Billingsley returns to form, but Dodgers fall
Right-hander turns in first quality start in loss to Nationals
WASHINGTON -- Chad Billingsley wouldn't talk about the meeting he had with manager Joe Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt after his three-inning start in Cincinnati on Tuesday.
"Bills was a major concern of ours," Torre conceded.
Torre must have gotten that message across in the meeting, because what came out of it was a six-inning quality start by Billingsley on Sunday, more of a hardball performance than he's given recently, that took a little of the sting away from a 1-0 Dodgers loss to the Nationals.
Billingsley allowed one run on a first-inning groundout by Adam Dunn (with Ronnie Belliard's diving stop preventing a second run from scoring). After that, no Washington baserunner got past second, as he struck out five with four hits allowed and two walks (one intentional).
"I pretty much went out and kept it simple," said Billingsley, "instead of trying to be too fine out there. Instead of attacking hitters [previously], I was worried too much about the situation or the count, doing that stuff. Just attack with the four-seam and hammer, and go after them."
While the Dodgers were frustrated to do so little against lefty Scott Olsen and his 11.74 ERA entering Sunday's game, Billingsley responded to those who are skeptical he can return to the form that made him an All-Star last year.
"He was great," said Torre. "I thought he attacked. He looked freer to me. He was upset that he was coming out [for a pinch-hitter], which we understand. All those are good signs. I look forward to the next one.
"He was throwing the ball well, and his pitch count [of 86] was good for six innings. He wasn't trying to guide the ball, just letting it go and trusting it."
The meeting followed Billingsley's postgame comments that he made quality pitches that were hit by the Reds. Honeycutt indicated the discussion centered on Billingsley's pitching approach.
"He was able to examine some things," said Honeycutt. "He was a little bit better able to make adjustments. His approach was better, he kept it simple. He got back to who he was -- fastball and curve, mix pitches, attack the batters. He stayed taller and was more consistent with his release point. It was very encouraging.
"It was a chance to examine himself and be honest with himself and open to things. You don't want it to where he's making the same mistakes and getting into a pattern where he's not able to repeat the delivery. We know he's better than he's shown. You can't continue to work the wrong way harder. This was a lot closer to the Chad Billingsley that I know. I was checking [video] between innings, and the flight of the ball was truer than it had been."
Unfortunately, the one run Billingsley allowed was more than the Dodgers could produce, the lineup not only missing the disabled Manny Ramirez, but also resting left-handed hitters Andre Ethier and Blake DeWitt.
Particularly frustrating was the first inning, when Russell Martin, Matt Kemp and James Loney strung one-out singles to load the bases. But Casey Blake, who was 5-for-9 in the series, struck out and Belliard flied out."We let him off the hook in the first inning," said Blake, who had a double and single off Olsen. "A lot of times you do that to a pitcher and the guy sticks around. That's what we did today."
The Dodgers had another chance in the ninth against Washington closer Matt Capps when Loney led off with a single. Blake tried to get pinch-runner Jamey Carroll to third base by going to the right side, but Carroll had to hold up on Blake's soft liner and couldn't advance when second baseman Cristian Guzman fielded the ball on a short hop and threw out Blake for the first out.
"The ball Blake hit stayed in the air too long," said Torre. "You don't know if he'll catch it on the fly, so you can't commit going to third."
Belliard then was robbed of a hit when right fielder Justin Maxwell made a diving catch of his fly ball. And Garret Anderson, struck out three times by Olson, flied to center to end the game.
"Bills threw well, and it's frustrating not to get him runs," said Blake. "He threw well enough to win today."
Martin, who has caught Billingsley throughout their professional career, also noticed the pitcher's improvement.
"You could tell he was not happy with his performance [in Cincinnati]," said Martin. "He knows how good he is. Even though he didn't get the win today, it's good to see him throw the ball as good as he did."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.