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Billingsley wins third straight for Dodgers

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Billingsley wins 3rd straight for Dodgers
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After hitting a home run in the third inning, the Los Angeles Dodgers' A.J. Ellis watches his base hit …

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Now that Chad Billingsley's elbow problems appear to be behind him, the Los Angeles Dodgers are expecting their chances of winning the NL West title to be that much better.

Billingsley won his third straight start since coming off the disabled list and batterymate A.J. Ellis had two solo homers and an RBI single, leading the Los Angeles Dodgers to a 6-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Friday night.

''It's good to string a few together, and I'm just going to keep going,'' Billingsley said. ''My last start and tonight I've had good fastball command on both sides of the plate. And when you're doing that, it keeps the hitter off-balance and he can't sit on one side of the plate.''

Billingsley (7-9) allowed a run and four hits in seven innings, struck out seven and walked two. The right-hander lost five consecutive starts with a 6.21 ERA during a stretch before going on the disabled list and missing a turn in the rotation because of elbow pain. Since then, he's allowed just two runs in 20 1-3 innings.

''He felt like he didn't need to go on in the first place, but I think sometimes you're body's telling you something,'' manager Don Mattingly said. ''That pain was basically letting him know that he needed to miss that one start. Just giving him those days off really allowed that thing to calm down. It wasn't anything big, but it was big enough to be causing pain and fluid. Obviously that time off has allowed him to be sharper. He's been going deep in every game and he's throwing strikes.''

Billingsley, in the second year of a four-year contract that will pay him more than $41 million, had been 0-4 with a 4.70 ERA in his previous eight starts at Dodger Stadium since beating Pittsburgh 4-1 in his first home start of the season on April 11. This is the eighth time in his eight-year career that he has won as many as three straight starts, but he has never won more than four starts in a row.

''Mainly he's just been attacking the strike zone, using his fastball on both sides of the plate and getting ahead in the count. As simple as that sounds, he's been doing it,'' Ellis said. ''Righties, lefties, it doesn't matter. And he's mixing in his off-speed stuff, which makes his fastball that much more devastating.''

Jeff Samardzija (7-9) gave up five runs and eight hits in 5 1-3 innings without walking a batter and struck out three. The former Notre Dame wide receiver had a 1.91 ERA over his previous five starts after surrendering nine runs over 4 1-3 innings in a 17-1 loss to the New York Mets on June 27 at Wrigley Field.

Chicago's Darwin Barney, who sat out Wednesday's game for precautionary reasons after getting hit in the head by Pittsburgh's A.J. Burnett on Tuesday night, reached on an infield hit with one out in the fifth after Ellis fielded the swinging bunt about 10 feet up the third base line and pulled first baseman James Loney off the bag with his hurried throw. Luis Valbuena tied the score 1-all with an RBI double inside first base with Loney playing even with the bag.

The Dodgers regained the lead in the bottom half with two runs, after Hanley Ramirez beat the Cubs' defensive shift with a grounder through the hole vacated by second baseman Barney and legged out a double. Ramirez scored the go-ahead run on Loney's double and Ellis added an RBI single to go along with his third-inning homer. He added his 10th home run in the seventh, an opposite-field drive against Manny Corpas.

''Getting the base hit to get the runner in from third base is something I'm more proud of tonight than either of the home runs,'' Ellis said after his first multihomer game in the big leagues. ''I've struggled in that situation this year, so to be able to distance the lead from 2-1 to 3-1, that's the at-bat that I'll go home tonight being the most proud of.

''I think I'm just kind of getting back to who I am and trying to stay up the middle more. Sometimes when you feel a little good, you start reaching for a little bit more than you can. So it's all about knowing what you're capable of and staying within yourself.''

Ramirez, who is 8-for-15 lifetime against Samardzija, increased the margin to 5-1 in the sixth with a two-run single that chased the right-hander. In nine games since joining the Dodgers in a trade from Miami, Ramirez is 9-for-35 with 10 RBIs.

''Tonight my splitter was just up and wasn't very consistent, but I thought I pitched around it all right,'' Samardzija said. ''I threw some good fastballs and my slider was real good. There were a couple of mistakes on my part - leaving that leaving that splitter up to Ellis in the second, leaving the ball over the plate to Hanley in the sixth. Things like that make a difference in the game.''

NOTES: Mattingly won't decide when RHP Joe Blanton will make his first start for them until he joins his new club on Saturday, following Friday's trade with Philadelphia. The deal took on some urgency after LHP Ted Lilly was scratched from his scheduled rehab outing with Class-A Rancho Cucamonga on Friday night. Lilly hasn't pitched for Los Angeles since May 23 because of inflammation in his shoulder. ... Barney tied Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg's franchise record for consecutive errorless games in one season by a second baseman with his 90th. Sandberg carried his streak into the 1990 season before it ended at 123. ... Ramirez made his first start at SS for the Dodgers after starting his first eight games with them at 3B. He played exclusively at SS last season with the Marlins, but shifted to third after they got Jose Reyes from the Mets in the offseason. Once the Dodgers get Dee Gordon back from the DL, Ramirez will be back at third. ... Cubs RHP Alberto Cabrera faced one batter in his major league debut, striking out Luis Cruz with a runner at second to end the sixth. He signed with them as a non-drafted free agent in July 2005, and was promoted on Wednesday from Triple-A.

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