Reporting from Phoenix – A crowd of reporters in front of him. Question after question about how he fell apart late last season.
This was the kind of setting that used to make Chad Billingsley stare down at the carpet and take deep breaths before mumbling something in a shaky voice.
There were no such visible signs of nerves Saturday when Billingsley was part of the group of pitchers and catchers who reported to the Dodgers’ spring-training camp.
Told that he looked uncharacteristically comfortable, Billingsley smirked and replied, “It was a learning experience. I talked about it all second half.”
Several times, Billingsley used the term “learning experience” to describe the 2009 season, in which he went from pitching in his first All-Star game to barely making the Dodgers’ postseason roster in October.
“You can totally get better from it,” he said. “If you go out every year and it’s perfect, what do you learn from it? If you throw nine innings of shutout baseball, you don’t learn.”
But Billingsley said he hasn’t been able to pinpoint the reason for his second-half slide. He was 9-3 with a 2.72 earned-run average through July 14; he was 3-8 with a 5.21 ERA afterward.
Was it because of lingering effects of the hamstring problems he had in August?
“I didn’t feel like it was hurting or anything,” he said. “Subconsciously, I don’t know if I was doing it, but maybe I was shortening up my stride.”
What Billingsley said he figured out was that he had to remain calm in times of crisis, to not change anything too radically.
“You can’t force the situation,” he said. “I did so many different things. I’d come to the ballpark and didn’t think a whole lot, just go out there and do it. There were times I’d study so much film, study hitters, you just do it so much. . . . You try so many different things, something to break that trend.”
He said he went as far as tying his shoes differently.
Billingsley didn’t entirely discount the theory that his problems were a result of the previous off-season, when his training regimen was delayed because of a broken leg he suffered when he slipped on the ice-covered porch of his Pennsylvania home.
Did he go outside to see the first snow of this winter?
“I had a year’s experience,” Billingsley said, shaking his head.
Belisario late again
Ronald Belisario is still in Venezuela because of visa problems, but his agent, Paul Kinzer, said the pitcher could be in camp next week. Belisario was also late to camp last year because of visa issues.
Kinzer said that part of the reason Belisario had trouble securing a visa in time was because of the misdemeanor drunk driving charges he faces. Belisario has pleaded not guilty.
Manager Joe Torre said his agent remains in talks with the Dodgers about extending his contract by a year. Torre’s current three-year deal expires at the end of this season. . . . When Torre goes to Taiwan next month for two split-squad exhibition games, bench coach and presumed manager-in-training Don Mattingly will manage the team that stays behind. . . . Pitchers and catchers will have their first official workout Sunday. Position players aren’t due to report until Thursday. . . . Several position players reported early, among them Casey Blake, Jamey Carroll, Reed Johnson, Xavier Paul, Jason Repko, Ivan DeJesus Jr., and Chin-lung Hu. Manny Ramirez dropped by the complex Friday.