Dodgers Squeak Out 3-1 Win Over Cubs, Start Joe Blanton on Sunday
With the San Francisco Giants hitting the cover off the ball in Denver beating the Rockies 11-6, the Dodgers did just enough to eke out a 3-1 win over the Chicago Cubs. Of course having reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw on the mound gives a team quite the insurance policy when the offense can't get to the opposing pitcher.
"It's always good to have Kershaw on the mound," manager Don Mattingly said. "This kid is good all the time."
The only trouble Kershaw had in his seven innings of work was in the fourth inning. Darwin Barney led off with a single to left field and advanced to second on Anthony Rizzo's grounder.
The oft-maligned left fielder Alfonso Soriano battled Kershaw and hit a double to left-centerfield that split Shane Victorino and Matt Kemp and scored Barney for the Cubs 1-0 lead.
"The curveball wasn't working very good," Kershaw admitted. Nonetheless after making 24 pitches in the fourth and 22 in the fifth inning, Kershaw came back with a 10-pitch sixth inning. His final pitch was a 74 mph curveball that caught Luis Valbuena looking — the only time Valbuena was retired in the game.
"I'm just trying to throw strikes and get guys out," Kershaw said trying to deflect the praise off of his outing.
For the Cubs, their 1-0 fourth inning lead was short lived.
After Mark Ellis led the bottom of the fourth with a single off of Cubs starter Chris Volstad, Matt Kemp hit a long fly ball to right-centerfield that glanced off the webbing of centerfielder Joe Mather's glove and bounced over the outfield wall for the two-run homer.
"It's tough to hit home runs at night here," Kemp noted. "I think I got a little bit of help looking on the Jumbotron."
Aside from the hiccup in the fourth inning, Volstad did a good job of matching Kershaw inning-for-inning in the pitchers' duel. He also went seven innings looking more like the 21-year old rookie that burst on the scene in 2008 with the Florida Marlins.
"Volstad threw the ball pretty good tonight," Mattingly said. "He was able to keep the ball down in the zone and get his breaking ball over."
Once Volstad was out of the game, the Dodgers pounced on relievers Shawn Camp and James Russell. Shane Victorino led off the eighth with a double off of Camp. After Ellis grounded back to the box, Camp intentionally walked Kemp which brought in the left-handed Russell to face Andre Ethier.
Russell sort of did his job: he got Ethier to hit a double play ball. However Ethier managed to leg it out and arrive safely on first to keep the inning alive. With the right-handed Hanley Ramirez at the plate, Cubs manager Dale Sveum left Russell in the game.
Ramirez hit a grounder that squirted through shortstop Starlin Castro's glove into left field that scored Victorino for the insurance run. James Loney grounded to second to end the inning.
Dodger relivers were much more fortunate. Ronald Belisario pitched a perfect eighth inning, and Kenley Jansen struck out two in the perfect ninth for his 21st save.
With the Giants winning, the Dodgers remain a half-game back in the division. Fortunately for the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks lost in Philadelphia 3-0 sending them three games behind the Giants and 2 1/2 behind the Dodgers. Mattingly can taste the tension that's coming in the push for October.
"Every game we're going to be playing over the next couple of months is going to be a big game for us," Mattingly said. He knows that not only Kemp and Kershaw can carry the team.
"We've all got to play well. We've got to pitch well. It's going to be some fun over the next couple of months."
Joe Sunday. Newly acquired right-handed starting pitcher Joe Blanton will make his start Sunday afternoon in the finale of the Cubs series Mattingly said on Saturday. Aaron Harang, who was scheduled to start on Sunday, will be pushed to Tuesday while Chris Capuano will remain the Monday starter.
"The thing today with Joe was we didn't want him going too far," Mattingly said. Blanton, already on an extra day of rest, was pulled from his scheduled start in Philadelphia on Friday when the trade was made. Mattingly didn't want to keep the rotation on schedule. "We'd end up going way back and messing him up."
While Mattingly could have moved Chris Capuano from his Monday start on normal rest, he instead opted to push Harang back an extra couple of days.
"The ball didn't come out the way he wanted to the last outing," Mattingly explained about Harang's start on July 30 against the Diamondbacks. Harang gave up seven earned runs in five innings en route to the Dodgers 7-2 loss.
Mattingly conjectured that Harang's terrific outing in the stifling heat in St. Louis on July 25 could have worn him out. Harang went 7 1/3 innings and gave up two earned runs even though the Dodgers lost 3-2. "I don't know if that kind of zapped him a little bit, but we'll be giving him a couple of extra days and we'll go from there."
For Blanton, his trade came as a bit of a shock since it occurred after the non-waiver trade deadline.
"I walked in and started to get ready," Blanton said about being notified of the trade at around 4 p.m. ET. "Ruben [Amaro, general manager] walks in and calls me over. As soon as he does that I figured something's up."
Being a mid-season trade is nothing new for Blanton. In 2008 he was traded from the Oakland Athletics to the Phillies where he solidified their rotation on their way to a World Series ring. Now being traded to the Dodgers, Blanton sees a lot of similiarities between the two teams.
"The bullpen looks like it comes together real nice on this team," Blanton said. "The offense mixes some speed and power. One through eight can really do some damage. That was one of the things we always had there. They have a really good thing going here."
Much has been made of Blanton's season — the best strikeouts-to-walks ratio while giving up the most home runs in the National League. Blanton noted a mechanical flaw in his delivery — not separating his hands in time — that caused his pitches to hang over the middle of the plate.
"That was really the reason for a lot of the home runs I was giving up," Blanton said. "Middle of the plate up is not a good place to live as a pitcher."
It also helps that Blanton will be pitching in the NL West where the parks tend to be larger than the bandboxes out East.
"This is a great place to pitch. In California you get that cool air at night. The ball doesn't travel as well as it does here it seems like. It seems like it's a great defense playing behind me. I'm excited to get out there and play."