Apr 23

Billingsley loses longshot bet, headed for surgery

Look, it didn’t take hindsight to question Chad Billingsley’s decision to put off the Tommy John surgery the Dodgers announced he will now get Wednesday. The guy made an optimistic gambit and lost. It’s unfortunate, but far be it from me to criticize someone betting on himself.

Though Stephen Fife takes his spot in the rotation for now and Chris Capuano will move back in once his calf is healed, I think there is a strong possibility we’ll see minor-leaguers Matt Magill or Zach Lee before the summer’s out.

Dodgers at Mets, 4:10 p.m.
Kershaw CLIV: Kershawnce Upon a Time in America

Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
Andre Ethier, RF
A.J. Ellis, C
Justin Sellers, SS
Clayton Kershaw, P

 

Apr 21

Billingsley heads to disabled list, Fife recalled

No, really – just keep pouring it on.

This moming, the Dodgers placed Chad Billingsley on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow pain (retroactive to April 16). Stephen Fife – ninth on the Dodgers’ starting-pitcher depth chart when the season began three weeks ago – will start today’s game in Baltimore, trying to help the Dodgers end their six-game losing streak.

Fife has started three games for Triple-A Albuquerque this year, posting a 4.61 ERA in 13 2/3 innings with 20 hits allowed, three walks and 14 strikeouts. As a major-leaguer, Fife had a 2.70 ERA in five starts covering 26 2/3 innings in 2012, with 25 hits and 12 walks allowed against 20 strikeouts.

Fife’s longest outing this season so far is five innings, in the game he last pitched, Monday at Iowa. He allowed four runs and struck out eight, throwing 91 pitches.

We’re waiting for details on the timing of Billingsley’s trip to the DL. The right-hander, of course, eschewed surgery last year despite missing the final six weeks of the season with his elbow problem. He has a 3.00 ERA in 12 innings this year with 12 hits allowed, five walks and six strikeouts.

By the way, 21-year-old former first-round pick Zach Lee has a 1.17 ERA after four starts for Double-A Chatanooga this year, allowing 26 baserunners in 23 innings while striking out 21. (His teammate, Yasiel Puig, is on the seven-day minor-league disabled list with a sprained thumb.)

Update: “Chad Billingsley is not making his scheduled start today due to increased tightness and pain in his right elbow that he experienced during his last bullpen session,” the Dodgers said in a statement. “After consulting Dr. Neal ElAttrache, it was decided that he will return to Los Angeles on Tuesday for further medical evaluation. More information will be forthcoming after that examination.”

Dodgers at Orioles, 10:35 a.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Skip Schumaker, DH
Justin Sellers, SS
(Stephen Fife, P)

Apr 14

Dodgers might retaliate, but not Monday

The Dodgers told Dylan Hernandez of the Times they don’t intend to retaliate against San Diego at Dodger Stadium on Monday for Carlos Quentin’s mound-charging fracture of Zack Greinke’s collarbone, but they didn’t exactly rule out some kind of revenge tactic later in the season.

Quentin agreed Sunday to begin serving his eight-game suspension. From the last section of Hernandez’s story:

… Furthermore, Mattingly expects the umpires to officially warn both teams before the start of the game.

Under such circumstances, any pitcher believed to be throwing at a hitter would be immediately ejected and subject to a suspension. With Greinke already down, the Dodgers can’t afford to have one of their starting pitchers suspended.

“We’ll probably talk about it,” Mattingly said.

Pitching for the Dodgers on Monday will be Chad Billingsley, who said he has no intention of throwing at anyone.

“I’m not going out there headhunting tomorrow,” Billingsley said. “I’m going out there to pitch and win a ballgame. That’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s what we’re here for, to win baseball games, make the playoffs, win the division. That’s why I go out there every fifth day.”

Billingsley was widely criticized for failing to protect the Dodgers hitters when Brett Myers of the Philadelphia Phillies was throwing at them in the 2008 National League Championship Series.

“That whole series is in the past,” Billingsley said. “That’s five years ago and you’re still bringing it up. This is nothing similar to the past. That was playoffs. This is regular season.”

Previously on Dodger Thoughts:

Stay classy, Los Angeles: The problem with the Dodgers’ tweet

Revenge on Jackie Robinson Night?

Furious Dodgers fight off Padres but lose Greinke

Apr 12

Revenge on Jackie Robinson Night?

For Sports on Earth, I look ahead to the next meeting between the Dodgers and the Padres in the wake of their Thursday brawl. It comes Monday, on Jackie Robinson Night.

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 6:40 p.m.
Kershaw CLII: Kershawvanhoe

Jerry Hairston Jr., LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
Andre Ethier, RF
A.J. Ellis, C
Justin Sellers, SS
Clayton Kershaw, P

Update: “Zack Greinke was examined by Dr. Neal ElAttrache today in Los Angeles and underwent a CT scan on his left clavicle,” the Dodgers said in a statement. “It was determined that he should undergo surgery to place a rod in the clavicle to stabilize and align the fracture.  The surgery will be performed tomorrow by team physicians,  Drs. ElAttrache and John Itamura, at White Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles.  Greinke’s expected return is eight weeks.”

Shawn Tolleson has been recalled from the minors for the time being.

Apr 10

Dodgers survive a League of his moan, 4-3

So Chad Billingsley was the pregame worry, but in the end it was pins and needles with Brandon League.

It’s Jackie Robinson week, but instead we got the ghost of Mickey Owen.

Despite 17 baserunners tonight, the Dodgers’ final pitch of the game came with the tying and winning runs in motion on the bases for the Padres during a full-count pitch from League. But the last swing by Yonder Alonso sent a pop fly to the glove of backup left fielder Skip Schumaker, and Los Angeles hung on to a 4-3 victory.

The game offered little you could rely upon except Carl Crawford pounding the ball and the Dodgers leaving runners on base.

After the Dodgers stranded their 10th, 11th and 12th runners on base in the top of the ninth, League entered with a 4-1 lead and gave up a one-out double and two two-out singles for a run. He then struck out Chris Denorfia for what would have been the final out of the game, had the ball not eluded A.J. Ellis for a passed ball and another run.

League got two strikes on Alonso before the Padre worked the count full. With their stomachs lurching, Dodger fans instead got a dose of Pepto from the final out.

That preserved Billingsley’s first victory of the year and seventh in a row dating back to last season. After a leadoff walk, Billingsley sailed through the first three innings on barely 30 pitches, before falling out of sync in the fourth and fifth innings. But he kept the damage to a single run, and pushed through a sixth inning before calling it a night after 94 pitches. He allowed eight baserunners in all while striking out three.

Crawford homered on the second pitch of the game and tripled before scoring his second run in the fifth inning. Ellis hit a two-run homer in the second. Every Dodger position player who started had at least a hit, including the previously hitless Luis Cruz, who had two.

Apr 10

As Billingsley returns, do armchair therapists lurk?

Eleven men, brave and true, have pitched for the Dodgers in this young season. None, with the possible exception of Zack Greinke (who has publicly acknowledged social anxiety and depression issues), have had their performances psychoanalyzed in terms of mental toughness.

But back to the couch tonight, for the first time since his 2012 midseason injury, comes Chad Billingsley. It will be a test — not just for Billingsley, but for Dodger fans, who have habitually graded the righthander’s mental toughness ever since the 2008 playoffs.

Dodgers at Padres, 7:10 p.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Andre Ethier, RF
Luis Cruz, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Justin Sellers, SS
Chad Billingsley, P

The practice went on hiatus during the six-game, 1.30 ERA hot streak that came right before Billingsley was sidelined. Will it return as soon as he has his first bad inning, or will there be the kind of grace period that other pitchers get when they are coming back from an injury? I have my suspicions, but it would be nice if Dodger fans could be as clear-headed as they expect their pitcher to be.

The thing to remember is, Billingsley was having an odd 2012 even before its supernova finish. From July 28:

Continue reading

Sep 05

Billingsley’s season is over

Padres at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Mark Ellis, 2B
Shane Victorino, LF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, CF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Luis Cruz, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Aaron Harang, P

The Dodgers placed Chad Billingsley on the 60-day disabled list, ending his 2012 season after one of the hottest stretches of his career. He finishes with a 3.55 ERA (107 ERA+).

Coming to the team is left-handed reliever Steven Rodriguez from Double-A Chattanooga. Drafted just this past June from Florida, Rodriguez had 22 strikeouts against 14 baserunners in 13 2/3 innings.

* * *

First thing Thursday, I’m headed to the Toronto Film Festival, where I will be spending six days seeing movies, conducting interviews and writing for Variety. It’s going to be a murderous schedule, so rather than have this site go completely dormant, I’ve conscripted Bob Timmermann to take the reins. Enjoy, and here’s hoping things are looking bright for the Dodgers when I return.

Aug 24

Billingsley leaves in fourth with injury

With one out in the top of the fourth inning and a 6-3 Dodger lead over the Marlins, Dodger starter Chad Billingsley left the game with an undisclosed injury.

Billingsley, with a 1.30 ERA in six starts since coming off the disabled list, gave up a two-run home run in the first inning to Jose Reyes tonight and allowed seven baserunners among the 17 batters he faced, striking out one. (Update: Jamey Wright replaced Billingsley with a 2-0 count and walked the batter – that walk was also charged to Billingsley.)

Billingsley walked off the mound immediately after throwing a low-and-outside pitch to Gorkys Hernandez. Head trainer Sue Falsone visited with Billingsley and a contingent of Dodgers at the mound before escorting him to the clubhouse. Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt pointed to the elbow.

Aug 19

Billingsley, Cruz and sunshine energize Dodgers, 5-0

Chad Billingsley is cruising, and Luis Cruz is, well, chadding.

The Dodger starting pitcher and infielder each continued their hot ways, pushing the Dodgers to a 5-0 victory at Atlanta today, completing a 7-3 East Coast roadtrip.

Allowing three hits over seven innings underneath the summer Georgia sun, Billingsley improved to 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA since coming off the disabled list. Billingsley gave up only three hits and walked two while striking out four, throwing 101 pitches.

Billingsley’s only trouble inning was the fourth, when the Braves fouled off 13 of his pitches before Jason Heyward hit a two-out triple. Freddie Freeman then walked on five pitches, but Billingsley got Dan Uggla to pop out on the 30th pitch of the inning.

Impressively, Billingsley also blew Heyward away on a swinging strike three measured at 93 miles per hour with Michael Bourn on third base with two out in the sixth.

According to the Dodger press notes, Billingsley is the first Dodger to win six consecutive starts since Kevin Brown won seven in a row from May 14-June 17, 2003.

Meanwhile, Cruz homered for the second consecutive game while going 2 for 4, giving him a .484 on-base percentage and .852 slugging percentage in 31 plate appearances on this roadtrip. He also pushed his 2012 major-league OPS over .800 for the first time since his first week in a Dodger uniform.

It appeared that the Dodgers might have to rely on Cruz’s fifth-inning home run for their entire offense, but Los Angeles tacked on a run in the eighth and three more in the ninth, all of the scoring flowing directly from Heyward losing fly balls in the sun in each inning. Mark Ellis, who earlier in the game stranded five runners on base in two at-bats, took advantage to collect all four RBI, the last three on a bases-clearing double.

Ronald Belisario pitched a perfect eighth while the score was still 2-0, and Scott Elbert returned from the disabled list to finish things off with a spotless ninth.

Heart-of-the-orderers Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier combined went 0 for 13 with a walk. Kemp is hitless in his past 15 at-bats (with two walks).

Aug 14

Billingsley, Dodgers in the fast lane: 11-0

Chad Billingsley is pitching so well, the Internet took a moment of silence.

With eight shutout innings tonight, pacing the Dodgers’ 11-0 victory over Pittsburgh, Billingsley lowered his season ERA to 3.62 and his ERA in five starts since coming off the disabled list to 1.56. In his longest outing since his first start of 2012, Billingsley threw 107 pitches, 75 for strikes, and allowed five hits and walked one while striking out five. In those five post-DL starts, he has walked six and struck out 23. For the season, Billingsley’s career-best K/BB ratio improved to 3.1.

With two out in the bottom of the third inning and the Dodgers leading by one run, Pittsburgh rightfielder Travis Snider hit a double that sent pitcher Kevin Correia to third base. The Pirates’ MVP candidate, Andrew McCutchen, came to the plate.

Billingsley struck out McCutchen looking on a 2-2 pitch, and that was it for Pittsburgh, who had two baserunners over their remaining five innings. The Pirates, to say the least, looked like the Pirates of 1993-2011 tonight.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers had one of those innings you need to remember when things break bad for the team. Their first three baserunners in the top of the fourth, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez, reached base while hitting the ball a combined 37 inches. James Loney’s RBI groundout doubled the Dodgers’ lead, and then Luis Cruz (3 for 5) drove in the first two of his three RBI with a clean single to left.

The Dodgers padded their lead in the seventh on Cruz’s third single and A.J. Ellis’ sacrifice fly, and more in the ninth on Kemp’s bases-loaded single off the leg of Chad Qualls and two-run hits by Ethier and Ramirez, pushing Los Angeles to its biggest romp of the season, ahead of the 10-0 victory July 28 over San Francisco. Shawn Tolleson extended his scoreless streak to eight innings to finish off the Dodgers’ biggest shutout over Pittsburgh ever.

Ramirez had three hits, while Kemp and Loney each had two. In his first start since July 22, Juan Uribe could not live up to his .500 on-base percentage in 18 plate appearances against Correia entering the game, going 0 for 4 before drawing a ninth-inning walk.

Winning their fourth game out of five on the road trip so far, the Dodgers moved a half-game ahead of San Francisco, pending the result of the Giants’ game tonight at home against Washington, and 5 1/2 games ahead of Arizona, which lost 8-2 to St. Louis.

It was a great night as well for Hiroki Kuroda, who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in New York and ended up shutting out the Rangers on two hits.

Aug 03

Tweet Yo Self: Scully beguiled by Ellis’ big night

Even after ESPN the Magazine writer Molly Knight explained Twitter to Vin Scully earlier this year, the beloved Dodger broadcaster still hadn’t quite mastered it as of earlier this week, when he was charmingly saying such things as “The twit read …” Tonight, however, after Scully received a Twitter refresher course, the social media outlet became the spine of his broadcast tonight.

A.J. Ellis was a major part of tonight’s Twitter talk by Scully, and darned if Ellis didn’t have the most productive game of his career, hitting two solo home runs and singling for a third RBI in the Dodgers’ 6-1 victory over the Cubs.

“They are trending, twittering, tweeting, you name it, about ‘A.J. Ellis’ all over the United States,” Scully said mid-game, before signing deeply, almost exhaustedly, adding, “Ahhhh – he’s a nice boy.”

The way Scully got Twitter talking about Ellis was reminiscent of the way he would get the transistor radio crowd at Dodger Stadium in the 1960s to follow his lead.

Ellis and Hanley Ramirez, who had two hits and two RBI, weren’t the only Dodgers to give fans something to flap their fingers over.  Chad Billingsley went seven breezy innings, allowing six baserunners on 105 pitches while striking out seven. In three starts since coming off the disabled list, Billingsley has pitched 20 1/3 innings and allowed only 15 hits and three walks while striking out 13. His ERA in that time is 0.89, and he continues to maintain his season-long progress in attacking the strike zone.

Aug 01

Nope – it’s Abreu

Diamondbacks at Dodgers, 12:10 p.m.
Shane Victorino, LF
Andre Ethier, RF
Matt Kemp, CF
Hanley Ramirez, 3B
Juan Rivera, 1B
Jerry Hairston Jr., 2B
Luis Cruz, SS
A.J. Ellis, C
Stephen Fife, P

Well, I was wrong. The Dodgers have designated Bobby Abreu for assignment to make room on the roster for Shane Victorino.

Abreu OPSed .905 in his first 33 games as a Dodger, through June 11, but since then the outfielder has been 16 for 90 with 11 walks and two extra-base hits in 37 games for a .490 OPS.

I’m genuinely surprised. In this money-is-no-object era for the Dodgers, I still see more potential for Abreu to help in the stretch run than Juan Uribe.

* * *

  • Victorino will wear No. 8 with the Dodgers, with Don Mattingly switching to No. 12. The switch-hitting Victorino is wearing the same number as the switch-hitting Reggie Smith did as a Dodger in the 1970s. Smith took No. 8 because Steve Yeager already had the outfielder’s preferred No. 7.
  • Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus ranked the prospects traded at the deadline this week. Ethan Martin is 11th, Scott McGough 24th, Logan Bawcom 25th and Leon Landry 30th out of 43.
  • Goldstein also produced a new ranking of the top 50 prospects in baseball, with Zach Lee on the list at 47.
  • In the wake of Martin’s departure, the Dodgers promoted Andres Santiago to Double-A Chattanooga, reports Robert Emrich for MLB.com. The 22-year-old righty had a 1.76 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 41 innings for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga in July, while allowing only 21 hits and nine walks.
  • Jerry Hairston Jr. had an obscure but memorable throw, captured by Chad Moriyama.
  • Buster Olney names 10 leading August trade candidates in his column for ESPN.com.
  • This past weekend, I discussed Chad Billingsley’s season-long improvement in throwing strikes. At Fangraphs, Michael Barr delves deeper, noting that Billingsley is “going to his four seam fastball far more regularly and he’s almost abandoned his cutter.”
  • A year after it happened, the Trayvon Robinson trade gets a positive review from Scott Andes at Lasorda’s Lair.
  • Dodger Stadium cuisine was recently reviewed by Jeanne Fratello of the Jolly Tomato.
  • Former Dodger general manager Dan Evans had a post-deadline live chat today at Baseball Prospectus.
  • Houston finished July with a 3-24 record, the worst July any team has had in at least 50 years, notes David Pinto of Baseball Musings.
  • With no further introduction, a recent piece from Josh Wilker.
Jul 28

The counterintuitive Chad Billingsley shuts down Giants

Dodgers 10, Giants 0
In a glorious day for the Dodgers, Matt Kemp came a base short of the cycle, doubling in his final at-bat after hitting a two-run home run in the first inning off Barry Zito, singling in the sixth and doubling in the seventh. He scored three times and drove home four.

A.J. Ellis, who also homered, joined Mark Ellis, Hanley Ramirez (three RBI), Jerry Hairston Jr. and Luis Cruz in reaching base twice for Los Angeles, which put the game away with a three-run seventh inning for a 7-0 lead. Each of the above players except for Mark Elllis doubled.

Javy Guerra got Ryan Theriot to ground out with the bases loaded to end the eighth inning and pitched a perfect ninth to preserve the shutout.

The oddity of Chad Billinglsey’s 2012 season, prior to going on the disabled list in early July, was that the best K/9 rate of his career – 2.9 strikeouts for every walk – had not translated into any improvement in his overall performance. His 2012 ERA, standard as well as adjusted for park effects, was almost identical to his 2011 mark.

Billingsley was throwing more strikes and throwing fewer balls, but it wasn’t making any difference. Just to take a quick and dirty stat such as quality starts: In 2011, Billingsley had quality starts in 15 of 32 outings (47 percent), while in 2012, before the DL trip, it was eight out of 18 (44 percent).

Since coming off the disabled list, Billingsley has made two starts, pitching a combined 13 1/3 innings and allowing only one run on 12 baserunners. In the process, he has struck out only six batters, including two today while pitching 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball, allowing four hits and walking none in the Dodgers’ rousing 10-0 victory over San Francisco.

At one point today, I heard Dodger radio commentator Rick Monday – the toughest broadcast critic of Billingsley that I know of – praise the righthander, noting that he finally might be showing the consistency the Dodgers have been waiting for him to do. But there’s nothing new about Billingsley stringing together two quality starts in a row. In 2012 alone, this is the fifth time that he has done so.  And he completed the feat today while matching his lowest strikeout total for the season.

I know a lot of people don’t like it when luck is discussed in relation to a pitcher’s performance, and I don’t want to suggest that a pitcher has no effect on what happens when a ball is put in play. But I just don’t know how you can escape the notion that circumstance plays a role in what happens with a pitcher.

There’s just something counterintuitive to me about Billingsley missing fewer bats but getting better results. Yes, the efficiency is rewarding – Billingsley didn’t cross the 100-pitch mark until he gave up two hits in the eighth inning and took his leave from the game – but it wouldn’t have seemed so efficient if more of those 12 groundouts had eyes. And no, I don’t think Billingsley, Stephen Fife or even Greg Maddux has the ultimate power to decide where a grounder goes – much less to decide when Andre Ethier is going to make a leaping, ankle-testing catch at the right-field wall, as he did today.

We’d all like to see a 27-pitch complete game, but baseball doesn’t work that way – not even for the best.

One thing I think we can all agree on is that Billingsley can only benefit from attacking the plate. In an interesting post today at True Blue L.A., Eric Stephen noted that National League hitters have an OPS with a three-ball count of .973, and against Billingsley this year, they’re OPSing 1.116.

But attacking the plate does not guarantee positive results. Just to repeat – Billingsley has never had better control in his career than he has had in 2012. He has also never had a higher batting average against him on balls in play (.344 going into today). When you put those two factors together, I think it explains a lot about Billingsley’s 2012 season.

The temptation for many will be to hope that Billingsley has turned a corner. But it’s much more likely that nothing’s really changed. He’s been throwing strikes for some time now, and if you’re going to argue that the quality of strikes was better today, than why weren’t the Giants swinging and missing? I’m not quite believing that Billingsley has mastered the art of fooling batters just enough but not too much.

Billingsley makes mistakes. Maybe he makes more than he should, or maybe he just makes them at just the wrong times. And that’s something that he might have some control over, some ability to improve. But I remain convinced that Billingsley, who lowered his ERA to 3.89 today while winning only his sixth decision in 20 starts, has shown more improvement in 2012 than people – or the baseball gods – have realized. At the same time, today’s game, by itself, doesn’t prove anything.

Jul 15

Billingsley scratched from today’s start

Padres at Dodgers, 1:10 p.m.
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Andre Ethier, RF
Bobby Abreu, LF
James Loney, 1B
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
Juan Uribe, SS
Matt Treanor, C
Chris Capuano, P

News in today’s lineup:

  • A morning change pushed Chris Capuano into today’s start in place of Chad Billingsley, who has an as-yet undisclosed injury, according to Alex Angert of MLB.com. Jimmy Bramlett of LAist tweets that Billingsley will have an MRI on his elbow.

    “According to Donnie, Bills has had soreness in his elbow the last several starts but thought it was just normal wear,” Bramlett adds.

    The Dodgers say that Nathan Eovaldi will start Monday; Tuesday is TBD.

  • Matt Kemp is getting a rest day to protect his rehabilitated hamstring.
  • Juan Uribe is getting his first start at shortstop since May 4, 2011.
Jul 07

The trauma of potential

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Silly me – when I described the yin and yang of Clayton Kershaw in Arizona on Friday somehow I left off the third rail. (Or maybe I included the first and third rails but left off the second.) Read more about that – as well as Vin Scully’s latest moment of ethereal insight – in my latest piece for Los Angeles Magazine’s CityThink blog.