Five starts into his 2010, Billingsley's looking a little like his former self. He went six innings for a second start in a row Friday night in a 6-2 Dodgers win over the Pirates, which snapped a five-game losing streak. Billingsley had early run support from Andre Ethier and James Loney, who both homered.
Is two starts enough to say he's turned a corner?
"He's getting there, I think he's finding more and more out about himself," manager Joe Torre said. "All I know is two starts in a row, he has really been free and throwing the ball really well. I thought his velocity the last two games has been really good."
Torre met with Billingsley and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt in Cincinnati last week after Billingsley lasted just three innings in an 11-9 Dodgers loss. Billingsley wouldn't talk about what was discussed in the meeting then, and he wouldn't do it Friday after allowing two runs on six hits and three walks with four strikeouts.
"That's between me and him, like I said last time," Billingsley said.
Maybe it's Billingsley's success, maybe it isn't all that secret -- whatever it is, Torre shed a little light. What they were seeing was not the same pitcher who made it six innings or more through his first 12 starts of the season in 2009.
"You made so much about pitch count, pitch count, pitch count with him," Torre said. "It looked like he was sort of falling into guiding the ball and trying to throw strikes. The only thing we stress more than anything else is just to go after it and let it go. You've thrown enough balls over the plate that they're going to find their way."
The Dodgers' offense, too, had some rebounding to do. On Thursday they were shut out by the Pirates, who had a Major League-worst 6.84 ERA entering Friday. It was the fourth shutout thrown against the Dodgers in April.
The Pirates' starter for the second game of the four-game set was Charlie Morton, who fell to 0-5 and has a 12.57 ERA. He lowered his ERA from 16.20 to start the day.
With the Dodgers down, 1-0, in the first inning, newly inserted leadoff man Xavier Paul singled to the opposite field, stole second base and scored on Ethier's homer to right. It was Ethier's sixth of the season.
"It's no secret that right now the team is looking for a spark," said Paul, who was 1-for-4 with two runs scored. "To be able to get on base right away, you got to put pressure on the defense from inning No. 1."
The Dodgers, who have done most of the gifting on the defensive end this season with 21 errors, were on the receiving end Friday.
Errors from Pirates shortstop Bobby Crosby and first baseman Jeff Clement on hard-hit grounders put two runners on for Loney, who pulled an 0-1 breaking ball into the right-field corner for his first home run of the season.
The ball barely had elevation to clear the already-low fence just to the left of the foul pole.
"I was hoping a fan didn't reach over and make it interference," said Loney, who went 3-for-3 for his team-leading 10th multi-hit game of the season.
The Dodgers have been streaky but nonetheless powerful at home: They're averaging 1.5 homers per game through eight contests at Dodger Stadium this season.
A slide from Loney in the sixth inning helped the Dodgers add an insurance run. With Loney on first, Blake DeWitt executed a perfect hit-and-run and then broke for second when the throw came into third base. Third baseman Andy LaRoche may have had a play on DeWitt had Loney's slide into the bag he not upended LaRoche.
"I didn't even really see him," said Loney, who then scored on Ronnie Belliard's sacrifice fly. "I mean I saw him, but when I slid I just slid. I was just trying to beat the ball."
The Pirates threatened in the fourth and sixth innings, adding a run in the former on back-to-back doubles. Billingsley got out of both innings with strikeouts.
"I kept the same game plan and mind-set as I did last time out," he said.
Evan Drellich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.