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 RBIs—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 3 1/2 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 again.”
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 third base.
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 wasabout 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. … TheDodgers are 25-0 when they score at least six runs.