LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers made a lot of news on Wednesday, from the continued learning curve of Yasiel Puig to Matt Kemp beginning a minor league rehab assignment to Edinson Volquez becoming the latest reclamation project for Rick Honeycutt and staff. But despite getting buried under all the news, the leading man on Wednesday was Ricky Nolasco.
A leading candidate for best midseason trade acquisition in 2013, Nolasco continued to shine in Wednesday's 4-0 win over the Cubs. Nolasco struck out 11 and allowed only four Cubs to reach base while pitching eight scoreless innings. He joined teammate Clayton Kershaw as one of just five pitchers to have back-to-back outings of at least eight scoreless innings this season.
"Ricky was really good today. It was just what we needed," said manager Don Mattingly. "It was a tough game today, at 12 o'clock, coming off a loss, everyone was tired, and Ricky gave us a great outing."
Nolasco is 6-1 with a 2.20 ERA in 10 starts since the Dodgers acquired him from the Marlins on July 6, with 51 strikeouts and 15 walks in 61⅓ innings. He has helped solidify a starting rotation that has been the driving force behind the Dodgers climbing from 9½ games back to 9½ games ahead of the Diamondbacks in the National League West.
In August, Nolasco has been even better. At 5-0 with a 1.64 ERA in six starts with 35 strikeouts and six walks, Nolasco had the most wins and lowest ERA he has ever had in any month of his career.
"I'm not sure what my best month is, but it definitely feels good to do it at this time with this team," Nolasco said. "I know what's at stake, with the chase we are in right now."
Nolasco's victory on Wednesday brought the Dodgers to 21-6 in August, the best mark in MLB and tied for the franchise record for wins in a month since moving to Los Angeles. He hasn't been alone in mound excellence for the Dodgers in the supposed dog days of summer.
In August, Kershaw has a 1.01 ERA, Zack Greinke is at 1.23, Nolasco is 1.64, and Hyun-jin Ryu is at 2.84 with one start left, on Friday. Has being around Kershaw and Greinke rubbed off on Nolasco?
"Hopefully. Pitching and winning is contagious, so you just want to keep it going," Nolasco said. "Just to be in the same rotation as two guys like that is an honor. To do anything to follow them up is great."
Wednesday's postgame media session was rather odd, as we were mostly waiting on an explanation for Yasiel Puig getting pulled from the game after four innings. Mattingly, the usual first postgame point of contact for reporters, was busy meeting with Puig and general manager Ned Colletti, so we got to talk to Nolasco first, which very rarely happens.
That prompted Ken Gurnick of MLB.com to quip as Nolasco walked in the interview room, "Is this the new manager?"
Another moment of levity happened when Nolasco was asked how he turned things around from his last start against the Cubs, on Aug. 1, when he only lasted five innings but still won. This exchange happened between a reporter and Nolasco:
Reporter: "You gave up four home runs to the Cubs..."
Nolasco, acutely aware of his own statistics: "It was three."
Reporter, undaunted: "You gave up a lot of home runs to the Cubs..."
The entire room, including Nolasco, broke out in laughter, the perfect palate cleanser for an otherwise tense postgame.
The southern Calfornia native was all smiles after his latest win. With free agency pending, Nolasco is pitching himself into a very lucrative position this offseason. But for now Nolasco is focused on the present, which is just fine for the Dodgers.
"I've definitely been getting more comfortable. The team has done a great job of welcoming me in and things like that," Nolasco said. "Obviously I'm from here and this is where I want to be, but we'll see what happens. I'm focusing on winning right now, and all that will play itself out."