Dodgers have total confidence in 'pen
Development of Billingsley adds to already solid relief corps
JUPITER, Fla. -- Last season opened with Takashi Saito, Jonathan Broxton, Joe Beimel and Chad Billingsley at Triple-A Las Vegas and Eric Gagne in the Dodgers bullpen.
A year later and, even though Gagne's gone, Friday's 6-2 victory over Florida -- a combined two-hitter started by Derek Lowe -- reinforced the view of the Dodgers' front office that the bullpen is solid and more versatile than last season's.
Those four relievers in this game allowed no hits or walks over the final 3 1/3 innings. Situational left-hander Beimel was the first, pitching on back-to-back days for the first time this spring. He was brought in during an inning and got ground balls from Miguel Cabrera and Mike Jacobs.
Closer Saito pitched a perfect inning, followed by Broxton, who made a mechanical adjustment after two awful outings and suddenly looked like the Broxton of 2006 with an overpowering perfect inning.
Then Billingsley, the former starting pitcher, passed his test by pitching on only one day's rest and posting a 1-2-3 ninth that included two strikeouts.
"There were things we wanted to get done and we got [them] done," said Dodgers manager Grady Little. "They look like they're ready."
Billingsley is the newcomer, and he's such an important piece to Little that, even with no clear leader for the fifth spot, he won't put Billingsley back into that mix. Initially, Billingsley will be a multiple-innings power reliever that will save the arms of the other three when the starter doesn't get deep into the game, which last year was almost always.
Little still wants to open the season with an 11-man pitching staff. The other two pitchers will probably consist of one long reliever and one hard-throwing short reliever. The most likely long reliever will be the loser of the fifth starter job between Brett Tomko and Mark Hendrickson. The most likely short reliever appears to be Rudy Seanez, the non-roster right-hander who has been lights-out all spring.
Particularly pleasing to the Dodgers on Friday was the improvement of Broxton, who in his previous appearances Monday and Tuesday faced 11 batters, retired only two, walked five and was charged with six runs.
"I felt a lot better today," said the hard-throwing right-hander, who moved into the setup role last year after opening the season at Triple-A. "I looked at films and saw my hands were in close when I started my delivery, and last year they were out here. It's just what can happen during the offseason."
Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said Billingsley's ability to continue to remain on track all spring (one run, 10 1/3 innings) despite a change in roles was an indication of his progress.
"We did a little experiment today, bringing him back on one [day's] rest, and what he was throwing up there was electric," he said.
Billingsley said he has no complaints with not being reconsidered for the fifth-starter job.
"I'll just go when they want me to go and try to put up zeroes no matter how many innings they want," said Billingsley. "Relieving is easy compared to starting, if you feel good. The key is being ready. Down here, you know what day you pitch. When the season starts, you don't know, but you have to be ready. I was able to get loose in about 20 pitches, compared to 40 or 50 for a start, so I'm learning."
Beimel was brought in with two outs in the sixth inning, with Lowe so efficiently cruising through the game that he traded places with Beimel and made 20 more throws in the bullpen. Beimel then satisfied his manager's desire to have him enter mid-inning and face a legitimate hitter.
"That was a lot like a real game and it got the adrenaline going," said Beimel, who has resumed his role as if last October's postseason mishap had never happened. "You turn it up another notch. Everything is feeling good. My slider is starting to come around, and I'm feeling more confident with it."
Last spring, Beimel was a non-roster invitee trying to impress a new organization and win a job -- which he didn't.
"I've tried to approach this spring the same, but it's hard when you've got a good idea you'll make it and every outing isn't live or die. Last year, I was trying to open eyes every time. This year, even though I've shown I can pitch, I still want to pitch good."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.