The Los Angeles Dodgers weren't sure what to expect from Hiroki Kuroda after the right-hander suffered a scary injury last month, and a mediocre first start may have merely raised more questions.
They're hoping his latest outing provided a definitive answer.Kuroda will look to build on arguably his best start of the season Wednesday afternoon as the Dodgers try to complete a three-game home sweep of the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates.Kuroda (6-6, 4.00 ERA) suffered a concussion after being hit in the head by a line drive Aug. 15 against Arizona, a frightening injury that shelved the 34-year-old for the next three weeks.He returned Sept. 6 against San Diego and gave up four runs in five innings in a 4-3 loss, but of most concern to the Dodgers (87-59) was his control. Kuroda's three walks equaled the total from his previous five starts combined.He didn't walk any five days later at San Francisco, though, and looked remarkably sharp despite having to dodge the barrel of a broken bat on a third-inning groundout. Kuroda allowed two runs and three hits over eight innings -- at one point retiring 19 batters in a row -- in a 10-3 victory over the Giants."That's the guy we know him to be," manager Joe Torre told the Dodgers' official Web site. "He's really what got us in the situation to win the game. ... The kid shut them down, basically."Kuroda is 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two career starts against the Pirates (55-88), and for a while Tuesday night it looked like he'd be taking the mound looking to keep the majors' worst road team from its first series victory in an opposing park since mid-May.Instead, Kuroda can pitch the Dodgers to their first sweep since beating Cincinnati three times July 20-22. Ryan Doumit drove in the go-ahead run for Pittsburgh in the 13th inning Tuesday, but Andre Ethier hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the frame -- his major league-leading sixth walkoff hit -- to give Los Angeles a 5-4 win."You pinch yourself," Ethier said. "If there's a heartbeat left, we can come back and try to win it. I was just looking for a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on something."Combined with Colorado's loss, the Dodgers have a five-game lead atop the NL West and a magic number of 10 to clinch a playoff berth.Ethier's homer was his team-leading 30th of the season, and his second two-run shot in as many days against the Pirates. Ethier is a .338 career hitter with four homers and 19 RBIs in 18 games versus Pittsburgh.He struck out in his only previous at-bat against the Pirates' Kevin Hart (4-6, 4.86), who will try to end a four-start losing streak during which he's posted a 6.65 ERA.An inability to throw strikes plagued Hart in his start last Wednesday against the Chicago Cubs. The right-hander issued a career-high six walks and yielded four runs in five innings of an 8-5 loss to his former team."I'll be OK," Hart told the Pirates' official Web site. "I've gone through stretches like this. I'm still here. Hopefully I can really get it rolling and this will be the last time we talk about this."Hart has allowed one run over 3 1/3 innings in two career relief appearances against the Dodgers, both with the Cubs.