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05/24/08 3:58 AM ET

Lowe drops duel to Cardinals

Dodgers starter tosses seven stellar frames, but bats struggle

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers lost a game Friday night but might have found Derek Lowe.

Not to overlook the two-run homer he allowed to Ryan Ludwick that made the difference in a 2-1 loss to the Cardinals, Lowe otherwise looked a lot like the three-time Opening Day starter, and not the frazzled right-hander who has wandered winlessly over the past month.

He escaped a second-inning jam, allowed only five hits and lasted seven innings, although on this night St. Louis' Adam Wainwright was a run better. Wainwright kept the ball in the park, the only Dodgers run scoring when Chin-lung Hu sliced a triple and scored on pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney's sacrifice fly.

Unfortunately for Lowe, there was little other offense from the Dodgers, who started the night with the news that injured shortstop Rafael Furcal had a setback and could miss the next trip. A ninth-inning rally, interrupted by a 65-minute rain delay, fizzled with a game-ending strikeout by ailing pinch-hitter Andruw Jones.

Meanwhile, the discouraging Dodgers news of the night was countered by strong indications that 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw might be promoted as early as this weekend. Of course, Kershaw is just one phenom, and he can pitch only once every five games. The Dodgers still need the rest of the rotation to step up, particularly the front end of Brad Penny and Lowe.

Neither has delivered recently in the manner the club expected. Penny (5-4) has had some physical issues (stiff shoulder), but Lowe's problem is a head-scratcher. At least in his seven-week win drought last year, he was troubled by a hip or groin problem. He's 2-5 overall, 0-4 in his last six starts and 1-5 lifetime against the Cards.

He credited Friday night's improvement to something that sounds so simple.

"I just slowed down," he said, then demonstrated with an exaggerated windup that allowed him to get better sink on his bread-and-butter sinkerball. "All in all, a much better game than the previous five or six."

"It's about tempo and release point," said pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. "If you get your body moving too quick, the arm drags a little bit and the ball flattens out. When you're going through what he's been going through, you have a tendency to speed up everything instead of slowing down."

Slowing the game down is one of future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux's trade secrets, and Lowe watchers recall he went 8-1 over the two months that Maddux was a Dodger and Lowe's dugout companion.

Lowe, though, was quick to point out that satisfaction over improvement didn't change the outcome, as his record fell to 2-5, and he remained winless since April 23.

"I still got a loss," he said. "I'm not here for moral victories. I still lost and I'm not leaving the park with a good feeling."

Except this time, Lowe didn't deserve the blame. And he almost got off the hook. The bottom of the ninth became a marathon in itself. A hard rain began falling in the ninth as James Loney was caught looking for the second time. Cardinals reliever Ryan Franklin had a 3-2 count on Matt Kemp when plate umpire Ed Montague stopped play.

It wasn't the only time Montague stopped play. In the fourth inning, Montague got into it again with Dodgers third-base coach Larry Bowa, who had wandered too far out of the coaches' box and too close to home plate. Unlike the second game of the season, when their argument over the same infraction resulted in Bowa's ejection and suspension, this time manager Joe Torre intervened and nobody was tossed.

Montague resumed the game after a 65-minute rain delay with Franklin walking Kemp in an at-bat that took more than an hour. As Blake DeWitt struck out for the second out, Kemp stole second, and he took third on a wild ball-four to pinch-hitter Delwyn Young.

With the pitcher's spot due and runners on the corners, Torre sent up Jones, despite the fact that he's hitting .167 overall, is an astounding 1-for-32 with runners in scoring position and hadn't played since Sunday because of torn cartilage in his knee. With the count 1-2, Jones fouled off two very hittable, hanging sliders before waving at a slider down and away to end the game.

The Dodgers managed only five hits off Wainwright, two each for Hu and Russell Martin. Among the 0-fers was struggling clean-up hitter Jeff Kent, who had one hard-hit out but is 5-for-51 over the last 15 games, his average falling from .298 to .228.

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