Billingsley's aggressive approach pays
LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre isn't the type to claim credit for things, at least not overtly. And besides, Chad Billingsley, who was so heavily criticized by the media during his first five seasons in the majors, deserves some credit of his own, especially when he pitches well on a consistent basis.
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Still, it can't be ignored that in two starts since Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt called him in for a heart-to-heart last week in Cincinnati, Billingsley has allowed just three runs over 12 innings. And it also can't be ignored that even by his own admission, Billingsley's approach in those games -- including Friday night's 6-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates before 46,775 at Dodger Stadium, snapping the Dodgers' five-game losing streak -- was exactly what Torre and Honeycutt told him they wanted it to be.
"I simplified my game plan," Billingsley said. "I went after hitters and tried to be aggressive with every pitch I made."
And this time -- unlike Sunday in Washington, when he took a gigantic leap forward but got nothing to show for it other than a 1-0 loss on a day when the offense went into the deep freeze -- Billingsley was rewarded with a victory.
The pep talk happened after the Reds rocked Billingsley for seven runs and knocked him out after three innings April 20. Billingsley was quoted the next day saying he was making quality pitches to the hitters, who hung six of those runs on him in the second inning alone.
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Billingsley didn't walk a single batter in that game, which he apparently felt was significant because he had been so widely panned over the years for having too many deep counts, throwing too many pitches and walking too many hitters. The point Torre and Honeycutt tried to get across to him was that even if you aren't giving up walks, you aren't making quality pitches if you are giving up that many runs.
Since then, Billingsley hasn't given up very many runs at all. And in those two starts combined, he has issued just three unintentional walks. And the two opposing clubs, the Nationals and Pirates, were a collective 2-for-9 against him with runners in scoring position, shooting down the popular theory that Billingsley crumbles in high-pressure situations.
"Both of us felt that he was to the point, because so much had been made about pitch counts, pitch counts, pitch counts with him, that it looked like he sort of fell into guiding the ball and trying to throw strikes," Torre said. "But we told him to just go out there and let the ball go, and it will find its way over the plate."
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The blast couldn't have come at a better time, a three-run shot that expanded a 2-1 Dodgers lead to 5-1 in the third inning. The home run was a line shot that traveled on such a low arc that both Torre and Loney admitted afterward that they were afraid it would bounce over the fence for a ground-rule double, something that would have cost the Dodgers a run because one of their two baserunners was on first. Loney was 3-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored for the game.
With the Dodgers leading 5-2, Loney on first, one out and left-handed-hitting second baseman Blake DeWitt at the plate in the sixth inning against Morton, Loney broke for second, and shortstop Bobby Crosby went to cover. DeWitt, who got the pitch he was looking for over the outer half of the plate, poked it right through the spot where Crosby had been standing.
Loney never broke stride on his way to third, and when left fielder Ryan Church rifled the ball to third in an unsuccessful attempt to get Loney, DeWitt easily went into second. After an intentional walk to Jamey Carroll, Ronnie Belliard pinch hit for Billingsley and delivered a sacrifice fly to score Loney and effectively ice the game.
"In that situation, you're just looking to put the ball in play hard, preferably somewhere on the ground," DeWitt said. "Most of the time, it's the shortstop who covers [on stolen-base attempts] when [the hitter] is a lefty and the second baseman for a righty."
Quote of the day
We expect to win, and people expect us to win. I think they look at the talent on our team and think we should win every game.” -- Dodgers first baseman James Loney
"We just show up every day. We expect to win, and people expect us to win. I think they look at the talent on our team and think we should win every game. But that team over there is trying to do the same thing, and they are trying to beat us. You just go out there and battle every night, and that is what the other team is doing, too."
-- Loney on the collective ability the Dodgers have developed over the past few years not to panic when the club is going through a bad streak
Rookie Carlos Monasterios will make his first major league start for the Dodgers after posting a 1.69 ERA in seven relief appearances, completing at least two innings in three of them. How deep Monasterios can go into the game will depend largely on how long his early innings are, but Torre said Thursday that Monasterios could throw 70-75 pitches if he isn't constantly pitching with runners on base. Zach Duke (2-2, 6.11) is the Pirates' ace and beat the Dodgers on opening day in Pittsburgh, but he has been hit hard his past two starts, giving up 14 earned runs in a total of nine innings.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.