Being the ace of a pitching staff is both good and bad. It means you’re the best, but it also means you need to have consistently strong outings.
Chad Billingsley has been just that for the Dodgers, but after four starts doesn’t look the part.
Prior to his six-inning, four-hit performance this past Sunday that resulted in a 1-0 loss to the Washington Nationals, Billingsley was comforted in knowing this was his best effort so far.
Before Sunday’s start, Billingsley had given up 10 combined earned runs to the Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks, and entered with a 7.07 earned-run average.
The only run he allowed the host Nationals came in the first inning when Nyjer Morgan singled to left, Adam Kennedy walked, Cristian Guzman laid down a sacrifice bunt, and Adam Dunn, who blasted two homers during Friday’s 5-1 win, grounded to second baseman Ronnie Belliard, who made a spectacular play on the hard smash.
After his day was concluded, Manager Joe Torre came over to Billingsley and patted him on the shoulder, with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt doing the same thing.
There was some talk that Billingsley, in his fifth major-league season, would be sent to the bullpen, or even demoted to the minor leagues if he didn’t pitch well. It’s unlikely that either will happen despite the loss that evened his record at 1-1.
The encouraging news what that Billingsley’s fastball topped out at 95 miles-an-hour, and that he was usually in the low 90’s. On the day, he struck out five and walked two, including one intentional.
One of Billingsley’s problems has been he often throws too many pitches, which doesn’t allow him to stay deep into games, and depletes the bullpen.
The most innings Billingsley has thrown was just under 201 in 2008. That season he went 16-10, and finished with a career-best 201 strikeouts and only 80 walks. The ratio of more than 2-to-1 is something any pitching coach looks for.
Last season, Billingsley, who has never had a losing season and who is 49-31 lifetime, came out like gangbusters in the first half, and even made his first All-Star team. The second half was the complete opposite, as he went 12-11 overall with a 4.04 ERA.
Billingsley didn’t pitch in the National League Divisional Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, but did in the NL Championship Series. In one start against the Philadelphia Phillies, he failed to get out of the fourth inning, and left with a 5.40 ERA.
At 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds, Billingsley is thick-legged, and reminds some of Tom Seaver, a 311 game-winner who used his massive legs to generate his power. They call this drop-and-drive.
There was much to get excited about Billingsley, who throws a slider and cut-fastball, and was the 24th pick in the 2003 draft. He arrived in 2006, and in 16 starts with the Dodgers, was 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA. He did have some trouble finding the strike zone, whiffing 59 and walking 58. A 12-5 season followed with a 3.31 ERA, and then the breakout 2008 campaign.
Billingsley was hoping to find himself, and though it was only one start, he may have done just that. It could take a few more starts before he gets back to his ace status. The Dodgers would like that.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.