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AP - Sports

Off to a slow start and with a banged-up rotation, the Los Angeles Dodgers really need ace Clayton Kershaw to be at his best.

That certainly didn't happen in his latest outing.

Kershaw now faces one of the NL's top offenses - but also a team he's dominated - on Tuesday night when the Dodgers follow their first win in a week with a three-game set against the New York Mets at Citi Field.

With Zack Greinke (collarbone) landing on the disabled list earlier this month, Chris Capuano (calf) joining him there last week and Chad Billingsley (elbow) doing so Sunday, Los Angeles is very thin on quality starters even with Ted Lilly (shoulder) set to be activated Wednesday.

That leaves a bigger burden on Kershaw (2-2, 1.88 ERA), especially with the Dodgers (8-10) being one of only five NL teams with a losing record.

He didn't pitch like a recent Cy Young Award winner Wednesday. The left-hander gave up five runs - three earned - and seven hits in 5 1-3 innings of a 7-2 loss to last-place San Diego. His three home runs allowed tied a career worst, his five strikeouts were a season low and four walks a season high.

"I didn't have any command and really couldn't throw the breaking ball again," Kershaw told MLB's official website. "I don't know what happened. I was just falling behind too much."

After throwing 19 scoreless innings with one walk to open the season, he's given up six runs and walked seven in 9 2-3.

Kershaw has had no such problems versus the Mets. He's won five straight starts against them, giving up two earned runs in 35 2-3 innings while striking out 36.

David Wright, Ike Davis, John Buck and Lucas Duda - generally the No. 3-6 hitters in New York's lineup - are a combined 4 for 28 against Kershaw. No current Mets player has homered off him.

New York (9-8), though, is among the league leaders with 22 homers and 5.8 runs per game.

Buck is a big reason why. He hit his team-high seventh home run Sunday in a 2-0 win over Washington, and entered this week leading the majors with 22 RBIs.

"I don't know where we'd be without John Buck," manager Terry Collins said of the veteran catcher acquired from Toronto in the R.A. Dickey deal.

The Dodgers have not been nearly as good offensively, averaging 3.0 runs. They totaled 13 during a six-game losing streak before matching a season high in a 7-4 win at Baltimore on Sunday.

Manager Don Mattingly moved Matt Kemp down a spot to cleanup and pushed Adrian Gonzalez up to third. Though Kemp remains homerless, he had the go-ahead RBI single Sunday and his second three-hit effort in three games. As Kemp's average reached .235, Gonzalez raised his to a team-best .385 with a single and an RBI double.

"You may look back in a week and say this is a big game if we start to put some (wins) together," Mattingly said. "If we go into New York and don't play well then you don't look at it as anything. It's really going to be up to us."

Kemp and Andre Ethier, in a 2-for-21 slump, are each 4 for 9 against New York scheduled starter Jonathon Niese (2-1, 3.80).

The left-hander is coming off his first loss, giving up three runs in six innings of an 11-3 defeat at Colorado on Thursday.

Niese has a 4.26 ERA without a decision in two career starts against Los Angeles, which swept a three-game set at Citi Field last year and won the season series 4-3.

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