LOS ANGELES — Getting Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp rolling early in the season has helped the Los Angeles Dodgers to the best start in the majors. And getting Ted Lilly back in the rotation can only make them better.
Lilly pitched seven innings of two-hit ball in his season debut after coming off the disabled list, Kemp hit a pair of two-run homers and Ethier also went deep, leading the Dodgers to a 6-1 victory over the San Diego Padres on Saturday night.
The Dodgers, who had to win 25 of their final 35 games last season just to finish three games above .500, are off to an 8-1 start — their best since beginning their 1981 World Series championship season 9-1.
“I’ve been sitting and watching a lot of games, and it’s been a collective effort. So it was nice for me to come out here the first game back and get into what we’ve been doing the past eight games,” Lilly said. “Hopefully I have 30 or more of them left this year.”
The only hits off Lilly were a first-inning RBI single by Jesus Guzman and a leadoff infield hit in the sixth by Chase Headley.
“For the most part I was throwing strike one, getting them in swing mode early and then expanding the zone,” Lilly said. “I felt like I could have stayed in there, but we had a couple of guys who could use some innings.”
Lilly, whose season was delayed because of neck stiffness, threw 79 pitches, struck out four and was charged with an unearned run. The 14-year veteran left-hander finished last season 12-14 with a 3.97 ERA after winning five of his final six starts.
“He’s definitely important for us,” Kemp said. “He’s a big part of our rotation and we’re going to need him for the rest of the year. As long as he stays healthy, I know he’s going to go out there and battle for us. He’s a guy who’s going to get the job done, and we’ve got faith in him.”
The first batter Lilly faced, Cameron Maybin, reached on a two-base throwing error by shortstop Dee Gordon and scored on a two-out single by Guzman. But the Dodgers responded with four runs in the bottom of the first and two more in the second against Joe Wieland in his major league debut.
Kemp hit his first home run to center field after a leadoff walk to Gordon. Ethier followed with a drive into the right-field pavilion, and Adam Kennedy capped the Dodgers’ opening salvo with a sacrifice fly. One inning later, Kemp hit his fifth homer of the season to right field after a single by Tony Gwynn Jr.
Wieland was charged with six runs and six hits in five innings. The 22-year-old right-hander, born in Reno, Nev., came to the Padres at last year’s trade deadline along with fellow prospect Robbie Erlin in a deal that sent Mike Adams to the Texas Rangers. One day earlier, in his final start for Double-A Frisco, Wieland pitched a no-hitter against the Padres’ San Antonio affiliate.
“This has been my dream my whole life, and it’s finally come true. I’m so blessed,” Wieland said. “But at the same time, it’s a little bittersweet. I would have liked to start out a little better, but I didn’t locate my fastball early. First-time jitters definitely affected me in that first inning.”
Wieland eventually settled down, allowing no hits after Kemp’s second homer, and was grateful to manager Bud Black for letting him work out his difficulties.
“It was very important,” Wieland said. “I wanted to see how far I could go. I wanted to bounce back. I didn’t want to end my night on something like that, and Bud letting me go back out there was big. I threw up a zero, then another one and another one, and it gave me confidence. I settled down and I started locating. That was the biggest difference between the third through fifth and the first two innings.”
Wieland made two starts this season for Triple-A Tucson before getting called up to fill in for right-hander Dustin Moseley, on the disabled list due to a right shoulder strain. Outfielder-first baseman Kyle Blanks was placed on the 15-day DL because of a troublesome left shoulder, opening up a spot for Wieland on the 25-man roster.
The only walk Lilly allowed was to Nick Hundley, who was 0 for 2 and is hitless in his first 21 at-bats — matching the worst season-opening drought of his five-year career. The longest by a Padres position player to start a season was Ozzie Smith’s 0 for 32 dry spell in 1979.
NOTES: The Dodgers announced that Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully is expected to return to the TV booth Sunday for his first home game of the season, after missing the first five games of the homestand because of a bad cold. Scully, in his 62nd year with the organization at age 84, was at the microphone for the season-opening, four-game series at San Diego. … Nancy Bea Hefley threw a ceremonial first pitch for the first time since becoming the Dodger Stadium organist in 1988, the year the team won its last pennant and World Series title. Kemp was her catcher. … Kemp has homered against seven pitchers on the Padres’ roster. It was the first time he and Ethier homered back-to-back since April 16, 2010, in the first inning against San Francisco’s Todd Wellemeyer.