Pierre's return jump-starts Dodgers

Pierre's return jump-starts Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers played their past 20 games before Friday without a true leadoff hitter, with Matt Kemp doing his best to fill in at the position.

On Saturday, Dodgers manager Joe Torre will get the comfort of penciling Juan Pierre's name in the leadoff spot for the second straight day after Pierre missed about 3 1/2 weeks with a sprained left knee.

Before Pierre's injury, shortstop Rafael Furcal and Pierre were the only Dodgers to hit atop the order.

"When we lost Furcal he was so huge for us to go out there and take on the leadership and the job he did and the fact that he gave you a bonus by knocking in a lot of runs and figured very prominently in RBIs with men in scoring position, which is not something that you really associate with him," Torre said. "He's been big for us."

Pierre stepped right into the lineup on Friday and did what he always does: score.

Leading off the sixth with the Dodgers trailing 1-0, Pierre smacked a high slider from John Lannan into center to spark what turned into a game-winning, three-run rally in Los Angeles' 3-2 victory. Pierre eventually scored on Nomar Garciaparra's two-run single.

Pierre said Lannan had been throwing him sliders the whole night but started this particular at-bat with four straight fastballs, so he knew the slider might be coming.

"He battles you," Torre said of Pierre. "He got the base hit that got us going, which is important. Again, he's a threat on the bases. When he gets on, especially leading off an inning he distracts the pitcher enough where Matt [Kemp] gets a base hit and all of a sudden he hits Russell [Martin], and we're basically off to the races, but I thought he was fine. He's in such great shape."

Torre expects it take a couple days for Pierre -- who grounded out in his other three at-bats on Friday -- to get completely comfortable at the plate, but the manager called Pierre's conditioning "remarkable."

Pierre said his knee felt "fine" and added he may be fresher down the stretch than he has been in previous years due to the time off.

When Pierre injured the knee while making a headfirst dive into second on June 29 against the Angels, he was originally supposed to miss four to six weeks. He ended up coming back two days shy of four weeks, which Pierre attributed to praying, treatment and working with the trainers.

"I just bounced a lot quicker than they expected," Pierre said. "I had no idea because I had never had a knee injury before, but every day just continued to get better. It was just a blessing that I came back so quick."

Pierre said it was tough sitting out because the veteran had never spent a day on the disabled list during his nine-year career.

He felt good after playing the past two days for Triple-A Las Vegas in a Minor League rehab stint, and had planned to suit up for the 51s again on Friday before getting a call around 1:30 p.m. PT that he would be the Dodgers' leadoff hitter on Friday.

"It's been a long day for me," Pierre said, "so hopefully I'll sleep well tonight."

Pitching matchup
LAD: RHP Derek Lowe (7-8, 3.97 ERA)
Lowe followed the trend in the series against Arizona with an awful first inning, allowing three runs, although there was a defensive breakdown involved. He didn't pick up a ball in his 10 days off going into and coming out of the All-Star break and had no command in the early innings. At a time when the Dodgers have really needed a veteran to step up and assume the role of ace, Lowe has been erratic. And his layoff was the result of avoiding having to start in Coors Field.

WSH: LHP Odalis Perez (3-7, 3.99 ERA)
Perez was far from perfect Sunday, but he didn't need to be. The Nationals scored 12 runs in the first four innings, and Perez cruised to his third win of the season after allowing five runs on nine hits in five innings. On a hot and muggy afternoon in Atlanta, Perez tired after running from first to third in the fourth inning. He said his legs felt drained when he came out in the bottom half of the inning, and he gave up three runs. Perez will be facing his former team, the Dodgers, for the first time since he was traded to the Royals in the middle of the 2006 season. He last pitched against Los Angeles on May 11, 2001, as a member of the Braves. In that outing, Perez pitched 7 2/3 shutout innings, scattering five hits and getting the win. He is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in three career starts against the Dodgers.

Outfielder Kemp has hit in 12 straight games, the second-longest current streak in the Majors behind Washington's Ryan Zimmerman's 13-game run. Kemp has hit .365 with four homers, nine RBIs, and 11 runs during his personal season-high streak to raise his average to .290 from .278. He's also hit safely in 18 of 19 games. ... The Dodgers have won four straight and nine of 10 against the Nationals. ... The Dodgers play 21 of 27 games at home beginning with Friday's contest. ... Jonathan Broxton's 1 1/3-inning scoreless save Friday lowered his ERA to 1.40 over 19 1/3 innings of his past 19 outings. It was his third save of the season, all since the All-Star break. ... U.S. Olympic men's beach volleyball team members Phil Dalhausser, Todd Rogers, and Sean Rosenthal threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Friday's game. They were joined on the field by Misty May-Treanor and Nicole Branagh, members of the U.S. women's beach volleyball team. ... Three Dodgers will be signing autographs at various locations in the Los Angeles area from noon to 1 p.m. on Saturday. Starting pitcher Chad Billingsley will be signing at the Los Angeles AT&T store at 3764 Wilshire Boulevard, second baseman Jeff Kent will be at Northridge Macy's men's department at 9301 Tampa Ave #2500 and reliever Cory Wade will be signing at the Santa Clarita Wal-Mart at 25450 Old Road. ... Reliever Joe Beimel wore a robe replicating his "97" Dodgers jersey out of the shower on Friday. ... The air-conditioning in the Dodgers' locker room was finally fixed on Friday after being out the past few homestands.

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On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television

On radio
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Up next
• Sunday: Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw, 0-3, 5.18) vs. Nationals (Jason Bergmann, 1-7, 4.21), 1:10 p.m. PT
• Monday: Dodgers (Hiroki Kuroda, 5-7, 3.98) vs. Giants (Kevin Correia, 1-5, 5.71), 7:10 p.m. PT
• Tuesday: Dodgers (Jason Johnson, 0-0, 2.57) vs. Giants (Matt Cain, 6-8, 3.82), 7:10 p.m. PT

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