CINCINNATI (AP)—A grass-stained baseball was stuffed in the right pocket of Eric Stults’ tan slacks, a souvenir from the way he finished off Los Angeles’ three-game sweep.
A fitting place for his keepsake. All season long, the Dodgers have had the Cincinnati Reds in their back pocket.
Stults pitched into the seventh inning in his season debut Thursday, and Matt Kemp emerged from his slump by hitting a two-run double, setting up a 7-4 victory and a three-game sweep of the rock-bottom Reds.
“That was fun,” said Stults, who took a shutout into the seventh. “Your first time out, you still have some of the jitters, being in front of a bigger crowd and facing the best hitters in baseball.”
The Dodgers picked the right time and place for a turnaround.
They arrived in town with a five-game losing streak and an offense that could barely score. They broke out against a team they’ve dominated no matter where they play. The Dodgers hadn’t won three in a row since their three-game sweep of the Reds in Los Angeles from May 19-21.
“I just think we relaxed a little more and let the game come to us,” Kemp said.
Whenever they play the Reds, the Dodgers get into a comfort zone. Los Angeles is 7-1 this season against Cincinnati, which is mired in last place in the NL Central with an offense that has trouble getting a clutch hit and a rotation that can’t get a win out of its top two.
Aaron Harang (3-10) became the NL’s second 10-game loser, joining San Francisco’s Barry Zito, who has lost 11. The right-hander has never lost more than 13 games in a season. The Dodgers also beat Bronson Arroyo—he has won only four—during the series.
“I don’t know,” Harang said. “We’ve got to figure out what’s going on, take one thing at a time and go from there.”
Harang couldn’t keep up with Stults, and had trouble getting him out as well.
Stults (1-0) was called up from Triple-A when Brad Penny went on the disabled list with a sore shoulder on Tuesday. The 28-year-old left-hander went 2-4 with the Dodgers the last two seasons, splitting time between the bullpen and the rotation.
“I don’t know how long it’s going to be,” Stults said of his fill-in status. “I look at it as hopefully I can get in a groove and get on a rotation here. If I can pick Penny up for a couple of starts, that’s fine with me.”
Stults worked into the seventh, when second baseman Jeff Kent’s error set up a four-run rally. He gave up six hits and struck out a career-high five, having his way with a lineup that melted down during a 2-7 homestand.
The Reds scored only 21 runs in those nine games. Paul Bako’s RBI infield single in the seventh snapped Cincinnati’s 0-for-21 slide with runners in scoring position. Brandon Phillips’ bases-loaded single off Jonathan Broxton completed the rally.
Takashi Saito pitched the ninth for his second save in the series and his 10th in 13 chances.
The Reds batted .188 on the homestand and went 6-for-57 (.105) with runners in scoring position.
“This is a trying time right now,” manager Dusty Baker said. “It seemed like every time we made a mistake, they capitalized. For us, we couldn’t get the big hit. This was a tough week.”
Stults also pitched in with LA’s revived offense. He drew a walk and had a hit-and-run single through the hole at shortstop—perfectly placed—that set up a run.
“He was great with the bat and with the arm,” manager Joe Torre said. “If we play cleaner, he gets through the seventh, probably. Everything was really good.”
The Dodgers were in a hitting slump when they hit town, scoring one run or none in three of their previous five games. A different player emerged each game. This time it was Kemp’s turn.
The outfielder had only two extra-base hits in his last 12 games. He matched that total in his first three at-bats. Kemp led off the fourth inning with his sixth homer, and doubled home two more runs in the fifth for a 5-0 lead.
Russell Martin also had an RBI double, and Juan Pierre’s squeeze bunt drove in a run and went for a single when none of the Reds covered first base. James Loney had three more hits—he’s batting .448 against the Reds this season—and drove in a run.
Los Angeles had five doubles, matching its season high. … Ken Griffey Jr. was out of the Reds’ lineup for a third consecutive game with an illness. The 38-year-old outfielder also has been bothered by a sore left knee. … The Reds fell eight games under .500 at 33-41, matching their season low. … Rookie Jay Bruce was ejected by plate umpire Bob Davidson after arguing a called third strike in the ninth. Bruce finished the series in a 2-for-23 slump.