Over most of his previous six seasons in Dodger blue, the word most people would use to describe Chad Billingsley would probably be “frustrating”. If he was rarely as bad as many fans liked to make him out to be – and how could he, with a 2007-11 FIP of 3.63 that placed him just behind Jered Weaver & Matt Cain and just ahead of Johan Santana & Tim Hudson – nor was ever able to consistently display the talent he’s always clearly had. Whether it’s within one season (need I remind you of his 2009), multiple years (down to end 2009, back for a good 2010, then a down 2011) or even within one game (at least when the sixth inning hit) Billingsley seemed like he’d always be that guy who was never quite going to be able to find the consistency to put it all together. If he’d start off well, he’d end poorly, whether in a game or a season. If he got off to a poor start, he’d finish well. Taken together, it was often an infuriating mixture.
I’m not sure if we saw the birth of a new Chad Billingsley tonight in San Diego, but what I do know is that we saw a pitcher who was dominant from start to finish. He began the game by striking out the side; he ended it by retiring sixteen consecutive Padres until a Cameron Maybin single knocked him out in the ninth after 103 pitches. In between, he allowed just two doubles and a walk as no Padre even advanced to third. Aided somewhat by a generous strike zone for both pitchers, Billingsley mowed down 11 batters, tied for the fourth-most he’s ever had. By the somewhat imperfect “Game Score” metric, it was the best start of his career.
For once, an outstanding Dodger start wasn’t ruined by a lack of offense, thanks to the heart of the lineup (2-5 hitters Mark Ellis, Matt Kemp, Juan Rivera, & Andre Ethier) each collecting two hits. Ethier provided all the help Billingsley would need by driving in four of the six Dodger runs on a double and a triple, which is impressive on its own merits but even moreso considering that he was facing lefty Cory Luebke, raising hopes that he can finally be a viable weapon against fellow southpaws. On the downside, Dee Gordon struck out twice, though he did manage his first hit of the season on a well-struck single to center, and on the really, really down side, Juan Uribe went 0-4 and looked awful doing it.
But this night, of course, belongs to Billingsley. One night after Clayton Kershaw‘s illness forced the bullpen into extra duty, it was critical that he last deep into the game. He did more than that, never letting the Padres get any sort of momentum together. We’ll see if this is really the start of something new or if we’ll be watching him get bombed by the Pirates next week; for now, the Dodgers are two for two to start the season, and although it’s early (and let’s be honest, the Padres have been playing defense like Uribe hits), I don’t think we could have asked for anything more so far.