Chad Billingsley made his season debut in San Diego tonight, and Carl Crawford did his part to make sure that Chad got some run support in this game.
In a sight that had to have Red Sox fans shaking their head and asking “where was THAT guy when he signed that contract here?” Crawford took Eric Stults’s second pitch of the game out to left field. Just like that the Dodgers had a 1-0 lead and Carl Crawford had made his impact on yet another ballgame by setting the tone with a lead off home run.
A.J. Ellis expanded the lead in the Top of the 2nd, taking Padres pitcher Eric Stults out of the yard down the left field line with Luis Cruz aboard, putting the Dodgers up 3-0.
Billingsley was not always sharp, but was steady through the game. Billingsley got through the first 3 innings easily enough, striking out 3 and walking one while giving up no runs on no hits. Billingsley relied mostly on the fastball in the early stretch, not showing full confidence in his curve ball early. When Billingsley did throw the curve, it did not always look sharp, although as the game went on he threw a few more and seemed to get them to “bite”
Vin Scully analyzed Billingsley best, referring to him as a “veteran pitcher using his brain to get through the game.” Billingsley’s fastball clocked anywhere from 88-92 throughout the game, breaking away to right handed batters and cutting in on lefties. Billingsley was able to locate the fastball well throughout his outing, running into significant trouble only in the 4th inning. Chris Denorfia hit a double in the Bottom of the 4th to score Will Venable and cut the Dodger lead to 3-1, but Billingsley worked out of the jam. Billingsley faced first and second with two outs again in the 5th after a fluke chopper that Justin Sellers and Mark Ellis couldn’t make a clean play on, but then Billingsley induced another chopper from Will Venable who was out on a beautiful play at second by Mark Ellis to end the 5th inning.
Carl Crawford almost hit the ball out of the yard again leading off the Top of the 5th. Crawford hit the ball to one of the deepest parts of the ballpark, missing a home run by about a foot and a half. The ball rocketed back toward the infield and by the time the Padres outfielders could retrieve the ball and make a play, Crawford was sliding into third base with a triple. Mark Ellis, who has silently hit around .330 this season and gotten a few RBIs to boot, promptly hit a grounder up the middle past a drawn-in Padres infield for a single of his own, scoring Crawford to make the Dodger lead 4-1.
Eric Stults’s night was done after 5 innings. Stults gave up 4 earned runs and 8 hits over that span, striking out 4 and being unable to replicate the success of his first outing against the Mets.
Billingsley would come back to pitch the 6th inning. Billingsley looked like he had lost a little command, having one pitch come off his hand and rise all the way to the backstop, but got out of the inning allowing only one hit and shortening the night for the Dodger bullpen, which had difficulty keeping the Padres off the board last night, particularly during a 5 run 8th inning. Billingsley ended his night with a line of 6 innings pitched, 1 run allowed on 5 hits. Billingsley struggled with command in a couple spots allowing 3 walks, but also managed 3 strikeouts in the early innings and always seemed to get batters out when he needed to.
Ronald Belisario came off a rough outing last night to strike out two and strand a runner on first in the 7th, his fastball tailing in on right-handed batters and appearing to fool them badly at times. Kenley Jansen pitched a shaky 8th, but was bailed out when Skip Schumaker, replacing Carl Crawford in left field, made a diving catch of a pop fly into left field to end the inning.
Brandon League ran into a little bit of trouble in the 9th inning. He gave up a double to Nick Hundley and a two out single to Everth Cabrera. Will Venable tied the game with a single that sailed over shortstop Justin Sellers’ head and the Padres home crowd came alive with chants of “Beat L.A.” as Hundley scored and the Padres closed the gap to 4-2. League then struck out Chris Denorfia, but the ball got away from A.J. Ellis and Denorfia reached base safely, with Cabrera scoring. The Dodger lead was now 4-3 and with 2 on and 2 out, Yonder Alonso came up with the tying run in scoring position and the winning run on the base paths. League and Alonso engaged in a classic dual, Alonso fouling off several 2 strike pitches and working the count full. However, on League’s 34th pitch of the inning, Alonso hit a fly ball into left-center field. Skip Schumaker got under the ball and made the catch to make the final out of the game, much to the relief of League and Ellis.
The biggest weakness for the Dodgers in the game was leaving too many men on base. The 4 runs were enough to beat San Diego, but the final tally could have been much higher as the Dodgers managed to leave 12 runners on base in this game. Chad Billingsley takes the win in his season debut and his record stands at 1-0. Eric Stults takes the loss, his record falls to 1-1. Brandon League picks up his 3rd save of the season.
The Dodgers and Padres meet again tomorrow night for the rubber game of this series, with Zack Greinke (1-0, 0.00 ERA) taking the mound for the Dodgers against Jason Marquis (0-1, 3.60 ERA) for the Padres, a 7:10 p.m. local start.
There Goes That Bad Bad Man Again:
All Carl Crawford is doing so far this season is hitting .464 with 1 HR, a triple, 2 doubles, 2 stolen bases, and 8 runs scored in 8 games. Can we sing enough praises about Carl Crawford? The Padres decided they’d seen enough of Crawford, issuing him an intentional walk with 2 on and 2 out in the 6th inning to load the bases and opting instead to pitch to Mark Ellis.
Mini Beast Mode:
Matt Kemp hasn’t looked like Matt Kemp this season. However, tonight he did what he needed to do to help the Dodgers offense get the Padres’ pitchers to run up their pitch count and keep innings going. Kemp’s singles in his 3rd and 4th at-bats were solid singles to left field. During those at-bats, Kemp appeared to be working with the pitches he was given rather than trying to drive the ball to right field as he appeared to do a lot early in the season. Two singles aren’t a sign that “Beast Mode” has returned, but this miniaturized version is more likely to help Kemp relax at the plate and find his natural swing than what he was doing the first 7 games of the season. As if to prove the point that he’s starting to feel good, Kemp hit a monster shot down the left field line in the Top of the 9th that just barely curved foul and hit off the side of the Western Metal Supply Building. Based on tonight’s game, it’s only a matter of time before Kemp breaks his season-opening power outage.
It Doesn’t Bite, Skip:
As goes Chad Billingsley’s curveball, often, so goes Chad Billingsley. Billingsley stuck mostly with his fastball tonight, and his curveball was not entirely sharp, possibly the product of not having a full spring. By my count, Chad Billingsley only threw two curve balls for strikes on the night. Billingsley pitched a gutty 6 innings, relying on a fastball that had some good movement on it and locating his pitches well. More importantly, despite not having his best stuff, Billingsley did not allow any home runs.
Student Of The Game:
An 8th inning pan of the dugout revealed Zack Greinke sitting with a notepad taking notes on the game. Many were critical of Greinke when, before the season, he admitted that a big part of his decision to come to the Dodgers was the money. Greinke may be making a lot of money over the next few seasons in Los Angeles, but it’s clear that the Dodgers are getting what they pay for not only when Greinke takes the mound every 5th day, but with the work he puts in to prepare for each start. We’ll see tomorrow night if Greinke’s notes pay off and result in another superb outing.