Reporting from Phoenix
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 right-hander 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."
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. ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â…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.
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