LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Dodgers manager Jim Tracy has taken a
different approach with catcher Paul Lo Duca this year, giving him
more days off so he'd be fresher for the second half of the season.
Lo Duca has made that decision pay off with a .307 batting
average, seven homers and 36 RBI -- comparable to his totals last
year at the All-Star break.
He celebrated his late addition to the NL All-Star team with a
home run Thursday night, and Los Angeles beat the Houston Astros
7-2 for its sixth straight victory.
"I feel great, and hopefully I can have a better second half
than I've had in the past," Lo Duca said. "I feel healthy -- knock
on wood -- and I think the adrenaline from the fans getting into it
in the second half is going to help, too."
Right-hander Edwin Jackson (2-0) allowed two runs, five hits and
no walks over five innings in his second spot start for injured
Odalis Perez. Jackson also drove in the go-ahead run with a
fourth-inning single, his first major league hit and RBI.
The Dodgers took a one-game lead over San Diego in the NL West.
"Everybody wrote us off two weeks ago when we were 3½ games
back, but this team has battled and stayed afloat," Lo Duca said.
"We had a real tough stretch, and now we're starting to play well
Dreifort retired only one batter before walking the next three.
But Martin bailed him out in the eighth by getting Lance Berkman on
a double-play grounder, then pitched a perfect ninth for his first
save since Aug. 10, 1997, as a rookie with Houston.
"It was kind of a misfire," Martin said. "We were trying to
go in on Berkman, and the ball kind of creeped back over the plate
just a little bit. But fortunately, it seemed like he was just a
little bit behind it. I should have kept the ball. A save every six
years is kind of a rarity," Martin said with a laugh.
Right fielder Jayson Werth and center fielder Milton Bradley
made consecutive diving catches in the seventh to rob Jose Vizcaino
and Adam Everett of extra-base hits. But the news was not all good
for the Dodgers, who finished the game without two regulars.
Adrian Beltre, removed from Wednesday's game after five innings
because of a strained right quadriceps, was taken out after the
second inning for the same reason and is expected to miss the final
three games of the series.
The Dodgers took a 3-2 lead on run-scoring singles by Werth and
Jackson, whose hit chased Astros starter Brandon Duckworth (1-2)
with two outs in the fourth.
Duckworth, back in the majors following a monthlong demotion to
Triple-A New Orleans, allowed three runs and seven hits in 3 2-3
innings. The right-hander has given up 16 earned runs and 24 hits
over 16 innings in five starts this season.
"He didn't pitch that poorly," Houston manager Jimy Williams
said. "His results might not show how well he pitched, but in my
mind, just watching him pitch compared to the way he did before, I
think he pitched a lot better."
Just hours after learning he would replace injured Cincinnati
first baseman Sean Casey at next Tuesday's All-Star game in
Houston, Lo Duca homered leading off the fifth against Bullinger.
Alex Cora added a two-out RBI single to make it 5-2, and Robin
Ventura singled home a run in the sixth after replacing Beltre at
Craig Biggio opened the scoring in the third, driving an 0-1
pitch into the left-field pavilion after a leadoff single by
Duckworth. The homer was Biggio's 13th this season and 223rd of his
career, tying Jimmy Wynn for second place on the Astros' list
behind Jeff Bagwell's 430 homers.
"Just being associated with Jimmy Wynn is a special thing,"
Biggio said. "He was a great player and he did a lot of great
things in the city of Houston. He's `The Toy Cannon.' I had my
picture taken with him when I was about 8 or 9 years old at a camp
somewhere, so it means a lot."
Astros 2B Jeff Kent was 0-for-4 after missing eight games
with a strained right hamstring. ... Jackson lasted only 1 2-3
innings in his previous start last Saturday at Anaheim because of a
mild strain in his elbow. ... The Dodgers are 25-0 when they score
at least six runs.