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Once again, Penny can't shine

He labors for six innings in a 3-0 loss to Rockies. Kemp gets into brawl in eighth.

June 04, 2008|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

Brad Penny has started All-Star games and World Series games. He has started in the playoffs and in playoff races.

But for Dodgers Manager Joe Torre, few games Penny has started recently were more important than Tuesday's outing against the last-place Colorado Rockies.

"It could be the most important start of the year as far I'm concerned," Torre said just before Penny took the mound at Dodger Stadium. "We need him. We need that guy to be able to take the ball every five days and give us an idea what to expect."

Actually that's no longer the problem because, over the last month, Penny has been remarkably consistent -- he hasn't won in six starts and has made it past six innings just once.

None of that changed against the Rockies, with Penny laboring through six innings in a 3-0 loss to a team whose last win came before Memorial Day.

In fact most of the excitement Tuesday came after Penny left, with Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp and Rockies catcher Yorvit Torrealba trading shoves and punches in an eighth-inning dust-up that caused both benches to clear.

That was pretty much all the punch the Dodgers showed, however, managing only six hits -- the last two coming with two outs in the ninth -- while being shut out for the fourth time this season.

Yet Torre said he saw enough from Penny to consider the loss a step in the right direction.

"He was good tonight. I thought he took charge," he said. "I thought it was a lot of determination out there. Sometimes he was over aggressive."

But that, and the fact it was Penny's first quality start since April, may be little more than moral victories -- and a club that has lost nine of its last 12, dropping two games under .500 for the season, probably needs more than that from the ace of the rotation.

"I felt better. I threw the ball better," said Penny (5-7), who lost for only the third time in 17 decisions against the Rockies. And though he never retired the side in order, he did work out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth, then strand Torrealba after he led off the sixth with a double.

But by then the damage had been done with Colorado, which had lost eight in a row, scoring twice in the third on a pair of two-strike swings -- one a sacrifice fly from Scott Podsednik and the other a two-out single by Todd Helton. The Rockies' final run came on a Chris Iannetta homer in the ninth.

"He was unhappy that he just couldn't get that put-away pitch," Torre said. "He had the stuff to do it. But when he had men in scoring position, he made good pitches and went after people. He was a lot more aggressive, he was a lot more consistent than I've seen him in a while."

The Dodgers got only three men in scoring position against left-hander Jeff Francis (2-5), who gave up two hits in the first then only two more en route to seven shutout innings.

The Dodgers did bring the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but Brian Fuentes got Blake DeWitt on a foul fly to right to end the game, Ryan Spilborghs making the catch before the ball went into the stands.

With both teams struggling, it was only a matter of time before the frustration boiled over. That happened after Torrealba dropped the third strike when Kemp struck out to end the eighth. The Rockies catcher quickly retrieved the ball and as the two players' feet tangled, Torrealba tagged the Dodger outfielder. When Kemp took exception by pushing Torrealba, the catcher responded with a shove to the throat, igniting the fight.

"He kind of shoved me and I shoved him back. It was just out of frustration," said Kemp, who is probably facing a suspension. "It was really stupid. It was not a good decision on my part. But it happened and you've got just to deal with whatever it is that comes after that."

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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