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Billingsley chased early in Dodgers' loss

Billingsley chased early in loss

LOS ANGELES -- A night after using four relievers over the course of three innings, this probably was the last image Dodgers manager Joe Torre wanted to see.

The sight being starter Chad Billingsley walking off the field beaten and dejected after only 1 2/3 innings, leaving the bullpen with the tall task of recording the game's final 22 outs.

But that's what stared Torre in the face Friday at Dodger Stadium as Billingsley imploded in his first start since his All-Star appearance and left the Dodgers' over-stretched bullpen to pick up the pieces in an 8-1 loss to the Astros.

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"He got the first two outs in five pitches and then the roof caved in," Torre said. "Right now it just doesn't look like he's as sure of himself as he was and will be. I'm not concerned about it. It's going to happen from time to time."

It didn't take long for things to get out of hand for Billingsley.

After quickly registering two outs in the top of the first, Billingsley gave up a solo home run to Miguel Tejada on his eighth pitch of the game.

After that, the hits just kept on coming. The Astros pelted the Dodgers for five consecutive hits (four singles and one double) to extend their lead to 4-0.

Fortunately for Billingsley, eventually the Astros had to trot out their pitcher, Roy Oswalt, to the batter's box and the Dodgers right-hander got a brief respite from the onslaught.

But even getting Oswalt out proved an adventurous task for Billingsley. Billingsley bounced a pitch past catcher Russell Martin for a wild pitch before Oswalt grounded out to short to end the 19-minute inning.

"Sometimes it's tough to get that last [out]," Billingsley said. "Overall, I was just leaving the ball over the plate a little bit too much and I was just leaving it up in the zone and you can't do that in this league."

Circumstances didn't improve for Billingsley in the second.

Michael Bourn and Kazuo Matsui led off the inning with back-to-back singles, and after two hard-hit outs, Geoff Blum ended Billingsley's night with a two-run double.

The final line for Billingsley: 1 2/3 innings with six runs allowed on nine hits.

While his performance might lend one to think Billingsley's arm is bothering him, he insisted after then game that he's fine.

"My arm felt great," said Billingsley, whose ERA rose from 3.38 to 3.76.

"Curveball was staying up in the zone and I was able to get ahead of some guys, but I wasn't able to put them away."

Right-hander Jeff Weaver came out of the bullpen to relieve Billingsley and got the last out of the second inning without further damage.

Weaver lasted 4 1/3 innings and yielded two runs on four hits. The 58 pitches he threw also probably put an end to any speculation that he might be start on Monday as the Dodgers' fifth starter. Weaver gave up four runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Brewers in his last start on July 11.

Eric Milton, the previous fifth starter, had back surgery Tuesday to remove a herniated disk and likely will miss the rest of the season.

In stark contrast to Billingsley, Oswalt put on a pitching clinic, allowing just four hits in a complete game.

"He knows how to pitch with a lead, there's no question about it," Torre said. "But if it's a closer game, you're putting more pressure on him. And taking nothing away from Oswalt, he's a special, special guy. ... But we have to make him work a little harder."

He worked fast and continually kept Dodgers batters off-balance by using his fastball to set up his deadly off-speed pitches.

"I think what made him effective was a good fastball," Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake said. "Obviously, if you can throw your off-speed pitches off that good fastball and locate them, you're going to be tough."

Oswalt's one blemish came in the third inning when Orlando Hudson hit a triple that Astros right fielder Hunter Pence lost in the air. Hudson then scored on a Russell Martin groundout. Aside from that, Oswalt was dominant and was something the Dodgers desperately need: an innings eater.

The Dodgers' bullpen entered the second half of the season having logged 302 innings (second most in the league) and relievers have thrown 10 1/3 innings in the past two games.

David Ely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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