PITTSBURGH – Clint Hurdle believes the Pittsburgh Pirates have reached the level where there's no need to panic every time they fall behind early in games.
That doesn't mean he wants his team to get used to it.
At the moment, however, the Pirates look pretty comfortable in the role. And not in a good way.
Shane Victorino hit his 10th homer of the season and drove in three runs to lift the Los Angeles Dodgers to a 5-4 victory on Monday night to send the Pirates to their fourth loss in their last five games.
The losses have, for the most part, taken on a similar theme. The opposition gets out in front early and the Pirates spent most of the time playing catch-up. Los Angeles built leads of 2-0 and 5-2 before holding on.
"It'll always be a challenge coming back," Hurdle said. "But sometimes that's how the game is laid out for you and you've got to keep battling."
Garrett Jones had four hits and drove in three runs for the Pirates, but pitcher Jeff Karstens (4-3) struggled against Victorino while suffering his first loss since June 25.
"It's just one of those things where I didn't pitch well enough to win," Karstens said.
While the rest of the staff outside of ace A.J. Burnett has showed signs of wear more than 110 games into the season, the Pirates are looking for a boost from Karstens, who missed more than two months during the spring with right shoulder inflammation.
Normally one of the most efficient pitchers in the game, Karstens threw just 61 of his 100 pitches for strikes and couldn't get a fix on Victorino, whose two-run homer in the fifth gave the Dodgers the lead for good.
"It's not like I made a terrible pitch where I threw it down the middle," Karstens said. "Sometimes you've got to tip your cap."
Matt Kemp added two hits for the Dodgers, who moved within 1½ games of the Pirates for one of the two National League wild card spots. Aaron Harang (8-7) pitched six effective innings to snap a modest two-game losing streak while Kenley Jansen worked a perfect ninth for his 24th save.
Victorino, acquired in a trade from Philadelphia two weeks ago, hit his first homer in a Dodgers uniform in the fifth when he took a Karstens breaking ball and put it into the right field seats that put the Dodgers up 4-2.
"I just keep plugging along," Victorino said. "There's nothing different that I've done. You know when you've got confidence and you feel good at the plate, yeah, things kind of keep going that way. So hopefully I can keep it going that way but I'm not thinking about it anything, just going out there and taking it one game, one at bat at a time.
Garrett Jones had four hits and drove in three runs for the Pirates, who are now five games behind Cincinnati in the NL Central.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, have won four of five to close in on San Francisco for the NL West lead. The surge has been powered by the slew of new arrivals acquired to give the team a needed boost.
Shortstop Hanley Ramirez played lights out over the weekend as the Dodgers took a weekend series in Miami. On Monday, it was Victorino's turn. The two-time All-Star has feasted on Pittsburgh's pitching throughout his career. He came in with a .325 career batting average against the Pirates, a number that quickly rose against Karstens.
Victorino doubled to right with one out in the third to put Los Angeles on the board, then raced home two batters later on an RBI-single by Kemp. Jones tied it up in the bottom of the inning with a two-run double that scored Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen.
It didn't stay tied for long.
Harang singled with one out in the fifth and Victorino turned on a Karstens pitch and sent it into the right-field seats for his first homer since July 29, Victorino's last game with Philadelphia. The Dodgers are hoping his quick bat and playoff experience will help Los Angeles return to the postseason after a three-year absence.
He certainly provided it against the Pirates while Harang put together a typical steady outing. The right-hander was virtually flawless against everybody not named Jones, giving up two runs on five hits in six innings, walking three and striking out four to improve to 15-6 against Pittsburgh in his career.
"It seems like, with this team anybody can step up at any time, and that's what it's going to take to stay competitive in this division and try to win this division," Harang said.
The Pirates had several chances to tie it up. But Neil Walker lined out at reliever Randy Choate's head with two on to end the seventh. Run-scoring singles by Jones and Mike McKenry drew Pittsburgh within one in the eighth, but Clint Barmes grounded to third to end the threat.
NOTES: Pittsburgh's James McDonald had his next start pushed back from Wednesday to Friday in St. Louis to give his right arm a little rest. McDonald has struggled since the All-Star break, going 1-2 with an 8.89 ERA ... The series continues Tuesday, with Pittsburgh's Kevin Correia (9-6, 4.49 ERA) facing Chad Billingsley (8-9, 3.84). ... The Dodgers are 10-1 in games played in the Eastern Time Zone this season.
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