If he Isn't The Ace He Will Have to Do

Paraphrasing the old song, "If he's isn't the ace, he'll have to do, until the real thing comes along." Chad Billingsley (4-5) has won four of his last five starts and has the only three victories in the last 15 games from the starting rotation. The only Dodgers starter to pitch at least seven innings in the last 17 games and he's done it twice. He stopped the Red, working seven shutout innings.

Stardom that has been predicted by those who watch the Dodgers minor league system has finally come, now that the 23-year-old has, if not overcome his control problem, has wrestled it to the ground. Not so long ago he would dominate the first four or five innings but by that time he would have used his alloted 100 pitches and the bullpen was needed to patch things out from there.

However, the sort of performance Billingsley has provided over his last four or five starts makes him the de facto ace of the staff, even though manager Joe Torre shies away from such a statement.

In front of 34,306 at Dodger Stadium Billingsley allowed four singles, struck out seven and walked two as the Dodgers won 4-1. He contained Adam Dunn -- who came into the game having homered in his last five games -- with a pair of strikeouts and a walk.

It was the sort of performance Logan White had in mind five years ago when he made Billingsley the club's first-round draft.

The youngster has won four of his past five starts and has a 2.25 ERA over that period. He's not allowed more than one run in any of the four wins and it couldn't have come at a better time when veterans Brad Penny and Derek Low have struggled and Hiroki Kuroda has pitched well but without luck and is without a win since the first week of the season.

He's sliced his ERA from 6.53 to 3.76 during this five-start stretch, but he said he has a ways to go before his confidence level matches that of the second half last year, when his 3.02 ERA after July 1 was the seventh-best in the Major Leagues.

"My stuff is better than last year, but the second half I just went out knowing I would keep the team in the game," he said. "Now things are going good, but it's still early in the season."

Dodger catcher Russell Martin thinks "ace" fits Billingsley very well.

"He has plus stuff, a plus curveball and a really nasty cutter that touches 94-95 (mph). He just seems like he is more in control now. He used to get really excited in certain situations and start rushing his delivery and trying a little too hard. Now, he is in control and not over-trying."

The Dodgers' entered the game ranked 26th in the majors in wins by starting pitchers, a number Billingsley increased to 12, and 25th in starters' ERA, a figure he shaved to 4.74.

"I don't want to put the ace label on him," Torre said. "His personality is such that he puts enough pressure on himself without thinking he has to be the leader of this staff. Right now, he is taking his turn and giving us reasons to feel good about him, just giving us very solid performances.

"He had seven strikeouts in the first five innings, but he also made them hit the ball, and that's a really big thing for him."

The second-place Dodgers (24-21), trail division-leading Arizona by just four games in the National League West with the win.

Billingsley ran into trouble when the Reds put runners on the corners with one out in the sixth inning with the Dodgers leading 2-0. But this time he didn't attempt to throw 150 miles per hour, picking up an inning-ending double play.

"Every once in a while, you try to do too much, and sometimes, that's when you get into trouble," Billingsley said. "You just have to trust in your ability and your talent."

And the Dodgers are happy to do just that.

The Dodgers scored a pair of runs in the second inning with some important help from the Reds when former Dodgers catcher David Ross missing a throw to the plate as one run scored, and shortstop Paul Janish, whose error Monday night cost the Reds the game, was unable to short-hop Blake DeWitt's infield single, setting up Billingsley's RBI hit.

In the seventh, Juan Pierre singled home Chin-lung Hu and Pierre scored when Russell Martin beat out a potential double-play grounder.

The Reds' threatened in the ninth and tagged Joe Beimel for only the second run he's allowed all year but Takashi Saito came on to strike out a pinch-hitter for his seventh save.

The Dodgers have a chance for a sweep of the Reds tonight, having won eight straight home games against Cincinnati the past three years.

Hiroki Kuroda will be looking for his first win since his first start of the season. He has no-decisions in four of his last five starts and has never faced the Reds. He's left games with leads three times, only to have the bullpen let the victory get away. Kuroda has a fine ERA of 3.67 that belies his 1-3 record.

Tonight's matchup
RHP Hiroki Kuroda (1-3, 3.67 ERA) pitched well in Anaheim the last time out but each of the three earned runs he allowed were tainted by bad throws. In his previous start he lost a no-hitter after 6.2 innings.

He will oppose RHP Johnny Cueto (2-4, 5.75 ERA) who had a no-hitter through five innings but eventually gave up three home runs in the sixth to receive a no-decision the Reds' 4-3 win over Cleveland. He finished with seven strikeouts, bringing his season total to 53 in nine starts.
 Score by innings
Cincinnati	000 000 001-1
Los Angeles	020 000 20x-4

 Los Angeles	ab r  h  bi  ave
Pierre lf	4  1  1  1  .285
Ethier rf	4  0  1  0  .290
Martin c	4  0  0  1  .312
Kent 1b	        4  1  1  0  .241
 Maza 2b 	0  0  0  0  .455
Loney 1b	4  0  2  0  .292
Kemp cf	        4  1  1  1  .318
DeWitt 3b	4  0  1  0  .319
Hu ss	        3  1  1  0  .179
Billingsley	2  0  1  0  .125
 Young ph	0  0  0  0  .280
 Broxton p	0  0  0  0  .000
 Beimel p	0  0  0  0  .000
 Saito p	0  0  0  0  .000
  Totals	33 4 9 4
  Cincinnati	32 1 6 1

 RBI- Kemp (28), Billingsley (1), Pierre
(16), Martin (18). S- Young. SB-Pierre
(18). LOB- Los Angeles 6, Cincinnati 6.
DP- Kent, Hu and Loney.

  Los Angeles	   in  h  r-er b so  era
Billingsley (4-5) 7.0  4  0-0  2  7  3.76
Broxton	          1.0  0  0-0  0  0  4.74
Beimel	          0.2  2  1-1  0  0  1.17
Saito (sv 7)	  0.1  0  0-0  0  1  1.93
 T- 2:31. Att- 34,306.
Not Quite Yet
Disabled shortstop Rafael Furcal is eligible to come off the disabled list today but Torre said the chances were "one in a hundred." Torre prefers to give him one extra day and in this case it's two, because of tomorrows scheduled day off. Torre said he's told Furcal to be sure when he comes back that he's 100 percent healthy because a recurrance of the injury that would cost him another 15 days on the disabled list.

Bennett on Disabled List
Backup catcher Gary Bennett, in addition to throwing problems, is now suffering from plantar fasciitis in his left foot and has been replaced on the roster by veteran backup Danny Ardoin, who has been on fire of late at Triple-A Las Vegas and had his contract purchased.

To make room for Ardoin on the 40-man roster, the Dodgers had to move Jason Schmidt to the 60-day DL. It won't delay his return since he has already been on the 15-day DL for nearly 60 days.

Ardoin is hitting .303 with four homers and 16 RBIs with the 51s. He is 33 and has been a professional since 1995. He became the Rockies starting catcher in 2005, but he suffered a knee injury in a collision at the plate with former Dodgers outfielder Jose Cruz Jr. and has struggled to regain his form.

Lasorda to Announced Dodger Pick
Since Logan White took over the Dodgers' Draft in 2002, he's had Hall of Famer Tom Lasorda announce their first selection and Lasorda will again be at the microphone when MLB.com carries every pick of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, which takes place June 5-6 at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Fla.

Day 1 coverage on BaseballChannel.TV begins will feature a special ceremonial draft of former Negro Leaguers who will be on hand.

The First-Year Player Draft follows, with a simulcast of ESPN2's broadcast of the first round and compensation picks. The remaining rounds on Day 1 will be shown exclusively on BaseballChannel.TV, with live analysis on site from Jonathan Mayo and David Rawnsley of Perfect Game USA.

Several of the top amateur prospects are expected to be in attendance for Day 1 of the Draft, and each of the 30 Major League clubs will be represented by front-office executives and baseball luminaries. Fans are welcome to attend Day 1 of the Draft, and admission to The Milk House is free, with seating limited to a first-come, first-served basis.

Day 2 will get under way at noon Eastern Time and continue through Round 50, if necessary. Every pick on Day 2 can be heard live at MLB.com.

Lasorda will be accompanied in Orlando by amateur scouts Brian Stephenson and Manny Estrada. .

Dodger Blue Notes-- Juan Pierre stole his 18th base on Tuesday night, tying for second in the league. ... The Dodgers Dream Foundation will hold its annual charity golf invitational Thursday at Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes. Fernando Valenzuela, Jonathan Broxton, Chad Billingsley, Chin-lung Hu, Joe Beimel, Scott Proctor, Don Newcombe, Maury Wills, Tommy Davis, Sweet Lou Johnson, Mariano Duncan, Tim Leary, and local broadcasters Jim Hill, Steve Lyons and Michael Eaves will participate in the event. Spots are still available. ...Dodgers closer Takashi Saito will present awards to winners of the Times in Education Art and Essay Contest at an awards luncheon for the 2008 Team Think Blue program.

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