Sunday, September 23, 2012
3 Up, 3 Down: Dodgers 5, Reds 3
By Mark Saxon
The Dodgers needed a little jolt of good news.
They got five of the most hopeful innings in a month, with ace Clayton Kershaw returning from a hip injury to get the Dodgers off to a good start in their 5-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday.
The Dodgers didn't know Kershaw would pitch until Sunday morning. He has been out since Sept. 11.
In his midgame interview on ESPN, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly noted Kershaw's rust and said, "He hasn't pitched in 10 or 12 days and he thinks he should be perfect still, which doesn't surprise us at all."
The Dodgers, who have nine games left, remained three games back of the St. Louis Cardinals in the chase for the second wild card.
A little fight left. Kershaw looked pretty upset in the Dodgers’ dugout after the fifth inning, getting in Mattingly's face when told he was coming out of the game. You can understand Kershaw's desire to pitch. He had been sitting on the bench watching his team sink in the standings for nearly two weeks. On the other hand, it seemed like a sensible move by Mattingly. Kershaw was rusty, walking five batters in five innings. He also struck out five. It was the kind of tough, determined outing that could help spark his teammates, even though the Dodgers didn't score soon enough to get Kershaw a decision.
Right place, right time. Two trends were on a collision course. Adrian Gonzalez had been cold for a month and had seen his power drop off a table. But he had huge numbers against Cincinnati starter Homer Bailey. Now they're even bigger. Gonzalez hit two home runs, providing the Dodgers' only scoring into the seventh inning. (He now has five home runs in just 15 at-bats against Bailey.) For the Dodgers to have any chance to snap out of this offensive funk, they need Gonzalez to imitate the comfort zone he felt Sunday night.
Sweet relief. After doubling to right-center field in the ninth inning, A.J. Ellis got to second, stared at the sky and exhaled deeply. That had to be a therapeutic moment for Ellis, who had been stuck in an 0-for-30 slump. When the number gets that high, it can start to keep you up at nights. And that's the last thing Ellis needed, considering how many games he has been catching lately. Ellis has been one of the most important contributors for the Dodgers this season. Getting him going is another part of the puzzle.
Chill resumed. Matt Kemp seemed to be breaking out of that monthlong slump on this road trip. He had a stretch of six hits in 13 at-bats in the middle part of it, but he has cooled off again. Kemp hasn't gotten a hit since Friday -- a stretch of eight at-bats. It's not as if that's such a big sample size ... but the remainder of this season also isn't a big sample size. Every game in which Kemp doesn't hit is a game the Dodgers are in danger of squandering.
Sore spot. The last thing the Dodgers need is for one of their productive bats to come out of the lineup. Hanley Ramirez fouled a ball off his left ankle and was able to stay in the game long enough to rope a ball into the left-field corner. But the ankle, apparently, was so painful that Ramirez pulled up at first and the Dodgers had to take him out of the game. Losing Ramirez, the RBI leader since he arrived in late July, could prove the Dodgers' final blow. It's not like they've had so many other guys producing runs.
Roll interrupted. It's hard to get too down on Ronald Belisario. He has been arguably the best setup man in the league for about a month. In fact, before Sunday he had not allowed a run since Aug. 26. That didn't make Sunday any less stressful for the Dodgers, who saw Denis Phipps hit an arcing home run -- a two-run shot -- just inside the left-field foul pole to make the Dodgers' lead just two. Considering the offense's struggles and Kershaw's circumstances, it could have been a brutal blown save.