Kazmir shows mettle to set stage for comeback

Kazmir shows mettle to set stage for comeback

PITTSBURGH -- It's usually the other way around, but the Dodgers flipped the script on Monday and won a game after a Clayton Kershaw loss.

They avoided an historic four-game sweep by edging the Pirates, 5-4, after starting pitcher Scott Kazmir spotted the Pirates a four-run first inning. The win was almost enough to obscure apparent minor injuries to Kershaw (sore lower back) and Justin Turner (right leg cramp).

"It was resiliency. We spot them four in the first, Kaz throws up four zeros and we put up a crooked number and found a way to win a baseball game," said manager Dave Roberts. "We salvaged the series and I just liked the way we didn't quit."

Avoiding the first four-game sweep to the Pirates since 1944 is a salvaged series to Roberts. Especially after that first inning, when Kazmir made 40 pitches and set the stage for a bullpen processional. Five relievers allowed only one hit over the final four innings, with Kenley Jansen nailing down a four-out save in his first outing in six days after back-to-back strikeouts from Pedro Baez.

Kazmir has a 3.93 ERA after the first inning this year, but a 9.00 ERA in it. In the heat and humidity Monday, this first inning was different than the rest.

"Honestly, I didn't feel like my energy was there, don't know if the heat zapped me but I kind of felt under water that first inning," he said. " As soon as I got in the dugout, I cooled off and I woke up. We're trying to get some answers [why]. I talked to [pitching coach Rick Honeycutt] about the way I felt, and maybe next outing we'll do a simulated first inning to get that focus and adrenaline going instead of using all that [pregame] time to get loose. It doesn't feel like I'm locked in."

Kazmir (6-3), key to a rotation plagued by injuries and inconsistency, said he was also distracted by a hole near the rubber on the mound that the grounds crew repaired before he pitched the second inning.

Kazmir noted the bullpen's contributions, as well as the offense that put up a four-run fifth inning. The starting lineup was right-handed stacked, with lefties Corey Seager, Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Utley and Joc Pederson resting (although all four would find their way into the game off the bench).

But after getting one run back in the third inning after Chris Taylor's first Dodgers hit, a triple, five of six batters reached base in the fifth. The third walk of the game by Kiké Hernandez, Turner's double, another walk to Trayce Thompson, cleanup hitter Yasiel Puig's two-run single and an infield single by A.J. Ellis for the tiebreaking run.

"That was a great team win," said Ellis. "Guys stepping up. Kazmir battling back, the bullpen guys just grinding the last 12 outs. Those are the wins that show a lot of character. Kaz just locked it back in, mixed in the curveball a little more to steal some strikes. The first inning, he was pitching from behind."

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.