LOS ANGELES (AP) — Taking his game to the next level has always been a problem for Chad Billingsley, who continues to have extreme difficulty putting any kind of substantial winning streak together for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Billingsley hasn’t won three consecutive starts in more than a year, and his 5-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Saturday night was a perfect example of why. The right-hander was charged with five runs and eight hits over six innings, including an unearned run that came one inning after his teammates had rallied from four runs down to tie.
“The biggest thing that we’ve talked about with Chad is just consistency,” manager Don Mattingly said. “I think the inconsistency is what’s keeping him from going forward. But that’s a pretty good ballclub over there, too. I mean, we’re not talking about a team that can’t hit.”
Billingsley (4-5) was coming off consecutive road victories against Philadelphia and Seattle in which he allowed a run over seven innings each time. But before that, he went a career-worst nine straight starts without a win — including five no-decisions.
Billingsley’s best season was 2008, when he finished 16-10 with a career-low 3.14 ERA. But in 109 starts since then, he is just 39-38 with a 3.78 ERA — and 15-16 with a 4.07 ERA in 46 starts since signing a four-year, $41.3 million contract extension just before opening day last year.
“Obviously, he’s a very talented individual. But there’s a maturation process, and he’s going through something right now that probably is very frustrating,” said White Sox reliever Will Ohman, a teammate of Billingsley’s in 2009.
“What you have to look at, for the most part, is whether a guy’s effort level, attitude and concentration is there. And over time it will correct itself,” Ohman added. “This game will show you over the course of 162 exactly who you are. I think what everyone in this game is searching for is consistency and the ability to maintain the same exact approach every day. But I wouldn’t say it’s anything to concern management with. He’ll be fine.”
Los Angeles got only nine hits off six different Chicago pitchers, six of which came during their four-run fourth. Billingsley had two singles, including a leadoff hit in the fourth — but the Dodgers didn’t get another one after that.
Alexei Ramirez opened the scoring with a two-run single for the White Sox and scored the go-ahead run in the fourth on a fielder’s choice grounder by Alejandro De Aza. The rally started when Ramirez was plunked on the left elbow as he squared around to bunt. He stole second and advanced when second baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. misplayed Orlando Hudson’s grounder for an error.
Philip Humber (3-4) threw 99 pitches over five laborious innings, but got the victory after allowing four runs and nine hits. The right-hander, one of 22 pitchers to throw a perfect game in the majors and the only one to do it after undergoing Tommy John surgery, is 2-4 with a 7.47 ERA in 10 starts since his gem on April 21 at Seattle.
Addison Reed posted his eighth save in as many chances with a perfect ninth to help end a three-game skid by the AL Central leaders.
The Dodgers, whose 41-25 record is still the best in baseball, squandered a great chance in fourth. Humber walked NL RBI leader Andre Ethier with two outs and then uncorked a wild pitch over Hairston’s head, putting two runners in scoring position. But shortstop Ramirez came to Humber’s rescue with a diving catch in front of second base on a popup that Hairston hit off the fists.
The White Sox made the most of their opportunity in the second, taking a 3-0 lead on a two-run single by Ramirez and a run-scoring single down the right field line by Humber — his first major league hit.
“Overall I felt pretty good, but my fastball command was off and on tonight,” Billingsley said. “I just tried to keep pitching, keep my focus and try to get our of some difficult jams. The pitch to Ramirez was a two-seam fastball that was in off the plate and in on his hands, but he fought it off and got it over the infield. You can’t do anything about that.”
Alex Rios made it 4-0 in the third with a two-out RBI triple that was misjudged at the warning track by Elian Herrera, who was starting in center field for only the fifth time since making his major league debut on May 15.
“I don’t think any of us have seen him throw a pitch all year since spring training, so I don’t think we went into the game knowing anything in particular,” Paul Konerko said of Billingsley. “He throws a lot of strikes, and he’s got a sinker that cuts. But we just put a couple of good swings on some balls early, and a couple more just fell in that weren’t hit hard. So that always helps. But it’s not like we killed him. We were just nickle-and-diming him.”
But the Dodgers tied it with four runs in the bottom half, getting a bases-loaded sacrifice fly from Hairston and two-out RBI singles by Bobby Abreu, A.J. Ellis and James Loney. In Friday night’s series-opening 7-6 victory, the Dodgers overcame a 5-1 deficit with a five-run sixth.
NOTES: Tommy Lasorda returned to Dodger Stadium for the first time since his mild heart attack on June 4 in New York, where he was representing the club at the free agent draft. It was the second such episode for the 84-year-old Lasorda, whose first one in 1996 forced him to give up managing the Dodgers in his 20th season at the helm. Lasorda went on to pilot Team USA to an Olympic Gold Medal at Sydney, Australia in 2000, and was back in a Dodger uniform on Sept. 22 when Mattingly invited him to spend the game in the dugout as one of his coaches.