Chad Billingsley struggles at Coors
Right-hander has another bad outing in Denver in the Dodgers' 6-5 loss to Rockies
DENVER -- Wasn't planning to write much about Chad Billingsley. Wasn't going to go negative on him again, because it sometimes feels as though he gets beaten up far too much for a guy who has had double-digit wins and been one of the Los Angeles Dodgers' best starting pitchers for each of the past four years.
Wasn't going to point out that his spotty history at Coors Field got a little spottier Friday night, because after all, a whole lot of really good pitchers have had spotty histories here.
And besides, an ugly pitching line by Billingsley wasn't going to mean much to a game in which the Dodgers were completely, thoroughly, absolutely dominated by another top-level starter in Jhoulys Chacin, the Colorado Rockies' de facto ace in a season when Ubaldo Jimenez hasn't quite been himself.
But then, the Dodgers rallied for five runs in the ninth, turning a blowout loss into a gutwrenching, 6-5 defeat, the potential tying run standing on second base when Trent Oeltjen -- a guy who wouldn't even have been playing if Matt Kemp hadn't been a late scratch because of a tight hamstring -- struck out against Huston Street to end it.
That rally, which had begun with Kemp coming off the bench to deliver a pinch-hit home run that landed up on the concourse beyond the left-field bleachers, didn't change the outcome. But it did dramatically change the implications of Billingsley's latest mile-high meltdown, which left him with a career mark of 1-5 and a 7.88 ERA in a ballpark that can still bring a pitcher to his knees, with or without a humidor.
Billingsley seems to be on his knees almost every time he comes here.
"A little bit," Billingsley admitted, when I asked him the rather obvious question of whether pitching at Coors is simply different from pitching anywhere else. "But if you're leaving balls over the middle of the plate and catching too much of the plate, you're not going to have too much success that way. I felt good today. I just made some mistakes over the middle of the plate, and you can't do that in this ballpark."
And so, once again, I find myself writing about a performance by Billingsley that fell short, one in which he was tagged with six earned runs and 13 hits in 4 2/3 innings. Just before his exit, he gave up hits to six consecutive batters in the bottom of the fifth, all of them singles, finally recorded the second out, then gave up another single to Chris Iannetta, bringing manager Don Mattingly out with the hook.
After the game, I asked Mattingly if he might be considering a more permanent hook with Billingsley where Coors is concerned. When veteran right-hander Derek Lowe was with the Dodgers a few years ago, he had a similar aversion to pitching here despite being a sinkerballer, the type of guy who would figure to be largely unfazed by the place. So the Dodgers occasionally would juggle the rotation so Lowe wouldn't have to pitch during their thrice-yearly visits.
Mattingly mostly rejected the suggestion that might help Billingsley as well.
"Honestly, not really," he said. "It's tough to do that because somebody else is going [on] short [rest]. Maybe if it falls right, with an off-day or something, but I would rather keep guys in rotation. It changes the day they pitch, it changes the day they throw their bullpens, it changes the days they rest, it changes everybody else's routine.
"It doesn't affect one guy, it affects five guys."
If the Rockies were in some other division, the Dodgers (29-36) would come here only once a year, in which case it might be easy to line up their starters so a particular guy didn't have to pitch. But Coors Field is a frequent and inescapable reality when you're in the National League West, so the only way to overcome the problem of Billingsley pitching here is, well, for Billingsley to overcome it.
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It was Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt who had the best answer for why skipping Billingsley here would be a bad idea.
"I don't know of anybody we have who has done that well here, except [Ramon] Troncoso," Honeycutt said, referring to the fact Troncoso saved the bullpen again with 2 1/3 scoreless innings behind Billingsley and also to that night in April 2009 when Troncoso pitched four scoreless innings here to preserve a one-run victory.
True enough. Ted Lilly, the guy who will take the ball for the Dodgers on Saturday night, has a 6.41 ERA in four career starts here. Hiroki Kuroda's is 8.27 in three starts. Clayton Kershaw's is 5.88 in nine starts. So Billingsley (5-5) is hardly alone, either on the Dodgers staff or around the league.
"They just kept getting hits," Billingsley said. "It was just one of those things. What can you do? You have to forget about it and get ready for the next time out."
Billingsley can take comfort in two things: that next time out won't be at Coors Field; and the Dodgers have just one more visit this year, in mid-August, when a three-game series and a five-man rotation gives him a 40 percent chance of not pitching here again in 2011.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.