Arizona All-Star Dan Haren threw seven scoreless innings Saturday night, while Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley wobbled through 5 1/3 innings in a 3-2 loss, the Dodgers falling short in a ninth-inning rally against Diamondbacks closer Brandon Lyon while falling back into second place.
The Dodgers don't even have a closer after the loss of Takashi Saito, but having beaten Arizona's bullpen Friday night and made a serious dent in it Saturday night, they're feeling pretty good about going head-to-head at the end of the game.
The beginning of these two games has been a much different story and the Dodgers are hopeful the trend stops Sunday, when Derek Lowe opposes Arizona co-ace Brandon Webb.
The Dodgers juggled their rotation so Hiroki Kuroda and Billingsley would start the first two games and Lowe the third on 10 days' rest so he wouldn't pitch in Coors Field in the next series. Neither Kuroda nor Billingsley had a regular bullpen session off a mound during the break. While neither said the change in routine affected his start, something wasn't right for both.
"I could see if neither hadn't thrown in eight or nine days, but both did throw, in Kuroda's case not off a mound and Billingsley had a touch-and-feel off the mound yesterday," pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "I wish I knew the answer. I'll make a mental note and make sure next year we remember this."
Kuroda's start lasted only two innings. Billingsley appeared to be on the same pace. He allowed a home run on a breaking pitch to the second batter he faced, Conor Jackson, who came into the game 1-for-14 against him.
"He wasn't fooled at all, he just jumped on it," said Billingsley, 9-9 overall and 0-3 against Arizona this year.
Delwyn Young, starting in the outfield because Gold Glove center fielder Andruw Jones had food poisoning, misplayed Orlando Hudson's line drive that followed, saying he lost it in the crowd. That led to a second run.
"Defense is hugely important for us," manager Joe Torre said. "We brag about our pitching, but in order for it to be good, we have to catch the ball. He just misjudged the ball."
Meanwhile, Billingsley continued to scuffle. He needed a double-play grounder to escape a bases-loaded jam in the second inning and was nicked for another run in the fourth while allowing nine baserunners over the first four innings. By the time he righted the ship in the fifth inning it was almost too late, as he made it only through 5 2/3 innings on 114 pitches.
"My timing was off until the fifth inning," said Billingsley, who previously started on Sunday. "My arm felt great. I don't know if I felt too good or was rushing myself, but I don't thing the break had anything to do with it."
And by then, the Dodgers were down, 3-0. It wasn't a feeble 3-0 though, which might be a modest tribute to new hitting coach Don Mattingly. Although Haren fanned seven while scattering four hits in seven innings, a few Dodgers were just unlucky.
Matt Kemp had extra bases stolen by a leaping left fielder Jackson catch in the gap. Andre Ethier and Nomar Garciaparra had long drives flagged down on the track by center fielder Chris Young. Young had a ninth-inning RBI double that would have been a home run if hit to any part of Chase Field other than center.
"What we did against Haren," Torre said, "we have to do against Webb."
Then there was Jeff Kent, 3-for-7 against Haren coming in. He played a game of burnout with third baseman Mark Reynolds, rocketing a one-hopper in the first inning and line drives in the fourth and sixth. To that point, it was a hang-with-'em 0-for-3 against Haren and Kent was even smiling after the last one.
He led off the ninth with a homer off Lyon into the left-field bleachers, snapping a 1-for-24 drought.
"He couldn't play there," Torre quoted Kent as saying after his 10th homer and 1,500th career RBI.
After Garciaparra flied to the track, James Loney lined a single off the glove of first baseman Tony Clark and Young doubled him home, Blake DeWitt moved Young to third with a groundout and pinch-hitter Jones walked on a 3-2 pitch before the game ended with Kemp flying out to right.
Kemp and Young had two hits each. The Dodgers were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less