LOS ANGELES (AP)—Perhaps when Brad Penny gets to Pittsburgh next week, he’ll appreciate his first-time All-Star status. But for now, all he’s concerned about is his next appearance for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I’m planning on throwing maybe an inning out of the bullpen on Sunday here, so that’s what I’ve got on my mind right now,” Penny said Wednesday night after pitching seven strong innings in a 5-4 victory that completed a three-game sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks. “We’re tied for first, so the important thing is going out there and not worrying about my first half, but the team’s first half.”
Penny (10-2) allowed two runs and seven hits while striking out six. The right-hander, who is off to the best start of his seven-year career, won for the third straight time and lowered his ERA to 2.92.
“Wins and losses are sometimes more luck than how you pitch,” Penny said. “But if you keep your team in the game, you’re going to win more than you lose. And that’s what I’m trying to do.”
The turning point of Penny’s season so far may have been on May 29 at Atlanta, when he was removed by manager Grady Little with an 8-5 lead—just two outs shy of the required five innings for a victory. He threw a tantrum that was seen all over the country, but he and Little quickly patched things up.
“I think the best thing was that it was handled head-on by Grady the next day,” Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. “I was in the meeting, and they put it behind them. Both of them said what they needed to say, and it was over right then. From that point on, he’s been tremendous—not that he wasn’t before that—but he hasn’t let it affect him.
“Since then, I think his attitude towards the game has been better,” Honeycutt added. “He’s been looser and has gone about his business really well. That relationship between him and Grady continues to grow. They lean on each other. Grady has shown that he has confidence in Brad, and vice-versa. So that’s always a good thing.”
Takashi Saito got four outs for his sixth save in six chances. He loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth and gave up a two-run single to Chad Tracy before striking out Conor Jackson with the tying run on second.
The Diamondbacks have now been swept in a series of three or more games six times since June 4, including a four-game set against the New York Mets, and have lost 23 of their last 29 contests. Yet they are only 4 1-2 games out of first place in the NL West. The Dodgers are tied for the top spot with Colorado and San Diego at 44-40.
“We’ve got to start getting the job done,” center fielder Eric Byrnes said. “We’re going to have to start playing better baseball. We have to get back to .500 first, but I don’t think that a team that plays .500 baseball is going to win this division this year.”
The Diamondbacks came into Los Angeles off a three-game sweep at Oakland, including complete-game victories by Miguel Batista and All-Star Brandon Webb on Saturday and Sunday. But none of Arizona’s three starting pitchers in this series could record more than four innings. Juan Cruz, Enrique Gonzalez and Claudio Vargas were charged with a combined total of 16 runs and 22 hits.
Vargas (7-5) allowed five runs—three earned—and seven hits in four-plus innings. Andre Ethier opened the scoring with a leadoff homer in the second, driving a 2-1 pitch into the right field pavilion.
In the third, the Dodgers scored four runs to increase their lead to 5-0. Penny led off with a double and came home on a one-out triple by Cesar Izturis. Vargas walked Nomar Garciaparra and J.D. Drew hit what appeared to be a tailor-made double-play grounder to second baseman Orlando Hudson, whose throw sailed past shortstop Damion Easley as Izturis and Drew scored. Hudson’s error was his seventh—one more than all of last year, when he won his first Gold Glove.
“I just threw it away,” Hudson snapped. “They ended up getting three runs because of it and we ended up losing by one run. I lost the game. It was my fault, so I’ll take that L. That’s the way baseball goes. We’re just going to keep our heads up and keep grinding.”
Ethier was 6-for-12 in the series with a triple, two doubles and seven RBIs. He also prevented a run in the sixth with a sliding grab of Johnny Estrada’s flyball in short left field for the third out.
Injured Dodgers closer Eric Gagne, sidelined indefinitely because of elbow problems, experienced lower back pain at his home on Wednesday. He was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital, where he was examined by Dr. Robert Watkins. … Arizona RF Shawn Green, who was hit on the right hip by RHP Danys Baez with two outs in the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s 11-3 loss, did not play because of a bone bruise. … Garciaparra extended his hitting streak to 17 games with a leadoff double in the fifth.