Apr 14

Goodness gracious, forsaken alive: Billingsley, Dodgers drag fans into 7-7 marathon

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Chad Billingsley retired nine of his first 10 batters, but only got eight more outs from his next 18.

Chad Billingsley, who was looking ever-so-close like that guy who could always be counted on to get the job done, is now the guy getting the Job done.

Close to scintillating in the first three innings Wednesday against Arizona – he threw 45 pitches and faced one over the minimum while striking out four, lowering his season ERA at that point to 1.08 – the be-plagued Billingsley staggered through 61 pitches over the next 2 2/3 innings, allowing six runs on eight hits in all while walking three. And what looked like a breeze for Los Angeles became an even longer endurance test than Tuesday’s 3:42 game, with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks headed into extra innings, 7-7, exactly four hours after the game’s 7:10 p.m. start time.

It took some doing for Billingsley to not outpitch Arizona’s Rodrigo Lopez, who allowed five runs and 11 hits to the first 22 Dodgers he faced, but Billingsley did it, and he is now facing his latest calamity.

In the fourth, trailing 3-0, Arizona surrounded a Justin Upton infield hit with four big fly balls off Billingsley – a homer by Stephen Drew, a double by Adam LaRoche and sacrifice flies by Mark Reynolds and Chris Young. Billingsley then issued a walk before he got out of the inning, after which Matt Kemp put the Dodgers back in front with a two-run homer.

In the fifth, Billingsley came very close to making his previous inning look like an aberration, retiring the first two hitters before making a great 1-1 pitch to Drew that was called a ball. Drew eventually drew a 3-2 walk, and then Upton doubled and LaRoche singled to tie the game again.

And in the sixth, Billingsley again came within one strike of making it through, but Conor Jackson doubled right down the third-base line on an 0-2 pitch to give Arizona a 6-5 lead and cast Billingsley adrift. He finished the night with 116 pitches to get 17 outs, and his ERA leaped to 5.73.

Mark J. Terrill/AP
Rodrigo Lopez looked like a sure-fire losing pitcher in the early going, but it didn’t turn out that way.

Starting in the top of the fourth, of the nine baserunners Billingsley allowed (leaving out an intentional walk), six did their damage with two strikes. Last year, opponents had a .245 on-base percentage against Billingsley with two strikes, though it’s safe to assume that figure was higher in the second half of the season. Tonight, Billingsley couldn’t shut the door, on the Diamondbacks or his doubters.

The Dodgers tied the game in the bottom of the sixth inning on a Kemp sacrifice fly but didn’t get any more runs despite loading the bases with one out. Then, Carlos Monasterios was called upon for the first time in his career in a close situation and gave up a dead-center leadoff homer to Upton in the seventh. Ramon Ortiz bailed Monasterios out of a two-walk, one-out jam that pushed the game past the 3:00 mark with nearly three innings to go by inducing a double play. George Sherrill, trying to recover from his bad start to 2010, also got a double play and then a strikeout to handle the eighth, while Charlie Haeger made himself useful in relief with a shutout ninth. (For the record, yes, that’s a Jonathan Broxton situation too if he’s available.)

Manny Ramirez doubled to lead off the bottom of the ninth with the Dodgers’ 18th baserunner, but after James Loney struck out, Casey Blake doubled home pinch-runner Jamey Carroll to tie the game at 11:06 p.m. A Blake DeWitt grounder moved Blake to third. Russell Martin was intentionally walked, but pinch-hitter Reed Johnson grounded out to send the game into the 10th.

Despite my stating the obvious, the offense and the pitching stayed at their weird extremes. Kemp, Ramirez, Martin and Andre Ethier each reached base at least three times. But regardless of what was to come in extra innings, Los Angeles will be practically desperate for Hiroki Kuroda to deliver another sharp performance Thursday against Dan Haren.

* * *

Hong-Chih Kuo is scheduled to make a 20-pitch rehab appearance in the first inning Thursday for Inland Empire. Elsewhere in the minors for the Dodgers:

  • Scott Elbert struggled in the unfriendly confines of Albuquerque, allowing five runs on five hits and three walks while striking out four in four innings. Jay Gibbons (4 for 5) won the game for the Isotopes with an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth after reliever Jon Link (8.10 ERA) blew his second save in as many nights.
  • Great Lakes righty Brett Wallach, who pitched five no-hit innings with eight strikeouts in his first start of the season, came back with another five innings tonight and allowed one unearned run while striking out six. Opponents are 5 for 34 (.147) against him this season. Brian Cavalos-Galvez went 3 for 4 with two doubles and has a .394 on-base percentage on the season.
  • Chris Withrow of Chattanooga got hammered tonight: six runs (five earned) in 2 2/3 innings with one strikeout. The Lookouts made five errors and lost, 15-2.
  • Aaron Miller went six innings for Inland Empire tonight and allowed six baserunners and one run (on a sixth-inning squeeze). That was a 1-0 game until Pedro Baez singled in the tying run with two out in the bottom of the ninth, and then the 66ers won in the 10th.
Apr 13

Kershaw LIII: Kershawme Opener


John Cordes/Icon SMI
Andre Ethier blasted two homers and drove in four runs in the Dodgers’ home opener a year ago today.

They were overshadowed by Orlando Hudson producing the first Dodger cycle in 39 years, but there were plenty of heroes that made last year’s Dodger opener a laugher in the best kind of way for the fans. Every Dodger starter had at least one hit, Andre Ethier homered twice, Chad Billingsley scattered four singles and a double over seven innings while striking out 11 – heck, even Will Ohman pitched a shutout inning. All against the Giants. The good times rolled on through April’s record streak of consecutive home victories to start a season.

Things are a bit cloudier a year later, with the Dodgers 3 1/2 games behind the Giants in the National League West before the home crowd has even seen a regular-season pitch. But Monday’s gray skies have cleared up, just as Albert Peterson predicted. Let’s go have some fun!

* * *

  • Joe Torre-managed teams have won 12 consecutive home openers, notes Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. Stephen has more Dodger home opener details here.
  • In the comments of that thread, BHSportsGuy lists the 15 Dodger pitchers credited with a win since Clayton Kershaw’s last on July 18.
  • Via Twitter, Stephen points to a nice feature by Tom Krasovic on Dick Enberg, reborn as a Padres play-by-play announcer. Related: Rob Neyer of ESPN.com heard Enberg say that he tried to write a screenplay about legendary spy/catcher Moe Berg.
  • Memories of Kevin Malone took a close look at the Dodger defense.
  • Padres pitcher Chris Young went on the disabled list, where he’ll find Arizona catcher Miguel Montero and might soon be joined by Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Juan Castro is the Phillies’ current replacement for Rollins.
  • Josh Wilker of Cardboard Gods gets some nice Huffington Post exposure in writing about the anniversary of Mark Fidrych’s death and the connection with his childhood.
  • Blue Heaven passes along a March 6, 1948 letter from Branch Rickey to Walter O’Malley (written from Spring Training at Ciudad Trujillo, Dominican Republic) calling for a trade of Eddie Stanky “even if we were getting nothing for him at all,” to create  an opening in the Brooklyn infield. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Stanky was traded within 24 hours with a player to be named later to the Boston Braves for a player to be named later, Bama Rowell, Ray Sanders and $40,000. (A month later, the Dodgers completed the trade by selling Sanders back to Boston for $60,000.)
  • Four-hit nights for Dodger minor leaguers on Monday: Xavier Paul had three singles and a homer for Albuquerque, Dee Gordon had three doubles, a single and an error for Chattanooga and Jerry Sands had two doubles and two singles for Great Lakes. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus writes that after an 0-for-6 start in AA, Gordon has six hits (including four doubles) in his past seven at-bats.
  • Isotopes reliever Brent Leach is having a Sherrill of a time in his first two games of the year.
  • Matt Hiserman, son of Times assistant sports editor Mike Hiserman and a college pitcher for the University of San Francisco, has come back inside of two months from a liner to the head that landed him in intensive care for four days, writes Eric Sondheimer of the Times.
  • The crackdown on Dodger Stadium pregame tailgating was scheduled to begin at dawn in Elysian Park, according to Zach Behrens of LAist (via L.A. Observed, which also points to a David Kipen piece talking about the origins of the Dodgers’ “LA” logo.).
  • How much of a difference does payroll make in baseball? Tom Tango writes at TMI: “If you spend at the league average (Payroll Index = 100 percent), your chance of making the playoffs is 27 percent. If you spend at double the league average (Payroll Index = 200 percent), your chances are 77 percent. And if you spend at half the league average, your chances dwindle to almost 0.”
  • Bob Timmermann wrote movingly about his grandmother, Ella Kimberling, for L.A. Observed’s Native Intelligence.
  • Quick entertainment notes from my day job: 1) Definitive details on Conan O’Brien’s move to TBS, 2) DirecTV will broadcast all five seasons of “The Wire” commercial-free, 3) Three major new hits (“The Good Wife,” “Modern Family” and “NCIS: Los Angeles” premiered within 25 hours of each other.
  • Leaving you with this: Brian Akin of Dear (Tommy) John Letters is thinking of hanging up his blog if he has to hang up his spikes. While I certainly hope he signs with another team, reading his latest post will serve as a reminder that no matter what, he should keep writing.
Apr 08

You don’t have to duck and cover anymore: Dodgers win first in ’10


Keith Srakocic/AP
Already down an outfielder with Andre Ethier nursing a sore ankle, the Dodgers nearly lost two more when Matt Kemp and Reed Johnson tangled in the sixth inning of their 10-2 victory.

Tony Jackson’s game recap and notebook.

The Chad Billingsley that half of us love and the other half forgot about came out firing today, with a first-pitch out and seven strikeouts among 24 batters. The Chad Billingsley that half of us think is temporary and the other half hate also came out, walking four batters and failing to make it through the sixth inning.

So Billingsley’s 5 1/3-inning, one-run outing in the Dodgers’ 10-2 victory didn’t resolve the Billingsley debate one way or another – not that one game could. But it turned the page on the second half of 2009, allowing people to begin looking forward instead of back.

On the radio, Dodger announcers Charley Steiner and Rick Monday so persistently hammered home a point that Billingsley’s fate depended on where he planted his foot on his follow-through, that you could be excused for forgetting that Billingsley’s mental toughness had ever been questioned. This was a pure mechanics issue – if the brain was involved, it was only out of the need to provide consistency, not courage.  I don’t quite believe that the solution to Billingsley’s problems is that simple – I’m not saying that Steiner and Monday believe that either –  but it does remind you that there’s a lot more going on with Billingsley than what’s between the ears. (Steiner and Monday also commented that Billingsley reduced his pregame warmup time compared to last year.)

Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ misanthropic five-reserve lineup turned expectations upside down by just hammering the ball, with the top six hitters in the batting order – three of them reserves – each reaching base at least two times, and Ronnie Belliard coming within a single of hitting for the cycle 360 days after Orlando Hudson did. More monkeys were kicked off more backs today than in Curious George’s worst nightmare.

Footnote: Carlos Monasterios gave up the first run of his two-inning major-league career, while Jonathan Broxton’s first outing of the season came in garbage time.

* * *

  • Takuya Kimura, a 37-year-old former Hiroshima teammate of Hiroki Kuroda, collapsed and died last week, and Dylan Hernandez of the Times talked to Kuroda about it.
  • Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com has a feature on how Jared Weaver has coped with the death of friend and teammate Nick Adenhart over the past year.
  • James McDonald allowed one run on seven baserunners over five innings, striking out three, in Albuquerque’s season-opening 6-3, 13-inning victory. McDonald threw 83 pitches. Jamie Hoffmann, Russ Mitchell, Xavier Paul, John Lindsey, Prentice Redman, Michael Restovich, Ivan DeJesus, A.J. Ellis and Chin-Lung Hu were in the starting batting order.
  • Chris Withrow allowed two runs on four baserunners over six innings, striking out four, in AA Chattanooga’s 4-2 kickoff victory.
  • Carlos Santana homered twice in his 4-for-5 AAA International League debut tonight.
Apr 03

Don’t be jonesing for failure

Danny Moloshok/AP
At age 25, Chad Billingsley has a career ERA of 3.55. His adjusted ERA of 119 is fifth in Los Angeles Dodger history among starting pitchers with 500 or more innings.

When the Dodgers gave Juan Pierre millions of dollars over my proverbial dead body, I didn’t actively seek out immediate justification for my ill feelings. You never once caught me using any Pierre at-bat or game or even any month as proof that the signing was a mistake.

Good players have bad games; bad players have good games. Everyone knows this – no matter how often some people ignore it. Using a moment or series of moments as evidence that the Dodgers blew it with Pierre would have been wrong. Pierre’s signing was a mistake because over the life of his contract, he wasn’t going to be worth the cost. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t have hot streaks that made him look like the biggest bargain on earth. But the big picture is what matters.

Without a doubt, there have always been some Dodgers for whom fans seem to lie in wait for them to stumble, just so they can point out how awful they are. Pierre, for some, was certainly one. So was Hee Seop Choi and J.D. Drew. On the current Dodger team, the choice villains are Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton.

The people who have it in for Billingsley and Broxton have an unfailing ability to dismiss all the good they do and make mountains of the bad. Broxton was by many criteria the best closer in the National League last year, but each blown save he had wasn’t merely disappointing, it was unforgivable. No matter how good he was, he was worthless.

Billingsley is an even tougher sell these days because his struggles extended for about three months last year. Never mind that that period still constitutes a sliver of his career, never mind that the previous time Billingsley struggled, in the 2008 National League Championship Series, he came back to become an All-Star pitcher in the first half of 2009, building on the considerably excellent performance he has given since he broke into the big leagues. There are people out there who only see the negative. And there are people out there who, once they form that negative opinion about a player, only want to see the negative – just so they can be proven right.

Case in point: Entering the third inning of today’s game, Billingsley had a 1.84 ERA this exhibition season. It didn’t mean much to me, because no Spring Training stats mean much to me. You can bet that it also didn’t mean much to those who have complained about Billingsley since last fall. But when Billingsley ran into trouble and gave up six runs in the third inning, suddenly across the Internet and Twitter you could find people shouting out about the latest proof of how awful he is.

I’m not happy when Billingsley gives up runs. I was crushed each time in both the 2008 and 2009 NLCS when Broxton gave up the big hits to the Phillies. But perfection is not an achievable standard, and one’s state of mind in the heat of the moment is not a basis for evaluating a player.

If you’re skeptical about Billingsley or Broxton or anyone else, you obviously don’t need me to tell you you’re entitled to your opinion. But don’t get caught up in that game of  “Gotcha!” Don’t take one moment and try to tell me that’s all I need to know about a player – especially if that moment is in the minority of events. Just ask yourself how you’d feel if you were only judged at your extreme worst.

On a similar note, if you want to make an argument that the Dodger starting rotation lacks depth, please, please take a moment to compare the Dodgers’ rotation with other rotations. Don’t point out all the potential problems with the Dodgers while ignoring how threadbare things are in Arizona with Brandon Webb out, or the fact that just because Barry Zito was once an All-Star doesn’t mean he’s still one. The Dodgers might not have the best starting rotation in the NL West, but the distance from No. 1 is slim at best if you actually look at the entire rotations, rather than just making a judgment based on the most famous pitchers from each team.

Guaranteed, there will be some good players who get off to bad starts in 2010. There’s nothing like the beginning of a new season to skew one’s perception. But it’s a loooong season.  Try to keep a cool head.

* * *

Carlos Monatsterios’ place on the 25-man roster was made public today, while all signs pointed to Russ Ortiz getting the final spot on the team, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, who also reported that left-handed hitting second baseman Blake DeWitt would get the Opening Day start Monday at Pittsburgh even with the Pirates starting southpaw Zach Duke.

Also, A.J. Ellis was optioned to Albuquerque, confirming that Russell Martin and Brad Ausmus would be starting the season as the team’s active catchers.

Mar 23

Another day on the Hong-Chih Kuoller coaster

Hong-Chih Kuo hasn’t thrown since Friday and received treatment today, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. Hopefully, it’s just precautionary …

Chad Billingsley became more and more pleased with his mechanics in an 84-pitch, six-inning outing in a minor league game. Gurnick and The Associated Press have details. And Gurnick has a vow from James McDonald to come back strong from his demotion to the minors.

Your top story tonight, however, is this feature on Dodger photographer Jon SooHoo by Chris and Alex Volk at DodgerFan.net.

Mar 18

Joe Torre pleased with Chad Billingsley’s latest outing

It was just another Spring Training game — well, one that featured a record Cactus League crowd of 13,391 and a busy four innings for Manny Ramirez — but no harm in noting that everyone was feeling positive about the progress of Dodger pitcher Chad Billingsley.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Chad Billingsley retired his first 13 batters September 2 vs. Arizona, then allowed four runs.

“I thought he was very good,” Dodger manager Joe Torre said after the game. “Close to 15 pitches an inning — that’ s not too bad, you know, considering he walked the first guy. I was very, very pleased with his performance today.”

Staked with a 75-pitch limit today, Billingsley stretched it to cover 4 2/3 innings, in which he struck out four and allowed one run on six baserunners.

“I worked on everything I needed to work on,” Billingsley said. “Rhythm, tempo — everything felt a lot better out there today. Great sign. Curveball was a little off today, but as far as everything else, everything else was pretty good.”

Ramirez more than made up for the lack of drama surrounding Billingsley’s performance. At the plate, Ramirez hit a two-run homer and grounded into a double play. In his first game in left field of the season, Ramirez was reportedly slow on a ball that went for a second-inning ground-rule double by Chad Tracy, who scored the game’s only run of Billingsley, but then Ramirez made a leaping catch at the wall in the fourth inning on a drive by Tyler Colvin.

Overall, Torre was also pleased with what he saw from Ramirez.

“Timing-wise, he’s hitting line drives,” Torre said, “and he’s much more balanced than he was last year.”

Jon Link got the final out in the fifth inning for Billingsley and the Dodgers. Charlie Haeger gave up a run in two innings, while Jeff Weaver pitched a shutout eighth. Backup outfielder Reed Johnson had a three-run homer late in the game, while Blake DeWitt and Garret Anderson each had two hits.

Update: Here’s Ramirez’s catch.


Courtesy Los Angeles Dodgers (via Twitpic)
Feb 04

What Justin Verlander’s new contract could mean for Chad Billingsley and the Dodgers

Justin Verlander signed a contract extension with the Tigers on Wednesday that amounts to $80 million over five years.

Verlander is 17 months older than Chad Billingsley and made his major-league debut 49 weeks before the Dodger righty (though Verlander pitched only 11 1/3 innings that year). A comparison of the two since they became full-fledged major-leaguers:

Verlander Billingsley
Year IP K/9 ERA+ IP K/9 ERA+
2006 186 6.0 126 90 5.9 118
2007 201 2/3 8.2 125 147 8.6 134
2008 201 7.3 93 200 2/3 9 133
2009 240 10.1 133 196 1/3 8.2 98

Verlander had an off year in 2008, but came back with his best season ever. His off year was arguably worse or at least little better than Billingsley’s off year in 2009. Billingsley outperformed Verlander two years running in adjusted ERA, though he didn’t pitch as many innings. The best season either pitcher had before last year was Billingsley’s 2008. And again, Billingsley is more than a year younger.

Before the 2009 season, it’s hard to see how anyone would have valued Verlander much more than Billingsley. It’s not as if Verlander had any postseason success to make up for his 2008 problems.

Billingsley obviously needs to show this year that he can bounce back from his disappointing second half (interestingly, both he and Verlander had first-half ERAs of 3.38 last season, though Verlander’s 3.38 was worth a little more because of league and park adjustments). But it’s hardly far-fetched that Billingsley will. And if he does, he will set himself up for a mighty nice deal – if not before he becomes a free agent in November 2012, then certainly after.

For more on the Verlander signing, check out Rob Neyer of ESPN.com and Matthew Carruth of Fangraphs.

* * *

The Dodgers’ policy to compel players to donate money when they signed a new contract – which they were apparently not alone in implementing – has been reduced, but only somewhat. There was an immediate objection from the players’ union, and now a settlement has been reached, reports Bill Shaikin of the Times.

The union filed a grievance soon thereafter, alleging the Dodgers, Angels and 20 other teams had improperly mandated donations to club charities in the contracts of at least 109 players.

Under the settlement agreement, which resolves the grievance, clubs can demand such donations from players signing as free agents or signing long-term contracts that buy out one or more years of free agency, according to a management official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement has not been officially announced.

Those players have the option to sign elsewhere. Players not yet eligible for free agency cannot be compelled to donate, the management official said.

* * *

  • Fox is offering two Saturday night regular-season telecasts this season – their first since 2004 – and the Dodgers are featured both nights, on May 22 against the Tigers and June 26 against the Yankees. Both games are in Los Angeles.
  • Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. talked about the Dodgers with the guys at HotStove.com Wednesday.
  • Via Josh Wilker’s Cardboard Gods, I found this story of a ball hit by Joe Wallis that went up but never came down.
  • Ticketmaster makes the bargain tickets for the Dodgertown Classic college baseball doubleheader a lot less of a bargain, writes Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News.