Dodgers improve on MLB’s best record

After the solid eight-inning stint Aaron Harang gave the Los Angeles Dodgers, his teammates wanted to see him get rewarded with a victory after he was lifted for a pinch-hitter with the score tied.

Up stepped Tony Gwynn Jr., who came through with an RBI single off Matt Belisle to help the Dodgers beat the Colorado Rockies 2-1 on Saturday night and improved the best record in the majors to 22-11.

James Loney led off the eighth with an infield single against reliever Josh Outman (0-1), advanced on A.J. Ellis’ sacrifice bunt and came home when Gwynn lined an 0-2 pitch to left field.

”I struggled against Belisle in the past,” Gwynn said. ”He’s a short-armer, and the ball gets on you real quick, so I just tried to keep my swing short with two strikes and stay away from anything in the dirt. I was actually able to take a pretty good swing. Looking at it on tape, it looked like he threw the ball where he wanted to – about chest-high – and I was just able to get enough barrel on it.”

Harang (2-2) allowed a run on four hits and escaped a bases-loaded jam in the third, helping send the Rockies to their seventh loss in eight games and dropping them a season-worst 8 1-2 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West.

Harang has 15 strikeouts in 31 2-3 innings over his last five starts, after fanning a career-high 13 against San Diego on April 13 – including a franchise-record nine straight. But he realizes he’ll be more successful getting groundballs and keeping his pitch count down.

”I felt good. I felt like I was locating the ball well and I was able to keep them off-balance,” Harang said. ”The defense was there to back me up, and these guys battled out there to the last inning and got us the victory.”

The 6-foot-7 right-hander was 0-3 with an 8.64 ERA in his previous five starts against Colorado since Aug. 22, 2008, when he pitched six scoreless innings for Cincinnati in an 8-5 win at Coors Field.

Kenley Jansen got three outs for his third save in four attempts. It was the hard-throwing right-hander’s first save opportunity since manager Don Mattingly took Javy Guerra out of the closer’s role last Monday and gave it to his setup man.

”It’s nice to be able to see him go in there and be able to shut the door,” Harang said. ”He’s got good stuff, and he’s only going to get better with the more confidence he gets in that role.”

Harang and Colorado right-hander Juan Nicasio dueled to a 1-1 tie through seven innings in a rematch of their April 30 encounter at Coors Field, when Nicasio threw a career-high 115 pitches over six innings and allowed two runs in a 6-2 win. Nicasio gave up five hits, struck out nine and walked none.

”Juan Nicasio was great,” manager Jim Tracy said. ”He pounded the strike zone with his fastball. And between his slider and change-up, he had enough going on to keep them at bay the entire time he was out there.”

Nicasio, aided by a double play in the first, faced the minimum number of batters through four. But Andre Ethier led off the fifth with a double and scored on a one-out broken-bat bloop single to center by Juan Uribe – one pitch after catcher Willin Rosario went to the mound to discuss with Nicasio what he should throw on the 0-2 count.

Rockies center fielder Tyler Colvin, making his ninth start of the season because Tracy wanted to get his bat in the lineup, tied it in the seventh with his third homer – sending a 2-0 delivery deep into the right-field pavilion on a four-seamer that Harang tried to get inside on him but ran back over the plate. Right before the home run, Michael Cuddyer grounded into a double play following a leadoff single by Todd Helton.

The Rockies wasted a great scoring chance in the third after Rosario led off with a double over the head of center fielder Matt Kemp. Rosario advanced on Nicasio’s sacrifice, but was cut down at the plate after first baseman Loney made a diving stop on Marco Scutaro’s grounder in the hole and threw a perfect strike to Ellis.

Jonathan Herrera followed with a double, but Troy Tulowitzki flied out with the bases loaded on a fastball down and away after an intentional walk to Carlos Gonzalez. Tulowitzki is 5 for 28 with runners in scoring position, after batting .309 with 144 RBIs in those situations over the previous two seasons.

Notes: Tracy, who piloted the Dodgers for five seasons – and was saddened to see the way it decayed in the final years of Frank McCourt’s ownership – is encouraged by what’s happening now with the new group led by Mark Walter, Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson. ”I don’t know how quickly they’ll turn it around, but I think it’s safe to say it’s a very professional group of people they’ve assembled. There’s no getting around that fact,” Tracy said. ”And to have a guy like Magic Johnson, having been in this town as long as he has, what he’s meant to this city, the impact that he’s had on this city in relation to what he accomplished as a Los Angeles Laker, his mindfulness of the impact that proper ownership can make to this baseball team – and knowing the rich history that this team possesses – he’s certainly a nice guy to have out on the forefront of their ownership group.” … Kemp, who set a Dodgers franchise record for April with 12 home runs, has none in his first 31 at-bats this month and is hitless in three straight games for the first time since July 8-10, 2011. … Nicasio is 0-3 with a 4.73 ERA in nine career starts in the road.