Billingsley mows down 13 in blowout
Righty allows just one run; Dodgers score six times in first
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers went into the All-Star break on Sunday with the kind of blowout win that might have saved hitting coach Mike Easler's job had they not waited until his final day to do it.
They tuned up for Don Mattingly's arrival by scoring early and often in support of Chad Billingsley, who struck out a career-high 13 in a 9-1 win over the Marlins that left the Dodgers one game out of first place in the NL West, despite a 46-49 record. The Dodgers went into the All-Star break last year also in second place and also one game out, but with a 49-40 record.
Matt Kemp had three hits, scored two runs, drove in two and stole two bases. Nomar Garciaparra and James Loney also had a pair of RBIs each.
Billingsley, at 9-8, now leads the staff in victories and is second in the league with 128 strikeouts. He fanned six in a row at one point and eight of 10 at another.
"Chad set the tone," said manager Joe Torre. "He couldn't have been much better. This was a good way to finish off the first half. I hope we show up in Arizona [Friday] realizing what's at stake in the second half."
Along with the team win and Billingsley's personal best, nobody got hurt one game after the Dodgers saw closer Takashi Saito walk off the mound in mid at-bat with elbow tightness on Saturday. His MRI is on Monday and the club is prepared for the worst.
That means Jonathan Broxton is the closer, there's consideration to calling up Clayton Kershaw so Chan Ho Park can return to the bullpen, and general manager Ned Colletti is already in New York for the All-Star Game, and a chance to pick up trade talks with colleagues face-to-face.
He's still looking for a leadoff shortstop, with Pittsburgh's Jack Wilson and Toronto's David Eckstein the presumed front-runners. The asking price will probably remain steep until the deadline at the end of the month. Despite rumors of Edgar Renteria's availability, the Dodgers and Tigers have not talked.
In addition to Kershaw, who pitched well and won for Double-A Jacksonville on Saturday night, the Dodgers got a little good news before Sunday's game when disabled pitcher Brad Penny played catch for the first time since his Monday cortisone injection and said he felt good. Penny could return before the end of the month.
Not such good news was received from Las Vegas, where Jason Schmidt couldn't get out of the third inning in another rehab start. Nearly 13 months after shoulder surgery, he has a Triple-A ERA of 7.94 with no sign that he's ready to help the Major League club.
One veteran who envisions playing a greater role in the second half is Jeff Kent, who missed Sunday's game to give his tight back an extra day of rest.
"I've missed too many games in the first half," he said. "My back is manageable. I think Joe's been cautious with me, protecting me for the second half. This is when you have to grind it out. We have to start playing better baseball. We absolutely can't be pleased or satisfied with the way we've played in the first half. We're going to have to do a better job to get to the playoffs.
"When you start the season, do you have expectations of having a certain record or of reaching the playoffs? In that case, absolutely, our glass is half full and half empty. It could be a lot worse."
Another veteran who needs to do a better job is Andruw Jones, who has suffered through an unthinkable first half -- .164, two homers, 10 RBIs (only three on hits), 27 hits, 59 strikeouts and one knee operation. After striking out five times on Saturday night, he went 0-for-3 with one strikeout and two walks on Sunday.
Jones, who volunteered to return early from his rehab when Juan Pierre was injured, said his current problem is adjusting to a new batting stance designed to stay back. He said his knee, surgically repaired almost six weeks ago, is fine. He said he will continue working out during the All-Star break.
"It's tough to come back right away for a day game and correct what you're doing wrong," said Jones. "When you have a new stance, then you have to make adjustments. It's easy to say to heck with the new stances, but I want to stick with it and if I struggle, I struggle. I'm staying with it."
One more veteran who already has revived his season is Nomar Garciaparra, who drove in a pair of runs on Sunday with a double and single. He's 8-for-29 with three doubles, one homer and seven RBIs in 10 games since returning from a two-month disabled stint for a pulled calf muscle.
Garciaparra said he's not holding back, even though doctors have told him that he has a predisposition for excessive scar tissue that makes him more susceptible to muscle pulls.
"I'm not out of risk with what I have, but that's not altering my playing," said Garciaparra, who has been a pleasant surprise defensively back at his original shortstop position. "If it goes, it goes, but I'm giving it everything I have."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.