LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers came out of the All-Star break as if they didn't know it was over, losing their first six games.
But the rest apparently served Hiroki Kuroda well. After nine days off, Kuroda allowed one run in six innings against the Cardinals last week and followed Thursday night with eight scoreless innings against the Mets as the Dodgers posted their second consecutive 2-0 shutout win, with Matt Kemp driving in both runs with a homer and double.
"I don't want to think so," Kuroda said of the freshening that snapped a personal three-game losing streak, "but that's probably one of the reasons."
To ration that 35-year-old arm, manager Joe Torre did not let Kuroda finish off the game, as acting manager Don Mattingly did with 25-year-old Chad Billingsley the night before -- even though closer Jonathan Broxton had been sent home suffering from a bout of food poisoning.
Torre hit for Kuroda in the bottom of the eighth after 112 pitches and had Hong-Chih Kuo convert his third save of the year, lowering his ERA to 0.86 and running his string against left-handed hitters to 0-for-33 with 17 strikeouts.
"I was going to get Kuroda in the eighth if anybody got on base," said Torre.
Kuroda (8-8) got the best of Mets starter Hisanori Takahashi, but that's only a continuation of a trans-Pacific trend. Kuroda was 4-0 against Takahashi when they played in their native Japan. Had he recorded the shutout, it would have been the first back-to-back Dodgers shutouts since Pedro Astacio and Tom Candiotti in 1995.
"It was a great outing and we certainly needed it," said Torre. "It was a carbon-copy type of game from last night. Putting wins back to back is the most important thing."
With San Diego losing, the Dodgers picked up a game on the division leaders for the first time since July 9. They were swept three games by the Mets in New York in April.
"We've been in this position before, down at the half," said Kemp, who doubled home Jamey Carroll in the first inning and homered leading off the seventh inning, his 17th. "We've got a team of fighters, been like that since I've been here."
Kuroda, getting his first win in four career decisions against the Mets, allowed five hits and his only walk was intentional. He struck out four.
"They have so many left-handed hitters, the sinker outside was really effective and the split-finger fastball was really good today," said Kuroda.
He pitched out of a fifth-inning jam with runners on the corners and one out, getting rookie Josh Thole on a called third strike for the crucial second out. But he said the keys to the game were catcher Russell Martin throwing out potential basestealers David Wright to end the first inning and Jose Reyes in the fourth. Martin has erased 18 of 54 (33.3 percent) potential basestealers.
"Those two changed the momentum in the game," said Kuroda.
"The key was him giving me enough time to throw the guys out," Martin said, commending the quicker delivery Kuroda has implemented by raising his arms in the stretch. "Really, he had great command of the fastball and the splitter tonight. He didn't find the curve until the sixth inning, and when he did, it helped out. And you can't forget the cutter, that was big."
Nor can the Dodgers forget Kuo, who has stepped up with an All-Star season at a time when the Dodgers are shorthanded because of the absence of Ronald Belisario and the season-long struggles of George Sherrill.
Before the game, Torre was talking about how Kuo has been begging to have the wraps taken off, that he's as healthy after four elbow operations and wants to be treated that way. Kuo was warming up in the ninth inning of Billingsley's shutout and was throwing consistently in the mid-90s Thursday night. He's allowed one earned run in 27 career innings against the Mets.
"You can tell he's healthy by his body language," said Martin. "He's always aggressive, but he's not holding anything back."
In 31 1/3 innings, Kuo has allowed only 13 hits and has 39 strikeouts.
The back-to-back 2-0 wins were the first for the Dodgers since 1963. The Mets fell to 1-7 on their current trip.
"I thought the guy tonight had pretty good stuff," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said of Kuroda. "The last guy, you know he's been pretty dominant as it is ... I think we just need one or two guys to heat up, and we'll be fine."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.