Pirates swept by Dodgers, lose 3-2
LOS ANGELES (AP) Early runs have hurt Jeff Karstens in his first two starts, just as much as the scarcity of walks has undermined the Pittsburgh Pirates' offense through their first six games.
Karstens gave up seven hits, struck out three and walked one over five innings Thursday night in a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers. All of Los Angeles' runs came in the first, on Juan Rivera's sacrifice fly and RBI singles by James Loney and Juan Uribe. After that, Karstens retired his next nine batters.
"If you don't like coming out early, then don't give up runs early," Karstens said. "In the Philly game I gave up a run early and here I gave up three runs early. Then I was able to settle down both times and felt more comfortable as the game went on. It's just something I'm going through right now, so we'll address it and see where it takes us and what we need to do to fix it."
Karstens (0-1) gave up seven hits, struck out three and walked one. Last season, the right-hander had a streak of 18 consecutive starts in which he was charged with no more than three earned runs and was only 7-5 during that stretch - which began with his second start after being inserted into the rotation.
The Pirates won two of three at home against the defending NL champion Phillies before coming to L.A. to start a nine-game trip, and five of their first six games have been decided by one-run margins. So manager Clint Hurdle is confident that some progress will be made as the team attempts to end a string of 19 consecutive losing seasons.
"I'm looking for this to be the group of men that takes the next step," Hurdle said. "In the eyes of our city, the number 82 is very important. It's significant, and we understand that. That is a mile-marker along the road we plan on traveling together. Would that please me? Absolutely. Would it satisfy me? No. Not at all.
"Our expectations are high," Hurdle added. "But the challenge for us is to play to win every night, and to find a way to consistently compete and play a perfect game on the field more often than not. We're encouraged by some things that happened for us last year, and some lessons for the things that were challenging for us last year in the first four months versus the last two months. They're ready for the challenge and they embrace it."
Chris Capuano (1-0) pitched effectively in his first home game with the Dodgers, who completed a three-game sweep and improved to 6-1 - their best start since winning the 1981 World Series in Fernando Valenzuela's rookie year.
Los Angeles' pitchers had a 25-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio in this series before Mike MacDougal's walk to Mike McKenry in the sixth. The last time the Dodgers' staff went an entire three-game series without issuing a base on balls was in July 1940, against the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds.
Capuano allowed two runs, six hits and no walks over 5 1-3 innings and had seven strikeouts. The 33-year-old left-hander struck out five of his first eight batters, four of them on called third strikes with umpire Wally Bell working the plate.
"After the San Diego series, that was something we focused on in our pitchers' meeting leading into this series - to cut down on the walks, attack the strike zone, challenge the hitters and make them beat us," Capuano said. "That was foremost on our minds."
Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen, who had three hits, was stranded at third base in the first and fourth innings. The Pirates finally got him home in the sixth with a sacrifice fly by Yamaico Navarro, after McCutchen led off with a single and took third on Casey McGehee's single.
Capuano was lifted with a 3-2 lead after the sac fly. The walk to McKendy loaded the bases, but lefty Scott Elbert came out of the bullpen and retired pinch-hitter Matt Hague on a line drive to center fielder Matt Kemp.
Javy Guerra, the sixth Dodgers pitcher, pitched a perfect ninth for his fifth save in as many attempts - all in a span of eight days.
Andre Ethier, who drove in the deciding run in each of the first two games of the series with a home run and RBI single, was hit in the back by the first pitch he saw from Karstens during the first-inning rally after the Dodgers got a one-out single by Mark Ellis and a double by Kemp. Loney's hit ended an 0 for 16 drought, his longest to start a season in his seven-year career.
McKenry, Pittsburgh's No. 8 hitter, got them on the board in the fifth with a homer to dead-center.
Notes: Pittsburgh is 23-60 against the Dodgers since the 2002 season, which was the last time the Pirates won a season series from them. ... Capuano was 4-7 with a 6.09 ERA in his 15 previous career starts against the Bucs.
Updated April 13, 2012