Dodgers’ bats go flat in 1-0 loss in Washington

A 1-0 defeat to the Washington Nationals on Sunday ended a particularly difficult week for the Dodgers.

They lost four of their first six games in a three-city trip that started in Cincinnati. They lost Manny Ramirez, Vicente Padilla and Jeff Weaver to the disabled list. They stopped hitting. There were even some grumblings in the clubhouse about how Ramirez was allowed to return early to Los Angeles.

But the two-games-under-.500 Dodgers boarded a train headed for New York hopeful that at least one problem was remedied: the form of Chad Billingsley.

“Billingsley was great,” Manager Joe Torre said. “I thought he attacked.”

Billingsley was charged with a first-inning run but was otherwise nearly perfect, taken out of the game in the top of the seventh only because Torre wanted to send Andre Ethier to pinch-hit with the Dodgers trailing by a run. Throwing only 86 pitches in six innings, Billingsley held the Nationals to four hits and two walks, one of which was intentional.

The performance was nothing like the previous one, a seven-run, three-inning debacle in Cincinnati on Tuesday, after which Billingsley said with a straight face that he thought he threw “quality pitches.”

Alarmed by the nature of Billingsley’s quotes in the packet of press clippings that are printed out each day by the team’s public relations department, Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt summoned Billingsley to the manager’s office Wednesday.

“You don’t get hit like that if you make good pitches,” Torre said.

Honeycutt implored Billingsley to be more honest with himself.

“Examine yourself, be honest with yourself and be open to things you’re doing wrong,” Honeycutt said he told Billingsley. “Let’s be open about it and try to not keep making the same mistakes.”

Billingsley didn’t want to talk about the meeting.

“That’s between me and Skip,” he said.

Torre said he at least knew that Billingsley cared, despite how some observers might interpret the small-town kid’s quiet and reserved demeanor.

“I know the game’s important to him and if the game’s important to you, it has to bother you,” Torre said. “He’s a fine young man. He’s got a good heart. He’s responsible. There are 24 other guys wearing the same uniform you’re wearing. It’s about carrying your load.”

Catcher Russell Martin agreed.

“He didn’t show any emotion, but you could tell he wasn’t happy with his performance,” Martin said.

Billingsley, Honeycutt and Martin drew up a simplified game plan heading into Sunday that was designed to get Billingsley to return to the basics.

“I’ve been trying to be too fancy out there instead of attacking hitters,” Billingsley said. “I think I’ve been worrying too much about sinking the ball, cutting the ball, doing that kind of stuff. I’m going to attack you with my good four-seamer and my hammer.”

Billingsley had a shaky start to the game, giving up a leadoff single to Nyjer Morgan and walking Adam Kennedy. The runners advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Cristian Guzman and Morgan scored on a groundout by Adam Dunn.

Billingsley didn’t encounter any serious trouble again until the sixth inning, when he gave up a two-out double to Guzman and intentionally walked Dunn. He escaped by forcing Josh Willingham to ground out to second base.

“He pitched a tremendous game,” Rafael Furcal said. “I feel bad that we couldn’t get him any runs, because he pitched well enough to win.”

Torre said he was particularly pleased with the way Billingsley’s day ended: with a rare display of emotion.

“He was upset about coming out,” Torre said, “which was wonderful.”

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