LOS ANGELES -- The Houston Astros needed someone to make a spot start for the injured Wandy Rodriguez. Lucky for them, they just happened to have former starter Brian Moehler in their bullpen.
Manager Cecil Cooper said before the game that he would be "tickled" to get five innings out of the 36-year-old right-hander, and that's just what he got. Moehler scattered five hits through the fifth without allowing a run and Lance Berkman and the Astros' hitters did the rest for a 7-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night.
"He did a terrific job," Cooper said. "I thought he'd be able to go out and throw strikes, and he did just that. He pushed the limit, as far as pitches were concerned. I was really looking for 60-65, and he got up to 81. But it was just an outstanding outing by Mo. He hit his spots pretty well and was really sharp."
Moehler (1-0) struck out five and walked one in his first start since Sept. 29, 2006 with the Florida Marlins.
He has spent the majority of his big league career as a starter, though has been used exclusively in relief since rejoining the Astros in January 2007.
"I'm at a point in my career where I really just want to go to the playoffs. And whatever role there is, whether it's reliever or starter or both, it doesn't matter to me. I enjoy either role," Moehler said. "Am I capable of starting? Yeah, but I'm probably not capable of giving them 32-35 starts anymore."
Rodriguez, meanwhile, is scheduled to have another bullpen session on Monday. It will be followed by a couple of simulated games during this 10-game road trip, then the left-hander begins a minor league rehab assignment if there are no complications from the strained groin that landed him on the disabled list April 20.
Moehler will get at least one more start before Rodriguez returns to the rotation.
"I wasn't concerned about my pitch count. I just wanted to see how deep I could get into the game because I didn't want to tax our bullpen," Moehler said. "I was just trying to keep the ball down, pitch to contact and let our defense make the plays behind me. Obviously I'm getting a little stiff, but I felt fine physically."
Berkman went 3-for-4 with a home run for the Astros. The switch-hitting first baseman doubled and scored in the first and made it 6-0 in the fifth with his 12th homer, a two-run shot to right off Lowe. He has hits in 16 of his last 20 at-bats.
Berkman leads the NL with 35 RBI and 38 runs scored, and is second in the league in home runs and batting average (.380). During the six seasons in which he played at least 150 games, the four-time All-Star averaged 35 homers and 115.2 RBI while batting a cumulative .304.
"The stretch he's on right now, I don't think I've ever seen anything like this," teammate Darin Erstad said. "He's just been phenomenal. There's just a calmness in the batter's box. He's not jumping at pitches or chasing pitches. He's just locked in there in one spot. He's got a plan, and when he gets his pitch he's not missing it."
Derek Lowe (2-3) gave up six runs and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings with five strikeouts and two walks.
"It was a very frustrating game," Lowe said. "I thought I had good stuff, but the batters are the ones who'll tell you how good your stuff is. As hot as Lance Berkman is -- a double and a home run -- that speaks for itself."
Miguel Tejada hit a run-scoring double in the ninth against Scott Proctor, giving him 24 RBI and raising his average to .338.
"Tejada's the kind of guy you want up there with men in scoring position. He's an RBI machine," Cooper said. "They call him `La Guagua,' because he's `the bus.' And if you get on base, he's going to drive you in. My daughter said she was going to make a sign and hold it up during the next homestand."
Dodgers reliever Yhency Brazoban, who was recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas on Monday to replace right-hander Esteban Loaiza on the active roster, pitched one inning and escaped a bases-loaded jam by starting a 1-2-3 double-play against reliever Geoff Geary. It was Brazoban's first big league appearance since May 31, 2007. He underwent season-ending shoulder surgery on June 22.
Cooper and Dodgers manager Joe Torre spent one spring training as teammates, in 1971 with the St. Louis Cardinals. Cooper was cut on the last day of camp, and Torre went on to win his only NL MVP award. But Cooper holds one thing over Torre's head: His .298 career batting average is tops among current big league managers -- one percentage point higher than Torre's. ... The Dodgers have been outscored 19-2 over its last two games after winning 10 of the previous 11.