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Kershaw strikes out nine over seven innings

LOS ANGELES -- Yes, sure, as things turned out, of course those devilish Cincinnati Reds tested Matt Kemp as the Dodgers outfielder made his first start in left field after getting moved from center.

Immediately, in the first inning. In fact, two of the first three batters hit balls in Kemp's direction.

But truth be told, the Reds tested Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw more.

It was three batters into the game with Todd Frazier on second when Brandon Phillips ripped a ball over Kemp's head in left. Kemp went back and ... had no chance. Because the baseball disappeared over the fence.

The rest of the night was fairly quiet in left, so those eager to judge Kemp's left-field prowess instead were left only to ponder Kershaw, who made only his second start of the season at Dodger Stadium and lost a 3-2 decision.

"Both guys threw the ball really well," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of Kershaw and Cincinnati's Homer Bailey.

"Phillips put a good swing on it in the first," Kershaw said. "Obviously, you'd like to have that one back."

Though Phillips' early homer alone didn't beat him, it sure did change the evening's tone. The Dodgers were relegated to playing catch-up the rest of the way, and with Bailey bringing his "A" game, that was no easy chore.

"I don't think we're at the point where we want to live with any loss, really," Mattingly said. "But I think these are the kind of games we're going to win our share of."

All was quiet, mostly, on the Kemp front. Mattingly complimented his new left fielder -- well, new left fielder for the moment, anyway, especially with Carl Crawford (left ankle) on the disabled list -- for two plays. Kemp deftly fielded Frazier's double off of the wall in the sixth and then ran down Billy Hamilton's double into the left-field corner in the seventh, handling both balls cleanly and returning them to the infield in good time.

Kemp, who still seems uneasy with the move, declined to analyze his first start in left field since 2006.

"I'm good," he told reporters as he exited for the evening.

Quiet. That's the sort of evening it was for the Dodgers.

After Dee Gordon's leadoff double in the bottom of the first, they didn't muster another hit against Bailey until Justin Turner roped an opposite-field double to lead off the fifth. Behind his heavy, 95-mph two-seamers and 96-mph four-seamers, Bailey rang up five strikeouts among the 12 outs he obtained between those two hits.

"Homer pitched really well," said Kershaw of the Cincinnati right-hander who came into the game 4-3 with a 5.34 ERA. "I don't know why he was struggling. He looked really good tonight. His stuff was impressive."

"He moves the ball so well," said Andre Ethier, the man who has supplanted Kemp in center field. "He's one of those guys who can be wildly effective at times, and then spot a pitch at other times. It's a tough combination when a guy can do that."

It wasn't until Turner scored on a wild pitch while Kershaw was batting with one out in the fifth that the Dodgers were able to apply pressure on Bailey. And when Yasiel Puig homered to start the sixth, that pulled them to within 3-2.

Kershaw was pretty good overall, but these days, to stand out in this Dodgers' rotation, a guy has to be more than just pretty good. Three days after Josh Beckett no-hit the Phillies and two days after Hyun-Jin Ryu started this series with the Reds by taking a perfect game into the eighth inning, Kershaw allowed multiple baserunners in the sixth and seventh.

It was the sixth that cost him -- and involved Kemp. Frazier started the inning with a sharp line drive directly over Kemp's head for a double. There was nothing Kemp could do except turn toward the wall and start after it. No way he could have angled right or left to catch up to it.

Two batters later, Kershaw did the darn-near unthinkable (for him): He walked Devin Mesoraco. To that point, Kershaw had 44 strikeouts on the season against a mere six walks.

One batter later, Frazier scored from third when, go figure, Kershaw jerked a wild pitch into the dirt. It was just his second wild pitch of the season.

"I have to block it," catcher Drew Butera said. "That's my job. My fault. I need to block that ball."

That was Cincinnati's third run, and it was too much for the Dodgers, whose last, best hope evaporated in the eighth when Gordon was stranded on third after drawing a leadoff walk. Ethier bunted him to second, but Reds reliever Jonathan Broxton retired Puig on a long fly to right (moving Gordon to third) and Adrian Gonzalez on another fly to right.

Mattingly was torn between sending Gordon, who leads the Majors with 30 bases, and bunting him into scoring position. But lefty Manny Parra was on the mound for Cincinnati, and Mattingly thought that made a theft attempt far more risky because Gordon would not be able to get as good a jump on the left-hander.

"I don't really want to give up an out there," Mattingly said.

But he decided the risk the other way was too much. So Ethier went to the plate with instructions to bunt … and also to pay attention to Gordon and if Gordon did get a good jump as Ethier squared, to push the bunt harder and maybe through the infield for a hit.

"But that's easier said than done when you're trying to focus to get the job done," Mattingly acknowledged.

As Gordon stood on third when the inning ended and the Dodgers still trailing, 3-2, that point was hammered home.

"It's an in-between play," Ethier said. "The most important part is to get the runner to second base and give your three and four hitters a chance to drive him in."

Almost every time, the Dodgers will take their chances right there with Gonzalez and Puig. It just didn't work out.

And after Reds closer Aroldis Chapman made short work of them in a perfect ninth, the Dodgers had narrowly missed a chance to sweep their first home series this season.

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