CINCINNATI -- As a team, the Dodgers went into Monday's series opener against the Reds hitting .208 against left-handed pitching. Scott Van Slyke was hitting 60 points better, so manager Don Mattingly penciled him into the lineup against Cincinnati starter Tony Cingrani. That decision paid big dividends for Los Angeles.
Van Slyke hit two home runs and drove in four, while Dan Haren tossed 5 1/3 solid innings in a 6-2 win over the Reds at Great American Ball Park.
Though he was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in Sunday's rain-shortened series finale in Colorado, Mattingly stuck with Van Slyke and played him in center field in place of Andre Ethier. Van Slyke rewarded his manager for his faith.
"[Jorge] De La Rosa yesterday was pretty tough. That guy gives me a lot of problems," Van Slyke said. "So I knew I had to do something today against another lefty."
Do something he did, to the tune of a career-high three-hit night and two home runs for the second time in his career, the first being on May 17, 2013 at Atlanta. Van Slyke also set career highs with four RBIs and three runs scored. He reached base five times, having also walked twice.
"He's been good for us all year," Mattingly said. "He's a baseball player, and I think that's what we like about Scott."
Van Slyke got the Dodgers on the board by crushing a 3-2 fastball from Cingrani 439 feet into the left-center-field seats in the second inning for a 1-0 lead. It was his fifth homer of the season.
With Los Angeles leading 3-2 in the fifth, Van Slyke struck again, this time for a three-run shot to left with two outs to break the game open.
Van Slyke has embraced his role on a club that has an abundance of talented outfielders, and is excelling in it.
"It definitely makes it easier knowing what my job is here and knowing what I have to do to keep getting my job," Van Slyke said. "I experienced [the crowded outfield situation] a little bit last year toward the end when everyone was healthy. It's just, I know what I'm here for. I don't mind it. I like it."
"This guy's been an RBI-guy. In the Minor Leagues this guy drove in 100 runs a couple times when he wasn't platooning," Mattingly said. "There's a lot of guys that he hits pretty well. I think he's a guy that you could expand his role; obviously that's not here right now, but I think he's a guy that you could build with towards that a little bit."
Meanwhile, Haren took a step in the right direction after struggling over the past month. The right-hander posted a 4.30 ERA in May and gave up four runs in six innings against the White Sox last Tuesday.
He had a rough second inning on Monday, in which he gave up back-to-back singles to Brayan Pena and Zack Cozart with two outs, following that up with two wild pitches that allowed Pena to score and tie the score at 1.
Outside of that, the only blemish on Haren's line came in the fourth, when he served up a 3-1 fastball that Ryan Ludwick belted for a solo homer to left, making it 3-2.
"In that situation with Ludwick in a 3-1 count, in ballparks like this and in Colorado you've got to minimize walks, that's when the big innings happen," Haren said. "So 3-1, I challenged him and the ball barely went over the fence, so there was nothing I could do there."
Haren allowed two runs on five hits while walking two (one intentional) and striking out two to pick up his first win since May 12 at Miami.
"I was trying to get as many ground balls as possible, because this is a really tough place to pitch, just like Coors was for the guys," Haren said. "A lot of fly balls tend to go out."
When Haren gave way to reliever J.P. Howell with one out in the sixth, it began a stretch of three consecutive innings in which the bullpen was able to induce a double play. With two on and one out, Howell got one of the 4-6-3 variety to retire the side.
Then in the seventh, pinch-hitter Chris Heisey drew a one-out walk and and Ramon Santiago singled. Howell then got the speedy Billy Hamilton to ground into a 5-4-3 double-play.
In the eighth, Cincinnati loaded the bases against Brandon League, but League was able to get Ludwick to hit a tapper back to the mound to start a 1-2-3 double play. League retired the next batter, Pena, on a groundout to short.
"We got into that situation and League ended up doing what he does -- throwing that good sinker that looks like a strike and then it bores in on you and got the check-swing double play and the next out," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "It was an opportunity for sure. It was an opportunity missed."
The Dodgers' bullpen has posted a 0.93 ERA (two earned runs in 19 1/3 innings) so far this month.
"They've been good," Mattingly said of his relievers. "It seems to start as our starting pitching has ironed itself out and is getting more length. We would get deeper into games, start to get our 'pen settled down, get everybody rested and at that point the roles start kind of falling into place."
The bullpen ensured there was no comeback to be had by the Reds, but the night belonged to Van Slyke, who was not any closer to pushing for an everyday role after his heroics at the plate.
"I will do what they tell me to do," Van Slyke said.
Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.