Can the Dodgers finally bank on Billingsley?

August, 3, 2012
8/03/12
11:14
PM PT
Chad BillingsleyGary A. Vasquez/US PresswireChad Billingsley had his third consecutive strong start Friday in a victory over the Cubs at home.

LOS ANGELES -- Sometimes, the best thing that can happen to a player is when people stop worrying about who he should be and start figuring out who he is.

The Dodgers, of course, would love for Chad Billingsley to regain the magic that made him one of the brightest young pitchers in baseball when he was in his early 20s, but what they need now is more tangible than that. They need stability, as their rotation has wobbled its way along through recent weeks.

The news cycle Friday was all about former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee and the waiver claim that was and then wasn't. A few hours later, Billingsley went out and reminded Dodgers fans that this team just might have its No. 2 starter already in the house. Of course, Billingsley has offered these teases before. Since 2008, he has a losing record.

He is, at the very least, rolling right along -- pitching as well as he has thus far in 2012 -- and that's important to a team that has searched under every boulder and every pebble for pitching in recent weeks. Billingsley held the Chicago Cubs to four hits over seven innings in the Dodgers' 6-1 win Friday night. It was his third straight near-dominant start, though they were scattered around a 16-day stint on the disabled list for some right elbow pain.

If it was the tender elbow that caused Billingsley to lose five consecutive starts in June and early July, he's not letting on. He said his stuff doesn't feel much different now than it did then.

"My arm just had some inflammation. Pitchers have that," Billingsley said. "I guess it just allowed me to have a little bit of rest."

It's really not that complicated. The guy throws consistently in the low 90s with a good assortment of off-speed stuff, plus he has the pitch of this era, a cutter. When he can throw his fastball where he wants it, it sets up everything else. Lately, he's been hitting imaginary bulls-eyes on the catcher's mitt.

"He was hitting the strike zone, so he was forcing them to swing the bats," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "When he does that, he gives us a chance to win every time."

Before the game, I asked Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti for his assessment of his starting rotation.

"I feel they're all major league-caliber guys that can compete and give us a chance to win every game they pitch," Colletti said.

With Lee reportedly off the market, Joe Blanton already en route and Ted Lilly perhaps out for the season, the five starting pitchers in this Dodgers rotation are the crew they likely will have to ride to what they hope is a deep playoff run. Clayton Kershaw goes for his ninth win Saturday, but the Dodgers would love for somebody else on the staff to get hot and give them a strong one-two combination.

If Billingsley really is that guy, he'll finally turn out to be who Dodgers fans hoped he was.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Yasiel Puig
BA HR RBI R
.298 13 59 72
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 19
RBIA. Gonzalez 91
RD. Gordon 73
OPSY. Puig .873
WC. Kershaw 16
ERAC. Kershaw 1.73
SOC. Kershaw 194