LeBlanc, Padres beat Dodgers 2-0

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LOS ANGELES (AP)—The Los Angeles Dodgers saw a much different Wade LeBlanc(notes) from the one they faced twice last September.

The San Diego Padres’ rookie pitched two-hit ball over six innings in his return to Chavez Ravine, and his teammates scratched out a pair of early runs against the luckless Clayton Kershaw(notes) to beat the NL West leaders 2-0 on Friday night.

A year ago, the Dodgers torched him for 12 earned runs over 6 2-3 innings in his two losses against them.

“Hopefully it gives me a lot of confidence, to know that I’m able to compete up here,” LeBlanc said. “Obviously, I know that something like this isn’t going to happen every start. So the best thing I can do is give this team a chance to win every time I go out there, and I want them to be able to depend on me.”

LeBlanc (1-1) struck out two, walked three and retired his final nine batters in his fourth start of the season and eighth in the big leagues.

“He’s made just eight major league starts, and the first few were rocky,” manager Bud Black said. “So he knows the things he needs to work on and he’s got to continue to refine his game.”

The only hits off the 25-year-old left-hander were Ronnie Belliard’s(notes) broken-bat single in the second inning and a third-inning single by Andre Ethier(notes). LeBlanc lowered his ERA from 9.58 to 6.06 while matching the longest outing of his brief career.

“He had an excellent changeup, and he threw it at a couple of different speeds,” Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake(notes) said. “He also had a little cutter that he must have picked up in the minor leagues, because I don’t really remember seeing that thing before.”

Jim Thome(notes), acquired in a trade with the Chicago White Sox on Monday, made his Dodgers debut in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter for Blake and singled against Luke Gregerson(notes). But the right-hander retired Belliard on a short flyball to center with runners on the corners and closer Heath Bell(notes) got James Loney(notes) to fly out, then pitched the ninth for his 34th save in 37 attempts this season.

The Dodgers’ loss, combined with victories by Colorado and San Francisco, reduced their division lead to 4 1/2 games over the Rockies and 5 1/2 over the Giants with 26 games to play.

The Padres are 20 games behind the Dodgers. They have finished a season 20 or more games behind Los Angeles on 11 previous occasions, including last season.

“If you’re referring to yourselves as a spoiler, that’s a position you don’t want to be in,” Black said. “But we’re going to play out this season hard, knowing that the integrity of the schedule means a lot to all of us in this game.

“It’s important to me and to our players. Even though we’re not headed toward the playoffs, the other team is playing with high intensity—and we’re going to match that intensity. It’s also important to play in these types of games against teams that are possibly headed to the playoffs, because it gives you the experience.”

Kershaw (8-8) threw 106 pitches over six innings, allowing two runs—one earned—and four hits. But again, the 21-year-old left-hander was the victim of poor run support and remained winless in his last nine outings (0-2) since beating Houston 5-2 on July 18.

“We had some opportunities to score runs,” Blake said after the Dodgers went 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position. “It’s always frustrating when your pitcher throws well and you can’t score any runs for him. It hurts. He did his job tonight, but we’ve got to give him some run support. We’re a team, so we feel like we let him down.”

Kershaw, whose ERA during his victory drought is 2.75, leads the majors with a .202 opponents’ batting average in his 28 starts. It was the 14th time in last 16 starts that he allowed fewer than two earned runs.

“I didn’t pitch that great,” Kershaw said. “I had to battle the first two innings, and that really took it out of me. But I knew I had to keep the team in the game and go as long as possible.”

San Diego added an unearned run in the second after shortstop Rafael Furcal(notes) and first baseman Loney committed throwing errors on the same play.

Nick Hundley(notes) reached on a one-out single that caromed off Kershaw and dribbled to Furcal, who bounced his throw past first after charging the ball. Loney got the carom, but his throw to the plate eluded Ausmus and ended up in the box seats—just in front of Tommy Lasorda and Dodgers owner Frank McCourt as Oscar Salazar(notes) scored and Hundley continued to third.

Kershaw minimized the damage, retiring LeBlanc on a grounder to first with the infield in and Cabrera on a flyball. The hit by Hundley would be the last one Kershaw would allow before he was replaced by Ramon Troncoso(notes).

NOTES: Kemp, who came in batting .405 against left-handers, was 0 for 3 against LeBlanc. … The Padres improved to 22-24 in games against left-handed starters, and will face another one Saturday night when Randy Wolf(notes) goes for his 100th big league victory.

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