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07/16/10 12:26 AM ET

On hot night, Kershaw can't cool Cards

Dodgers left-hander lasts 4 1/3 innings in first start in week

ST. LOUIS -- Clubs jigger their starting rotations coming out of the All-Star break to take full advantage of their staff ace.

If they have one.

The Cardinals have two in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. The Dodgers, well, they're still looking.

Clayton Kershaw was given the ball Thursday night in a symbolic passing of the torch after finishing the first half as one of the best starting pitchers in the league, but he opened the second half by reminding the Dodgers that he's still only 22, failing to get through the fifth inning while Carpenter coasted through eight in a 7-1 Cardinals win.

On a hot and humid night by the Mississippi River, Manny Ramirez returned from the disabled list with three flyouts and a fielding error in left field. The Dodgers were held to four hits, one of them All-Star Andre Ethier's 15th home run.

Kershaw, who had allowed only two walks in his previous three starts, walked the first two batters he faced, and they both scored when the Dodgers infield was unable to turn two ground balls into double plays. Kershaw went on to allow the leadoff hitter to reach base each of the first five innings, three of them scoring.

"He had no command," said manager Joe Torre. "His breaking ball just had no sharpness to it. He hasn't pitched in a week. You have to chalk it up to that. His last outing was outstanding. It goes back to being 22 years old. You just understand this will happen from time to time and not much you can do about it. He's grown so much, this kid. He's going to be very special. He's just starting this journey of his. He's done a remarkable job to get where he is. It won't affect his next start."

Kershaw rejected Torre's explanation, citing seven days off for his June 16 start in Cincinnati, when he allowed one run in 7 1/3 innings. He said he threw a bullpen Sunday with the club, off a mound Tuesday at home and catch again Wednesday.

"Can't blame it on that," Kershaw said of the break. "Just a rough night."

Kershaw (9-5) was charged with five runs (four earned) on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings, his shortest start since a second-inning knockout May 4. He came into the game averaging 10.26 strikeouts per nine innings, Sandy Koufax-type numbers, but struck out only one. Previously, he had made five starts against the Cardinals, going 2-0 with a 2.27 ERA, including a 4-3 win June 9 in Los Angeles.

"I made some all right pitches, but I was out of rhythm, bouncing fastballs. It was tough on Russell [Martin]," he said. "I really can't do that. The first inning, allowing two runs early against a guy like Carpenter. It was an uphill battle for me. They kept the pressure on all night. The leadoff guy was on every inning. That's a tough way to pitch."

The Texas native said he's used to pitching in oppressive weather conditions.

"That didn't have any effect," he said. "Just a rough night, that's all there is to it. Back to the drawing board and get ready for the Giants [Tuesday night]. That's all I can do now."

By contrast, Carpenter also last started for the Cardinals a week earlier, going unused in Tuesday's All-Star Game. The layoff sure didn't bother him.

He allowed four hits in eight innings, the only run scoring on Ethier's home run in the fourth inning. Carpenter didn't allow any leadoff hitters to reach base. And while Ethier had two of the four hits, fellow All-Star Rafael Furcal went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

Of course, beating the Dodgers is nothing new to Carpenter. He's 6-0 against them in his career.

"You face those guys, Carpenter and Wainwright. The way you go about it, you don't set out to beat them, you set out to match them and we didn't do it and all of a sudden our patience disappears at the plate and we let him dictate the strike zone," said Torre. "It was Carpenter tonight. We let him get a lead and he was strong tonight. He's so good. He knows what to do with a lead, pitching in and around the strike zone."

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