The recent regression of Hiroki Kuroda has provided Kershaw an opportunity to shine, and along with Billingsley, these two young stars have begun to carry the pitching staff.
While Randy Wolf has done an excellent job at keeping his team in the game during his starts (despite racking up a ridiculous 12 no-decisions) by posting a 3.45 ERA, it has been the two young guns that have picked up on the veteran Wolf’s work ethic and applied it to their games.
During a live chat on MLB.com, Kershaw was asked to name which teammates' work ethic he admires the most.
“The routine Randy Wolf has is second to none. He does the exact same thing five days straight and never takes a day off,” said Kershaw.
Both he and Billingsley exhibit an indefinable toughness on the hill.
Billingsley is a 24-year-old righthander with a dominant power approach. He portrays a quiet confidence and keeps an even temper during his appearances. That is an encouraging trait for a young pitcher to have because it radiates to his teammates.
You don’t see any Dodgers pitcher throwing fits when they come back to the dugout or clubhouse after a bad outing. Yes, a lot of that is due to manager Joe Torre. But there is a lot is to be said when your ace leads by example and doesn’t allow isolated poor outings affect his overall performance.
That being said, Billingsley hasn’t won a game since June 14. In fact, in his past seven starts he has seen his ERA rise from 2.59 to 3.38.
Billingsley has been elevating the ball in the strike zone, which allowed him to be taken deep more often and give up more extra base hits. He gave up just two home runs in his first 13 starts but has seen seven balls leave the yard in his past seven outings.
Part of this could be contributed to the workload he has shouldered, as Chad is sixth in the NL in innings pitched (125.1). That breaks down to an average of just under seven innings per start. It’s great news for an otherwise overworked bullpen but it could spell bad news for Billingsley as the season progresses.
I wouldn’t expect Billingsley’s recent trend to continue. He carried a two-hit gem into the ninth inning at San Diego last Sunday but ran out of juice and was unable to record an out in that inning, yielding to Jonathan Broxton.
Billingsley is slated to start on Friday night at home against the Houston Astros. He threw 21 pitches in the All-Star game on Tuesday night but when Friday comes around it will have been a full week of rest between starts, so expect him to be on-point and ready to go.
Kershaw, the 21-year-old southpaw, is the perfect power pitcher to pair with Billingsley. Opponents are batting just .199 against him, which is second behind Dan Haren (.189).
Clayton has been going in the opposite direction of his teammate, winning four consecutive starts. He shows the utmost confidence on the rubber. Although he faces tough outings from time to time, he rarely allows anyone to see his frustration.
In his past six starts, the Dodgers are undefeated and Kershaw has posted a 4-0 record. He has a minuscule 0.76 ERA (3 ER/35.2 IP) over that span. Kershaw has been quick, which keeps his defense engaged and it also keeps the hitter at a disadvantage.
Some scouts have said that it takes 12 to 15 seconds for a hitter to forget about the previous pitch and completely focus on the next one. If Kershaw keeps ushering them into the box pitch after pitch, it decreases their ability to process each pitch fully.
The bottom line on Kershaw is that he can be downright unhittable on a consistent basis.
He hasn’t allowed more than five hits in a start since Apr. 26 and has logged three one-hitters (seven, seven, and five innings pitched in each), two two-hitters (five and six innings), and one three-hitter (six innings).
Both suffer from the same problem: walks. Kershaw leads the NL with 59 walks and Billingsley is tied for second with 55. They each have become their own worst enemy.
However, it’s not the worst problem in the world to have. A guy named Nolan Ryan walked a lot of hitters and had a mighty powerful arm. The major issue that Kershaw faces, more so than Billingsley, it that he gives a free pass to the leadoff hitter of the inning.
In fact, Kershaw has walked 14 leadoff hitters in 90 at-bats against him this season.
Seeing as how Billingsley and Kershaw have a similar style, it would be most beneficial to space them out in the rotation. Keeping Billingsley at the front-end as the ace but bumping Clayton down to fourth in the order would give the staff an excellent balance.
It would be ideal for the Dodgers if the rotation could set up as so:
1) No. 1 Billingsley, No. 2 Wolf, No. 3 Kuroda, No. 4 Kershaw, No. 5 TBD.
This would allow Torre the flexibility to keep opposing hitters off balance. Wolf and Kuroda are the yin-and-yang to Billingsley and Kershaw. As opposed to their power approach, Wolf uses dominating off-speed pitches to set up his fastball.
Likewise, Kuroda won’t blow anyone away, but he has a hard-sinking fastball (almost like a splitter) that serves as a great groundball inducer and also makes his two-seam fastball more effective.
The fifth spot will have to be addressed, so check back on Thursday when I tell you why Ian Snell will be the newest Dodger.
P.J. Ross is a Featured Columnist for the Los Angeles Dodgers
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