Clayton Kershaw has suddenly looked vulnerable in his last two starts.
Homer Bailey sure hasn't.
As Kershaw tries to recapture the form of a Cy Young Award favorite, the Los Angeles Dodgers look to halt Bailey's scoreless innings streak Sunday night in the finale of their season series with the Cincinnati Reds.
Los Angeles (83-58) also wants to avoid losing four straight for the first time since an eight-game skid to begin May. All three defeats have been away from home after the Dodgers had lost three of their previous 27 road games.
The last two have come in Cincinnati, including a 4-3 loss in 10 innings Saturday as recent call-up Billy Hamilton stole second as a pinch runner and scored on Todd Frazier's single. The 22-year-old speedster is 4 for 4 on steal attempts but has yet to make a plate appearance.
"There aren't many like him," manager Dusty Baker said. "Those are guys you know are going to steal, and they steal anyway."
It seems unlikely Hamilton will get his first at-bat against Kershaw (14-8, 1.89 ERA), the majors' ERA leader. The left-hander admitted to not having his best stuff in his past two outings as he failed to last six innings either time - something that didn't happen once in his previous 22 starts.
"Obviously, there's nothing wrong with Clayton Kershaw," manager Don Mattingly said.
However, Kershaw lost to the lowly Cubs on Aug. 27 when he allowed seven hits and three walks in 5 2-3 innings of a 3-2 defeat. His next outing was worse though Kershaw won, surrendering a career-high 11 hits and five runs in five innings of a 10-8 victory at Colorado.
"There's nothing to gain from pitching bad like this," Kershaw said. "I'm just going to chalk this up to a bad start and enjoy getting a win I probably didn't deserve."
Kershaw has yielded one run in three straight starts versus Cincinnati (81-62), going eight innings July 26 when the Dodgers won 2-1.
He outdueled Bailey (10-10, 3.42), whose only mistake in seven innings was a two-run homer to Hanley Ramirez.
"There's a reason why Kershaw has had the best ERA in the last three years, so it was out of my control," Bailey said after that defeat.
The right-hander is 5-0 in seven outings since that game with a 1.27 ERA in the past four.
Bailey has been particularly dominant in the last two as he defeated St. Louis both times, striking out 15 in 14 1-3 scoreless innings. He yielded a combined seven hits and three walks.
Another pitchers' duel could be on tap after the first six games between these likely playoff participants were exactly that. Each team has won three and scored 14 runs in the season series, though Cincinnati has won both this weekend by one run.
"We're looking for the sweep," Frazier said. "You try to win every series, but right now, every win is huge."
Frazier is batting .400 this month and Shin-Soo Choo has a .484 average in his last eight.
Joey Votto entered this series in a 4-for-37 slump, but he's reached base in all nine plate appearances with four hits and five walks. He's struck out 11 times in 20 at_bats against Kershaw but has also homered twice.
Brandon Phillips is 8 for 19 off Kershaw, so the Reds surely hope he returns after getting Saturday off for a quad contusion suffered two days earlier.
Yasiel Puig homered for the third time in 10 games Saturday and is batting .389 in that span after a 15-game stretch in which he hit .185.
Adrian Gonzalez broke a 1-for-18 slump with four hits. He's 9 for 18 with five homers off Bailey.
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