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Monday, April 23, 2012
Juan Uribe's big night at the plate

By Tony Jackson

LOS ANGELES -- It had been more than 4 1/2 years since Juan Uribe had four hits in a game. But on Monday night, with the Los Angeles Dodgers kicking off an intriguing six-game homestand and with Uribe hitting a benign .211 with one RBI for the season, he picked the perfect time to end that drought, delivering four singles in four at-bats and driving in three runs in a 7-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves before 26,376 at Dodger Stadium.

The last of those hits was a critical two-run single in the bottom of the eighth that effectively broke the Braves' backs.

For Uribe, it was finally something positive in what to date has been a rocky stretch with the Dodgers since they signed him two winters ago to a three-year, $21 million contract. He missed a total of 75 games last season with various injuries that were all related and resulted in him finally undergoing sports-hernia surgery in September, this after he hit .204 when he was healthy. And while he has played steady defense at third base this year, those offensive struggles have carried over.

Until, apparently, now. In a single evening, Uribe raised his batting average to .286.

"That was nice for him,'' Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "This guy is a good teammate. Guys love him. He walks around with a smile on his face, and he continues to play good defense. What was really nice is he was able to do it at home in front of our fans.''

It was Uribe's fifth career four-hit game, his first since Sept. 8, 2007, when he did it for the Chicago White Sox against the Minnesota Twins. Moreover, in a development that seems to bely his previously paltry average, it was his fourth multiple-hit game in his past eight games, and he is hitting .500 (11-for-22) at home this season.

That, of course, means he is 1-for-20 on the road. But why spoil a good thing with something like that, especially considering the Dodgers don't go on the road for another week?

Chris Capuano continued to make a case that he is a fifth starter in name only, holding the offensively potent Braves to a single run on six hits over seven strong innings. The veteran lefty wasn't always dominating -- he gave up at least one hit in each of the first five innings, during which he stranded four runners in scoring position -- but he managed to make big pitches when he needed to.

The result was that Capuano now is 2-0 with a 3.52 ERA in four starts in his first season with the Dodgers, even if he is averaging 4.5 walks per nine innings.

"Early on, I was just trying to slow it down and focus on making one pitch at a time and not let things snowball,'' Capuano said. "Later on, I was just trying to give the team some innings and be aggressive with my fastball and throw some good two-seamers. I wasn't trying to be perfect, just trying to attack the zone.''

Capuano gave up a home run to David Ross leading off the second, quickly erasing the 1-0 lead the Dodgers had staked him to, but that was pretty much it. The Dodgers opened up a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth, just after Capuano had escaped a first-and-third, nobody-out jam in the top half without a run scoring. From there, he basically cruised.

More important, perhaps, was the fact Capuano managed to eat seven innings on a night when the bullpen already has been taxed. As a result, Mattingly was able to avoid using eighth-inningg reliever Kenley Jansen for a second day in a row. Uribe's eighth-inning single took away the save opportunity, so Mattingly then was able to stay away from closer Javy Guerra for a second day in a row, as well.

On an otherwise-triumphant evening for the Dodgers (13-4), who once again are tied with the Texas Rangers for baseball's best record and opened a four-game lead over Colorado, Arizona and San Francisco in the National League West, there was one forgettable moment.

After Matt Kemp led off the fifth with an infield single, Andre Ethier followed with a bloop single to left-center, which should have put runners on first and third with nobody out. Instead, Kemp tried to come all the way home when the throw from left field came in to the shortstop and got himself thrown out. And then Ethier, who had wandered too far off first, got himself thrown out too, on a snap throw by Ross.

"We talked about it afterward,'' Mattingly said. "Matt knows it was just the wrong time, first and third with nobody out and Juan (Rivera) and James (Loney) coming up. There is a time for that if you see a guy flip the ball in kind of lackadaisically and he doesn't think you're going to run. If (Braves shortstop Jack Wilson) had held the ball or he freezes for a split second, Matt might have been safe. There is a time for it, but that just wasn't it.''