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Billingsley, Dodgers Open Series In San Diego

(Sports Network) - After stumbling out of the gate to begin the second half, the Dodgers have finally started to turn things around. It's a good thing, because the National League West-leading Padres have had no such troubles since the All-Star break.

Los Angeles will be trying to close the gap with San Diego, starting tonight with the opener of a three-game series at Petco Park.

The Dodgers lost their first six games to begin the second half, but have won four of five since. That has them six games behind the first-place Padres.

Los Angeles took three of four from the Mets over the weekend despite scoring just seven runs. Russell Martin drove in the lone run in Sunday's 1-0 triumph, backing Clayton Kershaw's eight scoreless innings in which he gave up seven hits with one walk.

"Clayton is something special," said Dodger's skipper Joe Torre. "He stays focused and knows how to pitch under pressure. He's learning to pitch instead of overpowering people."

Kenley Jansen earned his first career save in his second big league outing by retiring the side in order in the ninth.

Chad Billingsley started the Dodgers' recent stretch by beating the Giants on Wednesday. The right-hander hurled the second shutout of his career in that one, a five-hitter in which he gave up two walks and struck out three.

"I stuck with my game plan and stayed down in the zone," Billingsley told Los Angeles' website. "I always try to do that, but some days it just doesn't happen."

Billingsley is 8-5 with a 4.22 earned run average on the season and 9-4 with a 2.51 ERA in 19 career games (15 starts) versus the Padres. The 26-year-old beat them on May 16 with 7 1/3 scoreless innings, yielding four hits and a walk to go along with six strikeouts.

Jon Garland will try to prevent Billingsley and the Dodgers from getting closer to the Padres in the standings. The right-hander is coming off a no- decision in Atlanta on Wednesday as he allowed four runs on six hits with a walk over five innings.

Garland has enjoyed Petco Park so far this year, going 5-1 with a 2.51 ERA in 10 starts at home. He got a no-decision versus the Dodgers as the hosting pitcher May 14 after allowing two runs over six innings. He then beat Los Angeles five days later on the road despite getting charged with four runs over five innings.

In his career versus the Dodgers, who he went 3-2 with a 2.72 ERA in six starts with last year, Garland is 2-1 with a 3.75 ERA.

The Padres have won eight of 10 since the All-Star break and return home after a 4-2 road trip. That trek was capped on Sunday with a 6-3 victory, capping a three-game sweep for San Diego.

Chris Denorfia and Adrian Gonzalez both homered for the Padres. Denorfia's home run was is sixth in 11 games, a span in which he is hitting .341 (14- for-41) with 12 RBI.

Wade LeBlanc got the victory on Sunday, yielding three runs over six innings to earn his first win since June 12.

"The big thing was establishing strike one later in the game," LeBlanc said. "It takes away some of their aggressiveness."

At 58-39, the Padres are 19 games over .500 for the first time since the conclusion of the 1998 season, which also marks their last World Series appearance.

Los Angeles has won four of five over the Padres this year, including a three- game sweep at Petco Park from May 14-16.