Elbert pitching way into key role for LA

Elbert pitching way into key role for LA

SAN DIEGO -- The Dodgers were already trailing by the final score in the eighth inning Tuesday night when Scott Elbert took the mound for the Dodgers, but it wasn't a meaningless outing for the rookie left-hander.

"He's auditioning," said manager Joe Torre, who has been impressed enough by Elbert's composure and stuff to suddenly use him in close games with an eye on October.

Indeed, with Hong-Chih Kuo's elusive command only a couple months after seemingly overcoming control issues, Elbert could very well be this year's James McDonald, sneaking onto the postseason pitching staff via an impressive September after having virtually no role during the previous five months.

That's what McDonald did last year. He made only four appearances last September for six innings, but they were scoreless innings, and Torre not only added McDonald to the postseason staff to replace Kuo, but used him for two scoreless appearances in the National League Championship Series. That made McDonald the favorite to win the fifth-starter spot when Spring Training started.

Elbert, a former first-round Draft pick and destined to be a starter, seems on a similar track. Elbert struggled with command in April and July callups this year, but he's been a different pitcher his third visit. In his past six appearances covering three scoreless innings, the only hit he's allowed is a chopper off the plate Tuesday night.

Torre said he was especially impressed when Elbert came in throwing strikes Friday night in Pittsburgh, his first appearance in 12 days.

Elbert's chance to make the postseason also could improve if Kuo's wildness continues. Kuo walked Nick Hundley leading off the seventh inning Tuesday night and eventually wild-pitched him home. Kuo had two wild pitches Saturday night and nearly threw away a pickoff attempt Tuesday night.

Kuo has been charged with runs in his past two appearances after going 11 consecutive appearances without being scored upon. Such dramatic changes with Kuo often indicate something is wrong, although his velocity hit 97 mph Tuesday night.

For Wednesday's game, with another chance to clinch the division title, the Dodgers will start Jon Garland. It will be Garland's sixth start since being acquired by the Dodgers, and he's coming off an undeserved loss in Pittsburgh, where he allowed three unearned runs in six innings. He's 2-2 with a 2.86 ERA lifetime against San Diego.

"Every game he pitches is like the postseason," said Torre. "He never gives in. He makes you beat him, he never beats himself. The last time, he gave up three runs and they were all unearned. He pitches quality starts."

Pitching matchup
LAD: RHP Jon Garland (11-12, 3.90 ERA)
Garland pitched well enough for a shutout, instead getting charged with three unearned runs and an undeserved loss in Pittsburgh. He struck out six with one walk over six innings, the runs scoring on a sacrifice fly and a bloop single. He's not overpowering, but he knows how to pitch and seems especially adept at escaping jams and keeping the damage to a minimum. Nonetheless, his postseason role is undetermined.

SD: LHP Clayton Richard (8-5, 4.62 ERA)
Richard, 4-2 with a 4.58 ERA in 11 starts since being acquired from the White Sox, hasn't had a decision in his past three starts, but has fared well enough in all of them. He allowed three runs -- two of them earned -- in six innings at Colorado his last time out.

Rafael Furcal had two hits Tuesday night, extending his hitting streak to 12 games. He also stole his 11th base of the season and fifth in the past 12 games. ... The Dodgers went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and stranded five runners Tuesday night. ... Chad Billingsley is winless since Aug. 18 against St. Louis.

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•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

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Up next
• Thursday: Off-day
• Friday: Dodgers (Randy Wolf, 11-6, 3.22) vs. Rockies (Ubaldo Jimenez, 14-12, 3.52), 7:10 p.m. PT
• Saturday: Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw, 8-8, 2.89) vs. Rockies (Jorge De La Rosa, 16-9, 4.45), 7:10 p.m. PT

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