LOS ANGELES -- With four regulars on the disabled list for the past week, the surprise is that the Dodgers haven't struggled as much offensively as they did Friday night.
Clayton Kershaw allowed a two-run homer in the third inning to J.D. Martinez and it proved decisive in a 3-1 win by the Astros, as the Dodgers loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning and all they got out of it was one run on a walk by Jerry Hairston in his return from the disabled list.
The key at-bat followed Hairston's, as the Dodgers had James Loney coming up with one out and the bases loaded. But when Houston manager Brad Mills (who used five pitchers that inning) brought on left-hander Fernando Abad, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly pinch-hit for Loney, choosing instead rookie right-handed hitter Ivan De Jesus, who struck out.
Think about that picture. Loney, with a pair of 90-RBI seasons and in his free-agent year, yielding to the inexperienced De Jesus because Loney is batting only .175 against left-handers.
"Out of the guys I had, he was the best hitter of the group," said Mattingly, who also had youngsters Jerry Sands and Scott Van Slyke from which to choose. "Ivan for me, I needed a hit more than pop a bomb. He was swinging the bat good in Arizona and I felt he was the best option. It didn't work out."
What that says about Loney's future with the club, one can only imagine, especially when Juan Rivera returns from the disabled list in maybe a week and could become the primary first baseman with Bobby Abreu remaining in left field.
The Dodgers had at least two runners on base in four different innings and went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, which wasn't even as bad as Houston's 1-for-13. Lucas Harrell, claimed off waivers last year from the White Sox, went a career-best 7 1/3 innings for the win.
"We got a run in the eighth and had them on the ropes," said Mattingly. "But two big outs and we don't get anything out of that."
Kershaw (4-2) admittedly didn't have command he displayed in his last start, a shutout of the Cardinals that led to his National League Player of the Week award. But he pitched well enough to win with a little more support. He was charged with two earned runs in seven innings on five hits, all for extra bases. It was only Kershaw's second loss in his last 16 home decisions.
"He didn't seem as sharp as usual," Mattingly said of Kershaw. "But it was typical Clayton, he battled and fought. He got in predictable counts for the hitters. But he hung in the game and gave us a chance to win. We just weren't able to do a whole lot. We didn't do enough to win."
Kershaw said his command wasn't what he'd hope for, although he seemed more disappointed in the pitches prior to Martinez's home run.
"He hit a good pitch, actually," Kershaw said of the blast on a 2-1 fastball over the plate. "I shouldn't be behind in the count there and I threw one too many of the same pitch. I did a good job, he hit it out and it cost us the game."
"He's tough, especially from the stretch with that slide step. He likes to use it a lot," Martinez said. "I was looking for a fastball, trying to get a heater, because he loves to throw it. He left one middle-in, actually. It wasn't that bad of a pitch, but I was just able to get to it."
The Dodgers came into this game with not only the best record in baseball but the best home record in baseball, while the Astros were tied for the worst road record in baseball.
But the first inning was a two-error mess for the Dodgers' defense. Kershaw got ahead of leadoff hitter Jose Altuve, 0-2, then served up a double. With one out, A.J. Ellis was charged with catcher's interference that gave Martinez first base.
Carlos Lee grounded to third baseman Hairston, who forced Martinez at first, but Elian Herrera made the pivot and threw the ball away as Altuve scored the unearned run. That snapped Kershaw's scoreless-inning streak at 22.
"I let him down defensively in the first inning," said Ellis. "It was same as always, both sides of the plate mixing those off-speed pitches. He was great and he deserved a better outcome than what we gave him."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.