Dodgers-Braves Preview

The Associated Press

Hanley Ramirez claims his mere presence is making Chad Billingsley pitch better.

That's highly debatable, but there's no question Ramirez's bat is helping Billingsley and the Los Angeles Dodgers win games.

Billingsley looks to continue his sparkling run with a sixth straight winning start Sunday as the visiting Dodgers decide their series with the Atlanta Braves.

Before going on the disabled list with elbow inflammation last month, Billingsley (9-9, 3.62 ERA) had lost five consecutive starts and was battling through a mediocre season.

Since returning July 23, he's been brilliant, posting a 1.56 ERA while winning five starts in a row in a single season for the first time in his career. Perhaps the best one came Tuesday at Pittsburgh, where he pitched eight dominant innings in an 11-0 victory.

"I've been throwing just fastballs and commanding the fastball pretty well lately, and just mixing in offspeed," Billingsley said. "As far as my thought process, it hasn't changed."

Ramirez, acquired by the Dodgers (66-55) from Miami two days after Billingsley came off the DL, thinks he might have something to do with the right-hander's dramatic improvement.

"I think maybe I am good luck," Ramirez said.

He's certainly a good hitter, batting .330 with 27 RBIs in 23 games since joining Los Angeles. In his four games playing behind Billingsley, Ramirez is 7 for 17 with eight RBIs.

Ramirez posted his fifth straight multihit game Saturday, homering twice and driving in four runs in a 6-2 victory. He's batting .447 on this 10-game road trip, with the Dodgers going 6-3 to remain locked in a tight NL West race with San Francisco.

"I've been telling you guys that I've been feeling good at the plate," Ramirez said. "I've been seeing the ball great I think and I've been swinging at strikes. I think that's the key."

The Braves' four-game win streak was snapped Saturday with their sixth loss in 24 contests.

They'll look to bounce back behind Mike Minor, whose improved stretch of pitching hasn't paid off in terms of wins and losses like Billingsley's has.

Minor (6-9, 4.93) has a 2.39 ERA in six starts since the All-Star break, but he's just 1-3. He hasn't gotten any run support during his last two outings, losing both.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez was pleased with the left-hander's performance Monday, when Minor allowed three runs in six innings of a 4-1 loss to San Diego.

"I thought Mike did a terrific job," Gonzalez said. "It's a night that, most nights, you've got a chance to win the ballgame."

Gonzalez said Brian McCann will be in the starting lineup Sunday after the catcher sat out the first two games of this series. McCann has been diagnosed with a cyst and a frayed labrum in his right shoulder, but says he can play through the injuries.

He is batting .229, more than 50 points below his career average. McCann had nine homers in 20 July games, but he's 4 for 36 (.111) without an extra-base hit in August.

"I'm going to manage it and get through the season and then see what we need to do," McCann said. "I can play. I can do all the things I need to do to play."

Don Mattingly can't manage the Dodgers on Sunday. He'll finish serving a two-game suspension for excessive arguing with umpires and will retake the reins Monday when Los Angeles returns home to face the Giants.

Bench coach Trey Hillman is filling in.

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