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Sweep is last thing they need

Times Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- Russell Martin shook his head and sighed, unable to shake the memory of his final at-bat in the Dodgers’ 6-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on Sunday that completed a three-game sweep and sent his team to the cellar of the NL West.

Asked about his fourth-inning home run, the slumping All-Star catcher immediately steered the conversation toward his eighth-inning force-out that squandered his team’s last chance to tie the score.

“That last at-bat, rolled over a pitch that’s outside on a fastball,” Martin said. “I don’t remember the last time I’ve done that. Rolling over on an off-speed pitch is different. Rolling over on a fastball, that’s. . . . My approach is to drive balls that are away the other way. That’s frustrating to me.”

The Dodgers were down only 2-1 and had runners on the corners when Martin hit a grounder to short to end the inning, one of 10 hitless at-bats for them with runners in scoring position. Martin, who is batting .197, seemed as mystified as he was frustrated by the Dodgers’ continued offensive struggles.

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They were held to a solitary run for a third day in a row, this time with 22-year-old Jair Jurrjens on the mound for the Braves. They were held to five hits Sunday and 17 for the series, in which unheralded Jeff Bennett and Chuck James started the first two games for the Braves. They were one for 22 with runners in scoring position in the three games.

“It’s frustrating and I think everyone feels the heat for it,” Manager Joe Torre said. “That’s the problem. We just have to find a way to exhale here.”

The Dodgers (7-11) fell to last place in the NL West, a half-game behind San Francisco, whose general manager conceded in the days leading up to opening day that they probably wouldn’t be a contender.

But Torre said that in a team meeting today, before the first of two games in Cincinnati, he would urge the team not to panic.

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“Right now our goal is .500,” Torre said. “Once we get there, we can set another goal.”

Torre said it was also important for the Dodgers to not worry about first-place Arizona, which remained six games ahead of them.

“You can’t worry about other teams until you have your own house in order,” he said.

Torre said he asked traveling secretary Scott Akasaki to arrange for the team to use Great American Ball Park for early batting practice today. In the past, Torre said, he has had slumping teams skip batting practice and threatened to fine players if they refused to follow orders.

“I’m not there yet,” Torre said.

Wasted by the latest display of impotence was a solid start by Hiroki Kuroda (1-2), who was saddled with a loss despite giving up two runs in six innings. The routine was a reminder of his days with the small-market Hiroshima Carp in Japan, where he was the ace of a team with a weak offense.

Kuroda shouldered blame for the loss, saying that in the end, what he did wasn’t enough to earn his team a victory. He gave up consecutive two-out singles in the third, the second of which scored Kelly Johnson to put the Braves ahead, 1-0. And with the score tied 1-1, in the fifth, he gave up a solo home run by Johnson to right-center.

Kuroda’s pitch count was at 101 at the end of the fifth, but he told Torre he wanted to pitch the sixth.

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“Our middle relievers have been pitching a lot lately,” said Kuroda, who threw 17 pitches in the sixth. “I thought that if I could pitch one more inning, I could help the team. I understand how tough it is for the people who are in the bullpen every day.”

Kuroda said he wasn’t discouraged by his team’s form.

“I’m sure the wins will come,” he said. “What I have to do first is to make sure I continue pitching like this so I could earn the trust of my teammates.”

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com


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