To clinch West, Dodgers turn to Kuroda

To clinch West, Dodgers turn to Kuroda

PITTSBURGH -- Still stunned at their giveaway loss to the Pirates 90 minutes earlier, most of the Dodgers had hung around the clubhouse for what became a second shocking Sunday, watching the telecast of the Rockies escape all kinds of ninth-inning trouble to beat the Cardinals and keep their elimination number at one.

"It's all right, guys -- do it yourself," bullpen coach Ken Howell said out loud as players headed out for a Sunday night in Pittsburgh. "That's the way to enjoy it."

The Rockies are off Monday, so there will be no scoreboard or television watching needed for the Dodgers. They still have a National League West title to clinch, after losing two of three games to the Pirates, and with the magic number at one they can do it themselves against the last-place Pirates. It would be the first time the Dodgers have finished first in back-to-back seasons since 1977-78.

Sunday's ninth-inning collapse had the clubhouse crew scrambling to tear down the celebration gear and put the champagne and beer back into refrigeration before the beaten team returned from its walk-off loss.

In Monday's getaway-day series finale, Hiroki Kuroda takes the ball against one of his favorite opponents. He's 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA in three games against Pittsburgh, including a Sept. 16 win in which he allowed one run in six innings.

In his next and most recent start Sept. 22, Kuroda beat Washington, allowing two unearned runs in six innings of a 14-2 victory. The Dodgers are 13-7 when Kuroda has started this year.

Kuroda, after 11 years in Japan without a postseason appearance, must think winning is a whole lot easier over here in the United States, where he's 2-for-2 after the Saturday-night clinching of a postseason berth.

Although the Dodgers will have Manny Ramirez back in the lineup after he had most of Sunday off, they will not have the hot bat of Ronnie Belliard, who suffered a slight groin strain and said he expected to miss a couple days.

Casey Blake is likely to return to third base after being out five games, unless the field is wet, and in Pittsburgh it usually is. Blake's tender hamstring has been playable the last two games had the field conditions not been a risk.

Jonathan Broxton is likely to be unavailable, having pitched back-to-back on short rest with 22 pitches Sunday. George Sherrill has pitched four of the past five days.

Pitching matchup
LAD: RHP Hiroki Kuroda (8-6, 3.65 ERA)
Kuroda continued to look strong in his comeback from a concussion sustained when he was hit in the head by a line drive. In his fourth start back and his first career start against Washington, he held the Nationals to just four hits and two unearned runs in six strong innings, walking two and fanning six, making a strong bid to stay in Dodgers manager Joe Torre's postseason rotation plans as he continues to try to figure out how to cut his six-man rotation to four.

PIT: LHP Zach Duke (10-15, 4.06 ERA)
Duke opened PNC Park in April and he'll close the Pirates' home schedule as well with this start. It's been a decent season for Duke, who has taken significant strides since last season, though his record does not reflect that. He has, however, hit a rut during these last two months and has gone 1-6 since the start of August. He's not getting hit all that hard, but with the Pirates' offense struggling mightily he has to be close to perfect these days to get a win. Duke is 1-3 with a 6.64 ERA in seven previous starts against the Dodgers.

Tidbits
Broxton suffered his sixth blown save of the year on Sunday while allowing four runs (three earned) in one-third of an inning. ... Sherrill, who pitched the eighth inning, was in line to pick up his second win in 18 hours. ... Jeff Weaver, in what might have amounted to an audition for a postseason roster spot, pitched two scoreless innings on Sunday following the four by starter Clayton Kershaw. ... Rafael Furcal's hitting streak reached 11 games with an RBI single in the third inning. ... The Dodgers ran out of a two-on, no-out opportunity in the fourth inning when Andre Ethier was thrown out at third trying to advance on a pitch in the dirt and Matt Kemp was picked off first.

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On the Internet
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Up next
• Tuesday: Dodgers (Chad Billingsley, 12-10, 4.07) at Padres (Cesar Ramos, 0-1, 1.69), 7:05 p.m. PT
• Wednesday: Dodgers (Jon Garland, 11-12, 3.90) at Padres (TBD), 7:05 p.m. PT
• Thursday: Off-day

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