Chad Billingsley still hasn’t broken out of his funk.
Fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers had high hopes for the former ace in his “return” to the mound last night, but he had an all-too-familiar collapse in the sixth inning to spoil what started as a promising outing.
The performance was a microcosm of his entire season, which began with Billingsley winning his first four starts and an All-Star game appearance, but has snowballed into an ugly storm of walks and home runs.
We have seen this act before: he takes two steps forward, and one giant step back.
Yet the problem goes deeper than just the '09 season.
Billingsley exploded into the Dodgers organization at a young age as a first-round pick in the ’03 draft.
He took the fast track to the majors, posting an ERA of 3.11 in his short minor league career. Billingsley then debuted on June 16, 2006, at the age of 21.
Along with an expedited route to the big show came the pressures of carrying a pitching staff at a young age.
After posting a 3.14 ERA in ’08, Billingsley catapulted himself into the limelight.
And now, the once proclaimed ace of the Dodgers has not broken the 100-pitch barrier since early July (110 vs. Milwaukee on 7/10). He continues to be unable to navigate an entire outing without encountering a devastating blow to his confidence.
I think his quick ascent to the Dodgers has something to do with his lack of mental toughness, and consequently is resulting in his inability to finish off games.
The hard thing to reconcile with right now is that he isn’t throwing too poorly overall.
Just by looking at his line last night you would think it was a positive showing, as he tossed six innings, allowing three runs on one hit.
In fact, a fly out by Christian Guzman in the fourth inning and home run by Ryan Zimmerman in sixth were the only balls to leave the infield against Chad Billingsley.
He also fanned nine Washington Nationals’ hitters, retiring nine out of 10 hitters on whom he had two-strike counts.
However, his demons were resurrected in the forms of four walks, two of which scored, and the storyline played out to be the same old thing: a dominant start to the game, and then one bad inning to derail an otherwise solid effort.
Billingsley even carried a no-hitter—along with a 3-0 lead—into the sixth inning against the 99-loss Nationals.
But before the sixth inning was over, the Nationals had evened the score despite recording just one hit.
The inning got off to a sour start with triple-A caliber Mike Morse working a leadoff walk. Billingsley was able to recover and record two outs before issuing another walk, this time to Adam Dunn.
That would bring up Zimmerman with two runners on and two out in the frame, a big enough scare to bring Rick Honeycutt to the mound in order to discuss a game plan with Chad.
Well, whatever Rick said didn’t quite do the trick.
The first offering was a meatball, and the young slugger banged it out to left-center field for a long three-run blast that tied the contest.
Maybe Honeycutt should have brought a tack out to Billingsley so he could scuff up the ball.
Until that pitch to Zimmerman, Billingsley had been cruising, but that lone launch of the leather un-did all the positive momentum Bills had grown in the first five innings.
In the early inning his array of pitches looked to be dynamic. He had been hitting his spots, locating his fastball, and getting breaking balls to bite.
And it all came unraveled with one crack of the bat.
The game-tying home run not only robbed Billingsley of his first win since Aug. 18, but it also dealt another harsh mental blow to the 24-year-old from Defiance, OH.
Like I mentioned before, this type of outing did not come as a surprise to Dodger fans.
In a similar start on July 28, Billingsley took a one-hitter into the sixth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals, only to surrender six runs on four hits.
Four walks in the frame, which began as a 0-0 tie and ended 6-0 Cardinals, keyed that breakdown.
The six earned runs tied a career-high for the big right-hander.
Considering his steady decline in the second half of the season, it has become all too clear that Chad has a serious problem with his confidence.
Those who bleed Dodger Blue have been giving Chad the benefit of the doubt, but it looks as if his chances at redemption for this season are running out.
From here, the Dodgers must hope that when they run him out on the mound again, presumably next week against San Diego, he shows the same ability to be effective.
But next time, he must complete what he begins.
The next start will possibly be his final audition before the postseason begins, and he needs to straighten out before time is up.
Billingsley went 1-2 with a 8.49 ERA in the postseason last year, so it’s not like we can expect him to just crank up the intensity and be ready to go when the playoffs get under way.
In my opinion, he needs to pitch deep into the game in his upcoming start and avoid the collapse to show Joe Torre that he can overcome adversity and fight for a championship in October.
PJ Ross is a Featured Columnist for the Los Angeles Dodgers