First win just out of reach for impressive Volstad

First win just out of reach for impressive Volstad

First win just out of reach for impressive Volstad
LOS ANGELES -- Chris Volstad didn't get a win, but it felt like one.

Clayton Kershaw held the Cubs to three hits over seven innings and Matt Kemp hit his 16th home run to lift the Dodgers to a 3-1 victory Saturday night over the offensively challenged Cubs.

Volstad (0-8) has not won in his last 21 starts, dating to July 10, 2011. Still, this was his best start with the team.

"The streak is there for no reason of his tonight," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "He gave up two runs in seven innings to that lineup, you've far and above done your job to win a baseball game."

Promoted from Triple-A Iowa after the Cubs lost Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm at the Trade Deadline, Volstad went seven innings in his longest outing with the big league team.

"If you look at the overall quality and consistency of good pitches, that would be one thing I could point at," Volstad said. "I feel even the home run pitch was decent, down and in. It's pretty tough to hit that out to right-center field. That's why [Kemp] gets [$180 million] or whatever it is."

Sveum was happy Volstad threw with conviction, didn't shake off catcher Welington Castillo and mixed his pitches well.

"Maybe it was the type of mix," Volstad said. "I think the quality of pitches I was throwing was the difference. Instead of middle of the plate, thigh-high, it's closer to the edges, maybe knee-high and stuff like that. It was sliders in the dirt instead of spinning up there."

The streak is still there. Volstad admitted he would think about it before games, off the field. Not during games. And not anymore.

"I've stopped worrying about that, too," Volstad said. "Going up against Kershaw, he's a tough pitcher, so you knew it was going to be a battle from the get-go. He's one of the best pitchers in the league. If you focus on that, it'll get in the way of throwing pitches. ... I just focus on throwing the pitch and that's it, because that's the only thing I can do."

The Cubs haven't done much against left-handers and are now 12-19 against southpaw starters. Kershaw (9-6) is no ordinary lefty. The defending National League Cy Young winner improved to 3-1 with a 1.61 ERA (five earned runs over 28 innings) in four career starts against the Cubs. He nearly out-hit the Cubs, collecting two singles of his own.

"The bottom line is we still have to get some sustainable at-bats to where we keep that line moving, and we're not doing a very good job of that lately," Sveum said.

They had a short spurt in the fourth when Darwin Barney singled to leadoff and scored one out later on Alfonso Soriano's double into the gap in left-center. But the Dodgers answered in their half as Mark Ellis singled and Kemp followed with his 16th home run, which center fielder Joe Mather deflected with his glove over the wall.

"I felt I could've caught it, honestly," Mather said. "I was pretty upset I didn't get it. It might have tipped off the top of my glove. The ball just kept going and going and going. Three inches shorter, and it's an out. If I'm three inches taller [it's an out]."

Said Kemp: "You never know in this ballpark. It's tough to hit home runs at night here and I think I got a little bit of help looking at the Jumbotron [scoreboard of the replay]."

The Cubs dropped to 0-4 since Dempster, Maholm, Reed Johnson and Geovany Soto were dealt at the Trade Deadline.

"It comes at a time when you lose a few games in a row and everybody wants to blame it on the Trade Deadline," Sveum said, "but the fact of the matter is, we haven't scored many runs to win baseball games and we didn't lose anybody [in the lineup] except Reed Johnson. It'd be nice if he was in the lineup tonight."

That's because Johnson has a .326 average against lefties this season. The Cubs now have been outscored, 22-6, since Tuesday's Deadline.

"You better hope you don't have a lull because of the trade," Sveum said. "People are still being evaluated, and it's time to take advantage of things."

One of those players is Volstad, who will likely get 10 more starts over the next two months. As long as he keeps his mind clear, he'll be fine.

"That's one thing I've stopped doing -- I just go out there and throw pitches and try not to think too much," Volstad said. "That's what gets you in trouble. I tend to think a lot and my mind gets in my own way. I try to simplify it to each pitch and focus on that and see what happens."

He's a much-improved pitcher after his second stint in the Minor Leagues this year.

"Definitely," Volstad said. "I feel this has been a year of the biggest strides for me personally. It's been a tough year, that's for sure. You make it through something like that will obviously help me in the future and I feel like I am different."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.