Young infield helps Dodgers end skid
Rookies shine as club ends seven-game losing streak
PHOENIX -- The Dodgers got a glimpse of the future Sunday, and it looked pretty good.
Fielding an all-rookie infield and a lineup with 30-year-old Juan Pierre in the role of old man, they halted a seven-game losing streak with a 7-1 win over the first-place Diamondbacks.
Pierre had four hits in support of winning starter Chad Billingsley, who received RBIs from all four starting infielders, including home runs from James Loney and Tony Abreu.
In the fallout of Jeff Kent's comments critical of the approach by some younger teammates, the reality is that the torch is being passed, regardless.
"Everybody was pumped up to be in there," said Loney, who with teammate Matt Kemp was called into manager Grady Little's office before the game. Loney and Kemp had spoken out in reaction to Kent's comments.
Billingsley is 12-5, having stepped into the rotation when Jason Schmidt was injured and won more games than any Dodgers starter since.
Loney, exiled to Triple-A for two months because there was no room for him in Los Angeles, finally got his chance and quickly pushed Nomar Garciaparra across the diamond. Since his June 10 recall, Loney leads the Dodgers with a .331 average, 13 homers and 60 RBIs.
Abreu is likely to replace Kent at second base, and the question isn't if but when, as Kent must decide if he wants to play with the Dodgers next year for the $9 million option that vested. One hang-up is Abreu's health, as he left this game early with hip flexor irritation suffered while stealing a hit up the middle from Augie Ojeda. The latest injury could be related to the sports hernia he is suspected of already having.
In addition, third baseman Andy LaRoche and shortstop Chin-Lung Hu had RBI singles, while second-year outfielder Andre Ethier had a scoring fly ball.
"It's always fun for the young guys to get an opportunity and to do something with it," said catcher Russell Martin, an All-Star in his first full season in the Major Leagues who had two hits and scored a run. "It was exciting. We had a lot of good at-bats, good defense, we ran the bases hard. We did a lot of things we should have been doing better the whole season."
LaRoche said many of the young players had the same reaction when they saw the lineup Little posted. Other than Pierre, all eight had played at Triple-A within the last two seasons.
"It's fun for all of the young guys to get a chance to show what we can do," said LaRoche, who had his best defensive day in the Major Leagues, reacting perfectly to a pair of smashes at third. "I was joking with [Delwyn Young, who singled] before the game. Every one of the rookies seemed to do something good.
"It's good for [management] to see us play together in something other than the second half of a spring game. They haven't had a chance to see all of us together."
They've had enough of a chance to see that Loney has become even better than advertised. He's knocked down doubts about his power by knocking 13 home runs out of Major League parks after getting only one in 226 at-bats for Las Vegas.
His two-run shot in the fifth inning off of Juan Cruz came on a breaking ball about four inches inside, but Loney was able to keep it fair, and it sailed into the Dodgers' bullpen. Power has been the question mark on Loney since the Dodgers drafted him in the first round four years ago.
"I didn't have much power back in the day," Loney conceded. "It was always something I've worked on in the gym and in the cage, learning my swing, and it's fun to see the results. I still don't try to hit it out. Today, I didn't try. It was two strikes. I was just trying to hit it hard somewhere."
Billingsley didn't allow too many Diamondbacks to hit it hard anywhere. He allowed a first-inning run and took the game into the sixth inning, benefiting from a pair of double-plays behind him. He's 4-1 against Arizona lifetime and 4-0 at Chase Field.
"He's come a long way with the knowledge of his pitching," said Little. "He a much more composed pitcher than he was a year ago."
"I feel so much more comfortable on the mound, my confidence level is really going up," Billingsley said. "When you pitch with confidence, you're aggressive and not timid. Last year, I was young. I didn't know the league and tried to overthrow some times. This year, I'm not just a power guy."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.