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Dodgers Can't Quite Make It Over the Braves

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Coming into tonight’s matchup, the Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves had more in common than their 31-22 records. Both teams had an awful April where they hung out in the bottom of their respective divisions before turning it around in May with identical Major League-best 18-5 records since May 9. In fact both teams swept their last series coming into these four games: the Dodgers sweeping the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Braves giving the broom to the Philadelphia Phillies.

However the Dodgers’ offensive problems with the D-backs continued as they struggled to solve 24-year old Kris Medlen losing 4-0 in the opener. Medlen, who started the season in the Braves’ bullpen until the injury to starter Jair Jurrjens brought him to the rotation, armed with his 90 mph fastball stayed at the edges of the strike zone confounding the Dodgers. He allowed only three hits in his first seven innings.

“We’re not necessarily having good at-bats,” manager Joe Torre said. “The opposing pitcher’s pitch count has been really low. We’ve just got to fight our way out of it.”

Unfortunately Dodgers’ starter Hiroki Kuroda could not match Medlen inning-by-inning.

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The Braves struck first when Martin Prado took Hiroki Kuroda’s first pitch to the right-center field alley for a lead-off double. After advancing to third on Omar Infante’s groundout to short, he scored on Troy Glaus’ single for the quick 1-0 lead.

Glaus, who had hit a home run in three of his last four games, hit a solo shot to lead off the fourth inning. After Kuroda made an error on a would-be double play ball hit by Yunel Escobar allowing Escobar to take second, Nate McClouth hit an RBI double that scored Escobar for the 3-0 lead.

Medlen added to his own cause in the sixth inning by hitting and RBI double that sent Manny Ramirez rolling over in shallow left field in yet another moment of comedy giving the Braves the 4-0 lead.

“I tried to locate the pitches too carefully and mislocated it,” Kuroda explained through interpreter Kenji Nimura about the abnormally high four walks he issued in his six innings of work. “I was behind in the count, and I tried to locate my pitch again. I’ve been repeating that for many times now.”

Kuroda insisted the lack of run support hasn’t affected his mindset.

“Whether I get run support or not I have to do my job anyway,” Kuroda said. “If I don’t get run support, then I have to make the game close.”

The Dodgers finally saw an opening in the eighth inning and took advantage of it. Having not made more than 97 pitches in his two seasons in the Majors, Medlen struggled in the eighth inning loading the bases on singles by James Loney, Blake DeWitt and Jamey Carroll before leaving after his 96th pitch.

In came reliever Peter Moylan who gave up a single to right field to pinch hitter Ronnie Belliard scoring one run. Another run came in when right fielder Jason Heyward threw the ball past home plate and into the wall if all the runners moving up a base.

Rafael Furcal grounded to second to score another run cutting the Braves’ lead 4-3.

After Matt Kemp walked, in came Eric O’Flaherty to strike out Andre Ethier to end the threat.

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In the end with his 96 pitches, Medlen went a career-high 7 1/3 innings giving up three runs, two of which were earned on six hits while walking nobody and striking out four which impressed Torre.

“Very impressed with the number of strikes he threw,” Torre said. “He located very well. That fastball/change-up combination gets it off the fat of the bat. It was pretty impressive.”

“We’ve got to give [Medlen] credit,” Furcal said. “Good change-up. Good breaking ball. He made the pitch when he needed to.”

Former Dodger closer and current Braves reliever Takashi Saito came in for the save in the ninth inning with normal closer Billy Wagner having worked the last two days. After two outs and getting Russell Martin to an 0-2 count, Saito pulled up with a pulled left hamstring. Johnny Venters came in for the one pitch strike out and his first save of the season.

In other injury news, reliever Jeff Weaver came in to pitch the seventh inning. After making some warm up tosses on the mound before the inning started, he was pulled for a blister on his middle finger of his pitching hand. Also Casey Blake was scratched from the lineup after getting back spasms while bending over to pick up a ball before the game.