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Thursday, March 18, 2010
Billingsley stifles Cubs in long outing

By Tony Jackson

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Much-maligned right-hander Chad Billingsley had by far his best start of the spring, holding the Chicago Cubs to a run on five hits over 4 2/3 innings -- the longest outing by any Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher thus far.

Chad Billingsley
Chad Billingsley held the Cubs to a run on five hits over 4 2/3 innings -- the longest outing by any Dodgers pitcher thus far in spring training.

Dodgers manager Joe Torre had said earlier in the day that he really wanted Billingsley to cut down on the number of pitches he throws so he can go deeper into a game, and Torre wasn't speaking generally so much as he was speaking about this particular game. But in the beginning, it looked like more of the same, as Billingsley went to a 3-0 count on Cubs leadoff man Ryan Theriot before walking him on six pitches. He then threw five more pitches to Kosuke Fukudome before getting him on a called third strike.

From there, though, Billingsley settled into a groove for the first time this spring. And although the Cubs managed a two-out rally in the second on a ground-rule double by Chad Tracy and a run-scoring single by Geovany Soto, Billingsley retired 11 of the final 13 batters.

"I thought he was very good,'' Torre said. "I thought he was very economical. He was close to 15 pitches an inning, and that isn't too bad considering he walked the first guy. I think he was very pleased with his performance today.''

Billingsley has given up two runs this spring and has a 1.86 ERA. But in his previous two starts, he had inflated pitch counts and had at least one runner in scoring position in all but one of his five innings.

Torre said he would announce the team's Opening Day starter by the end of the week.

Although Torre gave no hint as to the identity of that pitcher, logic still points to left-hander Clayton Kershaw.

Based on a schedule of pitching every fifth day, Kershaw isn't perfectly lined up for the April 5 opener in Pittsburgh -- he last pitched in a minor league intrasquad game on Wednesday, lining him up to pitch on April 6, which is an off day.

However, a starting pitcher typically goes short in his final spring tuneup, which for Kershaw would be on April 1 against Cleveland at Dodger Stadium.

If he were to only throw three innings or so in that game, he could easily come back for the opener on three days' rest.

None of the other three certainties for the starting rotation -- right-handers Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla -- is lined up to pitch on April 5.

Billingsley's start against the Cubs lines him up to pitch the second game of the season on April 7 at Pittsburgh and the home opener April 13 against Arizona.

Kuroda is lined up to pitch April 8 at Pittsburgh, Padilla April 9 at Florida.

Theoretically, Kershaw would then make his second start against the Marlins on April 10, with a yet-to-be-named fifth starter going in the final game of the season-opening trip on April 11 before Billingsley would get the ball for the home opener two days later following an off-day on April.

Johnson's old friends

Dodgers backup outfielder Reed Johnson, who spent the past two seasons in Chicago, ran into Cubs manager Lou Piniella and pitching coach Larry Rothschild on the way off the field after the game, and the ribbing began immediately.

"They said it was a pop-up,'' Johnson said. "I said it looked like three RBIs to me.''

Johnson was talking about the three-run blast he hit off John Gaub in the seventh inning, his first of the spring.

Among all the storylines in camp this spring, such as the battles for the fifth starter's spot, the starting second-base job and the left-handed pinch-hitting slot and the widespread wondering whether Ronald Belisario is ever going to show up -- the newly signed Johnson largely has flown under the radar. But then, he spent most of those two years with the Cubs under the radar, and he knows it won't be any different with his new team.

"I told Joe I would prepare myself to be an everyday player,'' Johnson said. "That way, when the opportunity comes about if something happens, whether it's an injury or something of that nature, I won't be surprised by that. Some guys complain about their roles, and then they don't take care of themselves or keep themselves in shape. Then, when the opportunity comes, they can't make the most of it.''

Record-breaking crowd

Thursday's paid crowd of 13,391, which included unusually large walk-up sales, broke the previous Cactus League mark by 25. The old mark of 13,366 was set on March 12, 2004, when the Seattle Mariners hosted the Cubs at Peoria Sports Complex. The Cubs, who are historically the Cactus League's biggest draw, are responsible for the five largest paid crowds in Cactus League history and nine of the top 10, with five of those nine at the Cubs' home field in Mesa.

The previous high for Camelback Ranch, which opened last season, came on March 21, 2009. That day, the Cubs and White Sox -- who share the complex with the Dodgers -- drew 13,311. But the record, either for Camelback Ranch or for the Cactus League, might not last long. The two Chicago teams play again at Camelback Ranch on Friday, and that game was announced as a sellout on Wednesday. Thursday's game didn't sell out until just before game time.

DeWitt settles in

Blake DeWitt, who is trying to win the everyday second base job, went 2 for 3 and is hitting .393 (11 for 28) for the spring. He also has looked increasingly comfortable at his new position with each game he plays there.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for