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Penny is better but still loses

Dodgers right-hander shows improvement on the mound in L.A.'s 3-1 loss to the Cubs.

June 09, 2008|Dylan Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

The Dodgers are still waiting for Brad Penny to pitch like Brad Penny.

In the meantime, they'll settle for any signs of progress, such as the ones they saw in their 3-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Sunday at Dodger Stadium that extended their opening-day starter's winless streak to seven games.

"He competed again," Manager Joe Torre said. Referring to a loss to Colorado on Tuesday, Torre continued, "That's two straight starts that I was not satisfied with the outcome, obviously, but satisfied with his approach and his competing."

By scattering three runs and six hits over six innings in the Dodgers' final contest of a 17-game stretch without a day off, Penny fell to 0-6 over his last seven starts, his longest stretch without a victory since he had an 11-game winless streak in 2001 with the Florida Marlins. But catcher Russell Martin said that Penny was starting to regain the command on his fastball that allowed him to win 13 of his first 14 decisions last season.

"He's pitching like Brad Penny right now, but we're not giving him the run support," Martin said.

Martin blamed Sunday's loss, which split the four-game series and was the Dodgers' 12th defeat in their last 17 games, on a lineup that was held to one unearned run and three hits in 6 1/3 innings by Jason Marquis. The Cubs starter dropped his earned-run average by nearly a half point from 5.02 to 4.54.

Penny (5-8) took solace in the fact the shoulder stiffness that gave him trouble getting loose last month was gone and that a first-inning comebacker by Derrek Lee didn't hurt his left foot.

"My stuff is getting more consistent," said Penny, who has a 7.71 earned-run average in his last seven starts.

Throwing three consecutive fastballs for balls to the second batter he faced, Penny fell behind 3-and-1 against Mark DeRosa, then served up a 94-mph fastball that was driven over the wall for a home run.

The home run was the seventh given up this season by Penny, who gave up only nine all of last season.

Penny gave up two doubles that led to a pair of runs in the fifth and increased the Dodgers' deficit to 3-1 and lasted six innings, meaning he has completed seven innings only once in his last eight starts.

Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said he was pleased with the improved tempo of Penny's delivery and how he pitched a scoreless sixth at a time when the Dodgers' slumping offense made a win look improbable.

"With each outing, he's going to get sharper and sharper and sharper," Honeycutt said, drawing a comparison between Penny and Chad Billingsley, who lost his first four starts but has become the Dodgers' most reliable pitcher.

The Dodgers' only run, which tied the score at 1-1 in the first, was made possible because Cubs catcher Geovany Soto threw the ball into center field when trying to prevent Juan Pierre from stealing second. Pierre moved to third on the play and scored on a grounder to short by Jeff Kent.

Marquis' day ended when he gave up a one-out single to Martin and walked James Loney in the seventh, but reliever Carlos Marmol struck out Matt Kemp and forced Blake DeWitt into a sharp groundout at first to escape the jam.

Making his Dodgers debut on this day was recently acquired shortstop Angel Berroa, who was 0 for 3, striking out all three times.

The 2003 AL rookie of the year, who was with Kansas City's triple-A affiliate in Omaha before the Dodgers traded for him on Friday, hadn't played in the majors in more than a year.

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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