On the day catcher Rod Barajas went on the disabled list, backup Dioner Navarro cushioned the blow with his superb work behind the plate in tandem with Hiroki Kuroda — and one timely swing.
Navarro homered off reliever Wilton Lopez in the eighth inning and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Houston Astros 1-0 on Sunday to snap a five-game skid.
"The best part about all this was getting rid of the funk that was in here during the losing streak," Navarro said. "It's nice to hear the loud music again and see the happy faces, because the last five games really got us down. Hopefully, this is the start of something good."
After a scoreless duel between Kuroda and Houston counterpart Bud Norris, Navarro drove a 2-0 pitch from Lopez (1-3) into the pavilion seats in right-center. It is the only run the Astros' bullpen has allowed in the first six meetings this season.
"I knew they didn't want to walk me with the pitcher coming up, so I just looked for a pitch I could hit hard," Navarro said after his second homer of the season. "I knew I hit it pretty good, but I wasn't sure if it was high enough to get out. It's a great feeling to be able to help your pitcher offensively. My job is to work with our pitchers, but I want to help them any way I can."
Matt Guerrier (3-3) pitched a perfect inning for the win and Javy Guerra got three outs for his second save.
Kuroda allowed three hits over seven innings and struck out six. The right-hander was 0-5 with a 4.39 ERA in his previous five starts, following consecutive scoreless outings of at least seven innings each against Pittsburgh and Milwaukee — both of which the Dodgers eventually won.
"I had a lot of movement on all my pitches today," Kuroda said through a translator. "When batters are taking called third strikes, I know my ball is moving really well. But it was all Navarro. He knew exactly what pitch to call in every situation. He called a great game. I'm not the only one who stopped the bleeding, it was a team effort."
With right fielder Hunter Pence back in Houston getting an MRI on his hyperextended left elbow, Astros manager Brad Mills was forced to replace Gold Glove center fielder and leadoff hitter Michael Bourn after he was ejected by umpire Jeff Nelson for arguing a called third strike that ended the fifth inning.
"I always regret getting tossed, but I was in the moment," Bourn said.
Mills received his third ejection of the season after coming out to confront Nelson in the middle of the sixth.
Navarro's one-out single in the third was the Dodgers' only hit against Norris, who threw 99 pitches over six innings and struck out five before he was lifted for a pinch-hitter with the potential go-ahead run at second base. But Kuroda retired Matt Downs on a popup, stranding Chris Johnson.
"Kuroda was great," manager Don Mattingly said. "His pitch count was up a little bit going into the last inning, but it felt like he deserved the shot. He had only given up three hits and no runs, so that was his game. We weren't knocking the ball all over the place, but we got a win and that is what we needed. You've got to start somewhere and hopefully today's that start."
In his previous start last Tuesday, Norris lost 1-0 to Pittsburgh. The right-hander wanted this win so badly, he bolted off the mound in the sixth inning on a bunt by Kuroda in foul territory, and went face-first into the grass as the ball landed 2 feet out of his reach. Neither first baseman Brett Wallace nor catcher Carlos Corporan thought they had a play on it.
Sergio Escalona relieved Norris and issued a leadoff walk to Andre Ethier and a one-out single to James Loney before Lopez got Casey Blake to ground into an inning-ending double play.
The Astros had two runners in scoring position in the second and third, both times after wild pitches by Kuroda. But the 36-year-old right-hander escaped the first jam by slipping a called third strike past Corporan, then retired Carlos Lee on a popup to end the third.
The Dodgers got a runner as far as second base in consecutive innings, but Norris came away unscathed in the third by striking out rookie Dee Gordon and then in the fourth by fanning Loney on a breaking ball.
NOTES: Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and three-time All-Star closer Tom Gordon, whose sons play for the Dodgers, were on the receiving end of a double first-pitch ceremony, with Tony Gwynn Jr. and Dee Gordon doing the honors. ... The Dodgers recalled C A.J. Ellis from Triple-A Albuquerque to replace Barajas, who sprained his right ankle while retrieving a wild pitch in Saturday night's 7-0 loss. RHP Ramon Troncoso was optioned to Albuquerque to clear a roster spot for LHP Hong-Chih Kuo, activated from the DL after missing 35 games due to a bout with anxiety disorder. ... Slumping 2B Juan Uribe became the 10th different player Mattingly has written into the second spot in the batting order. Uribe was 0 for 3, lowering his average to .207 in 53 games. ... Johnson, who began the series 1 for 18 lifetime against Dodgers pitching, had six hits in 13 at-bats this time around — including four doubles. ... The Dodgers have had seven starters in left field this season. The Astros have had six at second base.