© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
03/31/08 9:04 PM ET
Kent's homer backs powerful Penny
DeWitt singles in first Major League at-bat
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- To celebrate their 50th anniversary in town, the Dodgers dusted off some of the old-timer stars of the franchise, names like Koufax ... Snider ... Newcombe ... Erskine ... Kent. Well, Jeff Kent is the first 40-year-old position player they've ever had in an Opening Day lineup, but he's definitely not yet in the past. He slugged a two-run homer off Barry Zito in support of Brad Penny, who threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings, as the Dodgers presented new manager Joe Torre with a 5-0 win over the Giants. "I hope they don't call me for the 100th anniversary," Kent said. "Who needs Spring Training?" Penny said of Kent, who missed three weeks of exhibition games with a hamstring strain, played parts of three weekend games and strapped it on for the opener, refusing a disabled-list stint in what figures to be his last chance at a championship. There was no shortage of optimism after this shutout debut, even if it came against a Giants team that no longer has Barry Bonds as a focal point, a team already hobbled and not really expected by anybody to contend in the National League West. "We're going to soon realize how good we really are," said catcher Russell Martin. Nobody's quite sure what to expect of the Dodgers coming off their disjointed fourth-place finish last year. But now Torre's in charge, Rafael Furcal (three hits) is healthy, back-to-back All-Star Penny is the staff ace and the mood in the clubhouse is decidedly upbeat. "We're real confident," said Matt Kemp, who singled home Furcal in the first inning before scoring on Kent's home run. "It's a different team, a different year. The clubhouse is different. We've all come together as a team." There is still plenty of youth to either blend -- or clash -- with veterans like Kent. For example, there's Blake DeWitt, whose three-week meteoric rise from Minor League camp to Opening Day third baseman included starting a key second-inning double play and singling in his first Major League at-bat. DeWitt's unusually calm exterior finally cracked, but not until the final play when Takashi Saito threw out Ray Durham on a comebacker. "That's when I started shaking," said DeWitt. "I can't explain it. Nothing bothered me before or during the game." DeWitt, however, credited some of his cool to the advice of Kent, a teammate perceived by some as a troublemaker last year for sounding off about his frustration with the approach of some young players. But DeWitt said Kent made a difference for him Monday. "He came up to me and was great before the game, telling me to stay within myself and not try to do too much," DeWitt said of Kent. "I think I was relaxed as much from that as anything." After scoring three runs in the first off Zito, Penny said the key inning for the Dodgers was the top of the second, because the Dodgers did the little things correctly. He was struggling with his command, having walked Durham with one out. Aaron Rowand then singled to left field, where new left fielder Andre Ethier and his strong arm had a shot at gunning down Durham going from first to third. Instead, Ethier made a longer throw to second base that kept Rowand at first and the double play intact. Jose Castillo followed with a sharp grounder to DeWitt, who began the double play that required Kent to test his balky right hamstring as Rowand took him out. But the double play got Penny out of the inning unscathed. "Penny was getting on me all spring, how he doesn't want the outfielders trying to bail him out," said Ethier. "Just make sure you throw to the right base and let him get himself out of trouble. It was tempting to come up and throw, but I remembered in the back of my mind to keep the double play in order. That's part of the difference between last year and this year. I'm a little more relaxed and playing like I know how. I'm older and wiser. Sometimes when you're young, you try to do too much. When you force things, that's when mistakes happen." The Dodgers didn't make mistakes. New center fielder Andruw Jones cut off Dave Roberts' first-inning hit for a single instead of a double, which allowed fellow Gold Glover Russell Martin to throw out Roberts trying to steal second base. Penny twice bunted successfully, one leading to an RBI single by Furcal. Penny, after walking rookie No. 8 hitter Brian Bocock to lead off the third, retired the next 13 batters, but seemed to tire after running from first to third in the bottom of the seventh inning. Torre had the bullpen take over with two out and two on in the seventh. Scott Proctor put down that rally, Joe Beimel took over from Proctor for a scoreless eighth and Torre brought on Saito for a 1-2-3 ninth, some bonus work for the 38-year-old closer who missed so much spring action with calf and buttock aches. "That was very important for us," Torre said of Saito's non-save outing. "He was about two appearances behind everybody else and it was nice way for him to come in with no stress."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.