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Dodgers end trip with sweep of Reds

Dodgers end trip with sweep of Reds

CINCINNATI -- As poorly as it began, the Dodgers' nine-game road trip couldn't have ended any better.

After struggling to get runners across home plate, losing two starting pitchers to injury and tying a season-high five-game losing streak, the Dodgers ended their road trip with a 7-4 victory over the Reds at Great American Ball Park on Thursday afternoon.

Matt Kemp went 2-for-5 with a double and three RBIs, as the seemingly dormant Dodgers offense came alive and manufactured timely runs for the second game in a row and L.A. completed the three-game sweep.

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"We started off slow, but at the end, we finished up strong," Kemp said of the Dodgers' now-completed 4-5 road trip. "We've got three tough series ahead of us. We've got to repeat what we did these three games to get to the house. We came together and got the job done these past three games. Hopefully we can carry it back home."

After beating San Diego, 7-2, on June 10, Los Angeles lost five consecutive games -- two to the Padres and three to the Tigers. In that span, the Dodgers struggled to hit with runners in scoring positions and get runners across the plate.

But then came the trip to Cincinnati. After Chad Billingsley's 3-1 win in the series opener on Tuesday, the Dodgers heated up. Three players had multi-hit games on Wednesday, and four more did in Thursday's series finale.

"Right now ... our quality is a lot better and the approach is a lot better," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "Once the approach improves on a regular basis, I think the results will improve. It's important to have the quality be the same and the approach be the same, because that's the only way the team is going to get [the] confidence that they need to go out there and compete every day.

"This series was certainly different than the one we played [in Detroit]."

The most consistent performers for the Dodgers have been the starting pitchers. Though Brad Penny is on the disabled list and Hiroki Kuroda is headed there, the wave of change inflicted on the rotation has done little damage, if any at all.

Derek Lowe was solid through 5 1/3 innings on Wednesday, and Thursday starter Eric Stults was just as good in his season debut.

Called up from Triple-A Las Vegas to replace Penny in the rotation, Stults pitched six-plus innings, giving up three runs -- just one earned -- on six hits and a walk with five strikeouts.

Stults, who had 15 family members in attendance from his hometown of Plymouth, Ind., was making his first start with the Dodgers since Sept. 30, 2007.

"That was fun," Stults said. "Your first time out, you still have some of those jitters, as far as being in front of bigger crowds and facing some of the best players in baseball. It's just fun, and it was great today to get those runs early and put the pressure on them."

Takashi Saito, who record his 10th save of the season and second of this series, gave Stults (1-0) the game ball.

Stults' day was made a lot easier by the Dodgers' offense, which scored in the first inning for the second time in as many games when Jeff Kent hit a double to right-center and scored on a double by Russell Martin.

Kemp led off the fourth with a 422-foot blast into the right-field seats off Reds starter Aaron Harang (3-10), who lasted just five innings and lost for the fourth time in five starts.

Kemp hit a two-run double to the wall in right-center during the fifth for a 5-0 Dodgers lead, and James Loney's two-out RBI single in the sixth made it 6-0.

The Reds mounted a comeback when they scored four runs in the seventh, but Jonathan Broxton and Saito kept Cincinnati from doing any more damage.

"You never know [if this fixed our problems]," Loney said. "We've just got to keep it up. I think it's a great start for us."

The sweep marked the Dodgers' first series win since also sweeping the Reds on May 19-21.

"We know we're better than we've been playing lately," Torre said. "We've been inconsistent with the offense, and [the] pitching, overall, has been good. Now, we'll see if we can get some guys to step up in light of the fact that we have a couple guys on the DL. We'll see."

Brandon Harris is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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