Clauseen pitches Reds past Dodgers

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Offense hasn't been the problem this season for the Cincinnati Reds, pitching has. This time, they managed to combine both and salvage a four-game split with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Jason LaRue drove in five runs with a pair of homers, Brandon Claussen pitched seven sharp innings and the NL Central's last-place team beat the defending West Division champions 6-1 on Thursday.

The Reds lead the NL with 140 homers and 517 runs through their first 103 games. But they have a league-worst 5.55 ERA and have surrendered a league-high 153 home runs.

"In this game, pitching is the most important key. That's what's going to win ballgames," LaRue said. "History has shown that it doesn't matter how good you are offensively -- you're not going to go out there and outslug people night after night."

Claussen (5-8) won for the first time since June 21, allowing a run and four hits while striking out five. The left-hander, 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA over his previous five starts, retired 14 consecutive batters after giving up a leadoff homer in the first to Cesar Izturis and single by Milton Bradley one out later.

"I was trying to stay aggressive in the strike zone like I've been trying to do all year," Claussen said. "This time I was aggressive down in the zone, so that enabled me to stay in the ballgame and give the team a chance to win."

It was quite a reversal for Claussen -- who yielded 16 runs and eight homers over his previous two outings and didn't make it out of the fourth inning in either one.

It looked like it was going to be more of the same when Claussen's first batter, Izturis, homered into the lower seats in the left field corner on the third pitch.

"I wasn't going to let it happen again," said Claussen, who did not walk a batter for the first time in his 17 starts this season. "I try not to let it get in my head. I just wanted to wipe the slate clean and go at the next guy."

D.J. Houlton (4-4) -- who was matched up against Pedro Martinez,
Roger Clemens, Mark Buehrle and Brad Radke in his previous four starts -- thought he had drawn an easier assignment this time with Claussen. But the Dodgers' rookie failed to seize the opportunity and gave up four runs and four hits in six innings.

The Reds took a 4-1 lead in the second on a leadoff bloop single by Sean Casey, a walk to Rich Aurilia and LaRue's one-out homer to left-center. Houlton faced 16 batters after that and allowed just one more hit.

LaRue, who was plunked his next time up, hit a two-run shot in the ninth against Elmer Dessens, completing his first multihomer game of the season.

"We know they can definitely swing the bats," the Dodgers' Jason Phillips said. "They've got a lot of power and they can put up runs in a hurry, so you try to avoid the big innings. I mean, LaRue's hitting eighth and he hits two home runs -- one to the opposite field in Dodger Stadium. It takes a lot of strength to do that."

Jacob Cruz, on deck to pinch-hit for reliever Kent Mercker in the ninth, was struck hard above the right knee by LaRue's foul ball just before the second home run. Teammate Adam Dunn playfully threw a catcher's chest protector in Cruz's direction.

"That never happened to me before," Cruz said with a grin. "I was walking up there, getting ready for an at-bat, minding my own business -- and pow! I never even saw it coming. I sat there for a while, took the standing-8 count and got back up."

The Dodgers got the potential tying run to the plate in the sixth. Pinch-hitter Oscar Robles, in a 0-for-25 slump, batted for Houlton and was hit by a pitch. Izturis grounded into a forceout and was held up at third on a two-out double to right-center by Antonio Perez. Both runners were stranded when Bradley grounded to third.

Bradley came up again representing the tying run in the eighth but flied out to the warning track in right on a changeup from Mercker.

"In that situation, facing an RBI guy and the tying run, I know he's going to be hacking right out of the gate. So I've just got to throw something he hopefully can't hit," Mercker said. "Hitters like that really play into my game more than guys who are just
trying to put the ball in play. I'd rather face a guy who's going to be swinging because they'll expand the zone a little bit more."

Less than 14 hours after he stole a franchise-record five bases and scored the winning run in Wednesday night's 7-6 victory, Cincinnati's Ryan Freel drove Houlton's first pitch of the game into the right field corner for a double and scored on a sacrifice fly by Ken Griffey Jr.

Game notes
LaRue is hitting .328 with nine homers and 32 RBI in 40 games since May 14 -- after going homerless in his first 28 games this season and batting .172. ... Casey played his 69th consecutive errorless game, two more than his previous best streak, and has only one error all season. No Reds first baseman has ever won a Gold Glove. ... Thursday marked 14 years since the Dodgers were on the losing end of a perfect game by Dennis Martinez of the Montreal Expos.