Sep 16

The Big Blue Wrecked Crew: 2010-11 Dodger offseason primer


Kirby Lee/US PresswireRussell Martin: Just one of the many questions the Dodgers face this winter.

The Dodger roster heading into the 2010-11 offseason, and I don’t say this lightly, is a mess.

It’s not a hopeless mess. But it is a mess, and it’s going to take some skill from the crew in charge to clean up. It’s a goop of oil and water, an unsightly combination of having to fill holes while also figuring out which rising salaries to jettison and which to risk holding onto.

Oh, and when the 2010 season ends, the No. 5 starter on the 40-man roster, at least by major-league experience, will be someone who hasn’t pitched in a professional game in four months: Scott Elbert.

The Dodgers have one absolute jewel on the team: Clayton Kershaw. The team’s top player won’t be arbitration eligible for one more year and only figures to earn approximately $500,000 in 2011.

Then, there are a few players whose higher salaries the Dodgers won’t mind paying. Chad Billingsley, who will command somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million, knocked down many of the questions others had about him with a resurgent 2010 season. Hong-Chih Kuo will draw low seven figures, and after the way he has persevered and performed, no one should begrudge him. Kenley Jansen will make people swoon, and only receive the major-league minimum pay and meal money in return.

So much for the good news. Now, the concerns:

  • Rafael Furcal surely remains talented, but the Dodgers have $12 million going to a player who has averaged fewer than 100 games per year since 2008.
  • Slumping reliever Jonathan Broxton’s final season before free agency is tagged with a $7 million salary.
  • Coming off an injury that ended his second straight disappointing year, arbitration-eligible Russell Martin would also get as much as $7 million if the Dodgers don’t non-tender him.
  • Andre Ethier looked like an MVP at the start of the year; by the end, his $9.25 million 2011 salary for an outfielder who struggles against lefties didn’t seem like quite as much of a bargain.
  • Lightning Rod Award-winning outfielder Matt Kemp has $6.95 million coming next year.
  • Casey Blake, game but aging, gets $5.25 million in the final chapter of his three-year deal.
  • By now, James Loney should have developed enough that the $4.5 million he is projected to earn next year should have seemed closer to a bargain than a burden, but his second-half disappearance hasn’t helped matters.
  • Incumbent second baseman Ryan Theriot and his sub-.700 OPS will bring home about $3.5 million if the Dodgers hang onto him.

In sum, that’s about $55 million committed to a series of question marks, some small, some large. In addition, Los Angeles owes approximately $17 million of its 2011 budget to (swallow hard) Manny Ramirez, Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones and Jason Schmidt — the price for turning past mistakes into the playoff teams of the previous two years.

Overall, the Dodgers on paper have close to $100 million – a figure that might well be at or above their budget limit – committed before they make a single offseason move.

Now, all is not lost. The Dodgers can and probably will gain roughly $12 million in breathing room if and when they bid farewell to George Sherrill, Octavio Dotel, Scott Podsednik and Brad Ausmus (who has said he will retire). Meanwhile, free agents Jay Gibbons and Rod Barajas should start to help shore up the bench for under $2 million combined. And it should be noted that not all of the above question marks will have negative answers.

Nevertheless, that still leaves the Dodgers at about $90 million in payroll, with John Ely as their No. 3 starter and serious questions about most of their offense. As shaky as their lineup now looks, and however aggressive the Dodgers might want to be with the latest crop of prospects, the Dodgers absolutely have to add at least two more starters, whether through free agency or trade, whether Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda or outsiders.

It’s for this reason that unless the team salary budget goes up, the Dodgers almost certainly will trade or non-tender a 2011 contract to at least one from the group of Broxton, Kemp, Ethier, Loney and Martin. Loney, because he has the lowest salary, might be most likely to stay – he’s finishing the year as a disappointment at first base, but he’s not finishing the year alone as a disappointment. In any case, all of them have something to offer other teams that might be, as hard as it is for some to digest, more willing to spend than the Dodgers are.

An Ethier trade would be a shock, for example, much more than a Kemp trade, but who can say it’s out of the question now?

However this plays out, the Dodgers may well bring back many of the same players next year who boosted them to National League Championship Series appearances in 2008-09 and sunk them in 2010. In one respect, nothing will have changed: You’re always hoping players move forward, like Kershaw and Billingsley, and not backward, like Kemp and Loney and Broxton and Martin and so on. Good does sometimes follow bad, after all. But still, it’s going to be a nervous offseason for a lot of us.

Sure, BP had it tougher. But as cleanup goes, this is as thick a goop as Chavez Ravine has seen in quite some time.

Sep 15

Chad Billingsley, the almost-Kershaw, almost wins

The zeroes continued for the Dodgers and Giants tonight, scoreless once again into the seventh inning, before Chad Billingsley, trying to duplicate Clayton Kershaw’s majestic effort from the night before, finally succumbed on a double, a wild pitch and a soft single for a run.

A second run came across for the Giants in the eighth against Dodger relievers George Sherrill and Kenley Jansen – the latter’s wild pitch key to that score. That allowed Giants closer Brian Wilson not to fret about giving Andre Ethier a home run pitch in the ninth, and San Francisco held on for a 2-1 victory.

The Dodgers had run-saving diving plays from Rafael Furcal, Andre Ethier and Jay Gibbons in the field, but the offense is 5 for 57 in the two games.

Billingsley allowed eight baserunners in seven innings, striking out seven and lowering his ERA to 3.55.

Aug 18

Dodgers get Zach Lee … will they lose Logan White?

Larry Goren/Icon SMI
Logan White has supervised Dodger drafts since 2002.

Pretty nice 28 hours that Logan White just had.

Monday evening, White 2003 draftee Chad Billingsley finished his sixth consecutive quality start, with an ERA of 1.33 in that span.

Tuesday evening, White 2006 draftee Clayton Kershaw threw seven shutout innings in the Dodgers’ 6-0 victory over Colorado and moved up to third in the National League in strikeouts.

And in between, White converted his bold first-round selection of Zach Lee into what might be the coup of the 2010 draft.

Lee’s reported $5.25 million deal was more than twice the size of Kershaw’s draft-year signing, in part because of the leverage that college football provided Lee, but it also reflects the belief that Lee could make the kind of remarkable impact for the Dodgers that Kershaw already has.

We might not get to see all three of these pitchers in the same Dodger rotation – Billingsley becomes eligible for free agency after the 2012 season, while it might be a rush to get the teenage Lee to the bigs by then – but there is that tantalizing possibility. And even if it doesn’t happen, you can be pretty sure the past two nights haven’t gone unnoticed inside baseball.

Put another way, even if there comes a weekend series in the September 2012 stretch run with Kershaw, Billingsley and Lee on the mound for the Dodgers, will White be around to see it?

White has long been an attractive candidate for other front offices in baseball, certainly from a scouting viewpoint but also in terms of general manager openings.  Getting Lee to the Dodgers – convincing both parties to get on board – when almost no one thought he could, adds a new layer of appeal.

The signing arguably turned around a year in which, aside from Kershaw and Billingsley, things went a little south for White’s other prodigies. There was Blake DeWitt’s and James Loney’s lack of home-run power, Russell Martin’s ongoing fade and Matt Kemp’s backward steps. There was James McDonald once more not seizing the day (though he seems to be thriving in Pittsburgh), and Scott Elbert’s disappearing act. And there was a mixed bag of results on the development front in the low minors – some remarkable advances like that of Jerry Sands, some retreats by others.

But Kershaw, Billingsley and Lee serve as a reminder that betting on White is about as safe a gamble as you can make in – this can’t be over-emphasized – an inherently risky field. I have no idea what specific interest other teams will show in White, but as the Dodgers make their lengthy to-do list for the 2010-11 offseason, one item that needs to be on it is “Keep Logan White happy.” Unless you subscribe to the philosophy of, “If you love someone, set him free.”

Jul 29

Podsednik arrives, Taschner leaves, plus thoughts on Oswalt

With Matt Kemp being rested, Scott Podsednik is making his first CF start of 2010 today in his Dodger debut. He will be the 40th player to suit up for the Dodgers this season.

The Dodgers designated Jack Taschner for assignment to make room for Posednik. Taschner faced six batters as a Dodger and allowed a hit and three walks.

Joe Torre also told reporters today that Chad Billingsley, who threw under 90 pitches in his six-inning shutout effort Tuesday, will start Saturday in San Francisco on three days’ rest. At this time, John Ely will not be recalled from Albuquerque.

* * *


Roy Oswalt is headed to Philadelphia
. Considering that the Astros will pay nearly half of the $23 million owed Oswalt through the 2011 season, it’s natural to ask whether the Dodgers should have gotten him after all.

Philadelphia gave up one major-leaguer, 27-year-old J.A. Happ, who had a 2.93 ERA in 2009 but has pitched only 15 1/3 major-league innings this year, along with two minor leaguers: outfielder Anthony Gose (whose numbers aren’t impressive unless you keep in mind he’s a 19-year-old in A ball) and shortstop Jonathan Villar (same story).

I’m inclined to think that if John Ely had kept his early season performance going, or if James McDonald or Scott Elbert’s 2010s hadn’t largely washed out, the Dodgers could have done this deal. But none of those players were enticing enough, and so the only alternative major-league pitcher for the Dodgers would have been to trade Chad Billingsley (Clayton Kershaw is the staff leader for years to come, while free agents-to-be Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla would not have interested Houston). Trading Billingsley for Oswalt could improve the Dodger starting pitching, though at great cost and without helping fill out the fifth spot in the rotation.

The other way to have gone would have been to send more in the way of prospects. You don’t need me to point out the pros and cons of that.

In short, if in fact he would have approved a trade to Los Angeles, it turns out that Oswalt wasn’t out of the realm of possibility for the Dodgers, despite all their handicaps – ownership, talent base, setbacks in player development, etc. At the same time, the fact that he isn’t here underscores how relevant those handicaps are.

Jul 27

Chicken soup for the soul: Ethier lifts Dodgers, 2-0


Gregory Bull/APAndre Ethier breaks a scoreless tie in the seventh inning with a two-run, pinch-hit single.

Too sick to start Tuesday’s game in San Diego, Andre Ethier made the Padres feel ill in their showdown with the Dodgers.

Ethier, a late scratch from the starting lineup with the flu, came off the bench in the seventh inning to deliver a two-run single – all the medicine the Dodgers needed to come away with a 2-0 victory.

Chad Billingsley and Jon Garland each pitched shutout ball through six innings, though both starting pitchers had one inning of major tightrope-walking in that time. In the bottom of the fourth, three singles loaded the bases before Billingsley retired the next three batters on a groundout, popout and strikeout. In the top of the sixth, with runners on first and second, Garland nabbed Rafael Furcal, Xavier Paul and Matt Kemp on 3-2 pitches.

But the pivotal moment came in the seventh inning, when Blake DeWitt (on an 0-2 pitch) and Garret Anderson singled with two out. Padres manager Bud Black forced the Dodgers hand, walking Russell Martin (1 for 2) intentionally. That caused Joe Torre to have the flu-stricken Ethier pinch-hit for Billingsley, even though the righty had thrown only 84 pitches. (Billingsley lowered his ERA to 4.00 on the season by extending his scoreless inning string to 15 tonight – remarkably, Dodger starting pitchers have allowed one earned run in their past 43 innings.)

It was an echo of Friday’s game, when Torre pinch-hit for Vicente Padilla despite a low pitch count. But this time, with Garland left in to pitch despite lefty Joe Thatcher warming in the bullpen, Ethier grounded a 1-1 pitch hard, just past a diving Everth Cabrera, driving home the first two runs of the game.

That put the game in the hands of the Dodger bullpen, starting with Hong-Chih Kuo. Despite being interrupted by a single and a Casey Blake error, Kuo struck out the side. After throwing 20 pitches that inning, Kuo came out in the eighth to face Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez and struck him out on three pitches. He faced Chase Headley, and struck him out on three pitches. He threw two more strikes to Yorvit Torrealba before finally missing, and then gave up a single. On his season-high 34th pitch, Kuo got Will Venable to ground out, taking the game to the ninth.

In the bottom of the ninth, Jonathan Broxton breezed through the first two hitters on three pitches. That brought up his nemesis, Matt Stairs, with a .597 OPS this season. Broxton missed with his first three pitches, but came back to strike Stairs out and bounce off the mound with the save.

First step. The Dodgers were held to two runs or less for the eight time in 12 games since the All-Star break, but they closed their gap in the National League West to five games. Los Angeles remained 2 1/2 games behind San Francisco for the NL wild card.

Jul 21

What the doctor, therapist and grief counselor ordered: Billingsley shuts out Giants


Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesChad Billingsley

Whew – there it is.

With the Dodgers reeling, Chad Billingsley unfurled his second career shutout and third career complete game, scattering seven baserunners, and the Dodgers defeated the Giants, 2-0.

Billingsley struck out only three batters, but got 16 groundouts as the Giants went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position. He threw 125 pitches, the most by a Dodger pitcher since Jeff Weaver threw 126 on September 27, 2005.

The Dodgers hadn’t had a complete game since Eric Stults shut out San Francisco on May 9, 2009. Before that, the last Dodger complete game was a Billingsley shutout of the Giants on July 30, 2008.

It’s a bit odd that Billingsley has only three strikeouts in his past two starts (after 17 in the two before that), but we’ll ponder that another day.

Casey Blake homered in the second inning and singled home a run in the eighth to give Billingsley and the Dodgers the runs they needed.

* * *

Jay Gibbons, who some of us expected to be in a Dodger uniform tonight, hit two of six Albuquerque home runs in a 14-5 victory at Nashville.

Jul 16

Cardinals can’t miss against Billingsley

One night after Clayton Kershaw had a career-low in strikeouts as a starter, Chad Billingsley matched his. For the second time in his 117 career starts, Billingsley had no strikeouts, while allowing 10 hits and two walks to the 22 batters he faced.

Billingsley was charged with seven runs in the brutal outing, and the Dodgers trailed 8-2 in the fifth inning after George Sherrill gave up a homer to Yadier Molina.

Jul 09

Between a laugher and a tear: Dodgers hold on, 9-7


Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireRussell Martin goes boom, finally.

Well, it’s really starting to get interesting now. It might not happen this quickly, but there is the possibility that when baseball takes its midsummer break, there will be a three-way tie for first place in the National League West between Los Angeles, Colorado and San Diego.

Nothing’s decided in July, but certainly the Dodgers are happy (and relieved) to gain another game on the Padres with a 9-7 victory tonight over the Cubs. Los Angeles also kept pace with the charging Rockies, who rallied from a large and late deficit for the third night in a row, this time defeating San Diego, 10-8. Colorado has won five straight, and both the Dodgers and Rockies are two games back of San Diego with two games left before All-Star time.

After the Dodgers fell behind 1-0 in the second inning, Russell Martin hit his first home run in 60 days – a smash with two men aboard in the bottom of the second – to give the Dodgers the lead they would keep for the rest of the night. I had hoped it would be the kickoff to a long overdue laugher of a night for Martin, but he was retired in his next three plate appearances. After getting two hits June 29, Martin has had exactly one hit in each of his past eight games.

In any case, the Dodgers had a few nice chuckles of their own tonight, leading 9-3 after six innings (with Andre Ethier and James Loney each reaching base three times), but Jonathan Broxton once again found his way into the game after the Cubs (along with George Sherrill and Justin Miller) made Dodger manager Joe Torre sweat.

It was a down-and-up night for Chad Billingsley, who allowed seven baserunners in the second and third innings but kept the damage to a run in each. Billingsley then allowed only two more hits and a walk before being pulled following a leadoff single in the eighth inning. (Torre, who is becoming a regular Agatha Christie the way he is authoring such mysterious use of his pitching staff, had Billingsley start the eighth with 115 pitches already thrown in the game, a move that perplexed everyone from me to Vin Scully.) For those who keep track of such things, Torre’s decision cost Billingsley one of them so-called quality starts by letting a fourth run be charged to him, that run coming home on an 0-2 wild pitch by Miller after Sherrill gave up a double. Another run followed, cutting the Dodgers’ lead to four and meaning that the one pitch Sherrill threw boosted his ERA from 6.86 to 7.32.

Miller had a chance to close out the game in the ninth, but was pulled for Broxton after allowing a leadoff single in the ninth. Aramis Ramirez tripled in the Cubs’ sixth run when Ethier flailed in a diving attempt to make a catch he should have made, and then Marlon Byrd’s seventh hit in two nights added the seventh run. Tyler Colvin batted as the tying run, echoes of the Dodgers’ collapse against the Yankees in June in everyone’s mind. But Colvin struck out, the Cubs’ 26th strikeout against the Dodgers in two games.

Scully summed up: “The Dodgers stagger, but hold on to win.”

I think it’s safe to say that by next week, this Dodger middle relief will not stand. Changes must be coming.

* * *

Seattle asked the Dodgers for Billingsley or Loney in a trade for Cliff Lee, according to an anonymous source in this story by Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. The Dodgers offered several minor leaguers, the source said, but wouldn’t give in on the major-leaguers.

* * *

Three days after returning from a long stay on the disabled list, John Lindsey doubled and homered three times for Albuquerque in a doubleheader today. Ramon Troncoso gave up a game-winning home run in his second appearance since being sent to the Isotopes. (The winning pitcher in that game? Matt Herges.)

Jun 15

Chad Billingsley to the disabled list


Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Chad Billingsley

Well, now that changes everything.

The Dodgers announced this afternoon that Chad Billingsley would go on the 15-day disabled list with a groin strain. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details. I’ll update this post with the news of who is being added to the roster as soon as I hear.

Billingsley was scheduled to start for the Dodgers on Thursday. John Ely could make that start on four days’ rest, with Vicente Padilla then being activated to pitch Friday in Boston. Charlie Haeger, by the way, is scheduled to pitch for Albuquerque tonight.

Kinda amusing to think of what would happen if Padilla and Haeger aren’t ready to go by Saturday. With James McDonald and Scott Elbert out, do we start talking about guys like Seth Etherton? Alberto Bastardo? Or do the Dodgers call up another reliever and give Jeff Weaver a spot start?

The road just got a little rougher.

* * *

In other malady news, another celebration yielded a big injury. UCLA’s No. 3 hitter, Tyler Rahmatulla, broke his wrist in the dogpile celebrating the Bruins’ advance to the College World Series.

* * *

Update: Joe Torre told reporters that Padilla is ready to go and will be activated. Ely starts Thursday, Carlos Monasterios on Friday, Padilla on Saturday and then back to Hiroki Kuroda on Sunday before Monday’s off day. Torre said Padilla is ready to throw 100 pitches.

Billingsley strained his right groin in the last inning of his last start, the Dodgers said. An MRI showed no structural damage. The team wasn’t expecting him to miss any time, but he felt tightness during his latest bullpen workout at the very end on his pushoff leg, and the Dodgers didn’t want that to mess up his mechanics.

May 31

Balki finish sends Dodgers into dance of joy, 5-4

Gosh, I’m sort of flummoxed – so flummoxed that I’m googling video of a show I never watched. I really just planned to talk about Chad Billingsley and his very interesting outing.

But I can’t exactly ignore the Dodgers coming back to tie tonight’s game against Arizona with two out in the eighth on a double error by Kelly Johnson. And I really can’t ignore the Dodgers winning, 5-4, in the most esoteric way I can recall, on a blink-and-you-missed-it, don’t-blink-and-you-still-might’ve-missed-it balk by Esmerling Vasquez to score Casey Blake.

All I can tell you is I watched the replay about a half-dozen times, and I didn’t see enough of a balk that I would have expected it to be called. Valdez’s twitch could easily have been written off as part of his movement off the rubber – especially at this stage of the game. If it had happened against the Dodgers, it would have been an infuriating way to lose – more infuriating than seeing Andre Ethier’s two-on, one-out line drive in the third inning turned into a double play, more infuriating than James Loney’s leap and subsequent crisis of faith, trying to advance to third base when the infield creeped in front of him with none out in the ninth and getting caught.

But thankfully, this infuriation is not on my plate. It’s over at places like AZ Snakepit, whose Jim McLennan points out that since 1954, there have been fewer walkoff balks in baseball than perfect games.

Part of me wonders whether the Dodgers won this game Thursday in Chicago, when Blake made himself a public expert on balk rules while protesting Ted Lilly’s position on the pitching rubber. Maybe he’s really got the umpires’ attention now. Who knows?

Gus Ruelas/AP
Chad Billingsley went a season-high eight innings, allowing four runs on six baserunners while striking out 11.

In any case, the Dodgers took a balkoff walk for the second time since 1969 and first time since 1989, according to the Dodger press notes. And in doing so, averted a sour start to the homestand … and completed the journey of Billingsley’s outing from bizarre to quietly kinda awesome.

Billingsley faced 10 batters before his fielders recorded an out, allowing a double and three homers while striking out six in the first two innings. Pretty crazy. But from that point on, he gave up two hits and no runs over the next six innings, finishing the night with 11 strikeouts and no walks in eight innings. You wanted a Billingsley who throws strikes, you wanted a Billingsley who’s resilient after a rough start – you wanted, in other words, the Billingsley that has been there almost his entire career  – you got him. (You also got a Billingsley who threw 120 pitches, his most since May 14 of last year and the second-most of his career.)

Not to be forgotten completely: Manny Ramirez hit his 550th career homer, while Matt Kemp and Rafael Furcal combined for five of the Dodgers’ seven hits on a night that Rodrigo Lopez otherwise owned them.

Update: A.J. Hinch saw the balk and didn’t argue.

May 21

Billingsley, Dodgers in tip-top condition, 4-1


Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Chad Billingsley has allowed two runs or less in six of nine starts this season.

Boy, how rewarding is it to see Chad Billingsley be on such a roll. And of course, how rewarding must it feel for him.

Oh – and I suppose the Dodgers are enjoying being in first place, too.

Billingsley continued his roll in pitching the Dodgers to a 4-1 interleague victory over Detroit tonight, the team’s 11th win in their past 12 games. With San Diego and San Francisco both getting pummeled tonight, the Dodgers were poised to find themselves atop the National League West (tied with the Padres but ahead in head-to-head competition), a mere 13 days after their 8-0 loss to Colorado had them six games off the pace and in last place.

Billingsley threw 105 pitches over seven innings, allowing two singles, two doubles and two walks while striking out five. (Both doubles were arguably catchable balls that Manny Ramirez couldn’t haul in.) Billingsley now has a 3.66 ERA on the season, 2.39 in his past six starts covering 37 2/3 innings.

His toughest challenge came right at the start, when Tigers leadoff hitter Austin Jackson doubled at the end of a 10-pitch at-bat. Jackson came around to score on two productive outs, and that was it for Detroit. Twice they got runners on first and second with two out, in the third and fourth innings, but Billingsley got the next batter each time. He retired 10 of the last 11 batters he faced in the game.

In contrast, Dontrelle Willis had allowed only one hit and no walks among the first 12 batters he faced, but was in trouble the rest of the way and didn’t make it through six innings. The first jam for Willis began with two out in the bottom of the fourth, when he gave up a single and two walks before hitting Nick Green with a bases-loaded pitch that tied the game.

The next batter, A.J. Ellis, making his first start since April 27, hit the ball on a line but right to second baseman Danny Worth for the third out. But in the fifth, Willis gave up two more runs, and then Ellis got his revenge in the sixth with an RBI single. (Ellis got robbed of two more RBI in the eighth – potential insurance runs – when his liner to right was speared by Miguel Cabrera.)

Reed Johnson had a perfect night for the Dodgers with a walk, a single and two doubles, and Jonathan Broxton struck out the side on 14 pitches for the save.

* * *

James McDonald allowed four runs over seven innings tonight in Albuquerque’s 10-4 victory over Las Vegas. He gave up nine hits and no walks while striking out eight. Las Vegas scored two in the fifth and two in the sixth.

Chin Lung Hu went 2 for 4 with his first homer of the season, and is now OPSing .815 in May after a terrible April.

* * *

The Dodgers will skip the No. 5 slot in their rotation and start Clayton Kershaw in Chicago on Tuesday, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. The Dodgers will next need a fifth starter May 29 in unfriendly Colorado.

May 16

Demons be gone: Billingsley, Broxton bookend 1-0 victory


Lenny Ignelzi/AP
Chad Billingsley

It wasn’t just that San Diego was the site of Chad Billingsley’s last foray into the latter third of a baseball game. It’s that the last time it happened, on July 5, Jonathan Broxton had the ignominy of helping Billingsley’s 6-1 ninth-inning lead get away.

But on a day – just like a week ago against Colorado – when the Dodgers needed their pitching staff to keep runs off the board, Billingsley, Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo came through, shutting out San Diego, 1-0.

Padres starter Wade LeBlanc (1.54 ERA) held Los Angeles hitless for 5 1/3 innings before Russell Martin singled home Jamey Carroll (who had walked for the second time) with the only run of the two-hour, 18-minute game. Despite only one other hit from a Dodger lineup that was missing Andre Ethier, Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake, Blake DeWitt and Rafael Furcal, the pitching made it stand up.

Billingsley was replaced with no runners on base after 7 1/3 innings in which he allowed four hits, one walk and one hit batter while striking out six – all in 95 pitches. Kuo and Broxton retired all five batters they faced, as Dodgers pitchers faced the minimum number of Padres over the final five innings (thanks in part to two double plays in back of Billingsley).

In his past five starts, Billingsley has now gone 30 1/3 innings with a 2.67 ERA and 25 strikeouts, while allowing 38 baserunners (one home run).

After his first inning homer off Ramon Ortiz on Friday, Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez was retired in 12 straight at-bats by Los Angeles.

The Dodgers have won seven straight games and 12 of their past 15 to move within two games of first place in the National League West. Four of the five NL West teams are now over .500.

May 10

As Dodgers cruise in Arizona, questions about Billingsley ease


Matt Kartozian/US Presswire
Chad Billingsley zeroed in on 14 first-pitch strikes out of 23 batters faced tonight.

It was just about a wire-to-wire victory for the Dodgers tonight, who never trailed in defeating Arizona, 7-3. The amazing Andre Ethier had three more hits – part of the 17 men that reached base for Los Angeles.

In fact, it was such a good night that the most controversial moment of the game was merely this: Was a victorious Chad Billingsley taken out too soon?

Billinglsey, of course, has the millstone of not having pitched in the seventh inning of a game since July. But in his past three starts entering tonight, he had completed six innings in under 100 pitches. Even after he got hammered by Milwaukee in the first inning last week, he followed up with five shutout innings and was only at 90 pitches after six. Nevertheless, each of those past three starts Billingsley was removed from the game, either for a pinch-hitter and/or because Dodger manager Joe Torre felt he had had enough.

This, by the way, also happened during Billingsley’s maligned second half of 2009: On six occasions after the All-Star Break, Billingsley pitched six innings in under 100 pitches while allowing three earned runs or fewer. It’s not as if Billingsley hasn’t struggled since last July, but this idea that he always melts down by the sixth inning is in some ways a joke.

So anyway, Billingsley was just about cruising tonight in Arizona: five innings, 81 pitches, two hits, three walks, seven strikeouts. In the sixth, with the Dodgers leading 4-1, he allowed a walk and a double to put runners on second and third with one out. Chris Young, who accounted for the Diamondbacks’ only run with a second-inning solo homer, was up. And Torre went straight to the bullpen.

This isn’t the worst decision Torre is going to make in 2010, but it was one of the least inspiring. Billingsley, who now has a 3.47 ERA in his past four starts with 19 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings, had earned the right to try to get out of the jam with only 90 pitches under his belt.

The scenario was not unlike what Billingsley faced September 23 at Washington, during the Dodgers’ pennant drive. Billingsley had a no-hitter for 5 2/3 innings and a three-run lead with only 84 pitches thrown, then allowed a game-tying home run to Ryan Zimmerman. So yeah, it wasn’t like bad things couldn’t have happened tonight, things that would have haunted our conversations for days. But if you expect this guy to be a mainstay of your staff, you’d think you’d be a little less fearful of what could go wrong and instead more hopeful about what could go right – especially when he’s been pitching well.

In any case, if people want to get up in arms about Billingsley and the seventh inning, they’d better at least throw an angry glance in Torre’s direction.

But I will offer this as a counterpoint. If Torre made the decision to pull Billingsley in order to protect his arm for the long haul – similar to his choice to give Billingsley and other Dodger starters an extra day of rest this week by starting Ramon Ortiz on Friday – I might be able to get behind it. Torre was almost relentless in his use of Billingsley in the first half of last season, when the righthander threw at least 105 pitches in 12 consecutive games and 17 out of 19, racking up the most pitches thrown in all of baseball for the first half of ’09. It’s been my theory that Billingsley, who was only 24 at the time with one full season as a starting pitcher in the majors under his belt, simply wore down by the second half (and then had his leg injuries complicate matters). I can’t prove it, but it’s more plausible than other theories I’ve heard.

I think it’s possible that Torre, while also perhaps being a bit nervous regarding Billingsley and his reputation for suddenly allowing big innings, might also be thinking that Billingsley needs to be paced, and is actively looking for ways to limit his use in the early going. And if that’s the case, despite my being upset at Billingsley being pulled from tonight’s game, I’m all for it.  And I’m confident that if Billingsley keeps giving Torre good innings, we won’t be talking about this subject much longer.

For what it’s worth, Ramon Troncoso, who is the focus of a lot of burnout fears, has had his workload eased a bit this month. He had one outing of 27 pitches between last Wednesday and tonight’s 13-pitch ninth inning. In four appearances (none in consecutive games) over the first 10 days of May, Troncoso has thrown 71 pitches.

May 09

Colorado didn’t trade for an ace … they got dealt one


AP
Ubaldo Jimenez and Clayton Kershaw face off at Dodger Stadium today.

Colorado’s starting pitcher today is an ace. He’s 6-0 with an 0.87 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 41 1/13 innings against 43 baserunners.

But the Rockies didn’t trade for Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez came up through the Colorado farm system. He showed promise in half a season at age 23, was solid at age 24, excellent at age 25 and now, except for complete games, is putting up Fernando Valenzuela-like numbers at age 26.

Here are the stats for Jimenez and Dodger starters Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley at last year’s All-Star break:

Pitcher Innings per start ERA BR/9 K/9
Jimenez 6.4 3.81 12.3 7.9
Kershaw 5.5 3.16 11.6 8.9
Billingsley 6.6 3.38 11.5 8.5

Even allowing for the fact that Jimenez pitches half his games at Coors Field, could anyone have reasonably concluded that 10 months later, he would have an ERA more than 4.00 lower than Kershaw and Billingsley? That Billingsley wouldn’t be every bit as good as Jimenez or better, or that Kershaw wouldn’t be right on their tails?

While I understand – really, I do – why it’s expected that the Dodgers should use their resources to acquire more talent than their division rivals, right now the main difference between the front of the Colorado and Los Angeles starting rotations has nothing to do with that. The difference is that the 22-year-old Kershaw is still getting on track and the 25-year-old Billingsley got sidetracked, while at age 26, Jimenez has moved onto the fast track.

Apr 25

Billingsley shines, offense dims in Dodgers’ 1-0 loss


Nick Wass/AP
Chad Billingsley averaged 14.3 pitches per inning today.

If there is a feel-good loss, the Dodgers might have felt one today.

Despite being shutout for the second time in eight games and again falling two games below .500, the Dodgers and Chad Billingsley might be moping less than normal after the righthander delivered his best start of the year Sunday, allowing one run over six innings in the Dodgers’ 1-0 loss to Washington.

Billingsley’s only unintentional walk of the day contributed to the game’s only run, but otherwise he was on top of his game. He used an efficient 86 pitches over six innings, allowing four hits and striking out five. He averaged five pitches outside the strike zone per inning, not counting a sixth-inning intentional walk following a two-out, Cristian Guzman double that was the result of a miscommunication between Matt Kemp and Garret Anderson. (Kemp called for the ball, but Anderson didn’t back off Kemp’s path.)

With runners on first and second, Billingsley went 2-2 to Josh Willingham before getting him to ground out and end his cleanest outing since September 23 at this same ballpark, when he pitched no-hit ball for 5 2/3 innings before giving up two walks and a three-run homer to Ryan Zimmerman.

Had the Dodgers been leading – which would have been a possibility had they converted three consecutive one-out singles in the first inning into a run – Billingsley would certainly have pitched in a seventh inning for the first time since July 5. But down by a run with a runner on first, Joe Torre pulled Billingsley for pinch-hitter Andre Ethier. Ethier grounded into a double play.

After Ramon Troncoso retired six of seven players he faced in the seventh and eighth innings, the Dodgers had one final chance when James Loney (2 for 4) led off the ninth with an opposite-field double. But pinch-runner Jamey Carroll couldn’t advance on Casey Blake’s, I don’t know, confusing one-hopper to Guzman. Justin Maxwell then made a diving catch on Ronnie Belliard’s blooper to right, and Anderson wrapped up a miserable, three-strikeout day with an easy pop to center.

It’s just one game in the season for Billingsley, but it was a promising one. The only time things really went wrong for him was when the leadoff single by Nyler Morgan was followed by an ugly four-pitch walk to Adam Kennedy. But between then and two outs in the sixth, Billingsley only one three-ball count and scattered two singles. Though no one likes a 1-0 loss, the Dodgers might hate this one a little less.