Dodgers' Capuano takes hill at San Diego

Chris Capuano has given the Dodgers' rotation the kind of boost the club never could have imagined when the veteran was signed this offseason.

Capuano looks to post the best start of his injury-plagued eight-year career this evening when Los Angeles visits the San Diego Padres to open a two-game series.

The Dodgers inked the 33-year-old Capuano as their fifth starter, but he has pitched more like an ace. He is 5-0 with a 2.06 earned run average through seven starts, matching his career-best start in 2007 while with the Brewers.

Capuano, though, didn't win again that season and later underwent the second Tommy John surgery of his career.

The left-hander won his fourth straight start on Friday, beating Colorado 7-3 after allowing a run on four hits over seven innings without a walk. He has gone at least 6 2/3 innings in each of his last four outings, giving up two runs in that span.

"He was tough to prepare hitters to face him, he gives you a lot of different looks," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly on his team's official website. "I can't say I thought he'd be 5-0 and give up hardly any runs. Can't say I expected that. I can say he had great stuff. Now, he's a couple years removed from Tommy John [surgery], and that's when [guys] really pop back."

Capuano made his debut with the Dodgers back on April 7 in San Diego and did not factor into the decision of a 6-5 win. He struggled with his command, walking five and giving up four runs over 4 2/3 innings. He is 4-2 with a 4.04 ERA in nine career meetings with the Padres, including eight starts.

The Dodgers will try to get back on track behind Capuano tonight after having a five-game win streak snapped with a 5-1 defeat to the Diamondbacks on Tuesday. The setback gave Los Angeles a 6-2 record on its homestand.

Matt Ellis homered, but Chad Billingsley allowed four runs on eight hits and two walks over four-plus innings of work.

"Singles found the holes. Last time out I beat myself with walks so I wanted to be more aggressive," Billingsley said. "That's just the way the way it goes. You can't do anything about it."

With Matt Kemp landing on the 15-day disabled list earlier this week with a hamstring injury, Mattingly gave Andre Ethier his first career start in center field on Tuesday. However, Tony Gwynn is expected to get the start there for this series at spacious Petco Park.

San Diego comes in on a winning note after snapping a two-game slide with yesterday's 6-1 victory over Washington and its ace, Stephen Strasburg.

Anthony Bass went eight strong innings, allowing a run and striking out seven, while Strasburg lasted just four frames and was charged with four runs.

"Our guys knew coming in they were in for a tough one," Padres manager Bud Black said. "I think the key was we laid off some borderline pitches and didn't expand the strike zone. That's how you beat good pitching."

John Baker paced the offense with three hits and three RBI, while James Darnell homered in the win.

San Diego's offense may need to be strong again today given that Clayton Richard has lost five straight starts and that the Padres are just 1-6 in his seven outings this season.

Richard takes the hill for this opener after getting charged with five runs on eight hits and two walks in 5 1/3 frames of a setback to the Phillies on Friday. The left-hander, who lost five straight decisions a season ago as well, gave up a pair of two-run homers and fell to 1-5 with a 5.32 ERA on the season.

Richard, 28, hasn't won since beating the Dodgers in his season debut on April 8 as he only yielded two unearned runs over seven frames. However, he faced them again five days later in Los Angeles and was charged with eight runs -- four earned -- over six frames of a no-decision, making him 5-1 with a 2.63 ERA in nine lifetime meetings.

The Dodgers have won 20 of their past 26 versus the Padres, including six of seven so far this season. Los Angeles won three of four in San Diego from April 5-8.