CINCINNATI -- Bad back, what bad back? Reds ace Aaron Harang's vertebrae was vertical once again Wednesday after he missed a start with lower back soreness. With his defense going horizontal to make some superb stops behind him, Harang's strong eight-inning performance held up during a 1-0 blanking of the Dodgers. Ken Griffey Jr.'s hard RBI single up the middle off Chad Billingsley scored Scott Hatteberg for the game's lone run. Harang made it hold up for Cincinnati's fourth consecutive win.
"Harang just pitched phenomenal," said David Ross, who caught his second straight shutout for Cincinnati. "He doesn't get any credit nationally, but that guy is one of the best pitchers in the league." Harang (11-3) was pitching for the first time since July 28, when he left the game after one inning against the Cubs. He was skipped one turn in the rotation. "That was just a minor setback, something that flared up and kept me out a couple of extra days," Harang said of the injury. "I know they were being cautious last weekend not having me go to Pittsburgh. Obviously, it worked out for the best." The back was successfully tested when Harang cleanly fielded first batter Juan Pierre's bunt towards the mound. Facing an offense-deprived Dodgers club, the right-hander allowed just four hits and one walk while striking out eight. He retired his first 10 batters in a row and 12 of the first 14. "I felt like I was right on," said Harang, who had his sixth quality start in his last seven outings. "I was hitting my spots, and the breaking ball had a downward break on it. Once I started getting that, I knew that I just had to get ahead in the count and go to that pitch to get them out." Before being shut down, Harang was one of the game's hotter pitchers, going 5-0 with a 2.47 ERA in a span of 12 starts. The Dodgers were the perfect team to pick it back up against. Los Angeles has lost six in a row and has been blanked in three straight games and four of the last five. The Reds took a 4-0 win on Tuesday behind Bronson Arroyo. The Dodgers hadn't sustained three straight shutouts since losing the last three games of the 1966 World Series to Baltimore. Dodgers manager Grady Little sensed more futility coming when watching Harang warm up in the bullpen before the game with pitching coach Dick Pole watching. "I saw two big men walk through that gate," Little said of Harang and Pole. "Either one of them could have shut us out." "We're getting them at a good time," Reds interim manager Pete Mackanin said. "They're really not swinging the bats as well as they're capable of. Any time you've got a team like that on the downside, you have to take advantage of it. We certainly did the last two nights." Defense played a huge role in keeping the Dodgers down. In the top half of the third, Griffey made a nice diving catch on James Loney's tailing fly ball towards the right-field line for the first out. In the eighth, after Harang gave up a leadoff double to Loney, Matt Kemp scorched a line drive toward the right side. Second baseman Brandon Phillips made a diving catch and tossed the ball to second from his knees to get Loney for a double play that stopped the potential rally cold. "It cut that inning down really fast," Harang said. "That was huge," Ross said. "Leadoff doubles are tough to get out of in an inning." Pinch-hitter Olmedo Saenz was next with a walk, which brought Mackanin out of the dugout. Harang was over 100 pitches, but talked the manager into staying in. It didn't take a whole lot of arm twisting for Mackanin to acquiesce. "He knows when he's had it and when he hasn't," Mackanin said. "I went out there and asked him and he said, 'I'm fine, Pete. I feel great.' He looked great. He didn't look like he was tired. Usually, the minute I get out of the dugout, I'm making the move and not letting anyone talk me out of it. I wanted to see exactly how he looked and what he had to say." Harang got Pierre to fly out to end the eighth, retiring him on his 111th pitch. Phillips came up big again in the Dodgers' ninth with another showstopper -- correction -- game-ender. After Jeff Kent hit a hard two-out roller up the middle, Phillips made a spectacular diving stop to his right. He made a one-bounce throw to a stretching Hatteberg at first base for the out that secured closer David Weathers' 22nd save. "Whenever you win a game, 1-0, you have to credit some good defense," Ross said. And on Wednesday, Harang, too, with some nice pitching.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.