Dodgers' Davey Lopes helps team pick up the pace on base-stealing

One aspect of the Dodgers' sputtering offense is full speed ahead.

The team entered Thursday tied with San Diego for the most steals in the National League.

The Dodgers' 76.5% success rate going into Thursday represented a considerable uptick from last season's 64.8%. Even more significant, they were on pace for 175 steals, nearly double their total of 92 from a year ago.

"I've been very satisfied," said first base coach and baserunning instructor Davey Lopes, who is in his first season with the Dodgers as a coach.

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Center fielder Matt Kemp leads the way with eight steals in nine attempts after his steal of second base in the third inning Thursday at Dodger Stadium against the St. Louis Cardinals, and outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. is three for four.

Gwynn said Lopes has instilled confidence in the Dodgers and has worked on different aspects of each player's running game. Lopes spent time with Gwynn before Thursday's game working on his leads off second base.

"We have some good athletes in here," Gwynn said, "and when you have a coach like Davey who can teach the art of stealing and running the bases in general, it's a good formula."

Lopes said the Dodgers must be aggressive on the basepaths to compensate for their lack of power; before Thursday the team ranked 12th in the league in both home runs (seven) and slugging percentage (.355).

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"We're going to have to push the issue because we don't have a power-hitting lineup where we can sit back and wait for the three-run homer," Lopes said. "So any time we can manufacture runs, push runs, get ourselves in scoring position, that's to our advantage."

Scoring is a department in which the Dodgers' struggles have deepened. They entered Thursday averaging 3.4 runs per game, a drop-off from the 4.1 runs they averaged last season.

Of course, much of that has to do with a .315 on-base percentage that ranks 13th in the league. But the Dodgers' prowess on the bases might even help them at the plate.

"A lot of times, once you've established that you are efficient runners, your job is done," Gwynn said. "A pitcher's focus becomes on the baserunner as opposed to the hitter, and the hitter might get a couple of more good pitches to hit."

Going wild

Manager Don Mattingly disclosed Hong-Chih Kuo has been dealing with "a couple of issues as far as his back," but the reliever refused to pin his recent bout of wildness on any discomfort.

"It's not because of my elbow, my shoulder or my back," Kuo said. "I just have to make a pitch."

Kuo entered Thursday having walked four batters in 2 2/3 innings, uncharacteristic for a left-hander who last season issued only 18 walks in 60 innings. He said he continued to receive treatment for a back problem that "comes and goes. It doesn't really bother me right now. Hopefully, I can just get my command better and help my team out."

Robinson tribute

Dodgers players and coaches will honor the 64th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking the color barrier in baseball Friday by wearing No. 42 jerseys.

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