Kuroda, Dodgers cruise past Pirates
Righty tosses seven shutout innings; Saito, Penny return
PITTSBURGH -- It would have been fittingly historic had Hiroki Kuroda been allowed to finish out Monday night's 8-2 win over the Pirates, but Dodgers manager Joe Torre needed those last two innings to address two question marks.
So Kuroda was lifted after seven scoreless innings, deprived of the chance to be the first Dodgers pitcher to throw three shutouts in a season since Hideo Nomo in 1995 when he, too, was a former Japan star turned Major League rookie.
"I could have gone longer, but I come out when they tell me," said Kuroda, who allowed only three hits, used only 83 pitches and raised his record to 9-10. "I'm more excited that the team got the win than anything personal."
Kuroda gave way to another countryman, Takashi Saito, who was followed to the mound by Brad Penny, as Torre took a lopsided win and turned it into an impromptu rehab assignment for the closer and Opening Day starter.
Torre had that luxury because his offense punished the last-place Pirates, taking advantage of eight walks. Juan Pierre had three runs on three hits, including his first homer in nearly two years. James Loney drove in three runs, Manny Ramirez had three hits and two RBIs and Russell Martin scored three runs as the Dodgers, winners of 13 of 15, trimmed the magic number to nine.
As for the rehab pitchers, the results were mixed.
Saito, making his first appearance after more than two months on the sidelines with a partially torn elbow ligament, struck out two with a walk in a scoreless 21-pitch eighth inning. His slider was sharp and he said his elbow felt fine, although his fastball topped out at 90 mph and mostly was around 88 mph, five ticks slower than normal.
"As long as he did it physically, I'm not worried about anything else," Torre said of Saito. "This was to get his feet wet. Ideally, he'll get a day off and come back in another non-stressful situation."
It went worse for Penny, making his second relief appearance after 2 1/2 months of shoulder problems. He threw mostly breaking balls and most of his fastballs were slower than Saito's. The fastest, at 91 mph, was turned around for a two-run homer by Adam LaRoche that ruined the shutout with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Penny threw 13 pitches and didn't say he felt fine. He told Torre he had trouble getting loose, even though he agreed he had plenty of time to warm up. Saito said he's not used to coming into a game with an eight-run lead, but Penny isn't familiar with relieving in any situation. The few times he's done it, it's usually gone poorly.
"It didn't look like he was throwing the ball, but he said he was OK," Torre said, explaining why he went to the mound after Penny's second batter. "We just have to see what that's all about. He said he was stiff. He didn't say anything about pain. He was just hitting spots instead of letting go."
Torre needs to know if Penny is in the picture as a starter, especially around the time postseason rosters are submitted, should the Dodgers need one. Torre also needs to know if he'll have Saito, especially with setup man Hong-Chih Kuo's brittle elbow barking again.
Saito clearly sounded the more confident of the two.
"It's hard to express my feeling right now," he said. "Obviously there was insecurity about being injured, but when I got back to the bench, everybody said, 'Welcome back.'"
Penny said it would be personally ideal to be given a start and have his usual routine, but understands that's not possible with the team in a race, so he must adjust to relieving.
"I understand the position Joe's in," he said. "I've been hurt all year. That's why he came out to see me. Any time I've pitched out of the bullpen, I haven't been good. It's tough 8-0, there's no adrenaline. You just try to get through it."
Torre said Kuroda was "great." The right-hander gave up singles to the first two Pirates hitters, then not another until Nyjer Morgan's one-out double in the sixth.
"It was really important, losing yesterday, to come back and win today," said Torre. "We were able to bounce right back."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.