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Billingsley Helps Soften Loss of Kent

Times Staff Writer

The Dodgers suffered another loss Tuesday night, and the game hadn’t even started.

Second baseman Jeff Kent went on the disabled list for the second time in seven weeks, this time because of a strained muscle in his side that has bothered him since shortly before the All-Star break.

Nine innings later, though, the outlook wasn’t nearly as bleak. The Dodgers ended a five-game losing streak by defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks, 4-1, at Chase Field behind rookie Chad Billingsley’s seven scoreless innings and first victory.

“It’s tough to get that first one,” Billingsley said. “I’ve been battling myself. I’m just glad it wasn’t another five-inning thing.”

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Billingsley (1-2), touted as the Dodgers’ best pitching prospect, had been falling behind hitters and often reached 100 pitches by the fifth inning. In his last start, he walked a high wire, pitching out of three bases-loaded jams in five scoreless innings against the St. Louis Cardinals.

This time he was more economical, reaching 100 pitches with a 95-mph strike to the last batter he faced, Damion Easley, and finishing with 103. Several of the best were cut fastballs -- a pitch Billingsley has been throwing for only a week -- that handcuffed left-handed batters.

Easley struck out to end the seventh inning, stretching Billingsley’s streak of scoreless innings to 14 1/3 . Catcher Russell Martin made sure the ball went to his battery mate.

“I’ll keep that one,” Billingsley said.

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The first two batters in the first inning singled, but with one out Jeff DaVanon was thrown out trying to steal third and Billingsley needed only 18 pitches to get out of the inning.

Manager Grady Little turned to pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and said, “That’s a good sign.”

The Dodgers scored a run in the fourth inning and two in the fifth, fueling Billingsley’s confidence. He buckled down in the fifth after Stephen Drew and pinch-hitter Andy Green opened with singles.

With one out, Eric Byrnes hit what looked like a double-play ground ball, but second baseman Ramon Martinez’s throw to first was in the dirt. First baseman Nomar Garciaparra gave Billingsley a short pep talk and Luis Gonzalez flied out on the next pitch to end the inning and enable Billingsley to become pitcher of record.

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“Nomar told me to come back and get the next guy,” Billingsley said.

The Diamondbacks scored in the ninth against Takashi Saito, but it wasn’t enough because the Dodgers broke out of a batting slump that had produced only nine runs during the five losses.

Garciaparra tripled and doubled, and Willy Aybar had two doubles after arriving from triple-A Las Vegas earlier in the day to replace Kent, whose injury caused the Dodgers to second-guess a decision to let him play the first day after the All-Star break.

Because Kent had sat out the last six games before the three-day break, the Dodgers considered putting him on the disabled list July 12, the day they began a four-game series at St. Louis. That way the required 15 days of inactivity would have begun July 4 and he would have been eligible to play today.

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Instead, Kent, 38, battled through five games, going one for 12 against the Cardinals and two for four Monday against Arizona.

He admitted that he shouldn’t have ignored the advice of team trainers and try to play through the pain. His injury is nearly identical to the one that has kept pitcher Brett Tomko out since June 24.

“We had to stop it before it became debilitating,” trainer Stan Johnston said.

Little also second-guessed himself. Now he’s looking at writing out a lineup card without the veteran slugger for more than two weeks.

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“We know his value to the ball club, and if he could play, he was going to play,” Little said. “But he can’t play. It was affecting his breathing and his running.

“We can’t replace Jeff Kent. But if everyone chips in and does their part a little better, maybe we can make up the difference.”

For one night he’ll never forget, Billingsley did his part.


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