Re­liev­ers fail Dodgers again

Starter, who says he re­ceived valu­able tips from El­lis in April, is sharp for seven in­nings, but bullpen blows it.

Los Angeles Times - - Sports - Jim Peltz james.peltz@latimes.com

Billings­ley’s solid seven-in­ning ef­fort is wasted in a 5-4 loss to Ari­zona.

Much has been made of a meet­ing Dodgers starter Chad Billings­ley held with Man­ager Joe Torre and pitch­ing coach Rick Hon­ey­cutt in Cincin­nati in April that sup­pos­edly helped the righthander re­bound from a poor start this sea­son.

But to hear Billings­ley tell it, the real turn­ing point came that same week­end while he chat­ted with re­serve catcher A.J. El­lis as they shagged balls in the out­field at Great Amer­i­can Ball Park.

El­lis told him “you’re just not pitch­ing like how you used to,” that Billings­ley was try­ing to be too crafty and too pre­cise, Billings­ley said Sun­day.

“With the stuff you have, you don’t need to do that,” El­lis told him. “Just let her fly.”

Billings­ley heeded the ad­vice and since has un­der­gone “a huge” trans­for­ma­tion that has made him a much stronger and con­sis­tent force in the Dodgers’ ro­ta­tion, Torre said.

That force was ev­i­dent again Sun­day as Billings­ley held the Ari­zona Di­a­mond­backs to one run and four hits in seven in­nings, only to have re­liev­ers Ge­orge Sher­rill and Jonathan Brox­ton give up four runs to sink the Dodgers, 5-4, at Chase Field.

Billings­ley struck out 13 bat­ters, ty­ing a ca­reer high first set July 13, 2008, against the Florida Mar­lins.

Be­fore Sun­day, Billings­ley had a 3.20 earned-run av­er­age and had held hit­ters to a .228 bat­ting av­er­age since the All-Star break. His sec­ond-half ERA last year was 5.20.

“Of course, you have your days where it’s not go­ing to be there,” Billings­ley said of his com­mand. “I’ve been very pleased and happy with the way I’ve thrown as far as re­peat­ing my de­liv­ery and be­ing con­sis­tent with my pitches.”

As with most Dodgers starters, Billings­ley’s record could be much bet­ter had he re­ceived more run sup­port. In his eight losses be­fore Sun­day, the Dodgers av­er­aged only one run per game.

But the prob­lem with Billings­ley in the sec­ond half of last sea­son, when his 9-4 record be­fore the All-Star break ended up at 12-11, and early this year wasn’t the Dodgers’ of­fense, the prob­lem was with Billings­ley.

Billings­ley said he was too pre­oc­cu­pied with “cut­ting balls, sink­ing it . . . try­ing to be too tricky up there. I was wor­ried about be­ing too fine, too per­fect.”

El­lis said he told Billings­ley, 26, that “you’re pitch­ing like a guy who’s at the end of his ca­reer and you’re try­ing to fool hit­ters” in­stead of “here’s my best fast­ball. Just chal­lenge guys.”

No late re­lief

James Loney’s two-run dou­ble and Rod Bara­jas’ two-run home run ac­counted for the Dodgers’ four runs Sun­day. But in a sight all too fa­mil­iar this sea­son, the bullpen let the game get away.

Af­ter Sher­rill in­her­ited a 4-1 lead, he walked Stephen Drew, and gave up a home run to Tony Abreu and a sin­gle to Kelly John­son. Sher­rill was lifted, in came Brox­ton, who lost his job as closer in Au­gust, and Chris Young slammed his first pitch for a two-run homer. Brox­ton (5-6) took the loss.

De­spite Brox­ton’s lat­est trou­bles, Torre said he and in­com­ing man­ager Don Mat­tingly still ex­pect Brox­ton to even­tu­ally re­gain the closer’s job.

“We cer­tainly be­lieve in him,” Torre said. “It’s [Mat­tingly’s] de­ci­sion, but I know he feels very strongly that Brox is go­ing to go to spring train­ing with that

role in mind.”

Short hops

Out­fielder Pre­ston Mat­tingly, Don’s son, was traded by the Dodgers to the Cleve­land In­di­ans for out­fielder Ro­man Pena. Mat­tingly, 23, played at the Class-A level and was ham­pered this sea­son by ham­string prob­lems. …The Dodgers open a three-game se­ries with the Colorado Rock­ies in Den­ver on Mon­day and, af­ter a day off Thurs­day, fin­ish the sea­son with three games against the Di­a­mond­backs at Dodger Sta­dium start­ing Fri­day.

Jen­nifer Ste­wart

HANG­ING ON: Dodgers catcher Rod Bara­jas shows the um­pire the ball af­ter tag­ging out Ari­zona’s Miguel Mon­tero in the sev­enth in­ning.

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