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Minor Glitch Throws Dodgers

Times Staff Writer

Tim Stauffer couldn’t make it through the lineup of the Dodgers’ triple-A affiliate four days ago, getting roughed up by such luminaries as Sergio Garcia, Nick Alvarez, Wilson Valdez and Edwin Bellorin.

As for the top-hitting team in the National League, no problem.

Promoted and pressed into service on short rest because of Chan Ho Park’s stomach problems, Stauffer sailed through six innings against the Dodgers and the San Diego Padres won, 4-2, Monday night at Petco Park.

Stauffer was only 6-12 at triple-A Portland, but he’s 1-0 in the league that counts. The right-hander retired the first 10 batters and faltered only in the fourth when the Dodgers scored two runs on Jeff Kent’s two-out single.

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“When you don’t see a guy, more times than not it’s tough figuring him out,” Dodgers right fielder J.D. Drew said. “There wasn’t much history there.”

Stauffer arrived two hours before first pitch on an empty stomach and didn’t know the Padres were playing the Dodgers. He might not even know the Padres have defeated them in nine of 12 games this year.

This seemed an opportune time for the Dodgers to turn the tables. Besides losing Park -- who was scratched after experiencing a second episode of intestinal bleeding -- the Padres had used five relief pitchers a day earlier after starter Chris Young experienced shoulder pain and departed after one inning.

The Dodgers didn’t alter their batting approach to drive up Stauffer’s pitch count and get to the bullpen, however. He needed only 66 pitches and left with a 4-2 lead.

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“You can’t be changing yourselves to fit the situation,” Dodgers Manager Grady Little said. “We’re trying to score runs the best we can.”

They were successful only when they took a 2-0 lead on Kent’s hit.

The table was set by Kenny Lofton, who led off with a single. Lofton is batting .438 in August, .318 overall and has enough plate appearances to qualify for the NL batting title. He came into the game ranked seventh.

“There’s still a lot of life in his legs,” Little said. “A couple of times this season we overplayed him. He could tell and we could tell. Since then, we’ve tried not to let that happen.”

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The Padres came back with one run in each of the next four innings, the first two against Chad Billingsley. The rookie right-hander entered the game with the second-best earned-run average among major league starters since the All-Star break, and retired the first eight batters.

However, he needed 26 pitches to get through a scoreless third inning, 28 in the fourth and 22 in the fifth, departing with the score tied, 2-2, having thrown 95 pitches. The second Padres run came when Drew lost Todd Walker’s low drive in the lights and it fell for a double.

“If I came up with that play, the game might have been different,” Drew said. “I had a great read. But in a situation like that, there isn’t much you can do.”

The Padres continued to chip away, taking the lead against Elmer Dessens in the sixth and adding a run in the seventh. Meanwhile, the Dodgers squandered their few scoring opportunities in a defeat that trimmed their NL West lead over the second-place Padres to three games.

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Russell Martin singled with one out in the fifth but was thrown out when Billingsley couldn’t make contact on a hit-and-run play. Kent and Andre Ethier singled with one out in the seventh, but Wilson Betemit popped out against left-handed reliever Alan Embree and Martin grounded into a force play.

Betemit, a switch-hitter, is one for 18 against left-handers as a Dodger, but Little knew that if he sent Olmedo Saenz to the plate, the Padres would have countered with right-hander Cla Meredith and his 1.07 earned-run average.

But this was a game where strategic decisions backfired on the Dodgers and a seemingly desperate measure by the Padres worked well.

“We didn’t know anything about Stauffer and the guy battled on short notice,” Little said. “Something like that scares you to death.”

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