Chad Billingsley happily handed his three-hit shutout in the sixth inning to reliable setup man Hong-Chih Kuo, whose lights out relief pitching allowed Jonathon Broxton to close the Los Angeles Dodgers' 2-0 victory against the San Diego Padres last night at Petco Park.
The Dodgers' pitching looked unstoppable, unflappable, and simply unbeatable Tuesday night, which has been a rarity for this ailing pitching staff.
Throughout the first half of the season, while outfielder Andre Eithier and shortstop Rafael Furcal constantly hit for power, the Dodgers pitching staff was plagued with instability, proving time and again to be unreliable. Far too often the Dodgers watched their lead crumble or hopes plummet due to poor pitching.
Only Jonathon Broxton (ERA 2.93) and Hong-Chih Kuo (ERA .79) have proven dependable with the game on the line. Broxton has shown solid command over his menacing fastball and Kuo appears to have found his groove as an overpowering setup man.
However, there has been a palpable change over the last week as the Dodgers pitching has hurled 25 consecutive scoreless innings, which include shutouts of the New York Mets on Sunday and Padres last night.
At the forefront of this surge has been the young, left-hander Clayton Kershaw and red-hot Chad Billingsley. Kershaw dealt eight shut-out innings en route to a win against the Mets last Sunday, improving his record to 10-5.
Billingsley has been on a tear. Between his start last night and his bout last week against the San Francisco Giants, Billingsley has thrown 15 scoreless innings.
After last night's win, the Dodgers improved to 54-46, now just five games behind the NL West's division leader, San Diego Padres.
The series opener began as a pitchers duel between the Padres' Jon Garland (9-7, 3.56) and the Dodgers' Chad Billingsley (9-5, 4.00), but was broken open in the seventh inning when Andre Ethier belted a two-run, clutch single up the middle.
Tonight's game features Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda (8-8, 3.48), who has given up just one run in 14 innings since the All-Star break, and Padres pitcher Clayton Richard (7-5, 3.57), who has noticeably struggled throughout the month of July giving up 19 earned runs in 24 innings (7.13 ERA).
If the Dodgers can maintain their dominant pitching, crafty defense and clutch hitting they will inch one step closer to winning this crucial series.