LOS ANGELES — Chad Billingsley has returned to form — and just in time.
In time to help the Dodgers as their pennant race begins to take serious shape.
In time to show the team and the rest of the baseball world that the 2007 and 2008 seasons — when he was a combined 28-15 — weren’t flukes.
And just in time to save his position in the starting rotation and possibly on the team.
Despite giving up a leadoff inside-the-park home run to Eric Young Jr., Billingsley won his fourth straight, beating Colorado 6-4. The right-hander is now 8-9 with an ERA just a bit over 2.00 during the streak. The Dodgers are a game-and-a-half behind San Francisco in the NL West.
Since coming off the DL (arm inflammation) on July 28, he’s ended a five-game losing streak and watched his overall ERA improve from 4.15 to 3.84. And he did it as the Dodgers acquired innings-eating Joe Blanton, who pitches well in pressure games and especially during the postseason, when he’s 2-0. He was 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA when the Phillies won the 2008 World Series.
The former Phillie, acquired last Friday, almost certainly will be included in the rotation if the Dodgers make the playoffs. Clayton Kershaw and Chris Capuano are locks, and if Don Mattingly goes with four starters, it will likely come down to Billingsley, Aaron Harang and and Ted Lilly (if he comes back from an injured shoulder).
Bills has struggled in the playoffs, going 1-2 with a 6.88 ERA, and might have been in the bullpen except for his recent showing. If he keeps it going, he’ll see the playoffs from the mound rather than the pen, and Kershaw feels his rotation-mate is on the right track.
“This is the Bills we’ve wanted to see,” Kershaw said. “He’s been great and for us to get to our goal, we need him pitching like he has been. He’s got great stuff, moves the ball all over the place and has just been great.”
Billingsley was the pitcher the Dodgers predicted would become their next superstar, but his three years of ups and downs and the emergence of Cy Young Award winner Kershaw has ended that talk. And before his current streak, there had been plenty of trade talk involving the native of Defiance, Ohio. But he’s showing he can still be a valuable contributor and an excellent number-two starter. Consistency is the key.
As it is for the Dodger offense. And after losing two brutal games to one of baseball’s worst teams and falling further behind the Giants in the NL West, management and fans were wondering what happened to the team that played so brilliantly in the first 100 games. Matt Kemp has an idea.
“Me, man,” he said after hitting a three-run homer to give the Dodgers a 3-2 lead in the first inning. “I haven’t done my job driving in runs and doing what I need to do to put us on the board. I haven’t been hitting with runners in scoring position, but I finally got the job done today. I’m happy about that.” Kemp’s homer came off Rockies’ left-hander Jeff Francis, and he’s now hitting a league-leading .470 against southpaws.
“I’ve just got to keep it going now,” Kemp said.
Another recent acquisition from Philadelphia — Shane Victorino — also had his biggest night as a Dodger, going 3-for-5, driving in his first run for L.A. and scoring three runs. The three-time Gold Glove winner was happy to make a big contribution.
“Feels really good,” he said. “I’m really happy to be in Dodger Blue, excited to be here and ready to go for that postseason run.” He’s also playing left field regularly for the first time since he came to the majors, and said while he’s still adjusting to the position, he’s got no complaints as long as the two guys to his left stick around.
“As long as Kemp’s in center and (Andre) Ethier is in right, I’ll play left for the rest of my (career),” said the Hawaii native who’s a lookalike for wrestling and movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. “When the trade was going down and (the Dodgers) asked me if I’d move to left, I was absolutely all for it, to get to come to L.A. and play for the Dodgers and with those guys in the outfield. And not just them, but Hanley Ramirez and all the other players. It’s fun.”
Victorino added that the good times are just beginning.
“Stay tuned. Stay on board,” he said to the crowd after the game. “We’re going to have some fun and finish this run. I’ve won a World Series and I want to win another one here. I know what it feels like and these guys are motivated to get it done.”
NOTES: Dodger backup catcher Matt Treanor was the starter, taking the field just hours after his wife, Misty May-Treanor and her teammate, Kristi Walsh-Jennings, won their third straight Olympic gold medal in beach volleyball. Treanor watched the match live from London in the clubhouse via the internet … Los Angeles reliever Kenley Jansen threw 11 pitches in the ninth to record his 22nd save and lower his ERA to 1.92 … The Dodgers leave Thursday for a 10-day road swing, the first three games against Ramirez former team, the Miami Marlin. Clayton Kershaw and Mark Buehrle will be the starters in the first game on Friday night.