Dodgers fall back into second place
Pitching hit hard as home team can't reach .500 mark
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers shared first place for a day, but they've had a losing record for a lot longer and played the part Tuesday night, getting whacked by the Braves, 9-3, and slipping back into second.
One night after Hiroki Kuroda nearly threw a perfect game, Chad Billingsley had a no-hitter through four innings. But the similarities ended there. Six of the next 11 batters he faced scored and the Dodgers don't have any six-run comebacks in their playbook.
By the time they mounted a two-run rally in the ninth, they were trailing by eight.
"Chad's stuff was great early," said manager Joe Torre. "He got into some bad counts, had a couple walks. Sometimes he rushes himself and gets out of rhythm."
Torre cited a walk to Gregor Blanco with runners on first and second and one out in the fifth inning as a key at-bat, because opposing pitcher Jair Jurrjens had just struck out trying to bunt, only for Yunel Escobar to follow with a three-run double just inside the third-base bag, snapping Billingsley's scoreless innings streak at 19.
Billingsley escaped further trouble that inning, only for Brian McCann to lead off the sixth with the first of his two homers. Two more batters reached base before Billingsley was relieved by Ramon Troncoso, who allowed both to score.
"The first four innings, I was able to get ahead of hitters, but after that, they made me throw hitter's pitches," said Billingsley, whose four-game win streak ended as he fell to 8-8. "The pitch to Escobar was a good pitch. I ran it in on his hands and he kept it fair. McCann, I left it over the middle of the plate. I just battled myself the last couple innings. It was a rough one."
Even moreso for the Dodgers offense. It was shackled again by Jurrjens, and if that name doesn't register, it does with Dodgers hitters. If Kuroda isn't the best rookie pitcher in the National League this year, then Jurrjens is, at 9-4 with a 3.00 ERA.
"Give him credit. Tonight, the guy had good stuff," said Blake DeWitt. "Some nights we're not going to have it. We've just got to find some consistency. Everybody knows we'll be alright."
Jurrjens beat the Dodgers in Atlanta in April, allowing one run over seven innings, and came out of this one after six innings, having been nicked only by a James Loney RBI check-swing double.
"This was a carbon-copy of what he did down there to us," said Torre. "He can throw 90-plus and has a change-up that looks a lot like the fastball."
The Dodgers came into this game having won six of seven, all of them with Matt Kemp batting leadoff in place of Juan Pierre, who was leading off in place of Rafael Furcal. But this game marked a new low for Kemp, who went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts and wouldn't speak with reporters after the game.
"We're asking the kid to do some stuff that may be unfair," said Torre. "There's a lot of responsibility up top. When a pitcher pitches a game like this, things are going to happen."
While the Dodgers are 6-2 with Kemp leading off, he's 8-for-34 (.235) with 15 strikeouts in those games.
In the silver lining department, Andruw Jones had the first two-hit game of his return from knee surgery, one off Jurrjen's glove in the second inning and a soft liner to right field during the ninth-inning rally. He also took a called strike three to end the sixth inning with Loney on second base, his 51st strikeout in 149 at-bats.
Nomar Garciaparra, who homered the night before, went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and an RBI on a fielder's choice grounder. Before the game, Torre reiterated that he would be giving Garciaparra extra days off to avoid exposing him to another injury.
"I'd like to write his name in every day, but that's not realistic," said Torre. "I'd like to give him two or three days off before the [end of this week]."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.