Billingsley struggles in final spring start

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Chad Billingsley insisted to a small gathering of reporters on Sunday that he feels good on the mound right now, he has felt good all spring and he is absolutely, positively ready to go for the regular season, when he is scheduled to make his first start on Friday night in San Diego.

The results after the Los Angeles Dodgers' right-hander's final Cactus League start, a 6-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks before 9,766 at Camelback Ranch in which Billingsley was torched for four runs -- including two home runs -- didn't exactly support his claim that the only thing he really is struggling with is his cutter. His 5.91 ERA for the spring didn't exactly support it, either.

But as you may have read or heard a few thousands times before during the past six weeks, this is spring training, where statistics and results don't count for much.

``My mechanics feel really good,'' said Billingsley, who overhauled them to some degree this spring. ``I am very comfortable with where I am. My fastball, curveball and changeup have all been outstanding so far this spring.''

But his cutter, he said, hasn't been, and Billingsley blamed that on the slight mechanical adjustment he has made in his leg kick, which actually has helped him in every other way.

After the game, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly went with the usual line of how what happens in spring training stays in spring training. But Mattingly also seemed to concede that Billingsley hasn't blown anybody away this spring.

``Again, we go back to spring training and just trying to keep everybody healthy,'' Mattingly said. ``Guys are just out there trying to get their innings in and their arm strength up. History has told us, a lot of times, that it doesn't mean anything. The season will tell us what is going on.''

Meanwhile, Billingsley said that while his cutter really has stayed flat all spring because he hasn't been able to get a feel for it, he is confident that it will come with continued work and that it won't be a long-term issue.

Non-roster infielder Josh Fields, who appeared to be on the verge of making the team just a few days ago, saw his recent slide continue when he struck out in both of his plate appearances. He now has one hit in his past 17 at-bats with eight strikeouts, but the one thing he still has going for him is he remains the only player competing for that last roster spot who is a right-handed power hitter, which is what the Dodgers specifically would prefer to have on their bench for pinch-hitting purposes.

``He doesn't seem to be (getting) behind (the ball) for me,'' Mattingly said. ``Early on in the spring, we saw him driving it the other way. But lately in his at-bats, he seems to be having trouble as far as driving the ball to right field or kind of right-centerish.''

If Fields doesn't secure that spot, it likely will go to infielder Justin Sellers, who has no pop but can play three positions (second, third and short) and is hitting a solid .300 this spring. Non-roster utility man Luis Cruz, who can play second, third and the outfield, also continues to have a decent camp (hitting .286), but he has little power so it's tough to imagine the Dodgers clearing a 40-man roster spot for him if they don't clear one for Fields.

Thus, the battle for that spot probably will come down to Fields and Sellers.

Dodgers pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, who made his major league debut last season and likely would be the first pitcher called up if the club needed someone for the starting rotation, was named as this year's Jim and Dearie Mulvey Award winner as the team's top rookie of spring training. Eovaldi posted a 1.72 ERA in four starts and one relief appearance. He remains in big league camp but is expected to begin the season at Triple-A Albuquerque. ...

The Dodgers drew 121,769 total fans to 15 home games at Camelback Ranch this spring -- not including games against the Chicago White Sox in which the White Sox were the designated home team -- an average of 8,118 per game. ...

The Dodgers (14-13-4)will close out the spring with a three-game exhibition series against the Los Angeles Angels beginning on Monday night at Angel Stadium, with Jamey Wright taking the mound for what is expected to be a two-inning stint to start the game. The other two games will be at Dodger Stadium.