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04/20/09 11:24 PM ET

Bench playing key role in Dodgers' run

Los Angeles (10-3) at Houston (4-9), 5:05 p.m. PT

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers head into a three-game series in Houston against the Astros brimming with confidence as the team finished a perfect homestand at 6-0 and vaulted into first place in the National League West.

And while the pitching staff and team's regulars are getting all the credit, the Dodgers' bench has been outstanding to begin the season.

It was especially evident on Saturday, when the Dodgers rested Russell Martin, Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake and the team still managed to score nine runs against the Rockies.

And while the Dodgers returned to their normal lineup on Sunday and are expected to do the same on Tuesday in Houston, the bench has continued to play a key role in pinch-hitting and defensive switches.

Reserves Blake DeWitt, Mark Loretta, Juan Pierre, Brad Ausmus, Juan Castro and the injured Doug Mientkiewicz have combined to hit .386 with six RBIs and four runs scored.

Dodgers manager Joe Torre certainly has noticed the bench's production and so far he's happy with the results.

"I think it's a necessity more so than a luxury," Torre said. "I really do. The baseball season takes its toll. The lucky part of baseball is staying healthy. When you have, like we have, Blake DeWitt, even though he's still a youngster, he has experience."

Torre also has been impressed by the play of the veterans who were used to playing in every day roles such as Loretta, Castro, Ausmus and Mientkiewicz.

"Mientkiewicz, when he was here, he was a regular player for a time, too," Torre said. "And Castro, the experience he's had, really, when you think back to a year ago what we had on the bench, this is certainly head and shoulders ahead of that."

Mientkiewicz, though, suffered a dislocated right shoulder and is expected to miss three months. His replacement is DeWitt, who played a key role last season as a rookie when he batted .264 with nine home runs and 52 RBIs while playing stellar defense at both second and third base.

And just like DeWitt, Loretta can play a variety of roles in the infield while also providing a spark with his bat. Loretta has been a force offensively, as he is batting .556 this season with five hits in nine at-bats.

Castro has more of a set role as the backup shortstop behind Furcal as evidenced by his start at short on Saturday. Castro went 1-for-3 with a sacrifice fly, but more importantly, he can handle the difficult task of playing shortstop.

"He can really play the ball," Torre said. "I think he's limited with his range compared to what we have with Furcal, but he's a solid fielder."

Pitching matchup
LAD: LHP Clayton Kershaw (0-0, 1.50 ERA)
Clayton Kershaw pitched a masterpiece of a no-decision against the Giants, allowing only one hit and one run over seven innings with 13 strikeouts. All he had to show for it was a no-decision, as the bullpen blew the save. But Kershaw was able to contain a veteran lineup despite lacking command of his changeup, becoming the youngest Dodgers pitcher to strike out 13 since Sandy Koufax was 19.

HOU: RHP Russ Ortiz (0-0, 6.23 ERA)
Ortiz had his longest performance so far this season in his last outing vs. the Pirates, allowing three runs over 4 2/3 innings in an Astros win. He still seeks his first win of the season and will do so against the Dodgers, whom he's faced plenty of times in his career. The former Giants right-hander has made 22 appearances vs. the Dodgers, including 21 starts. He has a record of 8-9 and a 5.07 ERA, with 57 walks and 76 strikeouts.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who is on the disabled list because of a strained left oblique, threw on both Saturday and Sunday as part of his rehab process. Torre said he is encouraged by his progress. ... Reliever Cory Wade, who is on the disabled list with shoulder bursitis, will not need an MRI but did receive a cortisone shot. He is scheduled to leave for Glendale, Ariz., on Monday to rehab. ... Matt Kemp's double in the fourth inning on Sunday extended his hitting streak to a Major League-high 13 games. He later added his second career grand slam in the fifth inning. ... Reliever Scott Elbert had his first Major League hit and his first RBI with a double in the fifth inning on Sunday. He also scored his first run on a single by Furcal. ... The Dodgers have Monday off but don't have another off-day until May 11.

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Up next
• Wednesday: Dodgers (Randy Wolf, 1-1, 3.93) at Astros (Roy Oswalt, 0-2, 4.26), 5:05 p.m. PT
• Thursday: Dodgers (Chad Billingsley, 3-0, 2.84 ERA) at Astros (Wandy Rodriguez, 1-1, 1.89), 5:05 p.m. PT
• Friday: Dodgers (Eric Stults, 2-0, 2.61) at Rockies (Aaron Cook, 0-1, 10.22), 6:10 p.m. PT

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