No Adjustment Needed

VERO BEACH, Fla.- It is part of a pitching coach's lexicon when he discusses "mechanics" that he often has to play Mr. Goodwrench, tinkering with a part here and there until he hopefully comes up with a souped up, stripped-down version of his subject's former self. So, when it comes to Chad Billingsley, what exactly did they do to ratchet him up in that regard ? The answer is "Nothing" as in nada.

"No," says Billingsley, "They have never fooled with my mechanics ever since I signed. "Mostly, they talk about my approach. And the more I'm around, the more I realize how important the mental part is."

"That's another reason why he's special," says organizational pitching coordinator Marty Reed. "He may be just 21 but he's much more mature than others his age." Which is why when those others are taking Pitching 101, Chad's doing graduate work in the subject, like how to approach and set up a batter and what pitches to throw in sequences or how to work a lineup differently the second and third time through- that sort of thing.

It is the mark of the regard that new manager Grady Little already holds Chad in that he's designated him to work in the Freeway Series against the Angels- just to give him the feel of pitching in front of a large, boisterous crowd- another step along the road toward permanent residence in Dodger Stadium.

For Billingsley is much more than his fast ball, curve and slider. He's rapidly becoming a scholar out there, as he applies the lessons learned. For instance, last year, while pitching for Jacksonville, he took courses in how to control the pace of a game, not let it dictate to him.

"Oh, I know how to take a walk around at times," he says. "But sometimes, I would tend to rush my lower body and my arm would drag behind a bit." That caused his pitches to flatten out, something that did happen early in the season. But it's a fault that he's been able to control now with the result that he did his best pitching later in the season.

His last start was in the championship playoff series, a memorable effort that produced seven innings without a hit before turning the game over to Jonathan Broxton, who did likewise in the final two. And, by the way, it's not the game that Chad regards as his best yet.

"Don't get me wrong, I had good stuff that day," he relates. "But James Loney at first and Todd Donovan in center made some great defensive plays to keep the no-hitter going. Actually, I think my best game came against the Smokies (Knoxville). They had some hits but that day I could throw every pitch just where I wanted to. I had 12 or 13 punchouts as I recall."

You can't find anybody that doesn't feel that Billingsley could step into the LA rotation right now- and do it as a winner. However, Ned Colletti has given Little a solid fivesome of Derrick Lowe, Brad Penny, Odalis Perez, Brett Tomko and Jae Seo to go with so, after his work against the Angels, Chad will depart to Las Vegas where he's going to get some AAA experience.

He depart, knowing his debut in the bigtime for real is not much further away. In the meantime, he'll have to pitch in the House of Horrors that Vegas' Cashman Field with his dry desert air and elevation is for anybody who toils on the mound. And he'll learn and probably be the better for it.

And so the 2006 version of Chad Billingsley will be on display for a brief time. When it arrives in a major league ballpark to stay, it will be one that can compete in pennant races- with no pit row adjustments necessary.