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Greinke's return signals fresh start for Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- Things are beginning to look up for the Dodgers. Of course, they couldn't be looking any other way, except sideways.

Zack Greinke came back on Wednesday night, well ahead of schedule in his recovery from a broken collarbone, and looked like $147 million in a 3-1 decision over the Nationals at Dodger Stadium.

Back sooner than logic suggested, Greinke was good on the mound across 5 1/3 innings and handy with the bat. His opposite-field single cashed in the second run against Ross Detwiler in the second inning after Matt Kemp had doubled and scored on Adrian Gonzalez's two-out single to jump-start Greinke in the first.

"It looked like a textbook win -- the Dodger way to play the game," Carl Crawford, the new left fielder and leadoff catalyst, said in the afterglow.

That's four happy endings in the past five games for manager Don Mattingly and his troupe as they head off to Atlanta and Milwaukee looking to keep a good thing going. That eight-game losing streak is in the rearview mirror, receding in the distance along with the April 11 brawl in San Diego that took Greinke out of the equation for a month.

"Winning definitely helps," Greinke said when asked about the need for a positive chemistry to develop within a club that has not played anywhere close to expectations. "The fact we have a bunch of new guys helps, too. If a team's been together five or six years, it's not as big a deal."

With Clayton Kershaw in front of him and Hyun-Jin Ryu behind him in the rotation, Greinke gives the Dodgers a fair chance to sweep a series, any series.

"Zack was good," Mattingly said. "We're kind of starting to see that vision of Kersh and Zack and Hyun. For [Greinke] to come out and give you five innings tells you how talented this kid is. He worked his butt off; he wanted to be back as soon as possible."

Two aces and a strong No. 3 starter form a solid foundation on which to build some momentum.

"Hopefully, we can string some [streaks] together," said Crawford, who had the night off before lifting a pinch-hit sacrifice fly in the eighth inning for an insurance run. "Hopefully, these guys can stay strong and we can get in a nice groove.

"Greinke getting back out there is big. He's a big-time starter, and we all know what Kershaw can do. There were a lot of good things that happened tonight. The bullpen came through. We got guys on base and brought 'em in."

Greinke got 16 outs and allowed a solo homer to Adam LaRoche. Smooth and efficient, the 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner did not walk a batter and yielded a double and three singles along with LaRoche's blast.

Satisfied with his stuff and his control, Greinke was lacking somewhat in terms of endurance. Just being out there was the big thing, for the pitcher and his struggling team.

"I'm not 100 percent," he said, "but it didn't restrict me at all. Health-wise, I feel 100 percent. My stamina needs to build a little bit. That could be [in] my next start."

The bullpen -- Kenley Jansen, take a bow -- held up its end of the deal. Jansen worked out of a stressful first-and-third, none-out predicament in the eighth inning, and Brandon League chased away some doubts with three infield outs to close it after Danny Espinosa's leadoff single in the ninth.

That man heaving a big sigh of relief in the dugout was Mattingly, a cool gentleman by nature who has been under fire over the sluggish start that has the Dodgers at the rear of the National League West, five games under .500.

Along with the work of Greinke and the tag-team in the bullpen, the sounds produced by Kemp's bat were highly encouraging.

For this team to take flight, Kemp has to be in the middle of the noise, making things happen. He knows that. Even great players fall into the trap of trying to do too much, of overreaching.

In three of his four at-bats Wednesday night, Kemp hit the ball hard to each part of the field. The double in the first reached the corner in right. He lined out to center in the third and, after striking out in the fifth, singled sharply to left leading off the eighth, scoring on Crawford's high drive to center.

"He's been swinging good for a while," Mattingly said. "We see more good swings all the time. The bat speed, even balls he fouls back ... Matt's swinging the bat pretty good. Until he hits home runs the questions are going to be asked. It's just a matter of time."

Kemp's one homer and .356 slugging percentage over the first quarter of the season are hard to digest. But he's hitting .282 with his eight doubles matching Gonzalez for the club lead.

"My first at-bat, I drove the ball down the right field line," Kemp said. "It's a good sign things are starting to click. I'm waiting for the ball to get to the plate, getting good pitches to hit."

When he starts going deep, his mind will clear and Kemp could go back to being the guy who just two years ago was widely considered the best player in the game.

"I'm feeling better and better every day," Kemp said, pulling on a Justin Timberlake look for the trip to the Deep South. Atlanta would be a fine place to start going deep again.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for
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