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Ricky Nolasco works around Dodgers' drama to beat Cubs, 4-0

DODGERS

Right-hander gives up three hits and strikes out 11 batters over eight innings. Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier hit home runs, and Yasiel Puig is put on the bench by Don Mattingly in the middle of the game.

August 28, 2013|By Dylan Hernandez

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Ricky Nolasco is accustomed by now to being overlooked. For seven-plus seasons, he pitched for the non-contending Marlins, meaning no matter what he did, he did so in relative obscurity.

That experience probably served Nolasco well Wednesday, when shortly after one of his best performances of the season, he was asked multiple questions at a news conference about Manager Don Mattingly's decision to bench Yasiel Puig midway through the Dodgers' 4-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs at Dodger Stadium.

If Nolasco was bothered by how his eight superb innings were relegated to secondary status by the actions of the 22-year-old outfielder, he didn't show it.

BOX SCORE: Dodgers 4, Chicago Cubs 0

This marked the second consecutive start in which Nolasco (11-9) tossed eight scoreless innings. That didn't go unnoticed in the Dodgers' clubhouse.

"He's had one heck of a week," outfielder Andre Ethier said.

With Ethier and Hanley Ramirez hitting home runs, Nolasco was able to improve his record this month to 5-0. Nolasco limited the Cubs to three hits and struck out 11 batters.

"He looked great," catcher Tim Federowicz said. "The game doesn't lie. He was commanding everything."

Nolasco, who was acquired for three low-level prospects in a midseason trade with the Marlins, had a 1.64 earned-run average in six August starts. That was only a tick behind Clayton Kershaw's 1.01 and Zack Greinke's 1.23.

Nolasco said this was probably the best month of his career.

"It's got to be," Nolasco said.

With Hyun-Jin Ryu pitching his way back into form — his ERA this month is 2.84, down from 4.50 in July — the only question marks in the rotation are in the fifth spot.

The Dodgers agreed to a deal with Edinson Volquez to give themselves an alternative to Chris Capuano, who holds the spot but is slumping, and Stephen Fife, who is in the minor leagues and has a problematic shoulder.

Should the Dodgers reach the playoffs, they will probably use only four starting pitchers.

Nolasco attributed his improved performance to where his team is in the standings. The Dodgers are in first place in the National League West. The Marlins are in last in the NL East.

"I know what's at stake pitching here in the chase that we're in right now," Nolasco said. "A lot's at stake."

But Nolasco hasn't started picturing himself pitching in October.

"As a team, we can't get too far ahead of ourselves," he said.

The Dodgers are encouraged by how Nolasco has responded to pitching in crucial games. The victory Wednesday allowed the Dodgers to avoid losing their second consecutive series. The one before that, as it turned out, prevented them from being swept by the Boston Red Sox.

"He's a winner," pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "He just got lost down in Miami."

Pitching on what Honeycutt called "a poor team," Nolasco averaged 14 victories for the Marlins from 2008 to 2010.

Nolasco's latest gem came at a time when the Dodgers weren't hitting. They had only six hits Tuesday and are hitting a collective .188 through the first six games of this homestand.

Ramirez put the Dodgers ahead, 1-0, with a home run in the first inning. Ethier doubled the lead in the fourth inning with a home run.

The Dodgers capitalized on a throwing error by starting pitcher Edwin Jackson and scored two runs in the fifth inning.

The Dodgers have a day off Thursday. They will resume play Friday, when they open a three-game series at Dodger Stadium against the San Diego Padres.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Twitter: @dylanohernandez

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