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Dodgers aren't playing with a full deck

Putative ace Billingsley melts down in the sixth inning, while St. Louis' No. 2 starter Wainwright shows how it's done in Cardinals' 10-0 victory.


ST. LOUIS — Chad Billingsley looked like an ace again Tuesday night.

For five innings.

On a night when the Dodgers were looking to remain the only team in the majors not to have lost three consecutive games this season, Billingsley suffered a sixth-inning meltdown, surrendering six runs that broke a scoreless stalemate and sent his team on its way to a 10-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

"I couldn't stop the bleeding," Billingsley said.

If there was anything to illustrate the fragile state of the Dodgers' pitching staff these days, it was the presence of Mark Loretta on the mound in the eighth inning.

Mark Loretta, the reserve infielder.

But Manager Joe Torre applauded Billingsley's one-hit effort through five innings and downplayed any concerns about the Dodgers' pitching.

"We just haven't given them anything to work with and it's put extra stress on them," Torre said. "We haven't been able to get the hit to get us over the hump."

The Dodgers collected nine hits but were one for seven with men in scoring position.

Eight of the hits were off Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright (12-6), who lowered his earned-run average to 2.80 by throwing eight shutout innings.

Losers of four of their last five games, the Dodgers still have the best record in baseball, but barely. At 62-38, they are one game ahead of the New York Yankees.

And the Dodgers might not get significant help by the 1 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline Friday.

With the possibility of adding a top-of-the-line starter like Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee looking increasingly remote, Billingsley will likely be the Dodgers' ace come October.

That was why Torre was pleased with how Billingsley looked as he matched Wainwright zero for zero through five innings of a game that was delayed for an hour and 25 minutes because of rain.

That was also why that sixth inning was so disconcerting. Billingsley walked four batters, two intentionally. He also threw two wild pitches and gave up three hits.

"Close game, going through that part of the lineup, trying to make such precise pitches, you find yourself behind in the count a lot," he said.

Billingsley never made it out of the sixth, leaving in favor of Claudio Vargas, who gave up a single to Skip Schumaker that drove in the Brendan Ryan for the final run of the inning.

With the game out of hand, Torre wanted to get rookie left-hander Brent Leach into the game to get him back on track. But Leach, who had given up four runs in two innings over his previous six appearances, didn't do any better Tuesday.

Entering the game with two outs in the eighth, Leach gave up a run-scoring double to Nick Stavinoha, a walk to Schumaker and a three-run home run to Mark DeRosa. He walked Albert Pujols and his night was over.

That brought in Loretta.

Seeing Ramon Troncoso warming up in the bullpen, Loretta and third base coach Larry Bowa agreed that the Dodgers shouldn't waste an arm in a blowout loss. "I'll pitch," Loretta said he told Bowa.

Loretta plunked Matt Holliday -- "Too much movement," cracked a major league scout who sat in the press box -- but managed to get Ryan Ludwick to fly out to Manny Ramirez in left for the final out of the inning.

His three pitches were clocked at 78 mph.

"I don't think the gun was accurate," Loretta said, grinning.


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