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Bullpen a strength for Dodgers

Bullpen a strength for Dodgers

CINCINNATI -- Dodgers manager Joe Torre hasn't had to think very much when his starting pitcher has shown signs of tiring, even when it has been early in games.

Late-game leads had been few and far between for Los Angeles during its current nine-game road trip, but that's changed since the Dodgers arrived in Cincinnati, where they won the first two games of a three-game series.

The Dodgers turned to their bullpen to get starter Chad Billingsley out of bases-loaded, seventh-inning jam on Tuesday before using it Wednesday to spare starter Derek Lowe, who began to tire after 5 1/3 innings of work.

"Coming into the season, we knew our bullpen was probably going to be our biggest strength," reliever Joe Beimel said. "So far, everybody has been doing their job. It's something everybody in the bullpen is proud of. As a group, we stick together and try to get the job done."

Beimel took over for Billingsley with one out on Wednesday and allowed just one run when Javier Valentin hit a hard grounder to first. Beimel got Corey Patterson to ground out in the next at-bat to end the inning. Jonathan Broxton pitched a solid eighth and Takashi Saito picked up his ninth save of the season when he finished out the ninth.

Lowe struck out the first batter he faced in the sixth on Thursday, opening the door for Hong-Chih Kuo, who threw 2 2/3 innings without giving up a hit. Cory Wade got the Dodgers through the ninth.

"Instead of having to force another inning out of D-Lowe [Wednesday] night, it's easy to go out there and go get [Kuo]," Torre said. "It's huge. He probably could have pitched the ninth, too, but we wanted to save something [in case] we needed to have him this weekend."

Kuo, the Dodgers' designated long reliever, has allowed just three runs in his past 28 innings (11 games), and he boasts a sparkling 1.88 ERA. He's made three starts this season, and was thought to be an option as Brad Penny's replacement before Penny went on the disabled list earlier this week.

"When you get to [the] eighth and ninth, there's really no decision-making when you've got Broxton and [Saito]," Torre said. "Kuo has really done a job for us, too."

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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