ATLANTA — Ted Lilly says his pitching hasn’t changed much since his trade from the Cubs to the Dodgers.
The results certainly have changed.
Lilly threw six scoreless innings to win his third consecutive start, newly installed closer Hong-Chih Kuo pitched a perfect ninth and the Dodgers beat the Braves 2-1 on Saturday night.
Lilly (6-8) allowed three hits and walked two before handing a 1-0 lead to Los Angeles’ bullpen. The left-hander is 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA in three starts since he was traded to the Dodgers on July 31, with victories over division leaders San Diego and now, Atlanta.
Lilly managed only three wins despite his 3.69 ERA in 18 starts this season with the Cubs.
“Maybe my command has been a little bit better, maybe a tad more consistent,” Lilly said about his nice stretch. “Nothing day and night.”
Kuo struck out Brian McCann and Matt Diaz before ending the game on Brooks Conrad’s fly ball to center field. He earned his fourth save in his first opportunity since Jonathan Broxton was removed from the closer’s role by manager Joe Torre on Friday.
“He is going to throw a lot of strikes,” Torre said of Kuo. “He’s not trying to be too cute out there. He comes after you. He has the mentality of a closer.”
Torre said he would be wary of using Kuo for a full inning on consecutive days. Kuo was on the disabled list in April with a sore left shoulder, but the left-hander said Saturday night he would be ready for more ninth-inning duty if needed on Sunday.
“He’s been chomping at the bit to get the ball more often,” Torre said.
Even so, Torre said Octavio Dotel would be his choice to close on Sunday.
Atlanta’s lead in the NL East was trimmed to two games over Philadelphia, which beat the New York Mets 4-0.
The Dodgers had 12 hits, including three by Scott Podsednik, but their only runs scored on a double-play grounder and a sacrifice fly.
“We held them to two runs on 12 hits,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “That’s pretty darn good.”
Podsednik came to the Dodgers in a trade with Kansas City on July 28. He has an 11-game hitting streak, including five straight games with two or more hits.
“I’m trying to validate the trade,” he said. “I want to show people they made the right move.”
Los Angeles had two or more baserunners in four of the first six innings against Derek Lowe (11-10), who still managed to hold the Dodgers to a single run in the fourth. James Loney singled, moved to third on Casey Blake’s single and scored on Matt Kemp’s double-play grounder. Lowe gave up two hits in the fifth before loading the bases on an intentional walk to Andre Ethier with one out. The strategy worked when Loney grounded into a double play to end the inning.
Lowe gave up 10 hits in six innings.
The Dodgers pushed their lead to 2-0 in the seventh against rookie left-hander Jonny Venters. Podsednik singled, moved to third on Ryan Theriot’s single and scored on Ethier’s fly ball. The run ended Venters’ streak of eight consecutive outings without allowing an earned run since July 30.
Dodgers rookie Kenley Jensen took over for Lilly in the seventh and gave up his first earned run of the season in his ninth appearance. Jensen walked Brian McCann and gave up a one-out double to Melky Cabrera to put runners on second and third. McCann scored on a groundout to third by David Ross off George Sherrill.
NOTES: Braves 2B Martin Prado (finger) was encouraged after batting practice and could begin a minor league rehab stint in the next few days. ... Torre said he’ll decide by Labor Day if he’ll retire after the season. He said he may not announce the decision that soon.