing hitters, like Arizona's Conor Jackson, said it isn't Penny's fastball that makes him more effective, it's the splitter he is throwing with more confidence and frequency.

"Penny's been lights out the whole year," said Martin. "You can just tell he's got confidence, his composure's great and he'll give his best effort, and if you get him a couple runs, you'll pretty much get a 'W.' He throws strikes, gets you back in the dugout to hit and keeps you in the groove."

Penny pointed out that the Dodgers' offense, sporadic as it's been this year, has supported him pretty nicely lately. In fact, in his last three starts, the Dodgers have outscored opponents, 27-3. Penny had a lot to do with this one, as he triggered the four-run sixth inning with a double after getting hit on the elbow with a Micah Owings pitch in the third inning. Penny is hitting .241.

"He's a threat offensively," said Little. "He started that inning with the double and lit a fuse under everyone. He was strong throughout his outing."

Jeff Kent, who fouled a pitch off the big toe on his left foot in the fourth inning, was removed after the sixth inning, but x-rays were negative and he is day-to-day. He was replaced by Wilson Betemit, who slugged a home run to center field batting right-handed in the eighth inning. Of Betemit's eight home runs this year, it's the first one he's hit right-handed.

Ironically, Little mentioned Betemit's lack of production as a key element in his decision to move Garciaparra to third base and open first base for Loney. Of course, a bigger reason for the move is Loney, who just keeps on hitting.

His ninth-inning triple raised his batting average to .448 with 13 hits in 29 at-bats since his June 10 promotion. Of those 13 hits, seven are for extra bases (two homers, two triples, three doubles). That's an .897 slugging percentage. Loney had only one home run in 223 at-bats at Triple-A Las Vegas. He already has nine RBIs, more than Tony Abreu has in 96 at-bats.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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