Dodgers expect more from Billingsley

Dodgers expect more from Billingsley

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As a six-year veteran National League starting pitcher, you could do a lot worse than to never have a losing season and rank seventh in the league in total wins and strikeouts.

That's what Chad Billingsley has done.

He's also one (and the youngest) of only three pitchers in the league to notch double-digit wins in each of the last five seasons (teammate Ted Lilly and Cole Hamels the others).

And yet, after 23-year-old Clayton Kershaw blew past Billingsley into the role of Dodgers ace, there are those left unfulfilled by the 27-year-old Billingsley.

"I think there's more there," manager Don Mattingly said. "Honey [pitching coach Rick Honeycutt] thinks there's more there. I think Chad thinks there's more there. That's the thing we want to help him with, just to get a little better."

Billingsley, who went 11-11 in 2011 with a career-high 4.21 ERA, agrees.

"It wasn't one of my best years," said Billingsley, who lost eight times to division rivals. "I know I want to do better than last year. I want to improve my consistency level."

The best of six seasons for Billingsley was 2008, when he went 16-10 with a 3.14 ERA and 201 strikeouts in 200 2/3 innings. An All-Star in 2009, he hasn't topped any of those career bests since, even though he's avoided major injury and delivered at least 188 innings each of the last four years.

Mattingly hasn't said where Billingsley will slot into a rotation that compensated for the loss of Hiroki Kuroda with the signings of veterans Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano.

Billingsley began last season by signing a three-year, $35 million contract extension that kicks in this season. But while his salary increased, his performance dipped -- walks went up 15 from the previous season, hits allowed were up 13, home runs up six and strikeouts went down 19.

Over the past two seasons, there has been a concentration on Billingsley's mechanics. Instead of driving toward home plate as he delivered a pitch, he had a tendency to swivel to his left. Now the technicians have determined that a bad habit developed when he unknowingly changed his left leg kick.

According to Honeycutt, scouting director Logan White provided video of Billingsley pitching in high school, when he dominated Ohio preps, leading to his first-round selection by the Dodgers. Back then, he kept his foot under his body as he lifted his lead leg. In recent years, he kicks out the foot before shifting his body weight from right leg to left. He worked during the winter on regaining his high school form.

"I'm trying to keep my foot closer and that allows me to be more consistent in my rhythm and timing," Billingsley said. "We looked at some video and noticed that it was different from a few years ago. It doesn't seem like a big thing, but a little adjustment can make a difference.

"It's not really about confidence. My confidence is fine. It's more like when you're pitching or hitting and it doesn't feel effortless. There are times when I feel I have to force my body to get into position and I have to work at it. I fight myself, kind of. We all try to throw the fastball down and away. For me, to do that, I feel like I'm throwing across my body and it leads to cutting the ball."

During the offseason, Mattingly said he wanted Billingsley to step up, but in clarifying the manager said it wasn't a challenge or criticism.

"I wasn't bashing him. Sometimes when you say you need to step up, it just means getting a little better," Mattingly said. "He's still young and he needs to keep improving, even if it's just a little bit. That's all I ask from everybody.

"I told him last year, it seems like he's the same since I got here. With Chad, it's really the consistency. There are times when it's a tight, low-scoring game and he gets rolling and it's like, wow, but other times we give him three or four runs and he gives them right back. All we want is for him to keep us in the game every fifth day and give us a chance to win; that's all we're asking for. That guy will be effective for us, whether he gets the wins or not."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.