04/08/10 5:11 PM EST
Belliard's big day keys Dodgers vs. Bucs
Third baseman drives in four, finishes single shy of cycle
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
Billingsley pitched the Dodgers to their first win of the year with his first victory since last Aug. 18, while Ronnie Belliard's three extra-base hits and four RBIs powered a 10-2 rout that avoided a series sweep by the Pirates.
"You always want to be that guy to stop it," Billingsley said.
Manager Joe Torre said the win was as important to Billingsley's psyche as to the standings, considering that Billingsley went from first-half All-Star last year to a two-month losing streak and a bouncing from the postseason rotation. Even though he led the staff with 12 victories last year, Billingsley also went 0-5 over his final seven starts.
"No question," Torre said of the win as confidence booster. "And the fact he got out of trouble. It's one thing to never get tested and just get outs. He got into trouble in the fifth inning and I thought it was important to get through that with the game still close."
Nonetheless, you couldn't blame bullpen coach Ken Howell for positioning himself by the phone when Torre went to the mound in that fifth inning to talk to Billingsley, having already seen Vicente Padilla and Clayton Kershaw pitch less than half a game each earlier in the week.
But Billingsley escaped his third consecutive jam and took it into the rarefied air of the sixth inning before bowing out.
"I thought he was very, very good," Torre said. "He got beaten down with a lot of pitches in the fourth and fifth innings, but I thought he maintained his stuff very well. His velocity was consistent and he didn't try to overthrow the ball."
Billingsley had the luxury of a quick lead and the Dodgers kept building on it -- James Loney's RBI single in the first inning, Matt Kemp's sacrifice fly in the third and a two-run homer in the fifth by Belliard, who added an RBI triple in a four-run seventh inning that put the game out of reach, then an RBI double in the ninth.
Belliard finished with four RBIs. Reed Johnson and Loney also had three hits, while Loney, Kemp and Garret Anderson drove in a pair of runs each.
The offensive breakout was accomplished even though Torre, by his own admission, fielded a "split-squad" lineup of position players, resting five (Manny Ramirez, Andre Ethier, Casey Blake, Russell Martin and Blake DeWitt) from the previous game for a variety of reasons.
With the entire bench starting, the Dodgers had 16 hits and went 7-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
Billingsley had a 1.84 spring ERA ruined by an awful start against the Angels on Saturday, but he insisted he hadn't relapsed into the mechanical flaw he blamed for last year's fade, and he proved it Thursday, allowing one run with seven strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings. He's 3-0 lifetime against the Pirates.
"The second half last year, I struggled to repeat my delivery and battled, but last year is last year," he said. "This is a new season, a new start. I'm feeling good and that's all that matters. All spring I wasn't pulling off my fastball and cutting it off. It was true. I was staying through the ball. When I got to Spring Training I did some little tweaks with the delivery and I'm happy with it. I just have to continue and apply it in the game. I feel a lot more consistent with all my pitches."
Meanwhile, Belliard was a big reason why Billingsley had the runs to work with. It was quite a reversal for Belliard, who hit only .162 in the spring and was 0-for-2 in the previous two games. But he also had been 5-for-17 with a pair of homers against Pirates starter Paul Maholm, and he hit the ball hard enough for five hits.
"I've been working hard with [hitting coach Don] Mattingly," said Belliard, "just timing stuff. Mechanics we can work on in the cage, but when the game starts, you've got to swing the bat. If the timing is right, I think I'll be fine."
Torre said Belliard, who had to satisfy a weight clause to guarantee his contract, has spent extra time in the weight room the last three weeks to keep his body in shape for the irregular use he's expected to get, now that DeWitt is the regular second baseman.
"I spend more time in the weight room doing agility and keeping myself strong," he said. "Everybody here has to do the job. Me, [Jamey] Carroll, guys that play roles, we're used to playing every day. We have to keep ourselves ready for when they need us."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.