Randy Wolf has been home for some time.
Friday night he finally felt at home.
The left-hander signed with the Dodgers during the off-season to return to his roots. He first pitched at Dodger Stadium in a high school championship game. His college field overlooked the Pacific Ocean.
Yet his first month as a Dodger was a fitful mix of shaky beginnings and early endings. He was constantly in trouble in the first inning and never around beyond the sixth.
It was a different story against the Cincinnati Reds in a 2-0 victory that launched a string of 15 consecutive games in Southern California for the Dodgers.
Wolf made it through the first inning without giving up a run for the first time in five starts, then found a comfort zone after the Dodgers scored twice in the bottom of the inning on Russell Martin’s bases-loaded, two-out single.
After that, the other Dodgers could have put on robes and slippers and reached for the remote control. Wolf did most of the work himself, going seven innings for the first time all season.
With fans wearing Wolf masks and the scoreboard marking each of his season-high 11 strikeouts with a big blue K, the left-hander struck out two in the second, the side in the fourth and two more in the fifth. He retired 13 of the last 14 batters he faced.
Wolf ranks third in the National League in strikeouts with 55.
“My fastball has been better than it was the last few years,” he said. “I was hurt and now I’m healthy. I finally have my fastball.”
Fortunately for the Dodgers, so did closer Takashi Saito, who gave up a single to Ken Griffey Jr. and walked Jeff Conine with none out but pitched out of the jam by blowing his fastball past Juan Castro for the third out to record his 21st consecutive save and 11th this season.
The anxiety brought on simply by two Reds baserunners reminded the Dodgers that their offense still isn’t doing the job.
“They were one swing from changing the game,” said first baseman Nomar Garciaparra, who had three hits. “That shouldn’t be the case when our pitcher throws as well as Randy did. It would have been a shame to waste the tremendous job he did.”
The lineup shake-up hinted at by Manager Grady Little after a seven-game trip marked by anemic hitting never materialized. Rafael Furcal and Juan Pierre continued to bat first and second, Garciaparra was still third, and there were no surprises after that either.
“Grady is consistent and it’s appreciated by the ballclub,” left fielder Luis Gonzalez said. “He is one of the most patient managers in baseball.”
Yet even Little’s patience is wearing thin. The Dodgers left 10 runners on base. Their only runs in the last 18 innings came on Martin’s line drive to center field in the first inning that drove in Pierre and Garciaparra.
“I like this lineup,” Little said. “But sometimes when a player sees a something different [on the lineup card] hanging from the wall, it spurs him a little bit.”
Martin’s hit was only the third by the Dodgers all season with the bases loaded. He is two for four and Olmedo Saenz is one for two in that situation. The rest of the team is 0 for 32.
The way Wolf pitched, more offense wasn’t necessary.
“He changed speeds well and doesn’t tip his pitches,” Garciaparra said. “Everything looks the same coming out of his hand. This was his game.”