The Dodgers battle the Padres on Saturday evening at Petco Park, and while all eyes aren't on Matt Kemp's march toward a possible MVP award, they will focus on the mound. Chad Billingsley makes his final start of what has been a disappointing season.
After a strong finish to 2010, there were high hopes for Billingsley heading into his age 26 season. At the end of spring training, Billingsley signed a three-year, $35 million extension, which starts next season and at the time looked like a potential bargain. That may still prove true, but Billingsley's 2011 has dampened expectations.
It's not that Billingsley has been bad, necessarily. He has simply been, well, ordinary. At times Billingsley has shown flashes of brilliance, such has his 11 strikeouts in eight scoreless innings against the Cardinals on April 17, or his allowing one hit and one unearned run in a tough-luck loss to the Diamondbacks on May 14, or when he allowed only one walk and nothing else to his last 22 batters faced against the Nationals on July 24.
Since that win over the Nationals, Billingsley has made 10 starts, and has 30 walks and just 35 strikeouts while putting up a 4.97 ERA in 54 innings. Whether it's fatigue -- Billingsley made 241 total pitches in back-to-back "save the bullpen" starts at the end of August -- or a mechanical issue, Billingsley simply hasn't been a very good pitcher for most of the last two months.
Luckily for Billingsley, he has a chance to go out on a high note Saturday night against the Padres. He faced San Diego once this season, and got a win by pitching eight scoreless innings, but to show the true up-and-down nature of Billingsley's season, he also walked more (five) than he struck out (four) and was fighting his command all game.
Billingsley is 11-7 with a 2.76 ERA in his career against the Padres, including 5-3 with a 2.25 ERA at Petco Park, the site where he made his major league debut in 2006.
Triple Crown Watch
Jose Reyes had a single in three at-bats plus a walk in the first game of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies, maintaining his National League leading batting average at .32950, nearly indistinguishable from the .32948 that he began the day with.
Albert Pujols did not hit a home run against the Chicago Cubs in St. Louis on Saturday, so he and Kemp remain tied atop the NL with 37 home runs.
Kemp has four hits in 13 career at-bats against Saturday's starter for San Diego, Aaron Harang, including a double and a home run, hitting .308/.375/.615.
From The Start
Today is Billingsley's 32nd start of the season, matching Clayton Kershaw and Ted Lilly for the team lead. If Hiroki Kuroda makes his start on Tuesday as planned, that will give the Dodgers four pitchers with at least 32 starts for the first time since 1993. Orel Hershiser made 33 starts 18 years ago, and was joined by 32 starts each from Tom Candiotti, Ramon Martinez, and Kevin Gross, all of whom pitched at least 200 innings. That 1993 team was also the last Dodger team with five pitchers with 30 starts, as Pedro Astacio started 31 games.
Game Time: 5:35 p.m.
TV: Prime Ticket