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LAD@CIN: Beckett tosses six innings of two-hit ball

The Dodgers and D-backs have been looking up in the standings for most of the season. So have most of the other Major League clubs.

The Giants have shown no signs of loosening their iron grip on the Majors' best record, leaving the rest of the National League West playing catch-up.

At this point, what's the best way to catch up?

"Play better," manager Don Mattingly said. "I mean, seriously. For us, we just have to play better."

The Dodgers are 6 1/2 games behind San Francisco; Arizona is 15, sitting in last place in the division. Though both teams are looking up, the Dodgers certainly aren't looking down on the D-backs.

Arizona nearly swiped a victory from the Dodgers in the series opener Friday night, rallying against closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning before coming up short, 4-3. Even though it's not fully healthy, the D-backs' starting lineup still isn't one to be overlooked.

"That's a good team," said Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw, who earned the win Friday. "Offensively, tough to go through. They lost [A.J.] Pollock. It's a tough lineup and you know you're in for a challenge."

The Dodgers will be seeking a sweep of the three-game set when they send right-hander Josh Beckett (4-3, 2.35 ERA) to the mound in Sunday's series finale. The most potent threat should be first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who's batting .309 with 14 home runs and 50 RBIs after drilling a two-run shot Saturday night.

"We're careful with him," Mattingly said. "The main thing for me is to try to keep people off base around him, in front of him, so that you can pitch carefully and not get caught where the bases are loaded or first and second and you've got to go after him. Then you put yourself in a little bit of a box."

The Dodgers will face right-hander Bronson Arroyo (6-4, 4.22 ERA), who is 5-5 with a 3.75 ERA against them in his career.

D-backs: Arroyo pitching through arm trouble
Arroyo is not the type of pitcher who can overpower hitters, but whatever fastball velocity he did have has been sapped in his past few starts.

On a good night, Arroyo can touch 88-90 mph with his fastball, but he hasn't had a good night in some time. His arm has ailed him, driving his velocity down to the low 80s.

Still, Arroyo has been able to grind through it, relying on mixing pitches and changing speeds.

"Physically I don't feel so good, but my ball is moving and I'm keeping hitters off-balance, and we've just got a better flow as a team," Arroyo said. "I've just been banged up, man. My arm has just been banged up. It's just the way it is. I'm just grinding. You look on the board and my velo is down."

No matter how much his arm is hurting, Arroyo won't willingly give up a start -- he's never skipped one in 15 years in the Major Leagues. And based on his last start, there's no need for that.

Even without his best stuff, Arroyo held the Astros to one run on six hits in seven innings. There's no telling what kind of condition his arm will be in Sunday, but the radar gun could provide an answer.

"If I can throw 88-90, I feel like I can really have a lot better chance of dominating the game a little bit better," Arroyo said. "But if you don't have it, you don't, and you just go out there and try to stay on the black with movement and change a lot of speeds and see if you can get guys frustrated."

Dodgers: Defense rounding into shape
In the fifth inning Friday night, Dee "Flash Jr." Gordon flashed some leather.

With one out, the second baseman ranged up the middle to field a Gerardo Parra grounder, then jumped to launch a throw from behind second base toward Adrian Gonzalez at first for the out. On the next play, Gordon showcased his range in the opposite direction, diving to his left on a Goldschmidt grounder, then completing the throw to rob the slugger of a hit.

The defensive display illustrated just how far Gordon has come after transitioning from shortstop.

"I'm proud of him, just the work ethic that he has," said Kershaw, who was the beneficiary of Gordon's defensive stops. "I think he's a very above-average second baseman right now, so the range that he has and the plays that he's making, he just looks confident."

The Dodgers' defense as a whole has looked stronger of late. The outfield alignment, in particular, has settled with Andre Ethier manning center field, Matt Kemp in left and Yasiel Puig remaining in right. And the Dodgers have not committed an error in their past seven games -- a season-best streak.

"It's been OK lately," Mattingly said. "I haven't noticed it hurting us lately. That's one thing where I feel like we've been better."

Worth noting 
• Arroyo is 5-2 with a 2.71 ERA in his past nine starts. He's 2-4 with a 4.85 ERA in his career at Dodger Stadium.

• Beckett is 2-5 with a 3.59 ERA in 10 career starts against the D-backs. Comments