LOS ANGELES -- The best thing about the Los Angeles Dodgers this season has been their pitching staff. Their most consistent starter has been Chad Billingsley.
The 23-year-old right-hander struck out a career-high 13 without walking a batter Sunday, and the Dodgers used a six-run first inning to beat the Florida Marlins 9-1 and avoid a four-game sweep.
"We felt like we felt like we were heading in the right direction because we had won four straight series before this one," manager Joe Torre said. "I mean, I don't think this has knocked us off course. It's just been frustrating. Overall, our pitching has been good and it continues to be good."
Billingsley (9-8) allowed a run and five hits over seven innings. The three-year veteran, who was selected in the first round of the 2003 draft, goes into the All-Star break with a 3.25 ERA and is 5-1 in his last six starts.
"I started off kind of slow this year. But, personally, I didn't feel like I was throwing that bad," said Billingsley, who leads the staff in wins.
"I was having some tough breaks, but I was able to finish up the first half strong. My offspeed stuff has been great recently. Hopefully, I can just carry this into the second half so we can make a run at this thing. We're right there, and we still haven't played our best ball yet. So it'll be fun in the second half."
The Dodgers are 46-49 in their first season under Torre, compared to 49-40 at the break last season under Grady Little. They trail Arizona by one game in the NL West, the same deficit they faced at the break last year. They resume their schedule with a three-game series against the Diamondbacks at Phoenix.
"Our record is less than I hoped for, and I'm disappointed that we don't have more wins under our belt. But I'm grateful that Arizona's going through the same thing," second baseman Jeff Kent said.
Los Angeles was as many as seven games off the pace on April 25. But the defending division champion Diamondbacks weren't able to capitalize on a 5-14 slide by the Dodgers from May 26 through June 15.
"When we were seven games back, there was a lot of disappointment among the players in here," Kent said. "But the way we've been making up ground in the standings is keeping guys excited. We've gained 95 games of experience now from the losses we had in the first half, and I think we're better off for it."
Dodgers closer Takashi Saito, whose ninth-inning stint on Saturday night was cut short because of tightness in his right elbow, will have an MRI on Monday.
"I think you've got to assume the worst," Torre said. "But with the All-Star break here, there's really no decision-making that has to be made immediately. So let's see what happens."
Saito's injury only clouds the picture for the Dodgers, who have had 12 players do time on the disabled list -- including starters Brad Penny and Jason Schmidt, shortstop Rafael Furcal and left fielder Juan Pierre.
"Injuries have been a crutch for us, I think," Kent said. "I hate to use them as excuses because good teams should be able to overcome the injuries we've had this year. We had another one last night with Saito, and I don't know how long that's going to take. We're a better team with him. But if we don't have him, we're going to have to find somebody to step up."
Billingsley gave up his only run on a first-inning RBI double by former Dodger Luis Gonzalez, then retired 15 of his next 16 batters -- 10 of them on strikeouts. The previous high by a Dodger this season was 12 -- by Billingsley on April 24 against Arizona.
Hanley Ramirez, scheduled to start at shortstop in Tuesday's All-Star Game, was held out of the Marlins' lineup for precautionary reasons after leaving Saturday night's game with a sore right shoulder -- although he was available to pinch-hit.
The Marlins, who had won six of their previous seven games, come into the break with a 50-45 record -- quite a turnaround for a club that finished the 2007 season 20 games under .500 and last in the NL East. They are 1½ games behind first-place Philadelphia.
"To people on the outside, I think we've overachieved," Gonzalez said. "I think we've surprised the baseball world -- just as Tampa Bay has. I think everybody's still waiting for both teams to falter, but we continue to go out there and surprise people. And that's what makes it very exciting and fun for our club."
Andrew Miller (5-9) lost his fourth straight decision, allowing seven runs, five hits and a season-high five walks in just 1 2/3 innings -- the second-shortest of his 33 career starts. The 23-year-old right-hander lasted only two-thirds of an inning in his first big league start on Aug. 29, 2007 with Detroit.
Miller didn't retire a batter in the rematch until his 31st pitch. The first six Dodgers all reached base and scored.
Matt Kemp led off the inning with a single and scored when second baseman Dan Uggla lost Nomar Garciaparra's bases-loaded popup in the sun. Garciaparra was credited with a hit, and James Loney added a two-run single after a walk to Andruw Jones.
Garciaparra came home on a groundout by Andy LaRoche, and Loney scored the sixth run on a suicide-squeeze by Luis Maza.