After opening the four-game Freeway Series against the Los Angeles Angels with a pair of home victories, the Dodgers thought their bleak season would finally start to turn around.
Quite the contrary. They dropped both games at Angel Stadium, including a 3-2 loss on Thursday night, and now face at least the next two weeks without center fielder Matt Kemp.
The two-time All-Star was placed on the 15-day disabled list before the game because of a right hamstring strain. He injured it while running down a double in right-center by Mike Trout in Wednesday night's 4-3 loss.
It was the fourth time in Kemp's career that the two-time Gold Glove winner has been on the DL, including two stints last season because of a left hamstring strain that cost him a combined 51 games. The Dodgers were 24-27 in his absences.
"It's not bad luck. It's life," Kemp said. "I never want to be away from the game, but I have to at the moment. It comes with the territory, but it's disappointing."
Kemp, who two seasons ago finished as runner-up to Milwaukee's Ryan Braun in the NL MVP voting, is batting .251 this season with two homers and 17 RBIs in 51 games, and has struck out 60 times in 191 at-bats following offseason shoulder surgery.
Right fielder Andre Ethier switched to center in manager Don Mattingly's starting lineup, the 49th he has used in 53 games.
"The whole year we've been figuring a way to patch up things when we get guys hurt," said Ethier, who had only one putout. "Donnie asked me, and I said: 'Sure, let's do it.' I'd be lying if I said it didn't cross my mind last night because I wasn't sure what the (extent) of Matt's injury was, and whether it was going to take a couple of days or longer. But it's a different story when you actually see your name in there."
It was only the second time in Ethier's eight-year career that he started in center.
Angels left-hander Jason Vargas (5-3) completed an undefeated May with seven sharp innings. Howie Kendrick doubled twice and scored three runs, and Chris Nelson drove in the tiebreaking run in the seventh with a two-out single against Ronald Belisario right after he relieved Ted Lilly (0-2).
Lilly was charged with three runs, five hits and three walks in 5 2-3 innings and struck out three. He was a strike away from getting out of the sixth but walked Chris Iannetta on a borderline pitch on the inside corner, putting runners at the corners before Belisario took over.
"I didn't get the key out in the sixth when I needed it," Lilly said. "I gave up a double to Kendrick. I had Iannetta and ended up letting that at-bat get away. I had him 1-2 and didn't put him away. The objective is not just to feel good at this point. The objective was to get the job done. But I walked three guys and I only went 5 2-3 innings. Not enough was working right."
Vargas allowed two runs and five hits, struck out six and walked two. The left-hander was 5-0 with a 2.30 ERA in six starts this month, after going 0-3 with a 4.85 ERA in five starts during April.
"I don't really have an answer for that, other than getting more outs," Vargas said. "There wasn't anything I tried to change or do differently. I'm just being more consistent."
Carl Crawford, who came in 0 for 9 against Vargas, drove his second pitch of the game over the head of right fielder Mark Trumbo for a triple and scored on Adrian Gonzalez's sacrifice fly.
Ernesto Frieri pitched a scoreless ninth for his 12th save in 13 attempts, one night after giving up home runs to Gonzalez and Scott Van Slyke in a save.
Alberto Callaspo put the Angels ahead 2-1 in the fourth with an RBI single, following a one-out triple to right-center by Kendrick. But the Dodgers tied it when Hernandez drove Vargas' first pitch of the fifth inning into the left field bullpen for his second home run with the club.
Crawford turned in the Dodgers' best defensive play of the season in the bottom half, racing full speed on a flyball down the left field line by the switch-hitting Callaspo and making a diving catch across the chalk before slamming into the short wall in front of the box seats. Kendrick had to stay put at first base, but he eventually scored the tying run when Iannetta followed with a two-out RBI double over Ethier's head.
NOTES: First base ump Gary Darling blew a call in the Angels' eighth, ruling Shuck safe on a slow bouncer to a charging Mark Ellis. TV replays clearly showed Shuck was out by a step, and Mattingly came out to argue. ... Crawford leads all active players with 116 triples. ... Hernandez's 168th career home run came as a designated hitter. He has hit 161 homers as a catcher, the most among active players at that position. ... The Angels are 51-31 against the Dodgers in the regular season since hiring manager Mike Scioscia, who has caught more games than anyone in Dodgers history. The Dodgers haven't won a season series from the Angels since taking four of six in 2006. ... Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis sat out because of an oblique strain on his left side. ... Iannetta came in 2 for 16 lifetime against Lilly.