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Dodgers’ foibles come shining through in loss

Times Staff Writer

The season is a day old and already oddities abound.

Derek Lowe had a wild streak -- on the field.

A fielder had trouble with the afternoon sun -- shining through a window in enclosed Miller Park.

A spring training drill actually had practical value.

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The Dodgers can only hope the resulting 7-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday was more quirky than telling, something to shrug off rather than shoulder.

“It was a frustrating game, but there are 161 to go,” Lowe said.

The right-hander’s five walks in four innings, combined with misplays by new outfielders Luis Gonzalez and Juan Pierre, were too much for the Dodgers to overcome against rejuvenated Brewers right-hander Ben Sheets, who pitched a two-hitter for the Brewers’ first complete-game victory on opening day in 28 years.

Sheets tossed a wet blanket on the Dodgers offense, walking none and giving up only Jeff Kent’s second-inning home run and Brady Clark’s ninth-inning double. He needed an economical 104 pitches to quell any concerns about his recovery from shoulder problems that sidelined him much of last season.

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“He wouldn’t let up,” Kent said. “We wanted to be patient, but he threw so many strikes, you had to be ready to hit a pitch because you were only going to get one.”

Lowe normally is a strike-thrower too, but the Brewers laid off numerous close pitches that were called balls. They also carried into the game a drill their new hitting coach, Jim Skaalen, introduced in the spring.

During batting practice, the Brewers make a game of driving the ball up the middle, accumulating points for balls hit off the protective screens at the pitcher’s mound, second base and center field.

It proved a good approach against Lowe’s trademark sinker. Instead of trying to pull the ball and beating it into the ground, the Brewers repeatedly banged singles and doubles up the middle.

The game plan was a dramatic departure from Sept. 6, the last time Lowe faced the Brewers. He gave up one unearned run in eight innings, induced 20 groundouts and threw 79 pitches.

What a difference. Lowe needed 84 pitches to get through four innings and got three groundouts Monday.

“You have to give a lot of credit to them. I don’t think they pulled one ball,” he said. “They had a good game plan, to be patient and hit the ball up the middle. If I’d had better command it would have been a better battle.”

The score also would have been closer had Gonzalez and Pierre cleanly handled plays that were scored as hits. Gonzalez made one error last season and Pierre made none, but sometimes misplays aren’t reflected in the scorebook.

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Pierre’s arm is suspect, and it showed in the first inning when Rickie Weeks brazenly went from first to third on a bloop single to short center by J.J. Hardy. Weeks scored on a groundout by Bill Hall for a 1-0 lead.

Corey Hart led off the second with what should have been a single to center. But Pierre didn’t field it cleanly and threw softly to second, giving Hart what was generously scored a double. Hart scored on a single to center by Hardy.

Gonzalez was next with a gift. With two out in the fourth, Geoff Jenkins lifted a fly ball to deep left field that should have gotten Lowe out of a jam and kept the score 4-1. But Gonzalez lost the ball in the glare of the sun coming through a window, then couldn’t locate it against the rafters until it sailed over his head for a two-run double.

“By the time I [saw] it, it was already halfway to the ground,” said Gonzalez, who made his 17th consecutive opening-day start. “A lot of outfielders will tell you this is a tough place to play, especially during day games.”

It was tough all over for the Dodgers, who lost on opening day for the fourth consecutive season. Lowe has started the last three, pitching reasonably well in only one of them, two years ago in a 4-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants. He was shelled last season by the Atlanta Braves.

Nobody figured he would be done in by wildness though. Lowe has had months when he didn’t walk five batters.

“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Manager Grady Little said. “He threw a lot of pitches just off the strike zone they normally swing at. This time they weren’t biting.”

steve.henson@latimes.com

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