Kemp swats No. 9, Kershaw whiffs nine in gem
Loney also goes deep, while Ethier drives in two more
By Gene Duffey / Special to MLB.com | 4/21/2012 11:56 PM ET
LAD@HOU: Kemp hammers a two-run homer to center field
HOUSTON -- Saturday night's Dodgers game started at 6:05 p.m. CT, one hour earlier than Friday night. It made it more difficult for the hitters to see the ball.
"The first time through [the order], I don't think guys saw the ball good," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "It was a pretty rough shadow with the roof open."
"It was a little tough to see out there," said Matt Kemp, who hit his ninth homer in the sixth inning after striking out in his first two at-bats.
The shadows didn't bother first baseman James Loney, a Houston native. Loney hit a home run in his first at-bat, in the second to help propel Los Angeles to a 5-1 victory over the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
"He's the only one who could see during that time, if that makes any sense at all," Mattingly said of Loney. "I think he uses SONAR at times up there."
"You've got that 6 o'clock start with the roof open, sometimes it does cause some shadows," Loney said. "I just don't think about it. Just focus in on what you're doing."
Loney is still well below average, hitting just .200, and Saturday's drive was his first homer of the season.
"It's always good to get that zero off your stats," he said. "It was good for everybody I left tickets for."
"James has been OK," Mattingly said. "He's been hanging in. If you look at probably the last week or so, he's swung the bat pretty good."
"I'm not concerned with numbers all the time," Loney said. "It's more how I'm hitting the ball.
Kemp saw the homer coming.
"He had a great BP today," Kemp said. "He was hitting some bombs today. When you see somebody locked in in BP, launching balls into the upper deck, you think he might hit a home run."
Left-hander Clayton Kershaw shut out Houston for seven innings to win his first game of the season. The Astros collected only three hits off Kershaw, who did not allow a runner to reach third base and threw 104 pitches.
Kershaw, who extended his personal winning streak to nine, ripped through the first two hitters in the lineup, striking out leadoff hitter Jordan Schafer three times and striking out No. 2 hitter Jose Altuve twice, plus retiring him on a fly ball to center. Kershaw struck out nine.
"Kersh still to me still hasn't zoned it in yet," Mattingly said. "I don't mean that in any bad way. He goes through little stretches where he uses more pitches than he wants to."
"I didn't have great fastball command tonight," Kershaw said. "I didn't exactly know where it was going all the time. I was fortunate to get some outs here and there. It was a battle tonight. You're going to have those nights. When you get an early lead like that, you're going to try to hold on to it and put up some zeroes."
He was good enough to keep the Astros guessing.
"He's a great pitcher," cleanup hitter Carlos Lee. "He was mixing his pitches pretty good and keeping everybody off balance. He was throwing everything in any count. When a guy is pitching like that, it's tough."
After striking out in his first two at-bats against Houston right-hander Kyle Weiland, Kemp hit Weiland's first pitch in his third at-bat for a 423-foot two-run homer and a 3-0 lead.
Kemp's ninth homer in the first 15 games set a franchise record. He had been tied with Wally Moon's eight homers in 14 games, set in 1961. Also, Kemp has hit safely in 14 of the 15 games and extended his hitting streak to 10 games.
Kemp offered no explanations for his incredible start.
"I'm just trying to go up there and hit the ball hard," he said. "If it goes out of the park, it goes out of the park. If I get a base hit, that's good. It helps when you have a great hitter [Andre Ethier] hitting behind you.
"I want to represent this franchise as good as possible. Put us on the map again. I don't even look at records. It would be awesome to be known as one of the best hitters. That's what I'm planning on doing."
Kemp said Weiland struck him out on a slider in his first at-bat and then a fastball away in his second at-bat.
"I thought it was a ball," Kemp said of being upset after his strikeout. "The umpire called it a strike and you have to respect his call."
"I've already ran out a long time ago," Mattingly said of complimentary words for Kemp. "But I don't mind keeping talking about it. I could do it for a while longer. Ride the wave."
Trying to keep pace with Kemp in the RBI race, Ethier added a two-run single in the eighth to widen the lead to 5-0.
"If you're chasing anyone, that's the guy you need to be chasing," Ethier said of Kemp. "If I stay close to him, I'm doing pretty good myself."
Jamey Wright pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to end it.
"Jamey's been pretty good," Mattingly said. "He had that one rough outing. We use him in all different ways. We use him as the long guy, or used him early, a couple of two-inning situations. We use him late. It's good to get him in there."