DENVER -- Merely the prospect of becoming a part-time Major League pitcher was so uplifting to James Loney on Sunday that his bat came alive for four hits as the starting first baseman.
But in the same game came the cautionary tale told by Chad Billingsley, that this pitching thing can be tougher than it looks. Needing to go deep into the game to rest a bullpen so weary that Loney might have been recruited to join it, Billingsley got into the eighth inning and was dominant at times, but he was ultimately on the wrong end of a 5-3 final against the Rockies at Coors Field.
Billingsley threw five hitless innings, but they were sandwiched around crushing two-run homers from Carlos Gonzalez and Seth Smith (458 feet) as the Dodgers lost the rubber game of the three-game series.
"Mistakes," said Billingsley, who saved the bullpen with 7 2/3 innings. "A sinker to Gonzalez that stayed up. A back-up cutter or slider to Smith that spun out of my hand. It's execution. You know it right when you release it and say, 'Uh oh, please take it.' "
Billingsley also was beating himself up over five walks he issued, particularly one that preceded Smith's homer and one to pinch-hitter Eric Young Jr. leading off the eighth inning that became an insurance run.
Meanwhile, there's Loney. He was so fired up before the game when manager Don Mattingly told him he was on emergency call for relief duty that he made 20 pitches in a bullpen side session.
"I think we've got to get him to throw side sessions before every game and get his bat to come around," joked Mattingly.
Loney, though, isn't joking about the pitching gig. Drafted in the first round by the Dodgers as a first baseman, other clubs scouted him as a pitcher. As a hitter, he's been so disappointing this year that the Dodgers are likely to non-tender him this winter, rather than run the risk of a salary in the range of $5 million.
"I can see why clubs were going to draft him as a pitcher," said bullpen coach Ken Howell, who oversaw the side session. "For a guy who hasn't been on a mound in years, he was around the plate a lot. His fastball command was good. He showed a breaking ball. He has a feel for a change. A little quick in the delivery, but we expected that.
"If we had an extra-inning game, I'd have no problem bringing him in. I think he'd shock a few hitters if he got up there and actually threw."
Loney, however, already sees himself as more than an emergency pitcher.
"I want to be a two-way player," he said. "I don't want to be a fill-in guy, coming to me when it's necessary, when they're light in the bullpen, to get a left-hander. I can pitch. I think I can do more. It will take hard work, something I'd have to concentrate on, put the time in to learn. I love both sides of it [hitting and pitching]. There's time enough to do both."
Of course, the Dodgers have been counting on Loney's offense for the better part of a decade, and it's fallen off dramatically the past two seasons. Mattingly was only half-kidding when he said if side sessions motivated Loney to be a better hitter, he's all for it.
"You can never tell," Mattingly said when asked if there was a cause and effect between Loney's excitement about pitching and his 4-for-4 at the plate that included an RBI double in the second inning and a home run leading off the fourth, his sixth of the year and fourth against the Rockies.
"If I made a mistake, he didn't miss it," said Rockies starter Kevin Millwood, who earned the win after allowing three runs in seven innings.
Mattingly watched what Loney did and acknowledged it illustrated a piece of the offense that has been missing most of the season.
"You talk about this game, but it's day in and day out consistency," Mattingly said. "That's what we've lacked, putting runs and offense together consistently. I'm sure James would put himself in that category throughout the season. But this also shows what he's capable of. You can see what it looks like."
Mattingly also was pleased to see another sharp outing from Hong-Chih Kuo, whose season has been a nightmare due to an anxiety disorder, but whose weekend became a flashback to his All-Star form of 2010.
After compiling a 1.20 ERA last season, he came into this series with an ERA ten times that -- 12.00 -- but on Saturday he struck out all three batters he faced (Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki and Todd Helton) and added a fourth Sunday by fanning Helton.
"It's good to see him back-to-back," said Mattingly. "That's what we've been trying to get him to do. He showed the confidence to really let the ball go. Even when he misses, it's right there, not all over the place. When he's good, he's as good as anybody out there."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.