LOS ANGELES (AP) — The home runs haven’t exactly been coming in bunches for Matt Kemp since his hamstring problems began back in May. So when he gets one, he doesn’t care how far it goes.
The slugging center fielder drove in the Dodgers’ first two runs Saturday night with a fly ball that deflected off the glove of Chicago Cubs counterpart Joe Mather and over the fence in right-center. Clayton Kershaw and the bullpen made the lead stand up, and Los Angeles came away with a 3-1 victory.
“I thought it was going to be a home run, but you never know in this ballpark,” said Kemp, whose homer was his 16th this season and fourth in a span of 33 games and 127 at-bats. “It’s tough to hit home runs at night here — and after looking at it on the Jumbotron, I think I got a little bit of help. But we won, so it really doesn’t matter.”
Mather watched the replay a couple of times also and acknowledged that he could have tracked the ball a little differently.
“I didn’t think it was going to go that far with the swing he took, but it ended up carrying and got out of the yard,” said Mather, who was playing at Dodger Stadium for the first time in his career. “I saw the replay, and it was real close. Initially, I thought I should have gotten it. And obviously watching it again, I think that maybe if I had gotten a little better footing and made a little better jump, it’s a different ballgame.”
Kershaw (9-6) pitched three-hit ball over seven innings to keep Chicago’s Chris Volstad winless in his last 21 starts. The reigning Cy Young Award winner, coming off a five-hit shutout against the Giants last Sunday, struck out seven and allowed his only run on a fourth-inning double by Alfonso Soriano while lowering his ERA to 2.88.
“He looked good. He was throwing 94 (mph) fastballs with a curveball, changeup and slider, and throwing everything for strikes,” Mather said. “He was really attacking guys’ weaknesses and he didn’t leave a lot of balls over the plate.”
Kershaw walked No. 8 hitter Luis Valbuena his first two times up, and Volstad advanced the runner both times with sacrifice bunts. But Starlin Castro grounded out on a slider to end the third-inning threat, then took a called third strike on another slider to end the fourth. The Cubs’ leadoff hitter is 0 for 13 against Kershaw.
“The curveball wasn’t very good tonight and I didn’t throw a lot of strikes with it, but fortunately I had a decent slider,” Kershaw said. “They came out aggressively and were putting the ball in play early. I’m just trying to go out there every time and give our team a chance to win.”
Ronald Belisario pitched a perfect eighth and Kenley Jansen did likewise in the ninth for his 21st save. The Dodgers remained a half-game behind first-place San Francisco in the NL West.
Volstad (0-8) yielded two runs and six hits through seven innings before he was lifted for a pinch-hitter. The right-hander is 0-13 with eight no-decisions and a 5.49 ERA since beating Houston 5-4 on July 10 last season with the Marlins, who traded him to the Cubs in January for Carlos Zambrano.
Volstad was recalled from Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday, a day after starters Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm were dealt away before the non-waiver trade deadline. This is Volstad’s third stint with the big club this season, including a 5-1 loss to the Dodgers on May 5 at Wrigley Field.
Soriano’s run-scoring double ended an RBI drought of five games and 23 at-bats since his two-run triple against St. Louis’ Joe Kelly on July 28 at Chicago.
The Dodgers added a run in the ninth when Shane Victorino led off with a double and scored on a two-out error by Castro, who couldn’t handle Hanley Ramirez’s hard-hit grounder to shortstop.
NOTES: Cubs 2B Darwin Barney eclipsed Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg’s franchise record for consecutive errorless games in one season at that position with his 91st in a row. The NL single-season record is 113, by David Eckstein with San Diego in 2010. … This was the seventh time in Volstad’s 10 starts this season that the Cubs scored fewer than two runs while he was in the game. … Kemp is hitting .336 with 13 RBIs in 20 games since coming off the disabled list. … Soriano needs 11 RBIs to reach 1,000 in his career. … The Dodgers optioned RHP Stephen Fife to Triple-A Albuquerque to clear a roster spot for RHP Joe Blanton, who met his teammates for the first time a day after the Dodgers acquired him from Philadelphia. “I was fortunate enough to get traded over there from Oakland in 2008 and won a World Series. Hopefully, history will repeat itself for me,” Blanton said. “This is a great place to pitch. Being in California, you get that cool air at night. The ball doesn’t travel as well as it does in Philly.” Blanton will make his Dodgers debut in Sunday’s series finale against Justin Germano, who was recalled from Iowa along with Volstad.