first_imgThat little else included Chad Billingsley, a promising, second-year major leaguer with the stuff and the ability to develop into a star pitcher, but with enough bad habits to make club officials jittery every time he took the mound. On Sunday, an afternoon when the Dodgers might have been declared unofficially dead if they had lost again to San Diego, they instead cruised to a 5-0 victory over the Padres before 40,776 at Petco Park. The first seven of those shutout innings came courtesy of Billingsley, who in breaking those habits has suddenly positioned himself as a reliable weapon for the Dodgers in their last-ditch push for a playoff berth. Those white-knuckle rides for which Billingsley has been known, games marked by deep counts, walks and high pitch totals that usually led to early exits, appear to be behind him now. He has gone seven innings in each of his last three starts and hasn’t quite reached 100 pitches in any of them. In those 21 innings, he has walked four batters. The result has been three wins for the Dodgers and three wins for Billingsley, during which he has a 1.71 ERA. There is a lot to be said for experience, and Billingsley was a far different pitcher in this game than he was when he made his first major league start just less than 15 months ago. BASEBALL: Right-hander helps the Dodgers shut out Padres. By Tony Jackson STAFF WRITER SAN DIEGO – A few weeks ago, when it became apparent that the Dodgers’ once-promising season had turned into something, well, not so promising, one of the primary reasons for that perceived sense of hopelessness was their starting rotation, which consisted of Brad Penny, Derek Lowe and little else the club could depend on. That much was clear in the sixth inning, just after the Dodgers had finally broken a scoreless tie on Andre Ethier’s RBI single in the top half. Padres second baseman Geoff Blum responded by leading off the bottom of the inning with a single to center field, putting the pressure immediately back on Billingsley. Mike Cameron, whose grand slam off Derek Lowe had done in the Dodgers the night before, then grounded into a double play. “He has been able to adjust a lot better,” Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. “That was a huge double play he was able to get. He threw a two-seamer there instead of just trying to overpower the guy. It’s about confidence, but it’s also about experience, trusting that pitch to that batter, and that’s a good sign.” The thing that used to drive Honeycutt and Manager Grady Little so crazy about Billingsley was that they knew the potential was there. They knew it because they occasionally saw it. On July 18, Billingsley threw 113 pitches, at the time a career high, in just five innings against Philadelphia. His next time out, on July 23 at Houston, he flirted with a complete-game shutout before giving up a two-run homer to Luke Scott with two outs in the ninth, then finished it off in an efficient 110 pitches. Then, six days after that, he set another career high with 114 pitches and didn’t even get out of the fifth inning. “I always knew I could throw well, but it was just a matter of going out and doing it and trusting my stuff,” Billingsley said. “Sometimes, you give the hitter too much credit instead of just throwing a quality pitch down in the zone with movement. Sometimes, you try to do too much, and you get yourself into jams and have to battle. Today, I just tried to put some movement on the ball and get them to fly out.” Indeed, Billingsley (10-4) recorded nine outs through the air. He allowed just four hits and walked only one batter, a harmless, two-out pass to Cameron in the first inning. And suddenly, the nail-biting he used to elicit has given way to confidence. Billingsley’s own confidence, as well as Little’s and Honeycutt’s. “It’s pretty big,” Little said. “We need that from several people right now, and the more we can get it, the better chance we have.” Their chances improved with this win, which moved the Dodgers within four games of the lead in both the NL West and wild-card races. They remained third in each. The Dodgers scored once off Justin Germano (7-8) in the fifth, then blew it open with four in the sixth off Kevin Cameron, who failed to retire any of the four batters he faced. [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more