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Kuroda's ace-like performance reels in Fish

Kuroda's ace-like performance reels in Fish

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MIAMI -- Hiroki Kuroda began his third season in a rotation that has no ace by pitching like one.

Relegated to fourth-starter status after an injury-filled 2009, Kuroda gave the Dodgers their best outing of the week, allowing one unearned run over eight innings in the Dodgers' 7-3 win in the Marlins' home opener.

And that really was Kuroda out there, not Triple-A shortstop Chin-lung Hu, whose photo was shown on the big screen at Sun Life Stadium the first two times Kuroda came to bat.

Insert your own joke, but Kuroda got the last laugh. After none of the three starters before him could get through six innings, Kuroda put forth a 100-pitch performance against a legitimate offense that brought smiles all around the clubhouse.

"You kind of live and die with your staff, and that can be so big," said Casey Blake, kept busy with seven grounders and a line drive he stabbed that might have saved the game.

"It's just amazing how pitching is so crucial for a team," he added. "We got it when we needed it most. You're going to need quality starts all year, but [when you] face a good lineup like that and he threw like he did, it's a big confidence booster for us. I'm glad we got run support for him."

Although Blake committed one of two Dodgers errors, it was his snare of a John Baker line drive to end Florida's sixth-inning rally that Kuroda said might have made the difference.

"It was a pivotal point in the game," said Kuroda. "If it wasn't for that, it could have changed the momentum of the game."

And despite what the final score might indicate, momentum was hard to come by. Kuroda hooked up in a scoreless duel with Marlins starter Chris Volstad into the sixth, when Florida converted a Russell Martin throwing error into the unearned run on Jorge Cantu's RBI single.

The Dodgers responded with four runs in the top of the seventh, with the rally including doubles by Manny Ramirez and Blake and a two-run throwing error by Florida shortstop Hanley Ramirez. They scored three more in the top of the ninth, with Rafael Furcal's third hit (and second double) of the night and a double by James Loney.

Furcal also recorded his third stolen base of the week. Last year he didn't get his fourth until June 9.

Manager Joe Torre tried to avoid using Jonathan Broxton after the insurance runs created a six-run lead, but Russ Ortiz loaded the bases and Broxton had to pitch anyway, and he served up a two-run double before locking down the win with a 98-mph fastball that struck out Chris Coughlan.

Afterward, it was all about Kuroda. He is in the third and final year of a contract that is paying him like an ace, $15 million this year. He's also coming off a season in which he missed a dozen starts because of a strained oblique, a line drive to the head and a resulting herniated disk in his neck that ruined his postseason.

"I had so many injuries last year and didn't end the season on a good note," he said. "It was really important, and I'm so excited to have this win."

Kuroda said that he lacked his effective splitter, and instead relied on a two-seam fastball to get the ground-ball outs (only two flyouts) and a slider that helped him fan seven. The only walk he issued was intentional.

"His fastball command was tremendous," said pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. "His last three outings this spring were each good like this. When he gets a lot of ground balls, it's a good sign."

Speaking of signs, Torre signaled his concern over Blake DeWitt's defense by replacing the second baseman after his seventh-inning single, with Jamey Carroll, and indicating that it won't be the last time. DeWitt was unable to catch a Blake popup in the second inning that went for a double.

"Probably," Torre said when asked if he planned to replace DeWitt with Carroll late in games while leading. "[Carroll is] more experienced there. It depends on the game and how many players we have."

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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