Xavier Paul sparks a power surge for Dodgers

Looking for something, anything, to snap a five-game losing streak, Dodgers Manager Joe Torre penciled in relative newcomer Xavier Paul in the leadoff spot Friday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“With [ Rafael] Furcal out of there, you’re just trying to find somebody that can give you a little spark,” Torre said of Paul, who was called up last week to replace the injured Manny Ramirez and, with Furcal hurt as well, assumed Furcal’s spot at the top of the order.

Paul promptly provided the spark, twice reaching base as he led off in early innings — albeit once on a Pirates error — and setting the table for home runs by Andre Ethier and James Loney.

That rediscovered offense, combined with another solid outing by starting pitcher Chad Billingsley, led the Dodgers to a 6-2 win over Pittsburgh and ended the team’s losing skid on another windy night at Dodger Stadium.

After being shut out three times in the prior five games, the Dodgers (9-14) were glad to score runs again, even if the enthusiasm was tempered knowing that the Pittsburgh starter, Charlie Morton, entered the game with an 0-4 record and a 16.20 earned-run average.

But a win’s a win, and it was especially sweet for Billingsley (2-1), who pitched relatively well for the second consecutive game after struggling badly in two of his three April starts.

Billingsley gave up the two earned runs and six hits in six innings of work in front of an announced 46,775. He also struck out four Pirates and walked three. Ronald Belisario, George Sherrill and Jonathan Broxton blanked Pittsburgh the rest of the way.

“It’s always good to be the stopper” of a losing streak, Billingsley said. “Andre and James had those two big home runs and we were able to get on top early and I was able to settle in and pitch deep into the ballgame.”

The Pirates’ Akinori Iwamura opened the game with a ground-rule double off Billingsley, then scored on Andrew McCutchen’s double to the left-centerfield gap.

Paul answered with a leadoff single in the first inning, stole second and came home on Ethier’s home run — his sixth of the season — into the right-field pavilion.

In the third inning, Paul and Ethier reached base on fielding errors by Pittsburgh shortstop Bobby Crosby and first baseman Jeff Clement, respectively, and Loney followed with his first homer of the season, a line drive that barely cleared the wall in the right-field corner.

“It felt great to be able to get on base when you’re batting in that leadoff spot,” Paul said. “It puts pressure on the defense, pressure on the pitcher.”

In the fourth inning, the Pirates’ Ryan Church hit a ground-rule double and then catcher Ryan Doumit hit a double to right field that Ethier just missed as he raced to the wall, scoring Church and cutting the Dodgers’ lead to 5-2.

The Dodgers added a run in the sixth inning when Loney singled, moved to third base on Blake DeWitt’s single and scored on a sacrifice fly by Ronnie Belliard, pinch-hitting for Billingsley. Loney overall went three-for-three with a walk.

Ethier also made a diving catch of a line drive hit by McCutchen in the seventh inning.

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