LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers added a new starter on Friday in Joe Blanton, and it appears they may have another one in Chad Billingsley, who has looked like anything but his old self in his last three outings.
Billingsley, a mainstay since 2006 in a rotation that has been plagued by inconsistency, led the Dodgers to a 6-1 victory in the series opener thanks to seven innings of one-run ball. A pair of homers by A.J. Ellis, including a rare opposite-field shot, didn't hurt either as the Dodgers regrouped after being swept earlier this week by Arizona.
"The big star of the game was Chad Billingsley, and the way he was able to keep them at bay for seven innings was awesome," said Ellis, who trended nationally on Twitter after his first home run thanks to a plug from broadcaster Vin Scully. "There is no secret in the Arizona series -- we were playing from behind pretty much the whole time, and he gave us a chance to get the lead and, like most teams, we are much better when we are out in front."
After missing his first start after the All-Star break with a sore elbow, Billingsley has gone 3-0 with the first two victories coming on the road against the Cardinals and Giants. He has given up only two runs in 20 1/3 innings since coming off the disabled list.
"That was about the best command of his fastball and cutter that I've seen him have," Chicago manager Dale Sveum said. "He's always had good stuff, but I think that was the best command I've seen him have with his hard stuff."
Prior to that short stint on the DL, Billingsley lost five straight starts and sported a 4.30 ERA and 4-9 record.
Billingsley never wanted to go on the DL in the first place, but manager Don Mattingly was insistent, and now that he looks back, he thinks those days off allowed his starter to calm down and get back on track.
"I was able to keep batters off-balance -- they can't sit on one side of the plate," Billingsley said. "I was able to throw good cutters to left-handed hitters. I've been able to string a couple of good starts together and just have to keep it going."
While Ellis deflected the attention to Billingsley, he also had himself a game to remember. Friday marked the first multi-homer game in his Major League career, and he believes it was his first since 2007, when he was in the Minors.
His teammates and manager had some fun at his expense. He finished 3-for-3 with three RBIs and two runs scored.
"I don't know if we ever thought we'd see an opposite-field home run by A.J., especially at night," Mattingly said. "It's just a testament to the work that he has put in over the years."
Ellis poked fun at himself, too.
"That was a mistake," Ellis said about his shot in the seventh.
"I don't hit home runs over there. As Andre [Ethier] let me know, 'You don't even hit home runs over there in batting practice.' I told Andre I've got 10 and he's got 11, so I'm coming for him."
Ellis got the scoring started with a solo shot to left-center in the third for his ninth home run of the season. After the Cubs tied it up in the fifth with an RBI double by Luis Valbuena, the Dodgers roared back with four runs over the next two frames.
Taking advantage of an extreme infield shift, Hanley Ramirez hit a ground ball past a diving Darwin Barney at second base. Ramirez, making his first start at shortstop in 2012, quickly turned on the burners and turned a routine single into a double.
"I've been pulling the ball too much, so I tried to hit the ball the other way," Ramirez said. "I was going for second from the get-go. I watched the ball and he wasn't getting to it and decided to go."
Up next was James Loney, who roped a double to right to bring home Ramirez and give the Dodgers the lead. Luis Cruz flied out deep enough to right for Loney to tag up and Ellis scored him with a single to left field.
The Dodgers put another two runs on the board in the sixth after Mark Ellis and Matt Kemp led off the inning with a single and double.
Ethier grounded out to pitcher Jeff Samardzija. Ramirez, who came into the game 6-for-12 against the Cubs' starter, beat the infield shift again with a single that brought both baserunners home.
A.J. Ellis hit his 10th home run of the season and second of the game in the seventh inning to add to the Dodgers' four-run lead.
Shane Victorino picked up his first hit as a Dodger in the seventh while Ramirez finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs after going 0-for-10 in his first home series at Dodger Stadium.
"It was just great team at-bats," A.J. Ellis said. "That's the stuff we need to do if we are going to be around and where we want to be at the end of the year, which is what we are trying to do."
Alex Angert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.