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LAD@PIT: Billingsley silences Bucs over eight frames

Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley and Braves lefty Mike Minor have been rounding into form as their clubs' hunts for a division title heat up.

Billingsley, 5-0 with a 1.56 ERA since the All-Star break, will square off against Minor, who hasn't allowed more than three runs in a start since June, as Los Angeles and Atlanta vie for a series victory in Sunday's rubber match.

Billingsley has been simply dominant during the second half, holding opponents to a .209 average with 23 strikeouts to only six walks, dropping his ERA from 4.30 to 3.62 in the process. The last Dodgers pitcher to win six straight starts was Kevin Brown in 2003.

He's put together this winning streak after coming off the disabled list with elbow inflammation, and he's coming off his best start since April 6, having shut out the Pirates over eight innings Tuesday. The righty relied primarily on his fastball in that outing, slicing through Pittsburgh's lineup on 107 pitches, 75 of them for strikes.

"I shouldn't say 'easiest,' but he seemed the smoothest," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said after that outing. "He didn't fight himself at all, didn't overthrow, just had nice touch and feel, used his slowing breaking ball, used a little cutter, threw some sliders, threw some changeups. He just seemed to be kind of in control all night."

Minor has been impressive in his own right after a rocky first half of the year. The 24-year-old lefty has lowered his ERA from 5.97 on July 5 to 4.93 heading into Sunday's start, putting together five quality starts in six second-half outings -- and the other was a scoreless 3 2/3-innings performance on Aug. 2.

While his 1-3 record since the break might not reflect his turnaround, Minor has given up only 10 runs in 37 2/3 innings, striking out 29 batters and walking just six. He's taken the loss his last two times out, most recently against the Padres on Monday, when he allowed three runs on nine hits over six innings.

Minor allowed several infield singles and only two extra-base hits in that outing, and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez admitted Minor's outcome was a "cruel" part of the game the young lefty had to endure.

"I feel like there was a lot of bad luck tonight and a mixture of good hitting on their part," Minor said. "I feel like I made some quality pitches and just didn't have a good outcome."

Dodgers: Mattingly suspended for two games
• Mattingly was not in the Dodgers' dugout for Saturday's 6-2 win over the Braves, nor will he be manning his usual post in Sunday's series finale. The skipper was suspended after being ejected in Thursday's 10-6 loss to the Pirates, although center fielder Matt Kemp was not. Bench coach Trey Hillman will serve as acting manager for Los Angeles on Sunday, as he did Saturday. Mattingly also was fined an undisclosed amount.

"I just didn't understand why, but today I understand," Mattingly said of the suspension. "It said I have to keep my guys under control before I make my argument."

• Reliever Scott Elbert joined the Dodgers on Saturday but wasn't activated. That should come Sunday or Monday, Mattingly said.

Elbert is on the disabled list with left elbow inflammation. He pitched three times in four games on a Minor League rehab assignment with Double-A Chattanooga, striking out all six batters he faced. He was not available Saturday because he pitched Thursday and Friday.

Braves: McCann more than ready to return
• Catcher Brian McCann was out of the Braves' starting lineup Saturday for the second straight game, but he was adamant he "can do all of the things that I need to do to play." Gonzalez said it had nothing to do with McCann's right shoulder subluxation, but rather McCann's recent struggles at the plate and David Ross' impressive numbers against Aaron Harang, who started Saturday.

McCann will be back in the lineup for Sunday's series finale, however.

"[The shoulder is] not 100 percent, but who is 100 percent at this time of the year?" Gonzalez said.

• Gonzalez said shortstop Andrelton Simmons, on the 15-day disabled list with a broken right pinkie since July 8, hasn't started baseball activities yet. He should be on track for a mid-September return, although the Braves had hoped to have him back by the beginning of September.

Worth noting
• Despite posting a 29-12 record since July 3, the Braves have gained just one game in the National League East standings. The Nationals have gone 29-14 over that stretch, keeping their division lead at four games.

• With a two-homer performance Saturday, Hanley Ramirez has five consecutive multi-hit games, going 17-for-38 with four doubles, three home runs and 14 RBIs through the first nine games of the Dodgers' road trip.

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