LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers better clinch fast before they run out of players.
One night after losing Hanley Ramirez to what has been diagnosed as a back problem, Andre Ethier left Friday's 4-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants after running out a double in the eighth inning. Ethier has been playing despite a sore ankle.
Even with the loss, the Dodgers got a little closer to clinching their first NL West title since 2009. Their magic number to clinch dropped to four when the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks lost Friday night.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly sat left-handed hitters Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford against Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner, and Ramirez was unavailable. So the manager turned to Juan Uribe to bat cleanup for the first time since 2010, when he was with the Giants.
With his three-home run game Monday still fresh in memory, Uribe broke up a pitchers' duel and gave Clayton Kershaw a lead with a two-run home run in the sixth inning.
Uncharacteristically, Kershaw coughed it up in the seventh, giving up four consecutive hits and three runs. One of the runs was unearned after Scott Van Slyke bobbled a ball in left-center.
It was the first time in more than two years Kershaw had allowed more than two runs in a start against the Giants and only the second time in 21 career starts against the Dodgers' rivals.
It would be just as out of character for Nick Punto not to dive on a close play at first. He is undeterred by the fact that it actually slows a runner down.
It might have kept the Dodgers from tying the score in the seventh. With runners at first and second and one out, Punto hit a grounder to Giants first baseman Brett Pill, who threw to second for a forceout. Joaquin Arias' return throw to first was in the dirt and skipped past pitcher Jean Machi, who was covering. In his usual dive, Punto was in position to smother the throw. Had it gotten past him, Mark Ellis would likely have scored the tying run. Instead, Gonzalez pinch-hit and struck out, stranding Ellis at third.
Hunter Pence made it a two-run lead with a solo home run off reliever Chris Withrow in the eighth.
The Dodgers finished the night 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position, stranding 10 baserunners in all.
RAMIREZ HAS NERVE PROBLEM
It was a good news-bad news setup.
Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez underwent an MRI on Friday afternoon after leaving Thursday's game because of tightness in his left hamstring. Friday's examination revealed no structural damage.
That was the good news. The bad news is the MRI revealed an irritated nerve in Ramirez's back that was causing the discomfort in his leg -- and that issue goes back farther than Ramirez's hamstring issues this season.
Ramirez had a similar sciatica problem during the 2011 season that landed him on the DL for two weeks, and the Dodgers said Friday's MRI "showed no difference" when compared to an MRI taken of the same area in May 2011. At that time, Ramirez complained of numbness and pain shooting down his left leg -- symptoms compatible with an injury to the sciatic nerve.
But the Dodgers maintain Ramirez will be available to play some time next week after receiving a cortisone injection Friday.
Before Friday's game -- and before the MRI results were available -- Dodgers manager Don Mattingly indicated Ramirez has been dealing with discomfort in his left leg for some time. He spent a month on the DL earlier this year after straining his left hamstring while running the bases.
"Honestly, the stuff we've been hearing (from Ramirez) the last couple days we've been hearing for two or three weeks," Mattingly said. "All of a sudden, it just went a little farther than they (medical staff) were comfortable with.
"I really think we're trying to be cautious and make sure it doesn't get worse. But what Hanley was telling us last night (when Mattingly pulled him in the seventh inning) was not something we haven't been hearing for two or three weeks."
Nonetheless, Mattingly was seen patting a disconsolate Ramirez on the back in the dugout after pulling him from Thursday's game and the normally cooperative Ramirez blew past reporters on his way out of the clubhouse after the game.
A healthy Ramirez changed the Dodgers' lineup when he returned from the hamstring injury in June. He has batted .342 with 18 home runs and 53 RBI in just 79 games. An injured -- or unavailable -- Ramirez would certainly change the Dodgers' postseason chances.
It's possible Ramirez will be available to play next week. Whether it's wise to play him is another issue. The Dodgers' large lead in the NL West gives them the opportunity to shut down Ramirez for longer than the few days indicated by Friday night's announcement.
"I think we'll be careful with him and make sure that when he gets back out there he's on the other side of this," Mattingly said before the game. "We don't want to take anything for granted (about clinching a playoff spot). But we are going to be able to rest him. We don't have to push him out there at this point."
Right-hander Brian Wilson got the win against his former team Thursday night, pitching a scoreless 10th inning in the Dodgers' win over the San Francisco Giants. If it was an emotional moment facing the teammates he won a World Series ring with in 2010 (Wilson was injured for nearly all of 2012 while the Giants won again), he denied it.
"I used to face them in spring training," Wilson said, referring to intrasquad games and live batting. "They were just another team. You gotta get three outs. I didn't put any added pressure or emotion into the inning. Go out there. Do my job and get it over with."
The radar gun readings might offer a different take. Wilson seemed to have a little extra on his fastball, hitting 95 mph a couple times. Asked about the increased velocity, Wilson said jokingly, "I'd like to throw 110 (mph). Been working on that."
Wilson did admit he has had to change "a few things" after undergoing Tommy John surgery for a second time.
"You're obviously not doing something right if you need TJ surgery," said Wilson, who also underwent the procedure 10 years ago as a collegian at LSU.
He also said he thinks he has more strides to make in his return to full strength.
"It's coming out a lot more smoothly with a little more action as the months go on," he said. "I know the season is almost over. But, for me, it's still like this (indicates a line rising upward)."
Wilson has made 11 appearances since joining the Dodgers last month, allowing one run (the game-winner in the 10th inning Saturday at Cincinnati) and seven hits while striking out six and walking three in 72/3 innings.
Outfielder Matt Kemp ran curves on the field at the Dodgers' training complex in Arizona on Friday. That represents a step forward in his recovery from hamstring tightness that slowed his rehab over the past week. Mattingly said he wasn't sure how much hitting Kemp did Friday but "we're not really worrying about that. He's had enough at-bats. It's more about the running." ...
Left-hander Chris Capuano threw a bullpen session before Friday's game and should be available to pitch down the stretch. Capuano will likely be confined to a relief role, the role he will have if he makes the postseason roster. ...
The Dodgers announced they will hold their inaugural "LGBT Night Out" on Sept. 27 when they play the Colorado Rockies.
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