Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp hits a double to deep right center field… (Victor Decolongon / Getty…)
With the Dodgers' offense stuck in neutral through the first five games of the season, Manager Don Mattingly thought his team could use a little pick-me-up Sunday. So he held four regulars out of the starting lineup, replacing them with four guys who had combined for one hit this year.
So guess what happened next. The Dodgers collected season highs for runs and hits in a 6-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in front of a sun-splashed sellout crowd of 52,053 at Dodger Stadium.
"You ask for energy from those guys," Mattingly said. "You get three or four guys that haven't been on the field, they're going to be playing with some energy."
Much of that came from Nick Punto, who had two of the Dodgers' 11 hits and scored twice in his first start of the season. Jerry Hairston Jr., making his second start, also had a hit and third baseman Juan Uribe made a run-saving play in his second start.
But the real spark came from Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez, the only two Dodgers to start every game this season, who had four hits and drove in five runs between them.
Kemp began the day batting .056, which had earned him boos from the fans less than a week into the season. But he turned those to cheers with a first-inning double before putting the Dodgers ahead to stay with a sacrifice fly in his next at-bat.
"We know we're going to score runs. We know what our offense is capable of doing," Kemp said. "If we stay within ourselves, we'll be a very successful team."
Gonzalez, who had three hits and four runs batted in, also urged patience.
"We're all just getting going," he said. "Once we all get into the flow of things, baseball levels out. It's a long season and you're going to have your ups and downs. It's going to be like that all year."
So far it has been mostly ups for the Dodgers' pitching staff, which got a stellar effort Sunday from rookie left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, who gave up two runs and three hits in 61/3 innings and struck out six.
He got off to a shaky start, though, giving up a single and Andrew McCutchen's two-run home run in the span of three batters. But Ryu settled down and gave up only a bunt single over the next six innings and retired 13 of the final 14 batters he faced to earn his first big league win.
"He doesn't lose his composure," Mattingly said of the 26-year-old, who won 98 games in South Korea and pitched for that country in the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic. "He doesn't really get rattled. This guy's thrown a lot of innings, been in some bigger competitions.
"You're not feeling like you're getting a kid coming out of the minor leagues. We're getting a polished guy out there."
The relievers, who haven't given up a run this season, contributed another 32/3 scoreless innings. Despite that, the Dodgers' team earned-run average rose slightly to 1.00, which still leads the majors.