Chad Billingsley made his first All-Star team last season by going 9-4 with a 3.38 ERA in the first half, but then struggled so much in the second half that he was nearly left off the Dodgers’ postseason roster and has now allowed 14 runs in 14 innings this year.
Through mid-June of last season Billingsley was 44-22 with a 3.28 ERA in 530.1 career innings, and at just 24 years old looked like one of the most promising young starters in baseball. Since then he’s 4-8 with a 5.43 ERA in 117.2 innings, including back-to-back clunkers.
Joe Torre has made it clear that he’s sticking with Billingsley in the rotation, suggesting that a lack of confidence is to blame for his collapse. Billingsley disagrees:
That’s not an issue. I’ve been feeling good on the mound, as far as my delivery, my pitches. My arm feels good, my pitches feel good, my mechanics feel good. You have these times. I’m not going out there and walking guys. I’m going after guys. I’m making them beat me. I made some good pitches. I wasn’t walking guys.
As far as everything I wanted to work on between last start and this start, I thought I accomplished it. I mean … honestly, I don’t know. Last year, the second half, I felt like I was battling myself. I couldn’t repeat my delivery. Now, I feel like I’m repeating my delivery consistently. I’m throwing the ball in areas that I want to. I thought I was throwing quality pitches.
He’s obviously just searching for answers, but the problem for Billingsley is that if he’s right and confidence, mechanics, and command aren’t to blame then he’s either injured (which seemingly hasn’t even been hinted at) or simply no longer a good pitcher (which would be pretty unlikely at age 25). Every player goes through slumps, but 120 innings of 5.50 ERA pitching from a 25-year-old who began his career with 530 innings of 3.40 ERA pitching sure seems like something beyond that.
If any team can turn a six-day rest period into an advantage, it’s the Indians. The club polished off their pennant race with another injured starter and an overtaxed bullpen, as Trevor Bauer exited in Game 3 of the ALCS with a laceration on his right pinky finger, leaving the bullpen to shoulder 16 innings through the last three games of the series. On Friday, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reported that injured starter Danny Salazar could rejoin the rotation in the World Series, though he’ll need at least one more simulated game before Terry Francona determines whether or not he’s fit to return for the team’s last postseason push.
Bauer, who has been under the close watch of hand specialist Dr. Thomas Graham, told the press that he feels confident that he’ll be ready for a World Series start when the final showdown commences on Tuesday. Keeping the wound bandaged is not an option during games, and Bauer said that Dr. Graham decided against additional stitches to keep the laceration from re-opening. Instead, they’re banking on extra days of rest to heal the cut naturally. Should Francona pencil the right-hander into the lineup for Game 3 or 4, he’ll have had 10-11 days to rest his finger between starts — just a hair under the seven games Bauer said he was prepared to pitch.
Salazar, too, has been preparing for a World Series showdown. He’s scheduled to pitch three innings of a simulated game this weekend, and if it goes well, it could land him a spot in the starting rotation alongside Bauer, Corey Kluber, Josh Tomlin, and newcomer Ryan Merritt. Salazar has been sidelined since September 9 with a right forearm strain, and even after undergoing a rigorous throwing program over the last several weeks, any kind of comeback is expected to be curbed by a strict innings limit. Francona has been understandably tight-lipped about his World Series roster, but he hasn’t yet nixed the idea of utilizing Salazar out of the rotation, provided the right-hander remains healthy for another week or so.
The Indians have had to remain flexible throughout their seven-game playoff run after weathering injuries to Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, pushing their rotation through several games on short rest and relying heavily on Andrew Miller and Cody Allen‘s one-two punch in the ‘pen to clinch more than a few postseason victories. While history doesn’t always favor the first team to secure their league’s pennant race, an extra week of rest should only benefit Cleveland’s beleaguered pitching staff.
The Tigers will promoted Triple-A manager Lloyd McClendon to hitting coach for the 2017 season, according to a statement released by the team on Friday afternoon.
McClendon’s history with the Tigers is long and storied. After serving five seasons as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ hitting coach and manager, he got his start with Detroit in 2006 as a bullpen coach, then transitioned to hitting coach from 2007 through 2013. When the Tigers hired Brad Ausmus to replace former manager Jim Leyland, McClendon took the opportunity to break from the team and pursue another managerial position of his own with the Seattle Mariners, whom he guided to a 163-161 record between the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
Following his departure from Seattle during the 2015 offseason, McClendon took a spot as skipper of the Tigers’ Triple-A club, managing the Toledo Mud Hens to a 68-76 finish in 2016. His return to the big league stage is accompanied by the hiring of assistant hitting coach Leon Durham, who previously served as the long-tenured hitting coach for Triple-A Toledo.