Furcal's back, offense aren't getting better

Times Staff Writer

Manager Joe Torre said he was hoping that Rafael Furcal could be back in the lineup for the start of the Dodgers' three-game series in Milwaukee on Tuesday. Furcal sounded less optimistic.

"I don't know," Furcal said.

Lower back pain forced Furcal to miss his fifth consecutive game on Sunday, an 8-5 loss to the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium that extended their losing streak to four games. With the Furcal-less lineup held to two runs over the first six innings and Jonathan Broxton giving up six runs in a decisive eighth inning, the Dodgers wasted 6 2/3 innings of one-hit ball from Hiroki Kuroda, who took a no-hitter into the seventh.

Furcal admitted that he was worried about his back, saying the pain he feels is the same pain he felt last September, when he had to sit out 12 games. He said he can't run without pain.

"We have to wait and see how it feels," said Furcal, who has a team-leading .366 average and .448 on-base percentage. "This is the type of thing where it feels fine one day and it doesn't the next."

Torre said he spoke to Furcal on Saturday and told him not to put himself back in the lineup until he was "about as close to 100% as he can possibly be."

By not doing so last year, Furcal never let his sprained left ankle heal and was hobbled for the entire season.

But Furcal said that this wasn't a case of him restraining himself from playing hurt.

"This is different because this is something that affects my entire body," he said. "It's not that I don't want to play. It's that I can't."

With Furcal out of the lineup and Chin-lung Hu playing second base in place of a resting Jeff Kent, Torre said that his backup shortstop on this day was catcher Russell Martin.

Torre said he wasn't certain that Furcal's absence was responsible for the team's poor run production -- the Dodgers scored two runs in their previous three games -- but he didn't dismiss the possibility.

"I'm sure you can tie some of it to him," Torre said. "Everybody's trying to do a little extra."

And that, the manager said, was resulting in hitters being less selective and taking longer swings.

On Sunday, the Dodgers' only runs against Astros starter Shawn Chacon came on a single swing, a two-run home run in the first by James Loney.

The victim was Kuroda (1-2), who had his best start of the season. Kuroda didn't give up a hit until there were two out in the seventh, but extended his winless streak to seven starts. His lone victory came in his major league debut on April 4.

"Honestly, I want to win," he said. "I think anyone would feel that way."

Kuroda said he changed the grip of his slider, which he used to strike out Miguel Tejada with two out and a man on in the sixth.

Kuroda admitted that the Dodgers' minuscule lead affected his approach as he made a bid to get into the history books.

"More than the no-hitter, I was thinking about protecting the lead," he said.

"I'm sure if there was a big gap, you'd think you could walk someone. The way it was, if you let a runner get on and give up a home run, you lose the lead."

Martin said he felt bad that Kuroda couldn't get the win that he was in line to get until Broxton blew the lead. The game marked the third time the bullpen cost Kuroda a win; closer Takashi Saito was responsible for the two other no decisions.



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