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04/20/08 7:35 PM ET

Kuroda keeps it close despite laboring

Righty lacks splitter command, needs 118 pitches for six frames

ATLANTA -- Hiroki Kuroda kept his club close on Sunday, and considering how few runs the Dodgers' offense scores, keeping it close is a tough assignment.

Lacking his bread-and-butter splitter, as well as run support, Kuroda battled through six difficult innings, only to get tagged with Sunday's 6-1 Dodgers loss to the Braves. He is now 1-2 with a 2.92 ERA.

"He was good early, but again threw a lot of pitches in the middle innings," manager Joe Torre said of the Japanese free-agent signing. "He certainly pitched well enough to win. He gave us a chance to win. He kept us in the game."

Kuroda was charged with two runs over six innings that required 118 pitches. A one-out walk to Kelly Johnson in the third inning turned into a run, and then Johnson homered in the fifth.

Kuroda's numbers would have looked much worse if not for right fielder Andre Ethier, who laid out to make a desperate diving catch of Martin Prado's two-out, bases-loaded line drive in the gap to end the sixth inning and Kuroda's workday.

"The biggest play for the team," said Kuroda, who waited near third base to thank Ethier.

For the first time this season, said Kuroda, he lacked command of his split-finger fastball and had to rely on cutters. He pitched behind in counts too frequently and caught too much of the plate too often, allowing seven hits with four walks (two intentional).

The game turned into a blowout with Scott Proctor on the mound. Proctor escaped a jam he inherited from Joe Beimel in the seventh, and struck out two of the first three batters he faced, but he was charged with four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, allowing four extra-base hits, including a two-run homer to Mark Teixeira.

At one point, Torre went to the mound and basically told Proctor to hang in there, that what he was doing was appreciated, but he had to finish the inning to save the rest of the bullpen from further use. Proctor's ERA is 9.00, and he's allowed three home runs and four walks in eight innings.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.