Dodgers, Chad Billingsley get their first win
Reporting from Pittsburgh -- The cosmos appeared to be conspiring against Chad Billingsley again.
His first start of the season fell on a day when the Dodgers rested five of their regular starters. Weather services forecast rain. And in the fifth inning, a situation called for pitching coach Rick Honeycutt to visit the mound.
Then, a miracle.
Manager Joe Torre emerged from the dugout instead.
Several words and a few nods later, Billingsley struck out Ryan Doumit to leave men stranded on first and second.
Billingsley went on to hold the Pittsburgh Pirates to one run over 5 1/3 innings Thursday to earn the victory in the Dodgers’ first win of the season, a 10-2 thrashing at PNC Park. Avoiding a potentially embarrassing three-game sweep by the team with baseball’s lowest payroll, the Dodgers headed to Miami, where they are scheduled to begin a three-game series against the Florida Marlins on Friday night.
Asked if he was relieved to be visited by Torre instead of Honeycutt, Billingsley replied, “I like to see Rick every now and then.”
Then again, Billingsley said he was unaware that opposing hitters were batting .667 this season immediately after Honeycutt’s on-the-mound chats with Dodgers pitchers.
On opening day, a fifth-inning visit with Vicente Padilla was followed by a run-scoring double by Lastings Milledge. In the eighth inning of the same game, Honeycutt spoke to George Sherrill, who promptly served up a three-run home run to Doumit.
OK, so there isn’t much of a sample size.
But the last time Billingsley received instructions from Honeycutt while on the mound was in the exhibition Freeway Series against the Angels last week. The next batter, Kendry Morales, hit a grand slam.
Torre said it was Honeycutt’s idea for him to talk to Billingsley on Thursday.
Superstitious, are we?
“I am superstitious, but I think, at the same time, it was a situation where we wanted to change it up and see if his words worked better than mine,” Honeycutt said.
Asked whether recent events have started to affect Honeycutt, Torre laughed and replied, “Maybe. … Maybe.”
But if Honeycutt is in the midst of a battle with self-doubt, at least Billingsley had the kind of performance that could help him distance himself from the rough final months of the 2009 season.
“He did a real good job of using all of his pitches — fastball, cutter, slider, curve, change,” catcher Brad Ausmus said. “I’d like to think he’s confident regardless of what happens, but having a good outing certainly doesn’t hurt.”
Particularly because of the way he repeatedly worked his way out of trouble, Torre said.
Consecutive singles put men on first and second with one out in the third inning, but Billingsley forced Andrew McCutchen to ground into a double play. Billingsley loaded the bases in the fourth by walking former teammate Delwyn Young but struck out Andy LaRoche and pitcher Paul Maholm to preserve the Dodgers’ 2-0 advantage.
Billingsley downplayed the effect of this start on his psyche.
“Last year’s last year,” Billingsley said. “It’s a new season, a new start.”
Also starting a new year was Jonathan Broxton, who made his long-awaited season debut after being caged in the bullpen during the Dodgers’ two losses. Broxton had a walk and a strikeout in a scoreless ninth inning.