Dodger Thoughts: Chad Billingsley


Alex Gallardo/APChad Billingsley (48)

Presenting the final entry in the Remembering 2011 series ...

The setup: Billingsley rebounded from his struggles in the second half of 2009 to post a 3.57 ERA and 109 ERA+ in 2010, with 171 strikeouts in 191 2/3 innings. In his final 14 starts of 2010, he had a 2.45 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 92 innings, averaging 6 2/3 innings per start.

Two days before the season opener, Billingsley, who was paid $6.275 million in 2011, signed a contract extension guaranteeing him $32 million from 2012-14 plus a club option for 2015 ($14 million in salary or a $3 million buyout). A few months shy of turning 27, the expectations for Billingsley were the highest they had been since the first half of 2009, when he had a 3.38 ERA and 119 strikeouts in 125 1/3 innings and made the National League All-Star team.

The closeup: After an up-and-down April highlighted by eight innings of shutout ball against St. Louis with 11 strikeouts, Billingsley was encouragingly strong in May. In six starts that month, he had a 2.63 ERA while striking out 41 in 41 innings against 52 baserunners. That included eight innings of one-hit ball against Arizona in a May 14 game that Billingsley lost on an unearned run. The righthander went into June with a 3.46 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 75 1/3 innings.

He was complimenting that performance with a potential Silver Slugger season at the plate. After netting a home run, walk and double June 5 in Cincinnati, Billingsley had a .385 on-base percentage and .565 slugging percentage for a .950 OPS. He ended up going 2 for 33 for the remainder of the season – yet that, really, was the least of his problems.

In his first three June starts, Billingsley pitched 13 2/3 innings and allowed 43 baserunners and an 11.19 ERA. As in May, he rebounded with what might have been his best four-start stretch of the year: 27 1/3 innings, 29 baserunners and a 1.32 ERA in his final appearances before the All-Star break. But even here, Billingsley's strikeouts (6.6 per nine innings) were off, and so while he had lowered his ERA back down to 3.87, there was still reason for concern.

During the season's second half, Billingsley had four quality starts in 13 outings. It's indicative of his struggles that in his best post-break performance, July 24 against Washington, he still needed 31 pitches to get out of the first inning before finishing with seven innings of two-hit, 10-strikeout ball. In 11 starts after that one, Billingsley had more than five strikeouts only once.

By the end of August, though he was still maintaining an ERA in the low 4s, it was hard not to worry about him.
... His strikeout rate has dipped for the fourth consecutive season, from 9.01 in 2008 to 8.21 in 2009, 8.03 last year and 7.46 this season – a figure that is neither bad nor great, but the trend is kind of discouraging. In the past year, his walk rate has gone up from 3.24 to 3.84, virtually as much as his strikeout rate has gone down.

What does it all mean?

In direct contrast to his reputation, Billingsley has repeatedly shown the ability to come back from adversity. From the 2008 postseason, from his broken fibula, from his 2009 slump, Billingsley has always found a way. But this, quietly, might be his biggest challenge of all. It might require nothing more than a tweak, or it might require something much more substantial. Can he do what Kemp did?

In the history of the Dodgers, only eight pitchers have had more strikeouts before turning 28 than Billingsley, and three of them are in the Hall of Fame. Only 13 pitchers have had a better park- and era-adjusted ERA before turning 28 than Billingsley. He is, objectively, one of the best young pitchers in more than 100 years of Dodger baseball.

Another one of those is Billingsley's teammate Clayton Kershaw, who poses a standard that Billingsley probably won't be able to live up to. But Billingsley's inability to match Kershaw isn't what will make or break him. He doesn't have to be Kershaw-good to be good.

The question is not whether Billingsley has been a good pitcher for the Dodgers up to now. The question is whether he is slipping just as he's entering what should be his prime...

September hardly offered a positive answer for Billingsley, to the extent that we were left with the following:
  • September 2009: 5.16 ERA, 29 2/3 innings, 1.483 WHIP, 8.8 K/9
  • September 2011: 5.16 ERA, 22 2/3 innings, 1.765 WHIP, 6.0 K/9

Yep, as down as many people were on Billingsley by the end of 2009, there was even more reason to be in 2011. Finishing the year one win shy of his third consecutive 12-11 season, Billingsley had the worst ERA (4.21) and ERA+ (88) of his career, and his worst WHIP, walk and strikeout numbers since he was 22.

Coming attractions: It's my belief that Billingsley's problems were mainly physical last year. Whether they're the kind that are cured by an offseason of rest, or whether this is the setup for a 2012 like Jonathan Broxton had in 2011, I don't know. But I don't think that this is a coincidence:
  • 8.5 K/9 in April-May
  • 7.2 K/9 in June-July
  • 5.7 K/9 in August-September
As with Andre Ethier, a comeback season from this former All-Star could make a big difference in 2012 for the Dodgers, who can't afford another year of two stars and 23 whatevers.
Greg Fiume/Getty ImagesChad Billingsley's ERA rose to 4.30 today.
So, which logic do we follow?

Is it the logic that Chad Billingsley is afraid to trust his stuff? That his mechanics have gone awry? Or that might be hurt?

Billingsley was chased with one out in the third inning of today's lidlifter against Washington, after he gave up the Dodgers' early 4-0 lead. Billingsley surrendered four runs on a single, three doubles and a home run in the third, capping an ugly outing in which he allowed eight of his 15 batters to reach base.

Despite concern rising about his performance on this site two weeks ago, Billingsley actually had a halfway decent August, with a 3.77 ERA while averaging more than six innings per start. But his strikeouts per nine innings fell to 5.5 while his walks were at 4.1.

In September, it's just gone off a cliff. Billingsley has made two starts and lasted a combined 6 1/3 innings, allowing seven earned runs on 14 hits while walking six and striking out five.

It may well be that this is a problem of execution (and no, I don't mean the old John McKay joke). But given the history of the Dodgers and their players (punctuated this year by Jonathan Broxton and Andre Ethier) trying to slide by with injuries rather than address them, Billingsley's health is the first question that comes to my mind.

If he's healthy, then this is the perfect time of the year to work out his issues. But if he's hurt, gutting it out only serves to hurt Billingsley and the franchise.

Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesChad Billingsley has been unable to keep his ERA below 4.00 this season.

In an early scene of the underappreciated classic "Joe vs. the Volcano," Mr. Waturi (Dan Hedaya) is on the phone repeating to an unseen caller, "I know he can get the job, but can he do the job?"

The different answers to that question, when it's asked of Dodger starting pitcher Chad Billingsley, are helping rebuild his case as the Dodgers' MPP: Most Polarizing Player.

One thing to realize is that Billingsley, while not a staff leader, remains 25th in the National League in Wins Above Replacement as well as Fielding Independent ERA in 2011, according to Fangraphs. To be the 25th-best pitcher in a 16-team league, simple math tells us, is to fit right in as a solid No. 2 starter relative to the rest of the NL.

Let that sit with you for a moment. Whatever you might think of Billingsley, most NL pitchers are worse. And that's in what anyone would stipulate is a down year for Billingsley.

Just the same, it would be impossible not to acknowledge a widespread level of disappointment with the 27-year-old righty – not to mention a significant number of people who can't stand it when he takes the mound.

The roots of this are deep, and date back to nearly three years ago, when Billingsley briefly stole MPP honors from such title-holders as Juan Pierre, Manny Ramirez, Jonathan Broxton and Matt Kemp.

Billingsley entered the 2009 season with a career ERA of 3.39 and 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings, coming off an age-24 season in which his 3.14 ERA was seventh in the NL (and his FIP was fifth). We're talking about an elite pitcher at age 24.

Billingsley then threw 6 2/3 innings of seven-strikeout, one-run ball in the Dodgers' sweep of the Cubs in the NL Division Series, probably the most forgotten 6 2/3 innings of Billingsley's career.

That's because, at a moment where Billingsley was everything you could ask for – at a time when the Dodgers had suddenly become favorites to reach the World Series, and he was one of the main reasons – he fell apart in the NLCS. In two starts, he lasted a combined five innings and allowed 10 earned runs in taking two of the Dodgers' four losses to the Phillies. And of course, it was the nature of the meltdown – when he was accused of not having the backbone, guts or other body parts to stand up for his teammates and brush back Phillies hitters in Game 2 – that torched his reputation.

Thanks to those two games, roughly half of the Dodger fanbase threw everything that Billingsley had accomplished in the first three seasons of his career out the window to serve the story that he was a loser. Everything he has done in the three seasons since has been refracted through that prism.

For example, how many people remember that Billingsley came right back in 2009 and – despite breaking his leg in an offseason accident – pitched exceptionally enough to make the All-Star team, with a 3.14 ERA and 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings in the first half? And how many people remember the second half, when the first prolonged slump of his career eventually knocked him out of the postseason starting rotation? There's your divide, and it's stark.

The funny thing is that in August and September of that 2009 slump, Billingsley's ERA was 4.21 – hardly Haegeresque. But no doubt many people remember his entire second half of that season as a complete collapse, and probably think he was blasted by the sixth inning of every start he made in that time. In fact, there are still people who probably think Billingsley fades in the second half every season, ignoring 2008 (2.99 ERA) and 2010 (3.00 ERA).

It was a shame that Billingsley knocked himself out of the opportunity to redeem himself in the 2009 postseason. Still, he continued rebuilding his credentials in 2010, with a 3.57 ERA and 171 strikeouts in 191 2/3 innings, enough for the Dodgers to commit $35 million to him for the next three seasons, 2012-14.

But Billingsley has been inconsistent again in 2011. In May, he had a 2.63 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 41 innings, lowering his season ERA to 3.46 at the end of the month. Since then, it's been a mixed bag, with his ERA rising to 4.07, which would be the highest of his career if it stays there.

If Kemp were having the kind of season that Billingsley is having ... well, Kemp did have that season. He had it in 2010, when everyone questioned his effort and not a few people wanted to give up on him.

Billingsley, on the other hand, does not seem to have his effort questioned, but even this year, his mental approach to the game has been challenged.

"I know he can get the job, but can he do the job."

Billingsley’s problems might be less mysterious than all that, however. His strikeout rate has dipped for the fourth consecutive season, from 9.01 in 2008 to 8.21 in 2009, 8.03 last year and 7.46 this season – a figure that is neither bad nor great, but the trend is kind of discouraging. In the past year, his walk rate has gone up from 3.24 to 3.84, virtually as much as his strikeout rate has gone down.

What does it all mean?

In direct contrast to his reputation, Billingsley has repeatedly shown the ability to come back from adversity. From the 2008 postseason, from his broken foot, from his 2009 slump, Billingsley has always found a way. But this, quietly, might be his biggest challenge of all. It might require nothing more than a tweak, or it might require something much more substantial. Can he do what Kemp did?

In the history of the Dodgers, only eight pitchers have had more strikeouts before turning 28 than Billingsley, and three of them are in the Hall of Fame. Only 13 pitchers have had a better park- and era-adjusted ERA before turning 28 than Billingsley. He is, objectively, one of the best young pitchers in more than 100 years of Dodger baseball.

Another one of those is Billingsley's teammate Clayton Kershaw, who poses a standard that Billingsley probably won't be able to live up to. But Billingsley's inability to match Kershaw isn't what will make or break him. He doesn't have to be Kershaw-good to be good.

The question is not whether Billingsley has been a good pitcher for the Dodgers up to now. The question is whether he is slipping just as he's entering what should be his prime. There's every chance that he'll bounce back to be as good as he ever was. But in the process of figuring that out, the MPP trophy seems headed his way.
Chad Billingsley needed 31 pitches to get his first out today, but only 84 pitches to get the next 20 outs. His own personal rally cap led to a seven-inning, 10-strikeout, two-hit performance in the Dodgers' 3-1 victory over Washington today. Tony Jackson has more at ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Billingsley had a day to remember, while Albuquerque's Tim Sexton had a night to forget. Forced to take one for the team because of a pitching shortage, Sexton was charged with 16 runs in five innings of a 17-9 Isotopes loss to New Orleans.

We'll wrap up this quick post with this video, provided by Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy. Dancing Vinny?


Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireCelebrating survival.

The last Dodger save was June 19, when Javy Guerra pitched a final shutout inning after the Dodgers scored the game's only run in the bottom of the eighth.

That was a romp in the park compared to what happened tonight.

Guerra again pitched a final shutout inning after the Dodgers scored the game's only run in the bottom of the eighth, but not until after he allowed a leadoff double and hit two consecutive batters – one bunting – to load the bases with none out.

As panic, bitterness and despair reigned and rained, Guerra pulled himself together and struck out the next two batters, before Matt Kemp chased down a sinking liner by Jason Bartlett to preserve the Dodgers' 1-0 victory.

Rafael Furcal's RBI single drove in the go-ahead run (after A.J. Ellis and Tony Gwynn Jr. each reached base for the second time in the game), boosting Chad Billingsley to victory in his second consecutive eight-inning performance and the Dodgers' second shutout in two nights. Billingsley lowered his ERA in his past four starts to 1.32.

Dodger Stadium, 2061

June, 16, 2011
6/16/11
11:57
AM PT
Jon WeismanCh-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.
At the Los Angeles Magazine 50th anniversary party Wednesday (deftly chronicled by Michael Schneider at Franklin Avenue), they had a series of covers imagining the magazine in 2061. A sample of one can be seen to the right. It appears that Dodger Stadium will have come full circle by then.

Elsewhere ... Eno Sarris of Fangraphs takes a stab at what's wrong with Chad Billingsley.

For what it's worth, Billingsley, who has a .379 on-base percentage and .538 slugging percentage in 33 plate appearances, is now the No. 1 hitting pitcher in major-league baseball. Clayton Kershaw is also in the top 10.

Mark J. Terrill/APChad Billingsley allowed seven runs on nine hits and four walks in four innings today.
Chad Billingsley through the end of May: 75 1/3 innings, 71 strikeouts, 100 baserunners, 3.46 ERA.

Chad Billingsley in June, including today's game: 13 2/3 innings, nine strikeouts, 43 baserunners, 11.19 ERA.

Update: Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more on Billingsley, who is frustrating Don Mattingly, in part because Billingsley was even or ahead in counts when he gave up all nine of his hits allowed today.
... "Honestly, it's still the same stuff,'' Mattingly said. "You still see the ball coming out the same way. But you can't just throw the ball by people, because if you're going to catch too much of the plate, you're going to get hit. It's as simple as that. (The Reds) are too good a team, and really, everybody you face, you have to throw the ball where you want it. If you can't (do that), you're going to be in trouble."

Billingsley was at a loss to explain the way he has pitched of late.

"I definitely didn't get the job done," he said. "I was throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters, but I couldn't put them away. I'm just not executing pitches in certain situations. It just wasn't very good today. I just have to come back out and get better, just keep working hard and figure it out."

Billingsley said there really was no difference in this start and his previous two, one of which he won despite giving up four runs on eight hits over five innings against the Reds in Cincinnati on June 5.

"It's the same problem,"' he said.

Dodgers catcher Rod Barajas said that besides not being able to spot his fastball, Billingsley (5-6) also didn't have the usual sharpness to his curveball against the Reds, something that only exacerbated his struggle.

"He is one of our horses," Barajas said. "When he goes out there, we expect him to go seven and give us a chance to win. The last few times out, it just hasn't been there. It's frustrating, not only for him but for everybody in this clubhouse. It's just a matter of getting behind him and encouraging him to get back to where he needs to be."

David Kohl/APAaron Miles congratulates Chad Billingsley on hitting his second home run since Miles last hit one.
Chad Billingsley couldn't bring it today on the mound, but he sure brought it at the plate.

Billingsley somehow managed to overshadow Matt Kemp's third home run in two days by going deep himself in the second inning, walking with the bases loaded in the third and doubling in a run in the fifth inning, helping the Dodgers to a 9-6 victory.

Billingsley, who entered the game OPS-ing a career-high .638 (5 for 21 with two doubles), surged to .950, which is second in the major leagues among pitchers to J.A. Happ's .959. (Today's double wasn't cheap, either – it landed on the warning track and one-hopped against the wall.) His efforts, combined with Kemp's prodigious two-run home run in the first inning and a total of 13 hits and 10 walks from the Dodger offense, boosted the Dodgers to 20 runs over the past two days, 17 of them coming in a eight-inning span.

Kemp was 2 for 3 with three walks, Andre Ethier 2 for 4 with a walk, Jamey Carroll 1 for 4 with two walks, James Loney (batting eighth) 1 for 2 with three walks, Aaron Miles 2 for 6. Rod Barajas added a significant two-run double. Ethier and Kemp (who reached base five times for the third time in his career) each lifted their 2011 on-base percentages back over .400.

Sobering for the Dodgers was this: This wasn't the first time Billingsley homered and doubled in the same game, and things went more than a little rough when it happened before. On July 5, 2009, Billingsley did the same in San Diego while holding the Padres to one run over the first eight innings, only to have the Dodgers blow a 6-1 in the ninth inning in a game that, following the 2008 playoffs, helped make Jonathan Broxton very unpopular among many Dodger fans. (The Dodgers ultimately won, 7-6.)

So what would happen today? Los Angeles ultimately removed Billingsley after five innings, four runs, 12 baserunners and 106 pitches. John Ely, called up to support the injury-depleted pitching staff, had an opportunity for a four-inning save. He started a little shaky, giving up four baserunners and a run in his first two innings, but had a nice eighth inning in which he retired Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce in order. It was the first time in the game either team had a 1-2-3 inning.

Ely came out for the ninth, but lost his save opportunity when he walked Ryan Hanigan and Don Mattingly replaced him with Josh Lindblom, who started out by walking Miguel "33 homers in 1,359 games" Cairo and, looking really wild, hitting Ramon Hernandez in the shoulder to load the bases. Tying run up at the plate, nobody out.

As Ramon Troncoso began warming up in the bullpen, Paul Janish, who was 3 for 3 at that point, fouled out to Barajas. Pinch-hitter Chris Heisey flied deep to right for a "we'll take it" sacrifice fly.

Facing Drew Stubbs, who had a chance to follow his leadoff homer in the first inning with a game-tying homer in the ninth, Lindblom fell behind in the count, 2-1. But then it all came together for Lindblom. The next two pitches were nasty fastballs at the knees, and Stubbs whiffed at both ... and the Dodgers had held on.

Weird note: The Dodgers average 3.7 runs per game, but haven't finished a game with exactly four runs since May 13.
In a rehabilitation appearance with Albuquerque on Saturday, shortstop Rafael Furcal went 2 for 3 with a walk, drove in three runs and – most importantly – batted right-handed for most of the game.

Hitting from the right side had been said to be the final hurdle to Furcal's return to the Dodgers' active roster from a broken left thumb.

Furcal has been out since April 11 and has missed 33 of the Dodgers' 40 games this season. On Saturday, he walked in the first as a left-handed batter, then turned around to bat right and had RBI singles in the second and fourth innings, as well as a sixth-inning RBI groundout. No issues were reported about his performance in the field.

My hunch is that if he makes it through today unscathed, we'll see Furcal in Los Angeles on Monday.

When he returns, Jamey Carroll will likely move over to second base, pushing Aaron Miles to the bench and Russ Mitchell to the minors. One question that will have to be answered when Casey Blake returns is whether the Dodgers will reduce the playing time of Juan Uribe or James Loney to preserve playing time for Carroll, who has the highest on-base percentage in the National League among shortstops. Certainly, Blake will get his share of rest. And might an occasional start in left field become part of the equation for Carroll?

In other roster talk, Dodger reliever Blake Hawksworth may go on the disabled list today after failing to show progress Saturday, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. Los Angeles is expected to promote Javy Guerra, who has a 1.06 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 17 innings (against 13 baserunners) with Double-A Chattanooga. Guerra had pitched 11 straight shutout innings over his last nine outings until giving up a home run Monday. He's been idle since then.

Guerra did a tiny bit of blogging in 2009. Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A., in his Saturday posting "Dodgers Lose Battle, Win Guerra," noted that the pitcher said on his Facebook page that he had gotten the call.

* * *

Some more notes on Chad Billingsley's Saturday performance, from ESPN Stats and Information:
- The Diamondbacks missed on 11 swings against Billingsley's fastball, the most against the Dodgers' right-hander in exactly two years (May 14, 2009).

- Billingsley's fastball was particularly effective on the first pitch. He threw 21 fastballs on the first pitch of a plate appearance. Seventeen of those fastballs went for strikes, tied for his most in a start in the last three seasons. More remarkable is that the Diamondbacks put none of Billingsley's first-pitch fastballs in play. They swung at eight, missing three and fouling off five.

- By throwing first-pitch strikes that didn't end up in play, Billingsley started 18 of 27 hitters with an 0-1 count, his second-most 0-1 counts in a start since 2009. All eight of Billingsley's strikeouts were in at-bats he started with a first-pitch strike. It also enabled him to rack up his strikeouts efficiently, as six of his eight were in at-bats lasting three or four pitches, tied for his most in the last three seasons.

Harry How/Getty ImagesChad Billingsley retired 24 of 27 batters.
It hasn't even been half a season since the game last September when the Dodgers won despite getting one hit, so it's not like the concept should be entirely foreign to us.

But that doesn't make it much less melancholy for Dodger fans to ponder the fact that Chad Billingsley went eight innings, allowed two walks, one hit and no earned runs while striking out eight and still took a 1-0 loss to Arizona.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, those are the only two games won by a road team with one hit since 1993. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time the Brooklyn-Los Angeles franchise lost when allowing one or fewer hits occurred on July 17, 1914 in Chicago.

The run came across in the second inning on a Melvin Mora sacrifice fly after a Stephen Drew double and a throwing error charged to Billingsley on a pickoff attempt – that Jamey Carroll gamely took responsibility for.

"Miscommunication. It was my fault," Carroll told The Associated Press. "Obviously, I was supposed to cover. He threw it and nobody was there."

Billingsley, who doubled (for the second time this season) to match the hit he allowed, lowered his season ERA to 3.36 even as his won-lost record fell to 2-3. Over his past six starts, Billingsley has a 1.91 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings against 42 baserunners.

Dodger starting pitchers have now thrown 22 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run (not counting the two rained-out frames by Jon Garland on Thursday) and have a 0.64 ERA over the past four starts.

The Dodger offense consisted of a walk and four hits – two by James Loney, including his first extra-base hit in 34 games since April 6, a leadoff eighth-inning double. What happened next – a sacrifice by Rod Barajas and a pinch-hitting appearance by Dioner Navarro in place of Jerry Sands (Navarro struck out) – I'll just say I would have done things differently than Don Mattingly did. ESPNLosAngeles.com's Tony Jackson said it "might have been Mattingly's worst-managed inning since he took over."

But let's face it – it's not like the Dodgers didn't have plenty of other opportunities to get something going against Josh Collmenter, who was making his first major-league start and allowed two hits and no walks over six innings and 71 pitches. At one point, Billingsley and Collmenter combined to retire 21 batters in a row, and there were no hits by either team in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

In the ninth, Carroll singled and with one out, Andre Ethier walked (giving him 37 straight games reaching base), but Matt Kemp hit into a game-ending double play. "Arizona's relievers have been charged with just one earned run over 33 innings during the team's first 11 games this month," said AP, a contrast from last season's giveaway bullpen.

The Dodgers' three-game winning streak ended with them missing their chance to reach 20-20 this season.
Eric Risberg/APTim Lincecum averaged more than 20 pitches per inning tonight.
It was hard to watch the Dodgers build a 3-0 lead against Tim Lincecum and then fail to hold it in a 5-4 loss, but I'm not going to throw Chad Billingsley under the bus for this one.

Billingsley was superb through the first three innings and kept making good pitches in the fourth, but the Giants hurt him anyway. Buster Posey's RBI single was on a pitch no higher than his knees, and Pablo Sandoval's RBI double came on one even lower.

Aaron Rowand's game-tying RBI single in the fifth was little different – a fastball down in the zone, a good challenge pitch that Rowand drove to left.

Obviously, Billingsley wasn't perfect. Posey's second RBI hit, giving the Giants a 4-3 lead, was a fastball up, leading to the last of the nine baserunners Billingsley allowed in five innings. But the Dodger righty looked better on the field then he does in the boxscore – in fact, he looked better than Lincecum, who lasted only 5 1/3 innings himself while throwing 115 pitches.

The Dodgers came back to tie the game on Marcus Thames' pinch-hit homer in the seventh, but reliever Blake Hawksworth gave the lead back almost immediately on a Rowand triple and a wild pitch.

Giants closer Brian Wilson struck out Xavier Paul, Tony Gwynn Jr. (0 for 5) and Jamey Carroll in the ninth inning, thereby avoiding Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp. Ethier was 2 for 4 and robbed of a third hit when Lincecum dove at a ball that was hit off of him and threw Ethier out. Kemp was 2 for 2 with two walks (one intentional), raising his season on-base percentage to an astonishing .578. In at-bats, he is 17 for 36, one hit shy of batting .500.

Kemp was caught stealing for the first time this season.

* * *

Jerry Sands homered for the fourth straight game and doubled in Albuquerque's 18-3 victory over Iowa tonight. Dee Gordon had four hits, four runs and a steal.

Dodgers recall De Jesus

April, 12, 2011
4/12/11
4:05
PM PT
As the clip above shows, Bill Buckner will appear on the next season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

Rafael Furcal has officially been placed on the disabled list, and Ivan De Jesus Jr. was recalled to take his roster spot and presumably play at least semi-regularly at second base, though Aaron Miles is getting the start tonight.

Chad Billingsley and Tim Lincecum face each other for the first time as starting pitchers in tonight's game. They did meet up in that bizarre, rain-affected game April 2, 2008 when both entered as relievers, after Hong-Chih Kuo and Merkin Valdez started. Billingsley faced four batters in the fifth inning and got a blown save for his effort.

Click this link to see how Lincecum has done in 11 previous outings against the Dodgers.

Adam Davis/Icon SMIAndre Ethier is the first Dodger to have three consecutive seasons with an adjusted OPS of at least 130 since Gary Sheffield and only the fifth in Los Angeles Dodger history to do so.
Andre Ethier was asked today about his perplexing postgame comments from Monday, and here's the explanation – as Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports, he's apparently afraid of being non-tendered after this season.
The Dodgers went that route with former All-Star catcher Russell Martin over the winter, and Ethier hinted that a similar fate could be in store for him.

"My salary is increasing each year," Ethier said. "I would say the likeliness of me being here beyond this year, it's not just my decision. ... I have been kind of lucky to be in one spot in baseball for as long as I have been, for six years now. That is a long time to be in one city playing for one team. There is no inclination now other than to go out and play this year and see what we've got.

"If I don't play well, we have seen them non-tender guys here. If you do play well, sometimes they don't offer those guys arbitration because their salaries are too high."

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said he wasn't aware of Ethier's remarks, either from Monday night or Tuesday afternoon, and he initially seemed taken aback by them. ...

But on the day the Dodgers finalized a three-year, $35 million contract extension for pitcher Chad Billingsley, Colletti did reveal that he had preliminary discussions during spring training with Nez Balelo, Ethier's Los Angeles-based agent, on a possible extension for Ethier, but that those discussions died fairly quickly.Ethier insisted he was unaware that those talks had even begun between Colletti and Balelo, so he couldn't have been aware that they had been quickly abandoned.

"I guess they didn't get far enough for it to get to me," Ethier said. "I guess that shows you how serious they were." ...

Ethier now says he would like to remain with the Dodgers for a long time to come, but he also qualified that statement."Yeah, as long as the organization is going in the right direction and is still committed to winning rather than things not going good for a year or two and then rebuilding or maybe going through a transition year," he said. "You hear it all the time, coaches and players saying they don't know how many opportunities you're going to get to be in the playoffs or on a winning team. I want to be somewhere [that provides] my best shot to win and win on an everyday basis. It feels like we have that here and we're moving that way, but that's kind of a wait-and-see basis."

Yes, he does appear to have a fair bit of disenchantment with the front office. What's poetic is that Billingsley could have felt exactly the same insecurity a year ago, when Ethier, Matt Kemp and Jonathan Broxton got two-year contracts but he didn't.

There's no doubt that a) the Dodgers aren't going to pay $10 million or more to players they think can't earn it, and b) Ethier is prone to melancholia and doomsday thinking. I think it's one thing to motivate himself to have the best possible year, on and off the field, that he possibly can. It's another thing for Ethier to think that the Dodgers aren't interested in keeping him around – especially if he performs the way he is capable of.

Dodgers with three consecutive seasons, OPS+ of at least 130
2008-2010 Andre Ethier
1999-2001 Gary Sheffield
1993-1997 Mike Piazza
1981-1985 Pedro Guerrero
1980-1982 Dusty Baker
1952-1957 Duke Snider
1951-1954 Gil Hodges
1949-1953 Jackie Robinson
1949-1951 Roy Campanella
1943-1945 Augie Galan
1938-1942 Dolph Camilli
1928-1931 Babe Herman
1923-1925 Jack Fournier
1916-1918 Zack Wheat
1904-1907 Harry Lumley

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Jackson with details on Billingsley's deal: "He will receive $9 million in 2012, $11 million in 2013 and $12 million in 2014. The club option for 2015 carries a $14 million salary if it's exercised and a $3 million buyout if it isn't."
"It was a little bit of a compromise, but I'm happy with it and I believe they're happy with it also," said Billingsley, who is represented by agent Dave Stewart, a former All-Star pitcher himself. "They came to us at the beginning of camp. We kept talking back and forth over the course of spring training and we were able to work something out. Ultimately, it was my decision and what I felt was best for me and my family." ...

"Being a pitcher, it's nice to have the security to fall back on in case something happens -- because you only have so many throws in this arm," Billingsley said. "But I've been fortunate not to have too many health issues, except for hamstring problems.

"It's a blessing for this opportunity to come my way, and I'm going to continue to focus on what I need to do. I want to continue to get better. I haven't figured this game out. I'm still learning every day I step out on the mound."

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Dodgers at Angels, 7:05 p.m.
About 14 months ago, I wrote this post on Dodger Thoughts: "What Justin Verlander's new contract could mean for Chad Billingsley and the Dodgers."
Justin Verlander signed a contract extension with the Tigers on Wednesday that amounts to $80 million over five years.

Verlander is 17 months older than Chad Billingsley and made his major-league debut 49 weeks before the Dodger righty (though Verlander pitched only 11 1/3 innings that year). A comparison of the two since they became full-fledged major-leaguers:
Verlander Billingsley
Year IP K/9 ERA+ IP K/9 ERA+
2006 186 6.0 126 90 5.9 118
2007 201 2/3 8.2 125 147 8.6 134
2008 201 7.3 93 200 2/3 9 133
2009 240 10.1 133 196 1/3 8.2 98

Verlander had an off year in 2008, but came back with his best season ever. His off year was arguably worse or at least little better than Billingsley's off year in 2009. Billingsley outperformed Verlander two years running in adjusted ERA, though he didn't pitch as many innings. The best season either pitcher had before last year was Billingsley's 2008. And again, Billingsley is more than a year younger.

Before the 2009 season, it's hard to see how anyone would have valued Verlander much more than Billingsley. It's not as if Verlander had any postseason success to make up for his 2008 problems.

Billingsley obviously needs to show this year that he can bounce back from his disappointing second half (interestingly, both he and Verlander had first-half ERAs of 3.38 last season, though Verlander's 3.38 was worth a little more because of league and park adjustments). But it's hardly far-fetched that Billingsley will. And if he does, he will set himself up for a mighty nice deal – if not before he becomes a free agent in November 2012, then certainly after. ...

Billinglsey didn't have a 2010 to match Verlander's 2009, but he did pitch well enough to earn a multiyear contract extension that means he will earns $40-odd million over the next four years. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs thinks the Dodgers got a bargain, and maybe that's so – the career adjusted ERAs of the two pitchers are nearly identical now – but the dollars take into account that both Billingsley's 2009-10 seasons didn't live up to 2008. Billingsley gets a whole mess of security, and the Dodgers get a pitcher that should be good, maybe even great. Both sides have reason to be happy.
The rumblings first came from Joe McDonnell of Fox Sports, aided by Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy. Now, Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com is reporting, based on multiple anonymous sources, that the Dodgers are close to extending Chad Billingsley's contract through 2014, with a possible 2015 option.

Billingsley, who is earning $6.275 million in 2011, would be the first Dodger of the current young core to be signed passed his free-agent years. Billingsley could otherwise become a free agent in November 2012.

We're still waiting on precisely how much Billingsley will get, but it's a tremendous sign of faith that the Dodgers have in Billingsley, who was dropped from the starting rotation for the 2009 playoffs.

* * *

There's an argument that Jamey Carroll should get the Opening Day start at second base after all, instead of Ivan De Jesus Jr. Though I'm hoping De Jesus seizes the day (or month, or year) at second base, I'm fine if Carroll starts — it's important for De Jesus to get off to a good start, and having his first game be on Opening Day against Tim Lincecum on ESPN stacks the deck against him pretty strongly. Maybe Carroll can work a walk ...

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Angels at Dodgers, 7:05 p.m.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Clayton Kershaw
WINS ERA SO IP
21 1.77 239 198
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .296
HRA. Gonzalez 27
RBIA. Gonzalez 116
RY. Puig 92
OPSY. Puig .863
ERAC. Kershaw 1.77
SOC. Kershaw 239