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06/27/07 11:17 AM ET
Abreu's first homer takes down D-backs
Dodgers claim division lead on rookie's 10th-inning heroics
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- Tuesday was moving day for the Dodgers. James Loney moved Nomar Garciaparra to third base, which moved to the bench rookie Tony Abreu, who came off it as a pinch-hitter in the 10th inning with his first Major League homer that moved the Dodgers back into first place in the National League West with a 6-5 win over the Diamondbacks. Loney and Garciaparra continued moving their separate ways at the plate. Loney, officially taking over first base, had three hits (including his third home run) and three RBIs, raising his average to .471. Garciaparra, moved to sixth in the order, went 0-for-5 and stranded seven base runners, his average down to .270. Russell Martin, moved up to third in the order, had two hits. Former Diamondback Luis Gonzalez walked four times and had a single. "Right now, he's having a tough time," manager Grady Little said of Garciaparra. "He will get through it." Defensively, not a ball was hit Garciaparra's way in his debut as a Dodgers third baseman and no Diamondbacks batters tried to bunt on him. "Everything works good when you win games," said Little, whose club overcame a short and ineffective start by Chad Billingsley, the replacement in the rotation for the injured Jason Schmidt. Billingsley allowed three home runs in four innings and forced Little to go to his bullpen early and often. That bullpen responded with six scoreless innings, from Rudy Seanez and Mark Hendrickson to Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito, the latter moving past former Dodgers record-holder Eric Gagne by converting 45 of his first 48 save opportunities. The early innings saw several lead changes. Billingsley allowed extra-base hits to the first two Diamondbacks batters while falling into a 2-0 hole, but Loney's two-run homer in the second got him even. Chris Young's homer put Arizona ahead again in the second, then Loney's RBI double in the fourth was soon followed by Billingsley's two-run double for a 5-3 lead he couldn't protect, as Mark Reynolds tied it at 5 with a pinch-hit homer in the bottom of the fourth. That was it for Billingsley, following up his 3 2/3-inning initial start in Toronto with only four innings and 78 pitches on Tuesday. He was charged with five runs on four hits, walking three and hitting a batter. "I left a lot of pitches over the middle, and you can't do that," said Billingsley, who had allowed only two homers previously. "I really didn't have any offspeed pitch, so even when I got ahead in the count, you can't get by with only one pitch." Little, trying to implement Plan Bs all over the place, pledged support for Billingsley in his new role, even though his ERA as a starter is 8.22 compared to 3.09 out of the bullpen. "He's kind of feeling his way as a starter," said Little. "We're not going to take one or two starts and make a judgment like that. He'll get it together and become one of our better starters before it's over." As Tuesday's game unfolded, had Billingsley not started it, he certainly would have appeared in it. But without him in the bullpen, other relievers are being pressed into duty later in the game. Hendrickson, in particular, struck out four while pitching the sixth and seventh innings, passing the baton to Broxton for the eighth and ninth. In the 10th, Loney and pinch-hitter Matt Kemp flied out and Little called on Abreu to face left-hander Doug Slaten, even though Abreu was hitting .300 left-handed and only .192 right-handed. "I have more strength from the right side," said Abreu, "but most of my at-bats are from the left side, and I'm more comfortable there." With Chin-hui Tsao leaving for an injury-rehab assignment and Ramon Martinez not far behind, the Dodgers will soon be looking for roster spots and Abreu might have to give up his, because Wilson Betemit has more power and is out of options. Abreu hopes this blast, with general manager Ned Colletti in attendance, helps his cause. "It's a great day for me," he said. "I hope the bosses see I'm prepared and ready for anything they need me to do." Little knows. "The kid's got a lot of tools," said Little. "That home run came at a good time." As for Loney, in only 12 games, he's 16-for-34 with nine of the hits for extra bases. After hitting only one home run in two months at Triple-A, he has three in two weeks. Project his numbers over 500 at-bats, and he'd hit 44 homers with 176 RBIs.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.