Early homer barrage carries Dodgers

Early homer barrage carries Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- Manny Ramirez returned to the lineup Saturday night with an 0-fer, but the struggling Dodgers suddenly scored runs in bunches.

Coincidence?

"He just gives us more credibility in the middle of the lineup," manager Joe Torre said after the Dodgers slugged back-to-back homers twice in an 8-5 win that ended the Reds' seven-game winning streak.

Ryan Theriot (batting leadoff) and Andre Ethier homered consecutively in the second inning, Jay Gibbons (starting at first base for James Loney) and slumping Matt Kemp duplicated the feat in the third inning, all against Johnny Cueto, making his first start since serving a seven-game suspension for his role in an Aug. 10 brawl against the Cardinals. It was the first time the Dodgers had back-to-back homers twice in the same game since 1996.

"That certainly came out of nowhere," said Torre, whose Dodgers had scored 17 runs in the previous eight games.

Ramirez was activated from the disabled list before the game, in part to shake up the lineup for a last-gasp stretch run, in part a showcase for a trade before the end of the month. He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts after missing five weeks with a strained right calf muscle and was removed after five innings for defensive purposes once the Dodgers built their lead to six runs.

"He looked a little rusty," Torre said of Ramirez, who was 1-for-6 with five strikeouts in a Minor League rehab assignment this week. "He didn't look like he was jumping at the ball. It's just a timing situation now. He felt fine. He won't play [Sunday], but he will Tuesday."

Seven Dodgers drove in runs and they scored in five innings. Ethier had three hits.

"Yeah, well, it's bound to happen," Ethier said of the scoring windfall. "But everyone knows that we're always a better team with Manny in the lineup. Have a lot more depth, balance the lineup. We're excited to have him back. They'd rather take the chance with me; he has however many thousands of RBIs and home runs and stuff. You definitely see a difference with that."

Gibbons had two hits, raising his average to .421 since his promotion two weeks ago. He said he came to the park not knowing if he'd be on the team (Juan Castro was designated for assignment instead) and gave an assist to Ramirez for the offensive outburst.

"I really think so," he said. "The pitcher has to think about him even if he doesn't get hits. You saw what happened. I don't know if it's coincidence or not. He just really does change the dynamic of the lineup. Having a guy in there like Manny, I don't know, it's contagious."

Chad Billingsley (10-7) enjoyed the overdue support, winning for the first time since July 27, despite suffering one of those strained calf muscles himself covering first base in the second inning.

That's why Billingsley was only jogging when easily thrown out on a ground ball fielded behind the bag by shortstop Paul Janish, drawing boos from the crowd for not hustling.

"I didn't want to walk and have to run the bases, so I swung and it turned out worse," said Billingsley. "I didn't want to break hard and blow it out. I was being careful."

Billingsley struggled through a scoreless fifth inning and was removed during a two-run sixth. He said the calf didn't bother him pitching and he expected to make his next start.

Jonathan Broxton earned his first save since being demoted by retiring the Reds in order in the ninth, but it didn't mean he had won back the closer job. In fact, Torre used Hong-Chih Kuo in the seventh inning because that's when he felt the game needed to be saved.

Kuo inherited runners on first and second with one out from Travis Schlichting to face Joey Votto, who slapped an RBI single to left. The Reds cut the lead to 7-5 on Scott Rolen's sharp grounder, shortstop Jamey Carroll fumbling a possible double-play shot and settling for a forceout.

"That called for him there," Torre said of using Kuo in the seventh. "I'll still situation it."

Kuo restored order, Carroll's hit-and-run single in the seventh set up an insurance run and Kuo pitched a clean eighth inning before turning it over to Broxton for his first save since Aug. 3, like old times.

"It doesn't matter. We got the win, that's all I'm saying," Broxton said.

Torre said he hoped the outing helped Broxton's confidence.

"Whether it's baby steps or giant strides, a three-run lead and get three guys out has to be a good feeling when you're able to do that," he said.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.