Billingsley off-kilter in first start
Once again, big early hole foils Dodgers against D-backs
PHOENIX -- Joe Torre offered up last week's rain-delay fiasco as one explanation for Chad Billingsley's poor first start Tuesday night, but the young right-hander wasn't making excuses after getting beat."I had nothing," Billingsley said after digging a first-inning hole that turned into a 10-5 loss to the Diamondbacks, who were inspired by the performance of starting pitcher Doug Davis two days before he undergoes surgery for thyroid cancer. At an emotion-charged Chase Field, Davis struck out seven over six innings and added a pair of singles. When he came off the field to a standing ovation after finishing the sixth inning, Davis briefly encountered Dodgers second baseman Jeff Kent. "He just said, 'Best of luck to you and God bless,' " Davis said. Meanwhile, Billingsley pitched like the one who couldn't focus. He lasted only 2 1/3 innings, allowing five hits, three walks, hit two batters and was taken deep by Mark Reynolds, who's hit as many home runs against the Dodgers in two games, three, as the entire Dodgers team has hit this season. "It was just a horrible night basically when we need to establish what our strength is," said Torre. "It's one we need to get out of our system quick." Torre suggested Billingsley's routine was disrupted last Wednesday night, when he was scratched 20 minutes before a scheduled start because of an anticipated rain delay, pitched one-third of an inning of relief that night before the delay actually occurred, then pitched two more innings of relief Friday night. "We screwed around with him his last start," said Torre. "We banged him and brought him in relief. He's not using it as a reason. But he didn't get into any kind of rhythm, he didn't look comfortable. At the time we made the decision, it made sense. I'm not saying we would have done anything different. But starting pitchers get into a routine and it certainly got in the way of his routine. It was just the circumstances more so than the decision. We made the decision, so we have to take our share of the blame, too." Hong-Chih Kuo, who pitched three scoreless innings when he inherited Billingsley's start last week against the Giants, restored order against the Diamondbacks with 3 2/3 scoreless innings. But what could have turned into a close game became a blowout when wild rookie reliever Ramon Troncoso allowed Arizona four runs in the seventh inning. The Dodgers got two-run doubles from Kent and rookie Blake DeWitt and three hits from Matt Kemp, who returned to the lineup after a three-game benching. Nonetheless, they've been outscored 19-8 in these two games and 7-0 in the first inning, forced to play catchup with a lineup that lacks the explosiveness to wipe out large deficits, particularly with the continued slump of Andruw Jones. He went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and walk. He's batting .103 with one RBI and one extra-base hit. With Micah Owings pitching for Arizona on Wednesday, the matchups don't provide Torre with any obvious solutions and he didn't reveal who would play in the outfield. Andre Ethier and Juan Pierre are both 0-for-5 against Owings, while Kemp is 0-for-1 and Jones 1-for-3 with a homer. Catcher Russell Martin, who did not start Tuesday night but struck out as a pinch-hitter, will return to the lineup. By comparison to the struggling Dodgers, an even younger D-backs offense cashed in six walks and four hit batters with a dozen hits, half of them with runners in scoring position. "We've been fighting uphill the last couple of days, falling behind early and every time we cut the margin, they kept extending it," said Torre. "We have to bounce back and get back on track." The biggest blow was Reynolds' first-inning three-run homer on a hanging slider in a two-out rally. Billingsley threw 70 pitches, but more balls (38) than strikes (32). "My body felt good and my arm felt great, but it was a battle from the first pitch," said Billingsley, who had a 3.31 ERA last year but a 6.85 ERA this spring. "I was rushing myself. I felt overly aggressive, tense, I wasn't fluid with my mechanics. I was fighting myself and they did what you're supposed to do. I made it easy for them. They worked the count and I made mistakes over the middle." As for Davis, Billingsley said he couldn't imagine anyone having to pitch two days before cancer surgery. Torre, a cancer survivor himself, put the night in perspective. "Certainly, he has a much more important game coming up," said Torre. "We all pray it goes well. It's tough to put yourself in his place and know what his emotions were. He did a great job keeping himself intact with the rubber."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.