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LAD@PIT: Beckett strikes out four in return

With the Dodgers reportedly considering a trade for a frontline starting pitcher to strengthen their rotation, Josh Beckett will try to prove Tuesday that Los Angeles already has four starters it can count on in the playoffs.

The rotation spots of both Beckett and Dan Haren have been questioned recently, especially with Beckett battling injuries and poor performances of late.

The veteran right-hander will get a chance to answer his critics against the Braves, a team Los Angeles could very well face off against in the playoffs again after defeating it in four games in the National League Division Series last year.

It would be difficult to imagine even a month ago that Beckett's postseason rotation spot wouldn't be secure at this juncture, especially with his no-hitter earlier this year.

But he's coming off his shortest start of the season, which occurred after a cortisone injection to relieve a left hip impingement that landed him on the disabled list over the All-Star break. Last Tuesday against the Pirates, Beckett lasted just 3 2/3 innings and allowed four runs on six hits -- including three homers.

"I was ready to pitch," Beckett said. "The trainers cleared me. The doctors cleared me. I just didn't pitch well and I put the guys coming in behind in a tough spot because they had to pitch way too many innings."

Beckett will be pitching on two extra days of rest with off-days. The righty has allowed nine runs in 13 2/3 innings over his last three starts. Still, with a 2.52 ERA in 2014, he's given the Dodgers more than even the most optimistic of Los Angeles fans would have expected heading into this year.

The same can be said for Aaron Harang and the Braves.

Atlanta signed Harang just a week before the start of the regular season -- and he's been nothing short of a savior for the Braves' rotation, which had to combat the losses of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery in Spring Training.

Harang has a 3.31 ERA, the lowest mark in his 13 seasons in the Majors. He has recorded 18 quality starts in 21 turns, 16 of which have been outings in which he's allowed two earned runs or fewer.

In four July starts, Harang has performed even better, logging a 1.93 ERA over 28 innings. The Braves have still lost his last two games, though, with the offense mustering just three combined runs.

"He's an imposing figure on that mound," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said of his 6-foot-7, 260-pound teammate. "He's been doing it his whole career, and he came over and he's doing it again. He's thrown 200 innings, it seems like, every single year he's been out there, and he's getting 15-16 wins a few times. So what he's doing this year is no surprise to all of us."

Dodgers: New outfield alignment set to debut at home
With Tuesday marking the Dodgers' first home game since the All-Star break, Los Angeles fans will have to get used to a new-look Dodgers defense patrolling the Chavez Ravine outfield.

Yasiel Puig played center field in all three games of Los Angeles' weekend sweep against San Francisco and made no defensive miscues, so all signs point toward the Dodgers moving forward with their fourth full-time center fielder this season.

"I just want to be on the field helping my team win," Puig said. "Whatever position they ask me to play, I'm going to do my best. I do prefer center field a little bit, because I can run more."

Puig succeeds Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke, with the latter two seemingly having their playing time cut drastically in the new alignment. The only appearance by either of them in the series against the Giants was a lone pinch-hit walk by Ethier.

Carl Crawford played left field against the Giants in all three games, while Kemp has been installed in right field for the first time in his career.

"We feel, with our combination of guys, this may be our best chance in center field," manager Don Mattingly said. "It could be a day, it could be a week, it could be forever -- or as long as [Puig] plays. We don't really know, but we know he's physically capable of handling the spot."

Braves: La Stella continuing strong rookie campaign
Just two months into his Major League career, second baseman Tommy La Stella is showing the plate discipline of a grizzled veteran and generally doing his best to help Braves fans forget about the failed Dan Uggla experiment.

Despite playing in just 53 games in 2014, La Stella is first among NL rookies in walks (22), and his .286 batting average and .361 on-base percentage rank second in that group. He was out of the Braves starting lineup Monday against the Padres, but pinch-hit in the seventh and grounded into an inning-ending double play.

The New Jersey native continued his stellar play in Atlanta's series against San Diego. On Sunday, La Stella was 1-for-2 with two walks, two runs scored and an RBI single in the third inning that gave the Braves the lead for good in an 8-3 win.

That came after a three-hit game Saturday, the third of his career since making his Major League debut May 28. All other Atlanta second basemen combined for just one three-hit game over the last two seasons.

Worth noting
• Beckett hasn't faced the Braves since 2009, when he tossed seven shutout innings and struck out six as a member of the Red Sox.

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