The Dodgers' starting rotation has been doing a superb job of setting the tone in the first inning. Tim Hudson has been having great difficulty keeping opponents off the scoreboard early.
Those two trends continued on Monday night, as Lilly pitched seven scoreless innings and James Loney had two RBIs off Hudson during a three-run first that propelled Los Angeles to a 4-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves.
"It's always nice to get early runs, especially when it's against a quality pitcher like Hudson," Lilly said. "When you have a chance to jump ahead like that, you have to take advantage."
Lilly (1-2) recorded his first victory of the season in four starts, after signing a three-year, $33 million contract in October. The 35-year-old left-hander scattered four hits, struck out six and did not allow a runner past second base.
"I was able to locate my fastball. For me, that's the key to all my other pitches being effective," Lilly said. "Since the San Francisco game (a 4-3 loss), I've made some adjustments mechanically which have allowed me to repeat pitches more consistently."
Dodgers pitchers have given up only three first-inning runs through their first 17 games. Last season, the staff allowed 98, the most they yielded in any inning.
Hudson (2-2) gave up four runs and six hits in six innings and struck out four. All 13 runs allowed this season by the right-hander have come during the first three innings. In his previous start against the Dodgers on Aug. 13 in Atlanta, Hudson held them to three hits over eight innings in a 1-0 victory.
"I felt like I should have shut them down in the first inning, to be honest," Hudson said. "I felt really good. I felt like I had good stuff and that I was locating pretty good. But they put together some good at-bats and found a way to push some runs across."
Matt Guerrier pitched a perfect eighth and Jonathan Broxton gave up two runs in the ninth on an RBI groundout by Freddie Freeman and a double by Nate McLouth before getting the final out.
Andre Ethier singled in the seventh against Jairo Asencio to extend his hitting streak to 15 games, the longest current streak in the majors and one shy of his career best in 2006. He was hitless in three at-bats against Hudson, and is 3 for 20 lifetime against the three-time All-Star.
The Braves and Dodgers met for the first time since the offseason retirements of managers Bobby Cox and Joe Torre, who are fourth and fifth respectively on the career victory list and won a combined six manager of the year awards, five World Series titles and 11 pennants.
Matt Kemp, who gave the Dodgers a 2-1 victory over St. Louis on Sunday with a two-run homer in the ninth, opened the scoring against Hudson with an RBI single in the first. Loney added a two-run single two batters later, after entering the game batting .150.
Jerry Sands, the Dodgers' minor league player of the year last season, made his major league debut in left field and was 1 for 4 with a sacrifice fly and two strikeouts. The 23-year-old outfielder-first baseman batted .400 with five homers and 17 RBIs in 10 games before his contract was purchased from Triple-A Albuquerque. He was a 25th-round draft pick in 2008 out of Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C.
Sands hit an opposite-field double to right his first time up and heard it from the crowd of 28,292 — whose cheers quickly turned to moans when Loney was held up at third base by coach Tim Wallach.
The next time Sands came to the plate in the third, he was greeted with chants of Jer-ry! Jer-ry!" before driving in Juan Uribe with his sac fly to right for the Dodgers' final run. Those same chants started up again when Sands came up in the sixth, and Hudson buzzed him with a first-pitch fastball that made him duck.
"He signed a ball and sent it over. It was a classy move by him and I appreciate that," Sands said. "He said 'Good debut' and told me it got away from him a little bit. But I wasn't looking into it at all. I watched him growing up, so that'll definitely go in the trophy case."
Lilly sent the Braves a message in the seventh when he threw a pitch behind McLouth and to the screen with two outs and the bases empty. Both dugouts received a warning from plate umpire Laz Diaz, and McLouth doubled on the next pitch.
"I think that's just old school. The warnings were out, no big deal," Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I don't think anything else will happen the rest of the series. Lilly did what he had to do, and that's it. Go out and play baseball."
Brooks Conrad then batted for Hudson and took a called third strike, ending the seventh and stranding McLouth. Atlanta's pinch-hitters are 0 for 25, including a game-ending strikeout by Eric Hinske while batting for Asencio.
NOTES: Kemp leads the majors with a .459 average and has 13 RBIs in his first 17 games. ... Hudson and Lilly were teammates in Oakland for half of 2002 and all of 2003.