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04/07/10 1:16 PM ET

Instead of beat LA, let's sweep LA

By Bailey Stephens/MLB.com

Entering Thursday's series finale, it's hard not to be a little surprised after the results of the opening two games.

The Pirates, who are taking advantage of the fresh start of the new season, will go for a series sweep over the Dodgers at PNC Park.

Paul Maholm and Chad Billingsley are two pitchers on their respective staffs who can more than appreciate the fresh start a new season can bring.

Maholm, ailed throughout last season by a nagging left knee issue, went 8-9 with a 4.44 ERA in 2009. He struggled this spring -- although he faced the Red Sox or Yankees in five of his seven Grapefruit League starts -- going 1-3 with a 4.30 ERA. He's ready to put the spring and '09 season behind him.

"I would like to have had little better success," Maholm said. "You understand it's spring, but you'd also like to have success while you're there to kind of carry over."

In an attempt to salvage the series, the Dodgers turn to their highly touted young hurler Billingsley, who mysteriously struggled down the stretch. Billingsley endured an unusually tough second half, falling off sharply after a strong start. He went 3-7 with a 5.20 ERA in the second half, a result he believed was caused by a mechanical flaw.

Billingsley appeared this spring to have moved past his woes from last season, putting up a 1.84 ERA before getting shelled by the Angels in his final tuneup start. The right-hander said he's happy with his progress and is ready for a new year.

"This is a new season, a new start," Billingsley said. "I'm feeling good about the way I'm throwing the ball."

Dodgers: Bats sluggish in RISP opportunities
While the Pirates' offense has looked strong in the early going, the same can't be said for the Dodgers, who have struggled to execute at key moments in the season's first two games. In the extra-innings loss on Wednesday, Los Angeles went 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position, and tallied just five hits in the contest. First baseman James Loney is now 0-for-9 to start the season.

Pirates: So far, offense is clicking
No one expects the Bucs to equal the same offensive output all season that they exerted on Opening Day, but they put up enough runs to win Game 2. Garrett Jones continued his home run barrage on Wednesday, adding his third long ball in just two games. While the early power surge has no doubt helped his team, manager John Russell knows his team can't rely on that. "The home runs will come, but you can't sit back and rely on them," Russell said. "We have to make sure we advance runners. We have to take advantage of situations if we get a guy in scoring position. The approach has been good all through Spring Training and on Opening Day, and now it's just maintaining that."

Worth noting
Maholm will go for his first career win over the Dodgers. He is 0-3 with a 5.59 ERA lifetime against Los Angeles. ... Rafael Furcal should be happy to see Maholm on the hill as he sports a .385 career average against the hurler. ... The Pirates got off to a strong start in extra-innings affairs, an area in which they struggled last season. The Bucs went 2-9 in such games last season.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.