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MIL@CHC: Gallardo strikes out six, allows one run

No Major League team has jumped out of the gates faster than the Dodgers, who beat the Padres, 5-4, on Sunday afternoon for their sixth straight victory. At a Major League-best 9-1, Los Angeles is off to its best start since it posted the same mark to begin 1981, when the club went on to capture the World Series.

But after a 6-0 homestand, the Dodgers now must head on the road and test themselves with a three-game series against the Brewers, beginning Tuesday night at Miller Park.

Thus far, the Dodgers have played only the Padres and Pirates, who lost a combined 181 games last season. The Brewers (4-6) have lost four in a row, but are the only 2011 playoff team Los Angeles will face until mid-May.

The Dodgers will begin the series with right-hander Chad Billingsley, who is coming off stellar back-to-back starts against the Padres and Pirates. Billingsley (2-0, 0.63 ERA) has allowed only eight hits and struck out 15 in 14 1/3 innings.

Perhaps more impressive is Billingsley's total of one walk allowed. In 32 starts last season, he handed out at least two free passes 29 times.

"[Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt] made it real simple in the bullpen warming up in San Diego," catcher A.J. Ellis said after Billingsley's last start. "He gave Chad one simple thought, and it took off from there.

"He told him to just drive with his lower half through the target and forget everything else. It's up to Chad to repeat the mechanics, and he did tonight. His fastball command was exactly like San Diego -- both sides, elevate when needed, mix in the offspeeds. I saw pretty much the same pitcher. It was great."

The Brewers will counter with Yovani Gallardo, who bounced back from a rough first outing with a gem at Wrigley Field on Wednesday. Gallardo (1-1, 5.91 ERA) held the Cubs to one run on five hits in seven innings, striking out six.

The righty was hit so hard in his previous outing against the Cardinals, giving up six earned runs and four homers in 3 2/3 innings, that the Brewers thought he might have been tipping his pitches. Video study revealed nothing, and Gallardo permitted only one extra-base hit in Chicago.

"It's always huge," Gallardo said afterward. "The start before today, obviously, it didn't go the way I wanted to. I had four days to work on what I wanted to work on."

Dodgers: Who's the MVP now?
• This series features a matchup of the top two finishers in last season's National League MVP voting. Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun received 20 first-place votes and 388 points overall, while Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp logged 10 first-place votes and 332 points.

It's still extremely early, but Kemp seems to be making an emphatic statement about his chances in 2012. After a 3-for-4 effort against the Padres on Sunday, he leads the NL in batting average (.486), OPS (1.548), home runs (six) and RBIs (16).

"He's pretty hot -- we've pretty much seen this from him most of the year," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "He's not going to be able to keep up this pace, I'll say that. But it's legit. You don't just do some of the things that he's been doing."

Although Braun's numbers pale in comparison to Kemp's, he has been no slouch himself, batting .343 with a .943 OPS, one home run and four RBIs.

• Legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully returned to the booth for Sunday's Jackie Robinson Day game against the Padres. The 84-year-old missed the team's first five home games with a bad cold, and he won't travel on the upcoming six-game road trip to Milwaukee and Houston, as he only calls games in California and Arizona.

Brewers: Early scuffles for Ramirez
• Third baseman Aramis Ramirez signed a three-year, $36 million contract with the Brewers this offseason, but his bat has not yet come alive in a Milwaukee uniform.

After he went 0-for-4 in Sunday's loss to the Braves, Ramirez's batting average dipped to .114. He also has not hit a home run in nine games, his longest streak to begin a season since it took him 13 games in 2003.

Ramirez's next big fly will put him in sole possession of eighth place on the all-time list for third basemen, with 313.

• Shortstop Alex Gonzalez is expected to return Tuesday from paternity leave, as his wife delivered the couple's third child on Sunday in Florida. The club recalled infielder Eric Farris from Triple-A Nashville on Saturday, but Cesar Izturis started at shortstop on both Saturday and Sunday.

Worth noting
• The Brewers are beginning a set of six straight games and 12 of 18 against NL West foes, playing every team except the D-backs. Milwaukee compiled a 19-14 record against the division in 2011, including 4-2 against Los Angeles.

• Current Brewers players are batting .305 in 105 career at-bats against Billingsley, but have not hit a home run, leaving their slugging percentage at .400.

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