The Dodgers come home to play the Reds with a two game lead over the division, thanks to another solid start by Chad Billingsley and Wilson Betemit's sixth homer since arriving in L.A. Billingsley gave them seven innings (with just one walk), a welcome breather for the bullpen after short outings by Brad Penny, Greg Maddux and Derek Lowe. Billingsley's ERA since the All Star break is now the best of any National League starting pitcher. There's a good analysis of how he has modified his pitching style by Ken Gurnick, the beat writer at MLB.com.
Billingsley was a strikeout pitcher in the Minors, with an overpowering fastball and the bravado to rely on it. But after his first month in the big leagues, with soaring pitch counts and doubts about his readiness, Billingsley fully incorporated into his repertoire a cut fastball he had only toyed with previously.
Now, he and catcher Russell Martin agree the cutter is the reason why he can sail through seven efficient innings with one strikeout and only one walk on only 92 pitches.
Good defense behind him also help the rookie hurler. Manager Grady Little praised the defense for turning a big double play on Chris Snyder in the sixth inning.
"When the kid joined the club, he was in more of a strikeout mode than he is now," said Little. "He knows he has a good club behind him and we'll make the plays. The fielders are more on their toes instead of watching ball one, ball two, ball three. It makes a difference."
"The cutter is the reason guys are putting balls in play," said Billingsley. "I know as a hitter, the cutter is the hardest pitch to recognize. So if you're looking fastball, that's what the cutter looks like, but when it cuts it gets mis-hit."
"In the Minor Leagues," said Martin, "the hitters foul off the fastball. Here, they don't miss it. With the cutter, they miss it just enough to put it in play. Like he said, it's harder to pick up than a slider or a changeup. So he's getting contact earlier in the count. When he was just throwing fastballs, he's blowing it by hitters. The cutter, he wants them to put it in play."
A little bit south, the Angels head for Seattle still 5½ behind the A's. Sunday in Anaheim they learned what happens after you rile up the Yankees with HBP's, especially Derek Jeter. The Angels' John Lackey hit Jeter on Friday night and Ervin Santana hit him on Saturday. On Sunday Jeter smashed two home runs as the Yankees won 11-8. Bernie Williams also hit two and drove in six RBI. Worse for the Angels, rookie starter Joe Saunders could only stick around for 2+ innings, throwing 75 pitches in the short stint. It's the second time recently that he has come out early, and Bill Shaikin picked up concern that he may be tiring. The 132,663 tickets sold this weekend were the most ever for a three-game series at Anaheim.
Bob Timmermann at The Griddle has started charting how each intra-city rivalry is doing: the Angels are a half-game better than the Dodgers. Timmermann also announced the end of his Random Game Callbacks after 143 games. He would dig out of the archives a game from baseball's past and analyze it in remarkable detail. They were a fun read, but apparently hard to do. He managed to include all thirty current teams and many from the old days.