LOS ANGELES -- Starting pitchers, who needs them? The Dodgers paraded relievers to the mound from first pitch to last on Saturday night, and the result was one of their best games of the season. They beat the Pirates, 5-1, and picked up a game in the standings for the first time in two weeks. It began with Rule 5 Draft pick Carlos Monasterios allowing one run in four innings in his first Major League start; then reclamation project Ramon Ortiz with three scoreless innings and five strikeouts; on to Hong-Chih Kuo for a 1-2-3 eighth inning; then Ramon Troncoso pitching a scoreless ninth.
Andre Ethier provided the offense with three extra-base hits, including his seventh homer of the year, a three-run shot in the third inning off Zach Duke's 0-2 breaking ball. Ethier leads the club with 22 RBIs, despite playing on an obviously sore ankle. James Loney had a pair of doubles and Reed Johnson two hits and an RBI. "This was important for us, after our dive, to get back-to-back wins and come out with the attitude we had today," said Ethier, who homered in back-to-back games for the second time this year. "We fell behind but didn't get defeated. We stayed on it and played a good game and got quality innings from Monasterios and Ortiz." Manager Joe Torre -- having watched his thoroughbred Homeboykris finish 16th in the Kentucky Derby earlier in the day -- sent a rookie to the mound for the second time in four games, then hinted that Monasterios would get another starting call on Thursday, the next time a rotation spot comes up that isn't reserved for Hiroki Kuroda, Clayton Kershaw or Chad Billingsley. Torre's other options would be rookie John Ely, charged with five runs in six innings in his Major League debut in New York Wednesday, or Charlie Haeger, who began the season as the fifth starter but now appears to be the long reliever. "I'll let you know tomorrow," Torre said, regarding a Thursday starter. "I like Ortiz where he is. I'd rather have Ortiz picking up the kid as opposed to the other way around." He liked how it worked on Saturday night, even though Monasterios was shaky. He threw first-pitch strikes to only four of 18 batters, he walked two and hit two others. Ortiz nearly hit Andrew McCutchen in the fifth inning, which led to an incident in the seventh inning when Pirates reliever Jack Taschner threw behind Ethier. Catcher Russell Martin screamed from the bench and Taschner screamed back, but no warning was issued by plate umpire Doug Eddings. "Let me tell you something. Everybody, not only me, everybody has to pitch inside," said Ortiz. "If you don't pitch inside, you're done. You have to move the feet. To everybody. If you move their feet, you can throw the slider, changeup, any pitch down and away ... that's what we did tonight." Some of the Pirates weren't happy about pitches from Ortiz and Monasterios near McCutchen's head. "To have two pitches sail by his head, something's going on," said Ryan Church. "It's bush league. If you're gonna throw at someone, don't throw at their head." Monasterios, meanwhile, allowed a first-inning homer to McCutchen that was a solo shot only because Martin nailed leadoff hitter Aki Iwamura trying to steal second base. "He struggled. He bent but didn't break," said Torre. "That first inning was huge, throwing that runner out at second so the home run wound up a singleton. He gave us what we needed." Monasterios has given the Dodgers more than they could have expected. He came from the Phillies (via a trade with the Mets) through the Rule 5 draft, becoming only the fourth such pick to make a Dodgers Opening Day roster since 1981. A year ago he was pitching in Class A and appeared in only two games at Double-A before this season. Primarily a starter in the Minor Leagues, the Dodgers had him protected in the back of the bullpen when the season started, but he's quickly pitching his way into a more prominent role. Only Jonathan Broxton has a lower ERA than Monasterios' 1.84. Torre suggested that Monasterios' early wildness was from nerves; the 24-year-old denied it, saying he just wasn't as aggressive as he should have been and made an adjustment. "At first, it looked like he was being too picky, but after a couple meetings with me and [pitching coach Rick Honeycutt] he started pumping first-pitch strikes and mixing his pitches," said Martin. "He listens and he's a smart kid. He knows how to pitch. He throws inside when he needs to. He's not scared out there. I like his attitude. When he doesn't make a pitch, he gets frustrated, but digs down deep. He doesn't seem to panic at all." Ethier's home run put Monasterios in position to win, but he ran his pitch count up to 73 after four innings and Torre was satisfied with that. Ortiz struck out five of the first seven batters he faced and got the win.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.