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LeBlanc tosses six strong as Padres ride early offense past Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers saw a much different
Wade LeBlanc from the one they faced twice last September.

The San Diego Padres' rookie pitched two-hit ball in six
innings in his return to Chavez Ravine, and his teammates scratched
out a pair of early runs against the luckless Clayton Kershaw to
beat the NL West leaders 2-0 on Friday night.

A year ago, the Dodgers torched him for 12 earned runs in 6
2/3 innings in his two losses against them.

"Hopefully it gives me a lot of confidence, to know that I'm
able to compete up here," LeBlanc said. "Obviously, I know that
something like this isn't going to happen every start. So the best
thing I can do is give this team a chance to win every time I go
out there, and I want them to be able to depend on me."

LeBlanc (1-1) struck out two, walked three and retired his final
nine batters in his fourth start of the season and eighth in the
big leagues.

"He's made just eight major league starts, and the first few
were rocky," manager Bud Black said. "So he knows the things he
needs to work on and he's got to continue to refine his game."

The only hits off the 25-year-old left-hander were Ronnie
Belliard's broken-bat single in the second inning and a
third-inning single by Andre Ethier. LeBlanc lowered his ERA from
9.58 to 6.06 while matching the longest outing of his brief career.

"He had an excellent changeup, and he threw it at a couple of
different speeds," Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake said. "He
also had a little cutter that he must have picked up in the minor
leagues, because I don't really remember seeing that thing
before."

Jim Thome, acquired in a trade with the Chicago White Sox on
Monday, made his Dodgers debut in the eighth inning as a
pinch-hitter for Blake and singled against Luke Gregerson.

But the
right-hander retired Belliard on a short flyball to center with
runners on the corners and closer Heath Bell got James Loney to fly
out, then pitched the ninth for his 34th save in 37 attempts this
season.

The Dodgers' loss, combined with victories by Colorado and San
Francisco, reduced their division lead to 4 1/2 games over the Rockies
and 5 1/2 over the Giants with 26 games to play.

The Padres are 20 games behind the Dodgers. They have finished a
season 20 or more games behind Los Angeles on 11 previous
occasions, including last season.

"If you're referring to yourselves as a spoiler, that's a
position you don't want to be in," Black said. "But we're going
to play out this season hard, knowing that the integrity of the
schedule means a lot to all of us in this game.

"It's important to me and to our players. Even though we're not
headed toward the playoffs, the other team is playing with high
intensity -- and we're going to match that intensity. It's also
important to play in these types of games against teams that are
possibly headed to the playoffs, because it gives you the
experience."

Kershaw (8-8) threw 106 pitches over six innings, allowing two
runs -- one earned -- and four hits. But again, the 21-year-old
left-hander was the victim of poor run support and remained winless
in his last nine outings (0-2) since beating Houston 5-2 on July
18.

"We had some opportunities to score runs," Blake said after
the Dodgers went 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position. "It's
always frustrating when your pitcher throws well and you can't
score any runs for him. It hurts. He did his job tonight, but we've
got to give him some run support. We're a team, so we feel like we
let him down."

Kershaw, whose ERA during his victory drought is 2.75, leads the
majors with a .202 opponents' batting average in his 28 starts. It
was the 14th time in last 16 starts that he allowed fewer than two
earned runs.

"I didn't pitch that great," Kershaw said. "I had to battle
the first two innings, and that really took it out of me. But I
knew I had to keep the team in the game and go as long as
possible."

San Diego added an unearned run in the second after shortstop
Rafael Furcal and first baseman Loney committed throwing errors on
the same play.

Nick Hundley reached on a one-out single that caromed off
Kershaw and dribbled to Furcal, who bounced his throw past first
after charging the ball. Loney got the carom, but his throw to the
plate eluded Ausmus and ended up in the box seats - just in front
of Tommy Lasorda and Dodgers owner Frank McCourt as Oscar Salazar
scored and Hundley continued to third.

Kershaw minimized the damage, retiring LeBlanc on a grounder to
first with the infield in and Cabrera on a flyball. The hit by
Hundley would be the last one Kershaw would allow before he was
replaced by Ramon Troncoso.

Game notes
Kemp, who came in batting .405 against left-handers, was
0 for 3 against LeBlanc. ... The Padres improved to 22-24 in games
against left-handed starters, and will face another one Saturday
night when Randy Wolf goes for his 100th big league victory.