03/22/11 9:57 PM ET
Sweet relief: Elbert joins Kuo with strong outing
Southpaws clutch and overpowering, respectively, in win
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
And Hong-Chih Kuo also pitched well.
Kuo struck out a pair in one overpowering scoreless inning, but the clutch work was done by Scott Elbert, finally showing signs of getting it together. He struck out left-handed hitter Tyler Colvin to bail Lance Cormier out of a jam in the seventh inning and preserve a one-run lead over the Cubs that led to a 2-1, 10-inning victory.
Elbert, who skipped the second half last year to deal with personal issues that he later said involved stress, walked six of the first 10 batters he faced this spring and seemed headed for another round of Triple-A ball.
But don't be shocked if he grabs a bullpen spot from Ramon Troncoso, who served up a ninth-inning home run to Jeff Baker for a blown save, his second consecutive ineffective outing. Travis Schlichting, who got the win with a scoreless 10th inning, now seems to be moving past Troncoso as well.
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"Troncoso is a sinkerball pitcher, and they hit a high fastball," manager Don Mattingly said. "That's two times in a row."
Meanwhile, Elbert has had three effective outings since his "rocky" start to the spring.
"That's what I wanted to see today," said Mattingly, a big backer of Elbert after managing his comeback in the Arizona Fall League. "He was good. I think he's feeling comfortable right now. I know it's there."
Elbert said he's finally getting the hang of this slow-down-the-game concept that previous manager Joe Torre used to talk so much about.
"I'm doing a totally different way of breathing," said Elbert, a former No. 1 Draft pick. "I'm relaxing and letting everything out at the end."
It's a group effort getting Elbert to relax, from pitching coach Rick Honeycutt; to Triple-A pitching coach Glenn Dishman, who works with Elbert on the mound in the mornings; to even catcher Rod Barajas.
"If you notice," said Elbert, "Rod takes a deep breath before he gives me the sign, and I take one and then it's, OK, let's get the sign. I'm starting to get it. When the count was 2-2, I stepped off to grab the rosin bag. Slowing down the game has been my problem my whole career."
Said Honeycutt: "The last two outings have been encouraging. We know what he's done in the past. He's getting his confidence back. With his stuff, he can get lefties or righties, it doesn't matter, as long as he's throwing around the plate."
As for Kuo, he had another perfect inning with two strikeouts. Kuo allowed a run in his first appearance and hasn't allowed anything in four games since, with seven strikeouts and one walk. As if he's not tough enough to hit with a mid-90s fastball and hard slider, he's getting comfortable throwing a changeup, too.
"Last year he proved how good he is," said Honeycutt, who wouldn't mind having two hard-throwing lefties in the bullpen. "All we want to do is keep him healthy. He's that big to this team."
So is Chad Billingsley, who outdueled Cubs starter Ryan Dempster with six scoreless innings, allowing only four hits and looking ready to start the season.
"I approached this more as a real game," said Billingsley, who gets one more spring start before taking the ball for the second game of the season. "I threw all my pitches and felt good out there. I was throwing the changeup a lot effectively. Rod called a great game. We were on the same page, and we knew what each other was thinking."
Billingsley threw 94 pitches, matching Opening Day starter Clayton Kershaw's workload from the previous night.
"Chad has been throwing the ball extremely well all spring," said Honeycutt. "His changeup is getting better and better. He's been really good. He's right where he should be."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.