This One's For the Rookie

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 12-start winless streak might rattle a Cy Young award winner, so imagine the frustration of Luke Prokopec.

The rookie pitcher often wondered whether he would win again, but he finally did Saturday night after the Dodgers withstood a ninth-inning rally in an 8-7 victory against the Atlanta Braves before 48,225 at Turner Field.

Prokopec (7-6) pitched 6 2/3 solid innings in his first victory since May 26, leaving with a 7-2 lead that the bullpen struggled to maintain.

The third-place Dodgers (71-58) improved to 4-1 on the trip and remained 31/2 games behind the leading Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West.

They trail the second-place San Francisco Giants by one game in the wild-card standings.

The East-leading Braves (70-58) remained a game ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Prokopec outperformed Atlanta's Jason Marquis (3-5) in a matchup of first-year starters, giving up nine hits and two runs, and the Dodgers staked him to the five-run lead with a six-run fifth.

Trailing, 2-1, they sent 10 batters to the plate against Marquis.

Shawn Green and Marquis Grissom had two-run singles, and Green also hit his team-leading 41st home run in the ninth against reliever Steve Reed.

The 385-foot solo shot, Green's 21st since the All-Star break and ninth in 10 games, moved him into a tie for sixth on the franchise single-season list.

Green was three for five with three runs batted in, increasing his team-tleading total to 108.

Gary Sheffield contributed to the 1-2 power punch with his 30th homer in the second, helping Prokopec end his long slide.

"It feels pretty darn good, to be honest," said Prokopec, activated from the disabled list before the game. "You give yourself [almost three] months without really getting any credit to your name, and a bunch of [losses]. To get your first one in a while like that is huge, especially in the situation we're in right now.

"We're pretty close to first place [in the West and wild-card race]. All it takes is a streak to get started. When you're looking for a streak, it's guys in the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation who have to step up and throw a good game."

Strong relief work helps too.

Matt Herges, continuing to rebound from a second-half slump, struck out Ken Caminiti with the bases loaded to end the seventh, and Mike Trombley worked a scoreless eighth.

Jeff Williams was not as fortunate in the ninth.

Green homered to give the Dodgers a six-run advantage, so Manager Jim Tracy figured that was a good spot for the left-hander.

After walking the first two batters, Williams gave up a one-out, run-scoring double to pinch-hitter Mark DeRosa, and a run-scoring single to Caminiti, reducing the lead to 8-4.

Enter closer Jeff Shaw.

Andruw Jones hit a first-pitch slider for his 25th homer, and the Dodgers were ahead by one after the three-run blast to right-center.

Shaw retired the next two batters, preserving the victory for Prokopec and recording his 36th save on a night Tracy did not expect to summon the all-star closer.

"Well, you would certainly think that that's a situation Jeff Williams can pitch in," said Tracy, whose club has won three in a row. "With a six-run lead, I didn't really want to see my closer out there tonight. But if that's what needs to be done in order to win the game, then that's what we have to do.

"Luke Prokopec turned in a fine performance for us. He did a great job, bounced back very nicely and, I guess, got that stigma off his back of not having won since May 26. I'm very happy about that for him. I think that will pick him up."

Prokopec, who had three strikeouts and two walks, was 6-1 with a 3.33 earned-run average after eight starts.

Then the Australian right-hander went 0-5 with a 5.72 ERA in his next 12 outings and was slowed by blister problems on the middle finger of his pitching hand.

"My finger was really good tonight," he said "I snapped off some good off-speed stuff and just made my pitches."

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