Friday, April 6, 2012

The new and improved Chad Billingsley, plus notes from the minors

Chad Billingsley's 2012 season debut was, to put it mildly, beastly. He went 8 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out 11 Padres while allowing three hits and one walk in a 6-0 Dodgers' victory.

It was one of the best performances I've seen from him -- ever. Is it a sign that he's back or is he a new and improved pitcher?

It could be both.

And it all starts with his fastball. He threw it well and he threw it often tonight. I saw him clocked as high as 94 MPH and he sat in the low-90s all game. That's exactly where he needs to be.

He also threw a healthy amount of 2-seam fastballs, changeups and sliders. What he didn't throw a lot tonight was his cutter.

Brooks Baseball had him at 48 cutters tonight, but there's absolutely no way that happened. He threw more sliders than I've ever seen him throw, so that's where the discrepancy lies.

His slider sat in the mid-80s and had a lot of bite and dive to it. That's how I was able to differentiate it from his cutter.

He threw two different curveballs -- a 12-to-6 traditional one and one that was about 11-to-5. He was able to strikeout 11 hitters, so whatever he did tonight, it worked.

Now, I know I should temper my excitement and enthusiasm because he was facing the Padres, one of the worst hitting teams in the majors. But four baserunners, 11 strikeouts and 108 pitches (70 strikes, or 65 percent) cannot be overlooked.

It'll be nice to see what he does against better offensive teams, but this could be a step in the right direction for Billingsley. He could be a brand new pitcher. We'll see how it works out.

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Andre Ethier, despite going hitless in the team's first game, remained hot from Spring Training, blasting a 2-run double and 2-run triple tonight. And the best part: he hit them off Cory Luebke, a left-handed pitcher.

If he can find his stroke against left-handers, he could do some big things this season.

Matt Kemp chipped in with a couple hits and runs. He also stole his first base of the season.

Mark Ellis and Juan Rivera also had two hits.

Minor league breakdown

All four of the Dodger minor-league affiliates were in action tonight. There were some good individual performances throughout.

Triple-A - Albuquerque won 5-2
Michael Antonini started for the Isotopes and went five innings, gave up four hits, one run and struck out two. Alex Castellanos went 2-for-4 with a walk and two strikeouts hitting second in the lineup. Tim Federowicz and Scott Van Slyke provided most of the offense as both went 2-for-4 and both hit home runs (the second in two games for Van Slyke). Josh Fields went 2-for-4 with two doubles and two RBI.

Double-A - Chattanooga lost 1-0
Ethan Martin, to my surprise, got the start for the Lookouts. He lasted 4 2/3 innings, gave up three hits, walked four and struck out six. The wildness is still there (probably always will be), but this was a somewhat encouraging performance. Steve Ames finished the game for Chattanooga. He threw two scoreless innings, walked one and struck out one.

There wasn't much offense to be heard of from the Lookouts. Kyle Russell went 1-for-4 with three strikeouts and Blake Smith went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts.

High-A - Rancho Cucamonga lost 3-0
Chris Reed gave up three runs in the first two innings, but settled down to go five while giving up five hits, walked no one and struck out six. Leon Landry and Jonathan Garcia were the only prospects of note to get hits -- each got one. Landry also stole his first base of the season.

Low-A - Great Lakes lost 3-2
Jarret Martin, acquired from Baltimore, got the start and pitched relatively well. He went five, gave up two hits, two runs (both unearned), walked three and struck out six. He did commit three errors which led to two runs. Juan Noriega relieved Martin and threw two scoreless innings, gave up one hit, walked one and struck out one.

Pratt Maynard led the way on offense, going 2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored. Justin Boudreaux, who didn't start, went 1-for-2 with two RBI and a walk. He replaced James Baldwin (but not as the center fielder -- he played third base) who injured his hand after going 0-for-2 with two strikeouts. No word on the severity of the injury.

Photo credit: SD Dirk, Flickr

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