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LA goes with hot hand to open NLCS

LA goes with hot hand to open NLCS

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LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers manager Joe Torre planned to skip Randy Wolf and pitch Clayton Kershaw if a Game 5 was necessary in the recent National League Division Series, so it was little surprise that Torre on Wednesday named Kershaw to start Game 1 of the NL Championship Series that opens Thursday at home against Philadelphia at 5:07 p.m. PT on TBS.

Kershaw will be followed in Game 2 by Vicente Padilla, who pitched the clincher in St. Louis on Saturday night. When the series shifts to Philadelphia, Hiroki Kuroda will start Game 3 and Wolf will start Game 4.

The alignment demonstrates a trait of Torre's -- going with the hot hand. Kershaw started the division clincher, kept the Dodgers close enough in Game 2 of the NLDS for them to pull off an improbable late rally against the Cardinals, and he is the one pitcher most likely to dominate an opposing lineup. And being left-handed helps mitigate the left-handed sluggers in Philly's lineup.

"With Kershaw, I was just comfortable with what I've seen from him," said Torre. "Padilla, the same thing. I've said many times, 'When you get to this point of the year, you build on what you just saw moreso than thinking long range.'

"With what I saw yesterday of Kuroda [in an Instructional League game], that's why it was important for me to go to Arizona to make a decision on him. I didn't think he was likely in this round. Seeing him certainly gave me a change of heart. And Wolf will pitch Game 4. That puts [Chad] Billingsley in the bullpen."

Billingsley, who slumped in September, would have started Game 4 in the NLDS had it been necessary. Jon Garland apparently will be off the roster for this series, but Torre said final decisions would be announced at Thursday's deadline to submit rosters.

Wolf, removed in the fourth inning of Game 1 of the NLDS, apparently lost the manager's confidence, while Padilla's stock soared after his seven scoreless innings Saturday. Padilla could pitch twice in this series, while Wolf will pitch only once.

Wolf is 1-1 with a 5.11 ERA against the Phillies this year, and 1-1 with a 4.42 ERA against them lifetime. He beat them May 13 at Philadelphia, 9-2, allowing one run in six innings. But he lost, 7-2, on June 7, charged with six runs in 6 1/3 innings. In that game, Wolf allowed three runs and two homers in the seventh inning.

He's been particularly successful against the Phillies' two most potent run producers -- Ryan Howard (1-for-9) and Chase Utley (1-for-8). But Pedro Feliz is 5-for-17 with three homers against Wolf, while Jimmy Rollins is 3-for-6 and Carlos Ruiz is 4-for-6 with two doubles.

Kuroda pitched Tuesday to prove he was recovered from a herniated disk in his neck, meaning he could not return any sooner than Game 3. He got the assignment to pitch the first road game in part because of his ability to handle the intensity and pressure anticipated from the opener at Citizens Bank Park with a full house of crazy Phillies fans.

"That's a pivotal game," said Torre, who agreed that Kuroda sets up to pitch in a potential Game 7. "He's a guy we really counted on [last year]. We'll keep a close eye on him."

Just 21, Kershaw dueled Adam Wainwright to a no-decision when the Dodgers won Game 2 in a ninth-inning rally last week. Kershaw pitched 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on nine hits, striking out four with command good enough to allow no walks (except one intentional). He will be pitching on one week rest.

NL Championship Series
Gm. 1 PHI 8, LAD 6 Wrap Video
Gm. 2 LAD 2, PHI 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 3 PHI 11, LAD 0 Wrap Video
Gm. 4 PHI 5, LAD 4 Wrap Video
Gm. 5 PHI 10, LAD 4 Wrap Video

Kershaw was 0-2 with a 5.23 ERA against the Phillies this year, and he is 0-3 with a 6.64 ERA vs. them in his career. Both losses this year came by early June, before Kershaw turned around his season with a 2.56 ERA over his final 10 starts.

The last of those 10 regular-season starts was the division-clincher against the Rockies.

"He really did pretty good that day," Torre said. "To me, where he is and how he's come back from the [separated non-throwing] shoulder, it could benefit us by saving innings. His recent starts are really what made it in the equation. That last start was a huge game for us. We lose that game and we're tied in the division."

Those who believe in the theory that October games are won by hard-throwers, Kershaw fits that better than Wolf. For proof, Kershaw finished the regular season with a league-leading .200 opponents batting average and .173 against left-handers, allowing only one home run to a lefty (Brad Hawpe) in 139 at-bats. Kershaw allowed seven home runs this year, four homers in four April starts and only three homers in the 27 starts since.

He has had career success against Howard (1-for-8 with three RBIs) and outfielder Shane Victorino (1-for-8), but Utley (3-for-10 with a home run) and Raul Ibanez (2-for-5 with two doubles and three RBIs) have given him trouble.

Last year in the NLCS, Kershaw was a bit player, allowing one run total in a pair of one-inning relief appearances.

Moving Padilla up from Game 3 to Game 2 only adds to his incredible renaissance. Less than two months ago and still contending for a postseason berth, the Rangers were so fed up with Padilla and his reportedly bad attitude, that on Aug. 17, they released him and took on the remainder of his guaranteed salary.

At the time, the Dodgers, having already been outbid by Philadelphia for Cliff Lee, lost Kuroda when he was drilled in the head by a line drive. Desperate for starting pitching, club officials Frank McCourt, Ned Colletti and Torre met with Padilla and agent Adam Katz on Aug. 18. The next day they picked up Padilla for roughly $100,000 and gave him a chance to prove the Rangers wrong.

He hasn't lost since. Padilla went 4-0 with a 3.20 ERA in eight games (seven starts). Overall on the season, he was 12-6 with a 4.46 ERA and was especially effective on the road (7-2, 3.70). Padilla has faced the Phillies only once in his career, a loss in 2008 when he allowed seven runs in six innings.

Meanwhile, Wolf was disappointed, saying he wasn't the one to ask about why he was demoted, but otherwise handled the news with class.

"I feel like I have an opportunity in Game 4 to help out the club," Wolf said. "I'm happy for Kershaw. He's battled, he's pitched better than his record shows. He's a great kid and I'm excited to watch him pitch tomorrow. He has a great future -- he's a shining star for the organization."

Torre said he wasn't concerned with how Wolf would take the decision.

"He's one of four. That's pretty special," said Torre. "Being on the roster is special. This is not the time of year to get caught up in what class you're in."

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

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