When Chad Billingsley was pulled from the game yesterday having thrown 90 pitches to get through 5 1/3 innings allowing only 3 hits - yes, and 4 walks - while striking out 7, and with runners on second and third after well-struck double by Stephen Drew (a well-known Bills basher, now hitting .415 / .467 / .634 / 1.101 against him in 45 PAs, which is also the most anyone has faced Chad), the comments section of this blog were in a near-unanimous howl about Joe Torre's overly quick hook.
This was also the major theme of Eric's recap of the game, in which he left no doubt about his opinion:
If there was ever a time to let Billingsley work out of a tough spot -- three run lead, well rested arm, an extra day of rest pending -- this was it. Part of Billingsley pitching into the seventh is his manager giving him a chance.
Torre has stated on several occasions that he has confidence in Billingsley. It would be nice if he backs up those words with actions.
Last night I was with the crowd on this, and I'm still not convinced that pulling Billingsley in that situation in early May and turning the game over to the bullpen for 3 2/3 innings was the right move, but I am willing to concede that there could be other considerations as well.
If Torre made the decision to pull Billingsley in order to protect his arm for the long haul – similar to his choice to give Billingsley and other Dodger starters an extra day of rest this week by starting Ramon Ortiz on Friday – I might be able to get behind it. Torre was almost relentless in his use of Billingsley in the first half of last season, when the righthander threw at least 105 pitches in 12 consecutive games and 17 out of 19, racking up the most pitches thrown in all of baseball for the first half of '09.
Reports were that Billingsley showed visible signs of not wanting to come out of the game, believing that he should continue, and perhaps Torre - the purported master of personnel handling - explained the situation to Chad after the game in a way that allowed him to demonstrate confidence in Billingsley for the long haul. In any case, I can agree that coming up with ways not to overwork the young starters could be fruitful for setting up Kershaw and Billingsley to be effective frontline starters for the pennant drive and the post-season.
If a team follows a strict rotation and no one misses a turn, two starters make 33 starts and the rest make 32. Averaging six to seven innings a start over 33 starts translates to a season of 198 to 210 innings pitched. That range seems like a reasonable workload for Kershaw and especially Billingsley at this stage of their careers.
In a slightly related story, Jay Jaffe has a new article on Baseball Propectus where he examines the Dodger pitching staff and finds "Night of The Living Dodgers". The first few paragraphs are visible to non-subscribers. Here are a couple of the conclusions he comes to:
Even with back-to-back wins on Sunday and Monday, the two-time defending NL West champions find themselves closer to the division's basement than its penthouse, sitting two games under .500 and 4 ½ games behind the upstart Padres. The Dodgers aren't there because of their offense, which is averaging 5.1 runs per game despite missing Manny Ramirez for nearly half of the young season. They're underwater because of their pitching, as poor offseason planning has caught up to them amid injuries and lackluster performances.
One could argue that the retreads have simply bought time for pitchers more essential to the team's blueprint to get right, either physically or with respect to the strike zone, but it's quite apparent that the team is at least one solid starter away from a rotation befitting a contender, and by struggling to this point they've failed to take advantage of the fact that both the Rockies and the Diamondbacks are down multiple starters as well. For want of a League Average Innings Muncher, the division was lost? That may be the epitaph of the 2010 Dodgers' season.
Amid all of this worry about the starting pitching, Jaffe does pull out this suprising finding:
I imagine, or I at least hope, that the Dodgers overall pitching staff is better than the early numbers indicate and that improvement is on the way, or is in fact already happening. Three runs allowed in Arizona isn't a bad result. Shutting out the Rockies is good. Outside of Haeger's horrific start Saturday and Kuroda scuffling a bit but still getting the game into the sixth, the Dodgers have had a five-game stretch - once through the rotation - of some pretty decent pitching. Here's hoping it's the start of a season-long renaissance.