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Dodgers Timely Hitting Defeats Pirates 4-1

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Top Deck of Dodger Stadium. (LAist/Jimmy Bramlett)
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Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw was given his physical Cy Young Award in a pregame ceremony that must have sparked not only the Dodgers’ pitching but also their bats in their 4-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It was a nice ceremony with Kershaw’s wife Ellen throwing the ceremonial first pitch to catcher A.J. Ellis’ wife Cindy, a wild eephus pitch if you will.

But that was it for the wildness for the Dodgers. Chad Billingsley continued to buck his trend of starting seasons out slow. With a career 4.01 ERA in March and April, Billingsley was coming off an 8 1/3 inning performance tossing 11 strikeouts in San Diego. Billingsley followed that up with only a six-inning performance, his only blemish being a solo homer given up to Clint Barmes in the third inning.

Billingsley could have lasted longer having made only 77 pitches. He was a victim of circumstance in the bottom of the sixth inning. The Dodgers had just scored a run to take a 2-1 lead on Andre Ethier’s RBI single, and the Dodgers had the bases loaded with two outs and right-handed reliever Chris Resop on the mound.

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“It’s his call,” Billingsley said. “He’s the manager.”

Never mind Billingsley hit the ball squarely in the fifth inning forcing a great play by right fielder Nate McLouth. Never mind that Billingsley has hit a homer at Petco Park in San Diego in his career.

But Mattingly made the logical decision: stick in left-handed James Loney to pinch hit who was .333 with two grand slams with the bases loaded in his career. Unfortunately the Pirates countered by inserting left-handed pitcher Tony Watson, and of course the left-handed Loney popped up to third base to end the inning.

You can’t win all of the decisions, but fortunately for Mattingly the Dodger bats came through. After Dee Gordon led off the seventh inning with a double, singles by Juan Rivera, Ethier and pinch hitter Tony Gwynn, Jr. brought home two insurance runs.

“I feel comfortable at the plate right now,” Rivera said who went three-for-four with two RBI. “When they throw me the pitch, I swing.”

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Mattingly is also comfortable with Rivera at the plate.

“Juan’s always been an RBI guy. He’s always gotten big hits. He uses the whole field, he’s not flashy in the same way as some of these other guys, but he gets big hits.”

While in the early part of last season when the offense was scuffling leaving runners on base left and right, the Dodgers seemed to have turned things around this season.

“We felt like we were going to be better this year,” Mattingly said. “Now we add [Ethier] in the mix. That’s a huge bat in your order.”

The bullpen made sure there was no drama with Matt Guerrier in the seventh, Kenley Jansen in the eighth and Javy Guerra recording his fourth save of the season.

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The Dodgers are now 5-1 with the lead in the NL West, for whatever that’s worth, and Mattingly will take it.

“Everybody wants to get off to a good start. To be able to get out of the gate playing good baseball and getting wins obviously helps your confidence as a team.”

It surely looks like the Dodgers have picked up where they left off last season getting timely hits while relying on their pitching staff. In a weak NL West, anything is possible. The Dodgers if they keep playing like this can take the division.

However ask anyone in the clubhouse they’ll say they’re focused on tomorrow’s matchup between Jeff Karstens and Chris Capuano.