Kershaw leads Dodgers into opener with Rockies

While the strength of the Los Angeles Dodgers' rotation rests on the left shoulder of Clayton Kershaw, it is his right hip that is getting most of the focus right now.

The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner will try to pitch through his injury again on Friday night and keep his Dodgers in the wild card race in the opener of a three-game set against the streaking Colorado Rockies.

A right hip impingement kept Kershaw off the mound for 11 days following a start on Sept. 11, but he returned to action on Sunday against the Cincinnati Reds. The left-hander was a bit off target in a no-decision, allowing five hits and five walks over five innings but limiting the damage to just one run.

"He was just rusty more than anything else," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of Kershaw's start. "He's Clayton. He's going to keep fighting and battling."

The Dodgers feel comfortable throwing their ace out there tonight after he had a 40-pitch bullpen session on Tuesday that yielded no setbacks.

Kershaw is 0-2 in his last four starts despite only giving up four runs over 25 innings. He sits 12-9 with a 2.68 earned run average through 31 starts this season, including 7-5 with a 2.25 ERA in 17 at home.

The 24-year-old has faced the Rockies only once this season and was touched for five runs and three homers in 7 1/3 innings of a no-decision back on May 2. He is 6-4 lifetime versus Colorado with a 4.13 ERA in 17 meetings.

The Dodgers pulled to within three games of the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL's second wild card spot on Thursday with an 8-4 victory over the San Diego Padres. It marked the first time since Sept. 14-15 that the Dodgers have won two in a row.

Los Angeles will play its final six games at home, concluding the regular season with a three-game set against the NL West-champion San Francisco Giants. The Cardinals begin a three-game series against the visiting Washington Nationals on Friday following an off day.

"It's not something I think we're really thinking about," L.A. starter Chris Capuano said of the wild card race. "We could win out and we'd still have to have other people helping us out to get in at this point so I think we don't really have anything to lose at this point."

Capuano threw 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball to pick up the win on Thursday.

The Dodgers might be catching the Rockies at the wrong time as Colorado earned its fourth straight victory on Thursday after finishing up a three-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs with a 7-5 win. The current win streak follows a string of nine straight losses.

Jordan Pacheco and DJ LeMahieu hit home runs for Colorado, while Chris Nelson and Matt McBride each added an RBI.

"The team is young. ... Hopefully we can finish the season strong and get some experience and show what we can do as a team," Pacheco said.

Jhoulys Chacin pitched well enough to earn the victory. In five innings, he allowed three runs on seven hits and four walks, striking out two.

Jeff Francis gets the chance to play spoiler tonight for the Rockies, though he hasn't won since beating the Dodgers back on Aug. 27. He threw five scoreless outings in that one, allowing three hits and a walk with six strikeouts.

The lefty is 6-4 lifetime against the Dodgers with a 3.30 ERA.

Francis is 0-2 in five starts since that win and the Rockies have lost each of his past four outings. He did not factor into a 10-7 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday, touched for two runs on five hits over four innings without a walk or strikeouts.

The 31-year-old southpaw is 5-6 on the season with a 5.54 ERA in 22 starts.

The Rockies lead the season series with the Dodgers, 8-7, but have lost four of six in Los Angeles.