D-backs drop Dodgers in opener
Whitesell's two-run double backs strong outing by Buckner
LOS ANGELES -- All the words in the world from a manager cannot help a player's confidence as much as a key hit that leads to a win.
Just ask Josh Whitesell.
The D-backs first baseman came through with a big two-run double as the D-backs beat the Dodgers, 3-2, Monday night.
The win snapped Arizona's seven-game losing streak at Dodger Stadium dating to last season and made a winner of Billy Buckner, who tossed six shutout innings to raise his record to 2-1.
"Big hit," Arizona manager A.J. Hinch said. "He was hitting in the eighth spot, which is difficult in its own right, with an opportunity for them to throw offspeed stuff there and pitch around him with the pitcher on deck. He took some better swings tonight."
Whitesell was 3-for-26 in his first stint with the D-backs this year after tearing things up at Triple-A Reno. When Whitesell was recalled again over the weekend, Hinch stressed that he should not put any added pressure on himself.
However, the manager admitted that is easier said than done.
Whitesell's at-bat in the second inning may have taken care of all that.
With runners at first and second and two outs, Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda was almost out of the inning, but Whitesell ran the count full before smoking a slider into right to score both runners and give Arizona a 2-0 lead.
"Trying to relax and have fun," Whitesell said. "I got off to the slow start, so you have a tendency to want to make it all up in one at-bat, but that's not how the game works. So you just have to grind it out and take it pitch by pitch and at-bat by at-bat. If you string some good at-bats together then you can turn this thing around quickly."
Buckner looked more like the pitcher that won his first start against Oakland rather than the one that nibbled at the corners in losing his last outing.
"He went back to pitching inside, he changed eye levels, he mixed his pitches and he competed," Hinch said. "He kept them in between pitches a little bit, got the groundballs he needed to and got some punchouts when he needed to."
Buckner's final batter of the night may have been his finest.
After Buckner walked Orlando Hudson and James Loney with two outs in the sixth, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. visited the mound.
"Stottlemyre came out there and kind of slowed the game down for me for a moment," Buckner said. "He was like, 'What do you want to do? What approach do you want to take?' We decided to go with curveballs."
That's what Buckner did as he threw Russell Martin three straight breaking balls to get the catcher looking to end the inning.
"You don't want to go three in a row, but after the first we decided to go for it," Buckner said. "Fortunately for us, it worked out."
It wasn't all smooth sailing for the D-backs, who found themselves in rough waters in the ninth.
Nursing a 3-0 lead, Hinch gave the ball to setup man Tony Pena because closer Chad Qualls was once again unavailable due to forearm stiffness.
The Dodgers rallied for a pair of runs off Pena, thanks in part to an error by second baseman Felipe Lopez, and had runners at first and third with two outs before Pena got Mark Loretta to fly out to end it.
"Pretty nerve-racking," Hinch said of the ninth. "Because with [the Dodgers'] offense you never feel completely comfortable. They grind out at-bats as good as anybody. Obviously, we would have preferred a little quieter ninth, but it was nice to hold on and get a win against a good team."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.