PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Los Angeles Dodgers knocked around Jeff Locke on April 10, plating four runs against the Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander to send him to his first loss of the season.
Locke isn’t the same pitcher he was two months ago. And the Dodgers are hardly the same team.
Kept off balance all night by Locke’s deft change of speeds and impeccable location, Los Angeles fell 3-0 on Friday night to fall a season-low 10 games under .500 (28-38).
And they did it against a pitcher who began the season as the fifth starter in Pittsburgh’s rotation and is making $497,500 this year, or about $9 million less than the average Dodger.
Locke (6-1) allowed just two hits and never let a Dodger get to second base during seven efficient innings, striking out five and walking just one.
“He was throwing strikes,” Los Angeles first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. “If you were going to take pitches then you were going to be 0-1, 0-2 in every at-bat. He made us swing the bat and we didn’t put too many good swings on him.”
Andrew McCutchen hit a two-run double in the third inning off Stephen Fife (1-2). Jason Grilli worked out of a two-on, no-out jam in the ninth for his National League-leading 24th save.
The Dodgers played without manager Don Mattingly, who served a one-game suspension for his role in the brawl with Arizona earlier in the week. Bench coach Trey Hillman filled in for Mattingly, but couldn’t prevent Los Angeles from losing for the fifth time in its last six games.
The Dodgers had chances in the eighth and ninth innings. Pittsburgh reliever Mark Melancon struck out pinch-hitter Juan Uribe with runners in scoring position in the eighth.
Yaisel Puig and Nick Punto hit consecutive singles off Grilli to start the ninth. Grilli then retired Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Mark Ellis to remain a perfect 24 for 24 in save opportunities.
“He threw eight pitches in that at-bat,” Gonzalez said of Grilli. “When I see eight pitches, I shouldn’t strike out. I needed to put a ball in play and I should have. That was bad hitting on my part.”
Puig finished 2 for 4, including a bunt single leading off the game. He was quickly retired on a double play as Locke continued his unlikely ascension into the role of ace for a team whose starting rotation is in tatters.
A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald and Jeanmar Gomez all are on the disabled list, leaving Locke and veteran Francisco Liriano as the top-end starters for one of baseball’s biggest first-half surprises.
If the spotlight is getting to Locke, it doesn’t show. Pitching inside to hitters up and down the lineup, Locke needed just 75 pitches to get 21 outs.
“He was throwing strikes and he had it where at the last nanosecond the breaking ball would drop out of the zone,” Hillman said. “It’s easy to say you should take the pitch but it’s not so easy to do.”
McCutchen gave the Pirates all the offense they would need when he doubled to the corner in right field in the third, scoring Alex Presley and Russell Martin
Fife, making just his fourth start of the season, settled down and escaped without further damage when McCutchen was gunned down at home trying to score on a ground ball and Clint Barmes flew out to left with the bases loaded later in the inning.
The 26-year-old Fife gave up six hits in five innings, walking three and striking out four.
“It was a battle the whole time I was in there,” Fife said. “I just couldn’t get that easy inning.”
Locke had little trouble getting through seven before turning things over to Pittsburgh’s dominant bullpen, though Melancon ran into trouble during his first appearance in a week.
Andre Ethier singled with one out and Jerry Hairston Jr. doubled to the gap in left-center one batter later. Ethier held up at third rather than try to score, and it cost the Dodgers when pinch-hitter Juan Uribe struck out.
Pittsburgh added an insurance run when McCutchen singled leading off the bottom of the eighth and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Neil Walker.
Grilli made it stand up against the meat of Los Angeles’ lineup.
NOTES: Locke singled off Fife in the third to end an 0-for-30 skid dating to last season … Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis went 0 for 3 with 3 strikeouts in his return from the disabled list. He also threw out two would-be base stealers. Ellis missed 14 games with a strained oblique. To make room for Ellis, Los Angeles designated C Ramon Hernandez for assignment. Hernandez hit .208 with three homers and six RBIs in 17 games with the Dodgers … The series continues on Saturday when rookie Brandon Cumpton makes his major league debut for the Pirates, replacing Burnett. Clayton Kershaw (5-4, 1.88 ERA) starts for Los Angeles … Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell pitched two perfect innings in relief. Howell is appealing a two-game suspension for his role in the brawl with the Diamondbacks. Reliever Ronald Belisario sat out to serve his one-game suspension.